Saturday, 20 September 2014

Townsville Flying Squadron Club House

For almost sixty years the Flying Squadron club house on Palmer Street was a landmark on the Ross Creek skyline.  Built over several years in the early 1920s by volunteer labour, it was both a boatshed and a dance hall, all rolled in to one.
Townsville Flying Squadron Club House, Palmer Street, c. 1925.
Photo: John Mathew Collection, CityLibraries.

The sailing club house on Ross Creek was built on land obtained from the Townsville Harbour Board and built by the club members, who volunteered their time on weekends over several years.  The working bees saw 30-40 members pitching in with everything from clearing ground and the sinking and laying of foundations in the muddy creek bed to building the dance floor. 
Flying Squadron club house under construction, 1920s.
Photo: John Mathew Collection, CityLibraries.

Most of the materials for the building were supplied at cost price by club members who were also skilled tradesmen.  Skiffs were stored in the boat shed underneath and the top floor housed a superb dance floor, which meant the club house became a popular venue for dances and annual balls.  Its location on Ross Creek took full advantage of the sea breezes, which cooled the dance hall in the summer.
Fancy Dress Ball held at the Flying Squadron Club House, 1920s.
Photo:  John Mathew Collection, CityLibraries.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported in 1930 that the sailing season had opened with “great style” on a very pleasant Saturday afternoon in September.  Mr R Hayles loaned his vessel, the Malita, to the Townsville Flying Squadron for a flagship, which was “decked out in bunting and carried a fine crowd of ladies and gentlemen.”
Those lucky enough to have been invited on board were treated to a performance by a small orchestra aboard the Malita.  The orchestra included the club’s piano, which had been moved from the ballroom and was played by Mr Vic Foley during the trip.  Mr Foley was accompanied by Miss V. Cameron on the violin and Mr Patterson on the banjo.  

According to the Bulletin, “the three players were most unselfish with their services, and were responsible for much of the success achieved.”

“A very fine afternoon tea was served by the ladies’ committee, and this in conjunction with the ideal weather, the sweet music and the racing, made the function one of the most enjoyable that has been held in the City.”
Some of the men who helped to build the Flying Squadron Club House.
Photo: John Mathew Collection, CityLibraries.

American forces commandeered the club house during World War II and used it to store sugar.  According to Mr A Duffield, who was a life member and past treasurer of the Townsville Sailing Club, the sugar stored during the war, “wrecked the dance floor forever”.

The Bulletin interviewed Mr Duffield in late 1979, when the Flying Squadron club house was about to be demolished.  The club house had fallen into disrepair after a number of years of neglect.  The sailing clubs who had once made it their home had long since left, after navigation of their skiffs became difficult and dangerous in the busy Ross Creek shipping traffic.

Mr Duffield spoke fondly of the club house, particularly of the dances that were held there.

“When the modern up tempo dances arrived the whole building would rock and roll”, Mr Duffield said. 

“Sometimes I thought it would roll off its stumps in the middle of one of the razzle dazzle dances”, he said.


  1. My Aunt (Sadie Crewe) had a jazz band at that time called the Black Cat Orchestra, in which Sadie played the piano, her husband-to-be Edgar Irwin played the drums and my father Tom Crewe played the saxophone. There are a number of advertisements in the Townsville Daily Bulletin around that time (see Trove) stating that Sadie Crewe's Black Cat Orchestra was playing at a dance at the Townsville Flying Squadron Club House.

    1. Hi Paul, your Aunt's jazz band sounds fabulous! What a great name for a jazz band. They sound like they were very popular. Any chance you have any photos of them?

    2. I wish I DID have a photo of the band Trisha, I keep looking for a photo but no luck yet. Of course I have copies of them as part of my family though! It IS a great name for their band. Sadie and my Dad's mum (my grandmother) was also a very good pianist and played at various events in Georgetown (where they were from) and afterwards in Townsville. The family lived in First St, Railway Estate.

  2. Just a small aside, I have a trophy issued by the club to a crew of relatives dating to 1924. It was very kindly donated to me a few years ago. So the context you provide Trisha in your research is enlightening!