Part 1 - Otago Tramping Club: The Early Years (1923-1930)
From the 'Otago Daily Times', 23rd August, 1923: Ladies and gentlemen interested in the formation of a 'Tramping Club' are invited to attend a meeting to be held in Mr. Diver's Board Room, Grand Picture Palace Building, tonight (Thursday), August 23, at 8 o'clock.
From the 'Otago Daily Times', 24th August, 1923: A successful and enthusiastic meeting was held in Mr. E.S. Wilson's Board Room last night for the purpose of forming the Otago Tramping Club. There was an attendance of fully 60, including a large number of ladies. Mr. O. Balk, who was voted to the chair, referred to the great advantages which Dunedin offered to a Club of that nature. He pointed out the benefit to be derived from such healthy exercise as tramping in the hills, and the elevating effect it would have on the mind. In the Taurua Tramping Club, of Wellington, which had now completed it's fourth season, they had an excellent model to work upon as regards rules and procedure. A decision to form the Club, proposed by Mr. R. Gilkinson, and seconded by Mr. F. W. Clayton, was carried. The following Committee were elected: Messrs O. Balk (President); R. Gilkison and F.W.Clayton (Vice-Presidents); C.J.Hayward (Secretary); E. Miller (Treasurer); A.E. Gascoigne, P.L. Ritchie, R.B. Hamel, and Misses E. Webling and M. Le Brun. Messrs J. Knox, I.B. Mackie and Miss E. Harrison were later co-opted on the committee
The original meeting was convened by a small committee headed by Mr. Balk and Mr. Gilkinson. It is interesting to note that these gentlemen had independently conceived the idea of the formation of a Club, and both had written to the Taurua Club asking for advice and information. From their enthusiasm and that of their colleagues arose the early success and progress of the OTC.
The formation of the club was not an isolated event. Dunedin had been the home of a good many noted trampers and mountaineers such as Malcolm Ross, Kenneth Ross, H.F. Wright, J.K. Inglis, E. Miller and E. A. Duncan. In the earliest post-war years groups of Otago University students - G. M. Moir, R. S. M. Sinclair, D.R. Jennings and many others - had been exploring and track-cutting in the Hollyford and Cleddau Valleys. And both the hills around Dunedin and the Routeburn, Greenstone and Hollyford areas saw an ever increasing number of visitors. Amongst these the idea of forming a Club had been discussed informally, and the idea was quick to gain acceptance.
The new Club immediately started with a flourish, and forthwith set out to walk. There was an immediate rush of new members, and at the end of the first year the roll was 157. The first tramp was planned for Saturday afternoon, September 1. About 50 members assembled at Ross Creek reservoir and set off up the Pineapple Track to Flagstaff - a clear sunny day, with a cold south-westerly wind, the kind we know so well. The following Saturday some 60 persons gathered at the Gardens corner for a climb of Signal Hill and down the other side to Burkes; and this was followed the next day by a trip to Whare Flat, where various parties converged on a pleasant river-bank below McQuilkan's (long since washed out by floods and ruined by the invading gorse). A fortnight later while one group climbed Mt. Cargill, two others set off for Whare Flat - one of which made the journey successfully, but the other was stopped and warned off by Ben Rudd, the old hermit whose property was long afterwards purchased by the Club. Scott Gilkinson was one of those cut-off and still remembers the feelings of alarm as they encountered the stocky, bearded little man with the shot-gun. As a result of this, the Club arranged with Ben Rudd that he would cut a track through the manuka scrub, thus providing a route to Whare Flat while keeping members well away from Ben's property. For this he was paid the princely sum of £5, and the track was under very heavy use for the next II years until it was blocked by extensive scrub fires in 1935.
Labour Day, 1923, saw a massive gathering on Silver Peaks. Club weekend parties went by way of Whare Flat and Mt Allan, by Bendoran, and by Waitati-Red Hut; and on Monday they were joined on the Peak by another party of about 40 who had come by the Central Otago train to Mt Allan. About 70 Club members were joined on the top by some 30 others; the summit was crowded and the water supplies in the vicinity were severely taxed.
The first Christmas saw a lot of activity on the hills round Dunedin, while one party spent a fortnight based on the shearers' quarters at Cecil Peak station.
The pattern of Club activities had now fairly well settled down. For a period tramps were organised for both Saturday afternoons and Sundays, both being well supported. Saturdays then started to fall from favour, and for a while were dropped from the programme; a few years later the call for Saturday outings developed again, and as they gained in favour the Sundays dropped off. Over the years there have been many changes in the pattern of Club activity, but always it has endeavored to meet the demand and give satisfaction to members.
During the period up to 1930, the Club roamed far and wide over the local hills, while Christmas trips saw visits to Milford Sound, Cecil Peak and Fox Glacier. The membership dropped sharply in the first two years; some of those who had rushed to join at the start found that the Club was not just what they wanted, and by 1926 the roll had dropped from 157 to 73. Then a more healthy growth developed, and for the next 20 years the membership varied between 100 and 160.
Social activities developed at an early stage. At a special general meeting in 1924 " dancing was indulged in till II p.m. and all went home pleased with their evening's enjoyment ". Also in 1924 a Military Pageant was staged at Carisbrook in aid of the War Memorial Fund; the ladies of the Club ran a refreshment stall while some of the men joined in the Pageant as " The Yeomen of the Guard ". Then the Club ran a successful Kitchen Stall at an Oriental Bazaar in aid of St. John Ambulance Association funds. A framed list of outings, surrounded by views of typical beauty spots, was on display at the N.Z. and South Seas Exhibition, 1925-26. Soon after this the Club began supplying the Press with regular reports of day and weekend trips. This lasted for about two years, and was replaced by a series of radio talks over 4YA.
The first Club Room was opened in 1927, and operated every second Wednesday in the International Harvester buildings in Castle Street. Over the following years the Club Room idea was maintained, with varying support, in several different locations; but it did not, at this stage, play the vital part in the Club's life that it has done in recent years.
Mr. Balk was followed as President by Mr. Gilkison, after whom came Messrs. Knox, Clayton, Lumb, Kennedy, Gascoigne and Ritchie. During this period two particularly competent Secretaries kept the Club's affairs in order: Mr. I. B. Mackie (1924-26) and Mr. G. A. Pearson, who held the position from 1927 until he left Dunedin in 1939. Messrs. Hayward, Knox and E. W. Hunter also carried this responsibility for short periods. By 1930 then, the Club was well established as a force in the community. Whereas previously trampers had been looked on almost as cranks, or at best as rare curiosities, their activities were now accepted as rational and respectable. The 'thirties, and the onset of the Depression, saw the Club ready to play its part.