“When people come to our tournaments they bring their fishing rods!” laughs Kathy Martin, life member, 2001 women’s champion and a tireless volunteer who adds to both the character and smooth functioning of the Innisfail Tennis Club.
With the spectacular Johnstone River that divides the Far North Queensland town brimming with barramundi – plus plenty of crocodiles, including one that can apparently be seen from the clubhouse when the tide is low – fishing would be an obvious complement to the tennis that’s played from early morning to well after dark at the nine-court complex in Innisfail, a town of some 9000 people that’s built around the banana and sugar cane industries.
The club is the first locational visit for the AO Blitz, which provides communities throughout Australia a chance to win individual prizes and others for their town by simply connecting with tennis.
The AO Blitz offers people the chance to play MLC Tennis Hot Shots, experience Cardio Tennis or test their serve speeds. There’s also face painting for the kids, a slushie machine and a free sausage sizzle.
One of the biggest attractions is the presence of the Australian Open trophies and many locals line up for their once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup and Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy, including Cassowary Coast Mayor, Bill Shannon, who officially welcomes those who attend.
It’s an enthusiasm that’s reflected throughout the wider Innisfail community, which worked hard to recover after Cyclone Larry devastated the town in 2006 and bounced back again when Cyclone Yasi struck in 2011. The tennis club was directly hit in 2006, with fences wiped out, the clubhouse roof severely damaged (in fact, part of a nearby shop smashed through it) and lights not only shattered, but some blown away and lost forever in the Category 5 cyclone, one of the worst ever experienced in Australia. The most heartbreaking damage was to courts that were ruined beyond repair just months after the club had worked hard to resurface them.
Tennis was a means of restoring normality after the disaster. “It was a hard time but we’re also proud of the way that we all came together,” notes Stewart Lindsay, Innisfail Tennis Club President.
The Innisfail Tennis Club, which didn’t just recover from the cyclone but pulled together to emerge stronger than ever; in 2010, it was named Queensland Club of the Year.
Innisfail therefore seems like tough competition in the AO Blitz initiative that could see towns win their very own player representative at Australian Open 2014.