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History

06 Apr 2017

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The Young Men’s Christian Association 

It stood prominently on the corner of City Rd and Sturt St, at the gateway to South Melbourne.  

The large triangular-shaped building, of six storeys and with a bevelled entry facing towards the city, was the YMCA (commonly known as the Y) and it occupied the site now known as Testing Grounds.  

The Young Men’s Christian Association is an international organisation, with more than 125 national associations. Founded in London in 1844, its aim was to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy “body, mind, and spirit”.

A major activity of the YMCA, with its symbol of a red triangle, is organised sports. The Victorian body was established in 1871 and its members (who paid a subscription) progressively took up a range of sports, with competitions in athletics, cycling, gymnastics, baseball, lawn tennis, table tennis, badminton, cricket, football (with a YMCA team briefly appearing in the amateur competition in the 1890s), boxing, diving, rowing, swimming, billiards and basketball (invented in a Y in the USA in 1882).

Formerly in Flinders St, the new building was designed by Alec Eggleston, the noted Melbourne architect who formed a partnership with his architect son Robert in the 1920s.  

It cost about £140,000 to build, a considerable sum in 1926, and was the largest Y outside the USA.

Regarded as being designed along American lines, it included beautiful timber walls, stained glass windows (reputedly donated by the architect), big leather arm chairs and couches and tables in the middle and built-in telephone booths.

It served as a large centre for activities that included sports, educational, musical, social and devotional for young men.

Many naval recruits were billeted at the Y and it provided clubs for boys where they could watch cartoons and films, practice gymnastics in the gym and swim in the large pool (where it was compulsory to swim naked!).  

During the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, it hosted exhibitions and competitions by visiting athletes, such as the Japanese Judo team.

YMCA activities in competitions in sports such as gymnastics, athletics and swimming took place between suburban YMCA clubs and against other sporting clubs, such as Harriers.  

Interstate competitions were a highlight of the year, with Melbourne competing against teams from around the country.

The building was demolished in 1988 to make way for the realignment of City Rd as part of the massive changes associated with the NGV and the development of Southbank.

Robin Grow
President - Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society

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