1958 - The Beginning (Eastern Suburbs RUFC)
The club had a humble beginning in 1958 when a few enthusiasts decided to form a rugby club in the fast growing area to the east of Melbourne, and appropriately named it the Eastern Suburbs RUFC. They gathered together a group of young players, the nucleus being from the Box Hill Boys High School who, together with several older players then granted dispensation, was entered in the 1959 Victorian Rugby Union Colts (Under 19) competition.
Preseason night training commenced at Halliday Park, Nunawading, where the only illumination came from streetlights in Mitcham Road. It continued there until late July when an arrangement was made with the Box Hill Soccer Club to train on alternate weeknights on their Surrey Park ground. Then, just in time for the commencement of the 1960 season, in which a second grade team was also entered, it was agreed that the club could use the Surrey Park ground for home games on eleven Saturdays.
1961 - First Success and a Renaming to Box Hill Rugby Union Football Club
The club changed its name to the Box Hill Rugby Union Football Club in 1961 and continued to use the Surrey Park ground for a number of years, during which a 2nd and 3rd XV were added and the 1st XV promoted to First Grade (in 1966). Meanwhile the Colts had won the club's first VRU Grand Final (in 1962) and an Under 16 team had entered the VJRU competition in 1963. By 1965 the club had teams in all VJRU grades. The club produced its first state representative in Peter Wilson in 1961 and won its first Club Championship in 1968.
Much of the development of the club was due to the vision and drive of the early presidents, not least Griff Hunt, who was also to become President of the Victorian Rugby Union as well as being appointed to numerous committees for the Australian Rugby Union. Griff was awarded Life Membership of the Box Hill Club and the Victorian Rugby Union and was to receive a Life Membership award from the Australian Rugby Union at the time of his death.
The Box Hill Rugby Union Football Club has always had a mission to promote junior rugby and its players and a concerted drive was made to promote the game in local schools. It was fortuitous that the Box Hill Boys High School had shown the way by introducing the code before the club was established and this was due to the years of dedicated promotional work done by Cec Holder, a master at the school and the club's first Life Member.
1969 - The Move to our Current Home
In 1962 the club proposed to move to it’s present site at the corner of Middleborough and Canterbury Roads and years of negotiations followed in which long time Club Captain, Vice President and then President Mick Headberry played a leading role. The council agreed to annual repayments of a loan to contribute to the cost of building a clubhouse, which would provide change rooms and an upstairs area for post-match social gatherings. The clubrooms and grounds at what is now known as the RHL Sparks Reserve became the new home of the club in 1969.
Since the establishment of the club at Sparks Reserve, additional extensions to the upstairs area have been added by means of loans and hard work by the members to raise the funds. The initial expansion was in large part due to the efforts and vigorous leadership of the 1980-82 president Tom Wilcox.
1973 - Our First Victorian and Australian Representative Players
Premierships have been won in most grades and many of the club's players have been selected for Victorian state representation but a great moment came in 1973 when Matthew Hassell was selected for the Australian Schoolboys side to tour England. This team was undefeated on tour. James Hyde was another player selected in 1982 for representation in the Australian Under 17 team, as was Ben Farley in the Australian Under 19 and Under 21 sides in 1993 and 1994. Other members to achieve Australian selection were Denis Collard (the first from the club) in the Australian Under 18 XV in 1964 and David Palavi in 1994 in the Under 17 XV.
Great names from the club who have been state representatives have included Patsy McGoldrick, Norm Ridgeway and Ron Saunders. Patsy went on to coach the Australian Schoolboys side to an undefeated tour of New Zealand, a tough ask at any time. The club was proud to have Andrew Coombe and Cameron Frater (both started as juniors with the club) as the first players from Victoria to be selected for the Australian Institute of Sport rugby union scholarship program. This program is the nursery for players from around Australia for future Wallaby sides. Cameron and Andrew played for Victoria and Andrew went on to play for Queensland. More recently, in September 2014, 1st grade centre Sefanaia Naivalu became the first VRU club member to be offered and sign a contract to play Super Rugby with the Melbourne Rebels.
1997 - Womens Rugby and Success in the Modern Era
1997 was a significant year in three ways. The first women's rugby teams, known as the ‘Fillies’ was formed and were runners up in their first year of competition. Most importantly Melissa Latu, a member of that inaugural team, was selected as a member of the Australian women's rugby team to play New Zealand. Melissa is the first member of the club to be selected as a senior Australian team member whilst still actively playing for the club. Then in the same year Clive Welti, a long time stalwart for junior rugby development both at club and VJRU levels, had the honour of being elected president of the Australian Junior Rugby Union.
Completion of the 40th Anniversary of competition was celebrated in 1999; a very successful year for the club. Melissa Latu and Anita Carlin were selected for the Australian women's team and Rex Tapau was selected for the Australian Under 16 team. A big highlight was the 1st XV winning the first 1st Grade Premiership in the club's history. This was an excellent reward for president Harvey Coombe, the board and senior coach Bob Stevenson. The club has since won the 1st Grade Premiership in 2000 and 2001, the 2nd Grade in 2015, the 3rd Grade in 2003 and the Women's in 2001, 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2011.
The Box Hill Rugby Union Football Club, from a modest start in 1958, has developed into a major force in Victorian Rugby Union. With its mission and goals specifically aimed at junior development, the club is positioned to achieve greater success, both for the club and for the players who represent the club.
For a detailed account of events, people and achievements of Box Hill Rugby Union Football club, the publication, GOING FOR THE LINE by Ron Grainger is available. Please contact the club on how you can get hold of a copy.
Further Reading - A History of Rugby in Victoria
If you are interested in reading more about the history of Rugby Union in Victoria, Ron Grainger has written and published The istory of Rugby in Victoria that can be found here.