By Narelle Coulter
In the 1950s the Dandenong Town Hall came alive each Wednesday night as young men and women, dressed to impressed, gathered to dance, court and raise money for Shepley Oval.
Former Dandenong mayor and handy cricketer Ian McDonald remembers the dances well.
He helped patrol the popular events and it was also at a dance that he met his beloved wife, Pat.
“On a small night we had 600 people. A big night would attract 1200,” remembered Ian.
“The whole idea behind the dances was to take the Dandenong and District Cricket Association to the highest level of cricket in Victoria, then known as district cricket, now known as premier league.”
The dances, which were held from 1952 until 1961, were wildly successful and raised enough money to build a pavilion at Shepley Oval, seven turf wickets and a training wicket among other improvements.
Television had just come to Australia and many of Melbourne’s top young talents performed at the Dandenong Town Hall dances including Dorothy Baker, Frankie Davidson, Shirlene Clancy, Bert Newton, Patti McGrath, Ernie Sigley, Ian Turpie and Marjorie Mills.
“The dance committee members were worried about a group of young bucks led by Roy ‘Bull’ Goodwin who had taken over the supper room for rock‘n’roll and jive dances,” remembered Ian.
“I was assigned to keep a friendly eye on proceedings. I was even given a special jacket and tie to wear.
“However, what the committee did not know was that Roy and I were mates and there was never any trouble.”
The dances were alcohol free and finished at midnight. A small contribution bought a plate of supper laden with cream cakes and sandwiches.
People travelled from all over the south-east and Gippsland.
The night Ian met Pat he was sporting a black eye from collision on the football field.
Pat, whose maiden name was Alexander, approached him and said: “What happened to you?” suspecting he had been in a fight.
Ian’s mate later nudged him and said: “She’s alright, Macca”.
The next week Ian was determined to get his name on Pat’s dance card.
“I couldn’t get near her, she was pretty popular. I said to some of the tough guys ‘can you clear a path for me?’.
“They did and I had the last dance with her, a fox trot,” he said, smiling fondly at his wife.
“I took her home but, of course, I had to take her two girlfriends as well.”
They were married at St James’ Anglican Church on 21 July 1962.
The dances finished in 1961.
District cricket finally came to the oval in 1989 when the Waverley Cricket Club merged with Dandenong. The merged club, originally known as Waverley-Dandenong but now known as the Dandenong Cricket Club, has played its first XI and second XI cricket at Shepley Oval since.
Today Shepley Oval is also home to the Dandenong Stringrays TAC Cup football team.