Real Tennis Hobart

A Reputation to Uphold
On Davey Street opposite St David’s Park, you’ll find the Commonwealth Law Courts, examples of Georgian architecture and Australia’s oldest real tennis club.
I’d often wondered what lay behind the stone façade and antique signage on 45 Davey Street. I figured it some elite club out of my reach. Then I ended up at a 40th birthday there. It was a BYO open bar, alcohol brought to share. I brought $20+ bottles and ended up drinking someone else’s Omni. The upside was the party was held on the hallowed ground of the real tennis club court. I might have arrived but it still seemed like a strange space indeed.
Image courtesy of Hobart’s Real Tennis Club
Man about town and real tennis club member, John Ramsay, sat down with This Girl and explained that real tennis was no secret society and our real tennis club is doing Hobart proud.
John started playing in 1976 when he was a young lawyer articled to the then Solicitor-General Roger Jennings. Jennings wanted someone to play real tennis with on their business trips to Melbourne.
Needless to say as a young impressionable lawyer who wanted a job of course I said yes.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that real tennis hasn’t had a comfortable constituency. Originally, most of the tennis club members were members of Hobart’s exclusive Tasmanian club. John assures me that’s no longer the case. Now the membership is much more diverse. There are around 250 members including associate or interstate members and around 80 people who play on a regular basis.
The demographic is spread between 20-and 30-year olds and people over their 50s. It’s a game you can play at super high energy levels if you’re fit and competitive but it’s also game you can play at a more relaxed pace into your 70s as evidenced by a number of members in that age bracket who play regularly. The youngsters tend to be the adult children of older members.
Getting in to real tennis is not much different from joining a golf club. If you want to play in Hobart you turn up and talk to the court professional Barry Tottes, he’ll arrange for you to have a hit. Like joining any incorporated association, you’ll need to be nominated and seconded and your application approved by the committee. In some places in the world it’s quite exclusive but in Hobart particularly, the club is open to anyone who wants to come along. There’s an annual fee and you pay to play.
Here’s a five things I learnt from John about real tennis:
  1. Real tennis is the original tennis. It was played in private courtyards in Europe before lawn tennis evolved.
  2. Real tennis is a ball game played in generally standardised internal courts which are quite large with internal roofs called penthouses. It’s bit like squash but the ball can travel around the walls and around the roofs of the court. The rest is pretty much like lawn tennis.
  3. It’s only played in the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Australia.
  4. The balls are made by hand at the club.
     They start with a cork, we like to think it’s a champagne cork in the middle, then cloth tape is wound round and around and it is tied tight with string and they all have a felt cover. The balls last awhile but the felt gets replaced when they wear out. The felt cover is cut and hand sewn by the club professional.


  5. The Hobart club has an international reputation for hospitality and it has just hosted the biennial international amateur real tennis Bathurst Cub.


The Bathurst Cup named after the Countess of course, donated the cup to real tennis in the 1920s. The tournament rotates around the four participating countries and the clubs in those countries bid to hold the tournament. Hobart hosted the cup in 1985 and 1999 and this year, John was head of the organising committee. The club’s commitment to tradition, good hospitality and showcasing all of what Hobart has to offer is obvious:

Players like visiting Hobart because it’s a small club and it’s a nice place and they have a good time.

We have a fantastic reputation for being a very hospitable club, very relaxed. We put on good social functions and people who come to Hobart say they always have a great time here. We have a reputation to uphold in relation to hosting of the tournament.

Visitors to Hobart’s Bathurst Cup had accommodation provided for them and a social program for their partners and supporters organised for them. The club raised funds amongst members so they could look after their guests. Lunch was provided every day, a tournament dinner and a welcoming reception at Government House no less. John can pull some strings.

Some of those strings are culinary. Tim Last from the Junction Hotel in New Norfolk catered one Asian-influenced dinner as part of a series of meals held in members’ homes where
the cost included a sizeable donation.


The tournament dinner was at Blue Eye partly because the owner is Joth Jennings, son of the former Solicitor-General and John’s old boss. Got to love Hobart and its two degrees of separation.

And you’ve got to love Hobart’s real tennis club. It exemplifies Hobart’s warm and welcoming community.


For more about Real Tennis. Find them on Facebook here.

Hobart’s real tennis club commissioned The Two Girls to write an eating out in Tassie guide for the Bathurst cub tournament. We are publishing it in a series of blog posts with
their kind permission. Read the first two posts: Café Culture and Like the Locals.




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