What once was a hub of tennis in the Canberra region, is now laid to waste after a fire at the Hawker Tennis Centre on Thursday night (25 October) gutted the facility.
Tennis legend Bruce Larkham, who was recently inducted into Tennis ACT Walk of Fame, bought a block of land in Hawker when the suburb was being established back in 1976, and he and his wife Stephanie built the tennis centre to benefit the growing Belconnen area.
Their sons Todd and Brett Larkham grew up at the facility and played there for most of their junior careers. Todd said the club was a huge part of his life and helped him develop into the coach he is today.
“My parents owned it for about 33 years before they sold it in 2010 to a development company,” Todd told Region Media. “They ran it for 23 years and then leased it out to different coaches for ten years before selling it.”
“My brother and I grew up there and lived onsite with Mum and Dad. Living at a sporting facility was a quite a unique thing and we grew up playing tennis every day and Brett and I went on to work in the shop and coached kids there for a number of years.
“We developed as tennis players and coaches there so it has been a huge part of our lives.”
After Todd retired from professional tennis, he went back and ran the centre for several years in 2004. Having lived there since he was a toddler to when he went on the tour as a 21-year-old, his whole childhood was spent at the centre.
Todd, who won the ACT high-performance coaching prize for 2018 and is currently coaching young guns Annerly Poulos and Charlie Camus, said the centre had seen an abundance of aspiring tennis players walk through the door.
“Through the 80s and 90s, most kids growing up in Belconnen would have played there at some stage,” Todd said. “It was really booming for 20-odd years and the centre taught thousands of people to play tennis. It was a huge part of the community back then.”
Todd drove out to the abandoned centre on Friday morning (26 October) to survey the damage, with the clubhouse totally intact but the house itself extensively damaged.
“Going back there this morning was a bit strange,” he said. “I have been back there throughout the years and the state of the place was steadily getting worse and worse but it is definitely a shock to see it burnt out like that.”
An ACT Policing spokesperson said police attended the scene and are investigating the incident.
Anyone with anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or via the Crime Stoppers ACT website. Information can be provided anonymously.