100 Years of History

Geelong Try Boys' Brigade


1897 - 1997




"There is a growing desire in this land to say that the needs of the less blessed in worldly  stances should be a matter for the State; the simple fact is that the less the State has to do with such work and the more great-hearted men and women accept the responsibilities of their common humanity, the better. One man will accomplish more in the lives of those they seek to serve than ten government departments would accomplish in a century."

Extract from a story in the Geelong Standard of 1924 entitled 'A Worthy Service'.



A movement which began in Geelong a century ago and continues to thrive today has been a cradle of influence for thousands of young people in the region.

The Geelong Try Boys' Brigade centenary gives reason to celebrate the valuable youth welfare work which it has accomplished in the Geelong region during this period.

It was established at a time when horse-drawn vehicles clattered along streets lit by gas and continued without faltering to the electronic age of today. It remained strong through a century which saw two world wars and enormous political, social and economic upheaval. 

Few people are aware of the extent of the brigade's work as it has never been widely publicised.  This is perhaps due to the nature of the man who founded and those who later nurtured it through its century. Their philosophy has been to get on with the job without fuss or fanfare.

Much of the Brigade's history is to be found in ten leather covered 'minute' books which detail every committee meeting since 1897 and with some sections of the early volumes hand-written in fine, ink copperplate script. A century of annual reports have also been diligently stored in a large black tin box. All this has been kept for posterity in a safe at the Brigade headquarters.  Further research brought forth scant information as little has been written over the years to document the efforts of the industrious committees which have controlled the club.

The brigade was begun by a man who had emigrated to Australia thirty-two years earlier. In 1865 the young Charles Shannon sailed from Scotland with his family  leaving behind their home in Greenock on the Firth of Clyde not far from Glasgow.     

After a difficult and dreary three month sea voyage the family soon settled into life in Geelong and Charles joined some cousins in the wool trade. They later merged with Strachan and Co. and he became a partner in Strachan, Murray and Shannon. There were also other business ventures including partnerships in the Clyde Fellmongery and Godfrey Hirst's  mill.

An energetic and enterprising man, Shannon was involved in community life in Geelong and held office in civic and sporting organisations. After five years on the Geelong Town Council he became mayor of Newtown and Chilwell and was the first captain of the Barwon Rowing Club.

In 1875 he married Emily Agnes Strachan and they had eight children. He was chairman of the first council of management at The Geelong College where four of his sons were students. One of the school houses is called Shannon in his memory. The family lived at St. Helen's for a few years before Shannon commissioned a large two-storey home in Prospect Road, Newtown, which today is a reception centre called Kirrewur Court.

When he became president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1890 Shannon headed a powerful group of men - most of whom were connected with imports and exports. These men were aware of the growing chasm between rich and poor which had worsened in the 1880's when economic conditions eventually led to  depression.

The disastrous land boom bust resulted in widespread poverty and unemployment - most people found it difficult to pay their way. Children suffered badly with hungry, ragged, bare-footed boys roaming the streets. Some made a few pennies selling newspapers; many hung around pastry cooks' shops in the hope of scoring leftovers or stale offerings.

Homeless newsboys were a part of life in many cities during this period. They were a lost generation of forgotten street urchins victimised by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease. Many were arrested for drunkenness and petty crimes.

Newsboys in Geelong were no different. They sold the Geelong Advertiser for one penny. It usually consisted of six pages of 48 columns of tightly-packed text. A typical front page included stories about the perils of drinking on a Sunday afternoon, a diphtheria outbreak which taxed accommodation at the hospital, advertisements regaling the benefits of Markell's Pills for disordered liver, Cobb and Co. wagonettes and buggies for hire and a valuable discovery for the hair called Mexican Hair Renewer.

Geelong was a bustling sea port with Port Phillip Bay steamers docking daily at the former Moorabool St. wharf between Cunningham and Yarra Sts. piers. On land it was also busy with Cobb and Co. coaches running between Geelong and Ballarat taking nine hours to do the trip. It was a time of horsedrawn vehicles, saddlers and blacksmiths - and streets dotted with wayward children.

An editorial in the July 28, 1897, edition of the Geelong Advertiser revealed that more than 80,000 school age children were absent from the public schools of the colony.



Into this scene stepped a caring, sympathetic man who rallied his friends to help do something for under-privileged children of the day.

Shannon convened a meeting at his house on May 8th , 1897, with the purpose of forming a "poor boys' club" which would provide boys who usually spent their evenings on the streets with something to do. He wanted disadvantaged boys to benefit from the same opportunities his own sons enjoyed. He told the meeting the club would have to find a suitable building and provide activities which would entice boys to come in off the streets and suggested that games, gymnastics and illustrated papers would be a start.

He told them he had seen at first hand the excellent work being done by William Mark Forster, a businessman who had founded the Try Boys' Society in Melbourne thirteen years earlier. This organisation was going from strength to strength and the successful merging of  destitute youths with those from better off families saw no sign of class barrier. A common interest in games, gymnastics, singing, reading and friendship drew the boys together. He told them Forster constantly reassured the boys they could achieve a great deal if they were only prepared to try. This gave rise to the organisation's name.

Shannon told the men at this meeting that while he was in Melbourne he had visited the Gordon Institute, the News Boys' Club and the Try-Excelsior Club in Toorak. He had studied their methods, rules and annual reports and realised what "good and useful work was being done." The leaders of these clubs had provided him with detailed information regarding their management methods.

He told the meeting he was especially impressed with the Gordon Institute which Forster had begun after setting up the Try Boys. Assisted by a Melbourne hatter named William Groom, Forster had expanded the activities to the stage where the Institute had become the centre of youth welfare services in Victoria. Shannon felt he could emulate this work in Geelong.

The men present at this historic meeting at Shannon's house - George Hitchcock, A. Sayers, N. Robertson, J. H. McPhillimy, M. Conran and W. Freeman (who attended for his father B. Freeman) - agreed there was need for such work in Geelong and resolved to investigate suitable premises, the cost of furniture and equipment, and a person to take on the job as leader / manager of the new club.

This same group, joined by Dr Kennedy, held its first regular meeting the following month in the Mechanics' Institute classroom - a galvanised iron shed in Malop St. at the back of the old Chamber of Commerce building. At this meeting Shannon introduced the committee members to Joseph Yeowart, manager of the Melbourne Try Boys' Society, who had agreed to become leader and manager of their new club on an annual salary of £120 ($240). Shannon generously guaranteed a sum of £200 ($400) to fund the club for its first year.

On a motion of Dr Kennedy it was agreed that "for the present" the club should be called The Geelong Try Boys' Brigade - the name it proudly carries a century later.

Although he could not attend the first meeting, Mr James Wighton joined the new committee soon after and was appointed the first honorary secretary. His legal firm, which became Wighton and McDonald, continued to do the legal work for the brigade until the early 'seventies when Geelong solicitor, Peter Bain, joined the committee and has since looked after the Brigade's legal business. 

Soon after the meeting Shannon bought the Hodges Brothers' brewery on the corner of Malop and Corio Sts. next to the London Bank. This was a former site of the Geelong Advertiser with frontages to Corio and Malop streets. Today it is the carpark and bottle shop of the Carlton Hotel.

It was here, in the brigade's first home, that its constitution was adopted on July 28, 1897. The entrance fee was set at one shilling (10 cents) for boys over twelve and sixpence (5 cents) for boys under twelve. Minutes record that "the fee should be paid either at entrance or by installments extending over three months or should be remitted altogether at the option of the Leader. Upon payment of the full amount…each member to be entitled to his badge of membership."

Members agreed on a design for the badges at this meeting and the manager was directed to obtain a price. Soon after this meeting 250 badges were ordered for nine shillings (55 cents) per dozen. The brigade's first major purchase of a piano "cost not to exceed £15" was also agreed to along with "gymnastic appliances, parallel bars, quoits and gas burners."

It was also decided to engage an assistant to the Leader provided "they could arrange for the amount required for the purpose - £50".

When the club first opened its doors more than 150 boys descended on Joseph Yeowart who was both thrilled and amazed at the number. Sadly he did not live to see the benefits of his excellent work as he died two years later.

Office-holders at the end of the Try Boys' first year were:

Chairman:                   Mr. Charles Shannon

Hon. Treasurer:          Mr. G. M. Hitchcock

Hon. Secretary:           Mr J. Wighton

Committee:                 Mr. A. Sayers,

                                   Mr. B. Freeman,

                                   Mr. J. H. McPhillimy,

                                   Mr. M. Conran

                                   Dr. Kennedy.

Leader & Manager:     Mr. Joseph Yeowart.


Carefully written ledgers reveal the achievements of this quietly performing club which has survived both prosperity and depression and succeeded in helping many thousands of boys who have filed through its doors to take part in a wide variety of classes.

Against the names of some of the boys who attended in the early days are notes like: "Mother does not want him to come home." Another asks whether a boy who had obviously misbehaved badly could be "allowed back in". It would appear from these minutes that boys were always given another chance and usually responded positively.

In its early days the Brigade printed and distributed two thousand circulars which   set out its aims. This resulted in more than 300 boys attending each week. The Chief Secretary's Department gave permission for the manager to receive children under the Neglected Children's Act.

Records show there were almost 15,000 attendances during this first year which obviously confirmed the need for such an institution. Classes were held in gymnastics, drill, Indian clubs, wands, dumb  bells, roman rings, horizontal and parallel bars, singing, and woodcarving. Many of the boys were not able to read or write so they were encouraged to join the night school and shorthand class.

From its inception the committee sought jobs in both town and  country for some of the boys. Victorian farmers were quick to respond to the brigade's offer of boys who were eager to work on the land. They signed an agreement to properly feed, house and attend to the morals of the boy sent. Arrangements were made for the boys' wages to be sent to the Brigade manager and held in trust for them.

Officers and teachers during these first years were:  

Mr. J. Yeowart            - leader and manager

Mr. W. A. Nelson        - assistant manager and gym teacher

Mr W. Berriman          - nightschool

Mr S. Bowyer              - shorthand

Miss L. McPhillimy       - singing

Miss McPhillimy           - woodcarving

Miss Guyot                  - Busy Bee

Miss M. Abrahams       - pianist

An extract from the visitors' book at the time stated: 

"Delighted with what I saw and heard. Thankful there is such a splendid institution in Geelong, and so able managed. It deserves the sympathy of all who love their fellow men."  W. J. Eddy.


Two years after its inception P. J. D. (Percy)  Stevens was appointed manager / secretary after the untimely death of Joseph Yeowart and the Brigade reported that "the up-lifting of the boys of Geelong is steadily being accomplished."                          

Throughout the early years of the new century the Brigade continued to give the newsboys  and working boys of Geelong  - and those who were habitually on the streets at night -" useful occupation for their mind and body."

In 1910 building operations blocked the entrance to the Brigade's building from Malop St. and it became necessary to move. Shannon came to the aid of the committee and bought an old hotel which had become a coffee house. He paid £575 ($1150) for Impey's Coffee Palace in Corio Street, opposite Kardinia Street, without telling the committee and later explained that it was "a rush job" as he would have lost the sale by the time he called the committee together! 

Everyone was delighted with the purchase and the committee agreed to pay £30 ($60) annual rent for the Brigade's second home. This was later rescinded when Brigade funds ran low and Shannon granted use of the building rent free.

This solid building, formerly the British Inn, was once a depot for Cobb and Co. coaches which plied between Geelong and Ballarat. Although in a state of disrepair these quarters were far superior to the old ones and ideal for the Brigade's needs. Tenders were called and Geelong building company, J. C. Taylor and Son, was awarded the job of building a gymnasium according to plans prepared by Messrs. Laird and Buchan at a cost of £125/10/- ($251).

Over the years classes were added and dropped as their popularity waxed and waned. The great variety of classes included boot repairing, raffia work, meccano, fretwork, woodcarving, carpentry, wax-inlaying, gymnastics and boy scouts. A few of the boys who were eager to further their education began attending the Gordon Technical College to learn shorthand.

The Imperial Boy Scouts movement steadily gained ground and camps were held at Torquay where the boys were taught to swim.

The Brigade's employment bureau was inundated with applications for more boys than it could supply. Many of the boys had kept the same job for eight years and some had gone into their own businesses.

An encouraging tribute came from Sir John Kirk, Superintendent of the Ragged School Union of the Shaftesbury Institute in London when he visited the Brigade in 1911 and spoke to the boys. He expressed delight with the work being done.

The 1914 annual report stated: 'There are few boys who actually want to go wrong but they do so because they have no guidance - it is to help these boys from becoming "wasters" that we ask for your support and sympathy. Public donations and the promise of bequests were requested from time to time when funds were short.

The following year saw the formation of a drum and fife band; the boy scouts doing excellent work in semaphore, morse signalling and first aid; and a request from the Boy Scouts' Association headquarters in Melbourne asking that particular attention be paid to these classes to ensure the boys were prepared for any emergency arising during the war.

The brigade committee was "greatly pleased with the noble response made by the Old Boys to the call for help from the Empire…"  It printed an honor roll listing old boys killed in action, wounded or serving the Empire. The list grew as the war dragged on. A total of 130 old boys enlisted and nineteen were killed.

Charles Shannon, founder and president for 25 years, died in 1922 and was buried in the Eastern cemetery. Known as the 'Grand Old Man' of Geelong his interest in the welfare of others was widespread. By his generous financial support the Brigade was in a sound position when Jas. McPhillimy took over as president.



At the 1925 annual meeting several speakers including the Geelong mayor, Cr. F. G. H. Ritchie, stressed the need to do something to properly house the Brigade. The old building had served its purpose but the time had come for new headquarters. With the thought of building new premises the committee purchased a block of land not far from its present headquarters in Bellerine St. It was sold the following year when it was decided to erect a two-storey building with flat roof on the present site as a memorial to the late Charles Shannon. Plans and specifications were considered and architects were instructed to call for tenders. It was unanimously agreed to accept  the tender of £3652 from Jas. Dew.

The Brigade manager, Percy Stevens, wrote to the Trustees of the estates of Stanley Heath. Edward Wilson, Alfred Felton, C. F. Forest, Geo. Rolfe, A. Miller and Geo. Scott asking for a donation to the building fund. A "handsome donation" of £500 ($1000) soon came from the Edward Wilson Fund while further donations later trickled in from most of the other Funds.

Amended plans showing a two-storey building in the front and a single storey at the rear were submitted with an estimated cost of £4100 ($8200) and temporary premises were arranged next to the Union Ice Company at two pounds per week for six months.

The old hotel was eventually demolished and on its site rose the Charles Shannon Memorial building opened in 1927 as a purpose-built headquarters for the Brigade. With two storeys and a basement it was designed in the Italian Renaissance style and finished in coarse stucco. This solid, grey building, with its polished hardwood trimmings consisted of ground floor with a large gymnasium, shower and changing rooms, games room, library and offices. Upstairs were four spacious rooms where classes in carpentry, modelling, fretwork and leather work were held.

The basement was the haven of the first scout troop in Victoria formed in 1910 soon after the movement was founded in Britain. Seven "dens", or compartments, were built around three walls with logs, saplings and bark while the fourth wall was painted to represent a forest. There were about 70 brigade members in the 1st Geelong Scouts (Shannon's Own) and the Try Boys' Cub Pack.

The building remained the Try Boys' home for the next fifty years when the popularity of basketball forced expansion and a move to the present complex in Ryrie St. East Geelong. In 1985,  nine years after the Try Boys had moved out, the building was demolished to make way for the new Bay City Plaza retail development.


The Wall St. share market crash of 1929 heralded an era of world-wide depression and Australia was soon in the grip of hardship and misery. Our export income took a dive when wool prices fell on world markets and this reverberated in Geelong. A large part of the workforce was suddenly without jobs.

The Brigade battled on helping its young members and their families who were unemployed. When farm jobs were found the boys jumped at the chance to go to the country as there was increasingly less city work. 

A scout camp which had begun at Ocean Grove in 1924 proved extremely popular with many boys camping under canvas and digging wells for their water - on one occasion to a depth of eighteen feet!

Although Try activities were reduced limited classes continued throughout the war years, often being held before dark due to blackout restrictions.

In 1943 the St. John's Ambulance Cadet Corps held the first of its weekly meetings in the library at the Shannon Memorial building. Mr. C. C. Robinson was the first honorary instructor of these classes which continued for many years and saw many boys complete their examinations and gain certificates in First Aid. These boys gave valuable service to the community when they accompanied senior members on public duty. At the age of eighteen they transferred to the adult division of the Corps.

After 46 years as manager, Percy Stevens died in March, 1945. More than 5000 boys had come under his control during this period - and the 1st Geelong Shannon's Own Group of scouts had flourished.

After fifty years of operation, with an ever increasing variety of classes, some new sports became popular - wrestling, jujitsu and boxing. This brought an increase in the numbers of boys who attended each night.

In 1948 the boys proudly performed on the back of a truck. The brigade entered a float in the Geelong Hospital Gala Day procession and won first prize for the best display. A long tray truck, borrowed from W. Fry of Chilwell, was decorated with colored cloth and crepe paper on which slogans were printed. It was furnished with a carpenter's bench, basketry table, gymnastic equipment and first aid supplies - and the boys went about their tasks on this truck during the procession.

By the late 'forties the incumbent president, Percy J. Wilks, noted that because compulsory education in Victoria "did not go far enough" an increasing number of youth clubs  were springing up. He was justly proud that the Try Boys' Brigade was the first of these clubs. Wilks was the last direct link from the Brigade with Shannon. He had been a close neighbor and contemporary of the Shannon family from childhood.


After Percy Wilk's death in 1955 Jack Kroger became president - a position he held for the next forty years. Kroger, now aged 94, was born soon after the Brigade was founded. He joined the committee in 1942; today the Try Boys' headquarters - the Jack Kroger Sports Centre - is named after him in honor of his contribution.

A tall, distinguished man, Kroger maintains the Try Boys' philosophy has always been  "…win or lose - but do your best. And if you give your best eventually you'll win something."

He has seen thousands of boys benefit from their time with the Brigade and remembers the days when he saw them devouring meat pies while waiting for the doors to open after selling 'Heralds' for a penny a week. He believes the club has survived for a century because of careful management by those who have donated their services. This valuable voluntary work has always enabled charges to remain moderate.


A broad base of activities continued through the 'fifties and in 1957 the Underwater Exploration and Fishing Club was formed. Boys fished at resorts along the coastline and also spent time diving at Eastern Beach pool for broken bottles, wood, debris and - at the request of people walking along the promenade - watches that had fallen through the decking.

Until now sport had not assumed the great role it would play in years to come. The 'sporting revolution' began during the early 'sixties when the popularity of table tennis and basketball saw them added to the brigade's activities. Teams entered in local competitions met with great success.

A man who was to remain a stalwart of the club came onto the scene at this time. Evan Burns joined the committee in 1965, mainly through his long involvement with the scouting movement,  and since his retirement from business ten years ago has been club manager. Now aged 75, with twinkling eyes and a wide smile, it is easy to understand his popularity with the thousands of boys he has helped for more than thirty years.

Burns' first association with the club came in 1956 when his two sons joined a scout troop with the Brigade and by the late 'sixties he was appointed Scoutmaster. All members of the Burns family have received a Lance Nicholls Memorial Trophy which has been awarded annually since 1947 to a scout who has done most for scouting during the year. Lance Nicholls was only fifteen years old when he took on the job of organising and leading the scouts during the war.  

The Brigade's format has changed with the times - perhaps that adaptability explains part of its reason for continued success. Today the carpentry and handwork classes remain but there is no Sunday school or bootmaker and printing shops.

Burns' son, Doug, an antique restorer, runs the carpentry classes each week in the Brigade's woodwork room which houses six large work benches, a power saw, buzzer and grindstone. On the wall hangs a board - The Keith Birrell Memorial Trophy - which lists the boys who have won the trophy each year since 1978. Keith Birrell began as a Try Boy in the fretwork class and went on to become a committee member.



A simple line in the minutes recorded in 1925 stated that the committee "purchased a basketball." Members would not have realised then that more than half a century later basketball would become the major activity of the Brigade. The game grew in popularity after the Americans introduced it during the Second World War. By the 'sixties there were thirty teams registered with the Geelong Amateur Basketball Association and twenty-eight under 18 teams in the Geelong Try Boys' Basketball Club. There was also the oddly titled Try Boys Girls' Basketball team which was the fourth team to be registered in Geelong.

It was this surge in the popularity of basketball which first prompted discussions on moving the Brigade's headquarters. In 1968 the committee considered purchasing a property at 478 Ryrie Street with plans to build a basketball stadium for $13,000.  The following year it approached Mr Gordon Scholes, MLA, to inquire into the possibility of the Brigade buying this land which was part of the Commonwealth Army rifle range.

In 1970, after researching the feasibility of such a project, architect Ewan Laird presented to the committee the facts and figures necessary for building a basketball stadium on the rifle range site. The estimated cost was $100,000.  Debate on the issue continued for a few more nail-biting years when in 1972 - the brigade's 75th year - the Department of Interior announced it would approve a ten year lease at $60 p.a. for the site to be used for a sports centre. Sketch plans were drawn up and sent to the council.

In 1973 the Minister for Youth, Sport and Recreation, Mr. Brian Dixon, met with the committee and showed great interest in the project. By that stage the cost estimate had escalated to $150,000 and Mr Hayden Birrell, MLA, was approached with the prospect of obtaining a government grant for the stadium.

Still pushing and determined to get the project off the ground, a tenacious Jack Kroger then asked Mr. Gordon Scholes to inquire into the possibility of obtaining a commonwealth grant for the building.

Finally the go ahead came at a special committee meeting in April 1975 when it was decided that the Brigade trustees would enter into a contract with Van Driel Pty Ltd to build a sports centre at the end of Ryrie Street in East Geelong. By then the estimated cost had grown to $288,000 and the committee resolved to sell the Corio Street property, if necessary, to finance the project. It did become necessary and the following year it was sold for $66,000 to a group of Geelong businessmen.

However, there was still a shortfall of $72,000 so Jack Kroger and Peter Bain headed up the Princes Highway to see Brian Dixon in his Bourke St. office and explain their predicament. Once a member of Try Boys' himself, Brian Dixon listened to the men and was sympathetic. They returned to Geelong with high hopes which were realised when a State Government cheque for the shortfall arrived in the mail one week later!

In October, 1976, Brian Dixon officially opened the new stadium. The cost had escalated to $320,000 with the brigade contributing $170,000 and the balance coming from State and Federal grants. Built to Olympic standards this huge, grey brick building houses two courts marked out for basketball, badminton and volleyball, an art and craft room, extensive kitchen facilities, changing rooms, toilets, kiosk and a committee room. With electronic scoring and unique spotted gum flooring it was designed for top competition.

Members of the committee when the sports centre was built were: P.A. Bain,  A.B. Bell, K.H. Birrell,  A. E. Burns, J. K. Clarke, P. G. Dent, J. H. Donaldson, J. Fuller,  W. R. Griffiths, J. M. Kroger,  C. H. Long, W. Willmott.

The move was an immediate success. It had been prompted by the greater emphasis on indoor sports, particularly basketball, which was rapidly developing as a major sport in the region. The only other indoor basketball venues in Geelong at this time were the YMCA and St. Mary's halls in the city. However, the Corio Leisure Centre opened just before the Try Boys' complex was completed.

Committeeman Clarrie Kerger took on the busy job of chairman of the basketball section of the Brigade  with eight teams fielded by the club from its new home. Both he and the committee were more than pleased when the coach of the visiting American High School Basketball Teams said the Try Boys' stadium floor was one of the best they had ever played on.

Both men's and women's basketball continued to grow in popularity; extensions were added to the building while Brigade funds were continually boosted from the hire of the stadium.

New appointments in 1987 saw Evan Burns appointed part-time manager, Miss Janine Jewel became basketball administrator and Dr. Rod Taylor joined the committee.

In 1990 the 12 member committee continued to make its facilities available to schools, youth groups, badminton clubs, indoor soccer and private family groups as well as sponsoring the Try Boys' basketball club with a grand total of eighty mens' and womens' basketball teams playing in  five divisions. Doug Burns became group leader of the 1st Geelong Scout Group - a position he had held previously.


The rationalisation and restructuring of the Victorian scout movement in 1993 saw a big change for the Brigade.  It meant the demise of some groups and because of falling numbers the 1st Geelong was amalgamated with the 14th Geelong St. Andrews to form 1st Eastern Park. This ended the eighty-five year association of Try Boys and the 1st Geelong Shannon's Own Scout Group.

The scouts' and cubs' section of the Brigade was formed in 1909 - soon after Sir Robert, later Lord  Baden Powell, founded the movement in England - by the manager of the day, Percy Stevens, who was Geelong's first scoutmaster. Brigade members formed a Troop of Imperial Boy Scouts and were affiliated with the movement in Melbourne. All the Geelong scouts were united under the Geelong Scout Council with the mayor as president. The Try Boys were officially known as No.3 Troop, Geelong.

Their first camp, the Easter of 1910, saw the boys and their officers march to Torquay where they spent four days under canvas before marching back to Geelong. Records state their luggage was transported "in a conveyance".

The Imperial Boy Scouts movement continued to gain ground and in 1923 sent a representative of the 1st Geelong Troop to the Empire Jamboree and also assisted a Try boy belonging to another troop to go to the Jamboree. The Commonwealth Government granted one hundred free passages to boy scouts to attend this Empire Jamboree held in England during the Great Exhibition - twenty-five of these were allotted  to Victoria. The committee applied for and was granted one free passage for T. Fowle . Two other Geelong boys were successful including R. Ritchie, a Try boy who was a member of another troop.

Harold "Boss" Hurst, a Brigade committee member and District Scout Commissioner of Geelong, was in charge of the Geelong contingent of boy scouts. He became the father of the scouting movement in Geelong and founded the original Eumeralla scout camp on the banks of the Anglesea River.

An accomplished sportsman "Boss" became interested in scouting in 1923 and devoted the next fifty years to helping build the characters of Geelong youth. He was a leading figure in the region in amateur athletics, rowing, boxing and football. He was a member of the Geelong Football Club committee and for some years coached the Geelong College first crew. 

The 1st Geelong Troop was renamed the 1st Geelong Troop Shannon's Own and there were so many boys wanting to join it was necessary to divide it into the 1st and 3rd Geelong Shannon's Own. Percy Stevens was Scoutmaster of the 1st and his deputy, E. A. Alsop, became Scoutmaster of the 3rd.

A successful Easter camp was held at Ocean Grove in 1925 when E. A. Alsop "conveyed all the camp equipment along with those boys who did not have bikes." Apparently the rest of the boys rode their bikes from Geelong!

It was during this camp that Alsop and Percy Stevens decided it would be  a good move to purchase a block of land at Ocean Grove and build a shed on it so the scouts could have a permanent site for camping. They inspected some land which they later reported back to the committee would make "a splendid permanent camping ground for the scouts." The land was for sale at £18 ($36) but Percy Stevens offered £12 ($24) with a final figure of £14 ($28) being accepted.

The land was bought and improvements were made. Trees were planted and a mess hut and several patrol huts were built by the boys with donated materials.

A handful of men associated with Try Boys throughout its history spent the major part of their lives working to help Geelong youth. Percy Stevens was one of these men who strongly believed in the scouting movement's ability to foster adventure, challenge and friendship in the youth who participated. Taking over from Joseph Yeowart in 1899 he enthusiastically and unselfishly devoted almost half a century to the welfare of more than five thousand boys who regarded him as their friend.

The Brigade committee of the day recorded its appreciation of the great contribution made by Percy Stevens to the welfare of Geelong youth…"it is reasonable to expect and assume that the influence created by him upon the lives of a very large number of these boys will find a place upon those records that will live beyond time…Such a work, such a mission which he fulfilled during his lifetime is unfortunately rare…"

Extracts from a letter of appreciation sent from one of his old boys on July 20, 1933, follows :

Dear Sir,

Please don't be surprised to hear from me, after this long time, but for some reason your face and name has kept flitting across my mind's eye this evening…my old friend…I realise more and more as the years roll on what I owe to your kindly interest and many words of warning you issued to me in the old days. Do you realise, it is 27 years last month since we last shook hands. I am still on the Staff of the P.M.G. Department with the rating of Postmaster, and am now stationed at Yalgoo on the Murchison Goldfields, 405 miles from Perth…I would appreciate a few lines from such an old friend…deepest salutations…

A. J. Deane.        


There were mixed feelings among the committee about moving from Corio Street to East Geelong, but there was no doubt it had been a boon for basketball which is the main emphasis of club activities today. Woodwork classes are still held but scouting is waning in popularity.

When it was discovered the old home of the Brigade was to be demolished to pave the way for the Bay City Plaza development, Jack Kroger approached the owners, Myer, to rescue the wooden scout "dens" in the basement of the building. These were carefully numbered and stored until the new scout hall in East Geelong was built and they once more came to life.

In 1995 Jack Kroger decided to step down after forty-two years as president due to failing health but agreed to continue as a committee member.

Dr. Rod Taylor assumed the mantle of president with Peter Bain and  Evan Burns as vice-presidents. Other personnel today comprise: Mrs L. Green (basketball club-G.A.B.A.- Try Boys club), Miss J. Jewel (basketball competition), Mr. L. Allen (cub/scouts group leader). Mr. D. Burns (woodwork class).

Administration of the Brigade has altered little since it began 100 years ago. The original  procedures are still used including standing for the Lord's Prayer at the start of each meeting. Although the basic aim of the Brigade remains it is carried out with a different emphasis.

Influential citizens have continued to support the Brigade's work and many have joined the committee over the years. Since its foundation there have been only five managers: J. Yeowart (1897-1899),  P. J. D. Stevens (1899-1945), J. E. Tilley (1945-1956), Clive Long (1956-1982), and Evan Burns (since 1987). For almost six years from 1982 to 1987 Jack Kroger  was president, manager and secretary.

Tradition has played a major role in the Brigade's name. In spite of the fact that girls and boys, as well as men and women, are part of the membership, the committee insists the club will always be known as the Try Boys.

By the mid-nineties the committee decided to approach the C.S.I.R.O. with the aim of purchasing the land on which the sports stadium stands. Peter Bain held talks with the land owners who agreed to sell the land and it was bought in the centenary year of 1997.

The committee during the centenary year comprised:

M. J. Kroger (1942)

Mr. A. E. Burns (1965)

Mr. P. Bain (1972)

Mrs L. Green (1983)

Mr. D. Baker (1985)

Mr. R. Carr (1986)

Dr.R. Taylor (1987)

Mr. L. Allen (1987)

Mr. M. Osborne (1989)

Mr. B. Parker (1993)

Mr. C. Kerger (1994)

Mr. D. Burns (1995)

Honor boards hang inside the entrance to the sports stadium bearing the following legends:


1897-1922    C. Shannon

1922-1940    J. H. McPhillimy

1940-1945    D. McLennan

1945-1946    A. Shannon

1946-1953    P. J. Wilks

1953-1995    J. Kroger

1995-             R. Taylor 


1932   J. H. McPhillimy

1933   S. Bowyer

1933   W. N. H. Fry

1948   P. J. Wilks

1967   J.  Turnbull

1973   A. W. Freeman

1973   J. Kroger

1973   J. Carr

1984   A. E. Burns

1984   C. Kerger

1989   P. A. Bain

1989   Mrs L. Green

1989   Mrs C. Kerger

1992   L. J. Allen

1992   A. E. Burns

Further Honor Rolls tell of former members' achievements:

Graham Robinson - the Australian and Victorian heavyweight boxing champion in 1955 and 1957 -58.

C.H. Long - G.S.M. Letter of commendation for saving a scouter from drowning in 1956.

Phillip Kennedy - selected in the Victorian country under 16 basketball team in September 1975.

Len James - rescued a boy from drowning in Corio Bay on 1.1.28 - awarded a Silver  Cross for bravery.

Walter Roberts - winner of V.A.A.A. 5-mile junior cross-country championship 8.6.29.

Sydney Thomas, Russell Wilson, Ray Barrow - Members of the Corio Bay champion senior eight crew which won the Victorian rowing championship 1946 -47.

Neil Carroll - for outstanding success in amateur boxing 1952-53.

Ian Marshall - State amateur junior welter-weight champion 1953.

Photographs of past presidents hang on the walls of the upstairs committee room at the sports centre along with a framed letter which tells the story of the Percy J. D. Stevens plaque. This plaque was commissioned in memory of Percy Stevens, manager of the Try Boys for 46 years,  who died in 1945 aged 84. The plaque states simply that he was 'guide and friend to many boys. He was a good scout!'

The framed letter was written by Darrell Strickland of Marshall, in October, 1994. In it he explains that while he was an art student at the Gordon Institute of Technology in 1947 his art teacher, Mr. Clive Bate, arranged that he make a master pattern for a plaque to be cast in bronze for the Try Boys rooms in Corio Street. The plaque was to commemorate P.J.D. Stevens for his wide contribution to scouting, the Try Boys and the community in general. He was delighted to see both the pattern and the final plaque preserved at the sports centre and to have made contact after so many years.

As the Brigade enters its second century it remains a guiding force for the youth of Geelong and district. There are still people in the community who are  prepared to give their services and generous bequests which enable them to carry out the aims of the founders.

In this centenary year the Try Boys' benefits from a generous bequest of $165,000 from Hilda Freeman, the widow of former Brigade Trustee Arthur Freeman.

The future looks good...

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