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The Early Years

By Colin Robbie

I won a scholarship to attend St Joseph's Collegefrom 1949-53 and had a wonderful 5 years of athletic training in cricket, rugby and athletics. Returning to Canberra in early 1954, I played cricket at A-grade and representative level but really missed the one-on-one contests of athletics. So I started to find out if there was any interest in an athletics competition in Canberra. There was the St. Patrick’s Day professional gift sprint and some organisations such as the YMCA ran an athletics day.

I started to talk to youth organisations such as the CYO and YMCA and football clubs to assess interest and in the process found out that the Canberra High School Phys Ed teacher, Max Landy, was doing the same. I contacted Max and we agreed that we should combine our efforts.

I remember that I drew up the Ad in the Canberra Times to hold an initial meeting to establish an Athletics Association in Canberra.

The meeting was held on 27 April 1955 at Canberra High School (see attached Canberra Times clipping) and we agreed that we needed more than one club so as to generate competition.Most of the office bearers were teachers, which was understandable and it was agreed that Pat Thompson (a teacher at Telopea Park School) and I would start up a club on the south side while Cec Davis and Bob Jay would get the north side going.

Pat and I called a meeting at Telopea Park School in late 1955 when Pat was elected president and I was Sec/Treasurer of South Canberra.

We held our first competition in October 1955 (see attached Canberra Times clipping). I and a number of others entered for the NSWAAA Country Champs in Sydney in Jan 1956and they allowed us to compete as unattached athletes. I had been authorised by the ACT Committeeto talk with NSWAAA about our future. At the age of 18 I met with George Soper the Secretary of the NSWAAA who said that we could seek registration as aState Body or we could become a Branch ofthe NSWAAA and therefore eligible to compete in Country and State Championships. This seemed to be the best option for the ACT at this stage of our development and was agreed. We competed for many years successfully and our South Canberrateam even won a Club Championship.

At the local level North and South Canberra competed for many years with RMC and for a time the Burns Club with Peter Scott as an outstanding sprinter also added to the mix. One of my memories at this time was we were charged with the responsibility of running trials for torch bearersfor the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. I was responsible for running the time trials which we ran over a mile course on the old Canberra - Queanbeyanroad. I qualified under the 6 minute limit but did not participate because I left to attend the Games before the torch came through.

This is a very patchy memory of the early days of Athletics in Canberra and I feel very privileged to have been a part of its development. Needless to say I still get a huge amount of enjoyment out of still competing almost 50 years later.

First competition

The Early Days of Athletics in Canberra

By Daryl Cross

(Here is a wonderful recollection from Darryl Cross, one of the foundation members of the ACT Athletics Association.  Darryl was the Publicity Officer (on the Executive) for many years, wrote for the Canberra Times during that time and did regular radio spots - also ABC Radio crosses to Bruce Athletics Track (now Canberra Stadium) and provided regular reports on ABC TV on Saturday evenings.  He was also Competition Secretary from the late 1960's through to 1981 when he and his wife Joan, who also played a key role in the development of athletics in Canberra, moved to Brisbane)

Like Col Robbie our memories are pretty hazy now but here goes anyway.  What is already on the ACT Athletics History Page is pretty much correct and the Annual Reports from those early days were lodged with the National Library together with a magazine (Canberra Athlete) which I produced for several years.  If I remember correctly Brian Lenton also produced a magazine/s based around distance running in the ACT in the 60's/70's.

During the early days of athletics in Canberra clubs included North Canberra, South Canberra, Queanbeyan, RMC, Canberra City Harriers and as I remember Woden Valley joined later, followed by Weston Creek.  I also have a vague recollection that Goulbourn also had a club at an early stage.

Early competition in Canberra was held on Manuka Oval before moving to Ainslie Oval where I first competed.  If I remember rightly the move to Woden Park came as a result of an approach to the Department of the Interior for a better track/facility prior to the building of Bruce.  In fact the National Sub Junior Match was held at Woden Park.  Also in 1973 a New Zealand U23 side came to Canberra and competed against an ACT side at Woden.  The highlight of that match was the women’s 100m at which the NZ Champion of the time Wendy Brown ran against Raelene Boyle (we invited her to Canberra especially for that race).  So you can see that Canberra (the ACT) has a proud record in athletics (for its size and population) and those athletes who are on top of the sport today can thank those who came before them for leading the way.

The ACT also had a very strong distance running base for which Jack Pennington was the main organiser during that time.  Some of the athletes in the Middle Distance/Distance area have already been mentioned in other articles on the ACT site but others of note who come to mind during that period are Debbie Bryant who from recollection won the ACT's first National title (Sub Junior 1500m Cross Country in 1972), Isobel Trundle (3rd in that same event)).  Michael Thompson was a top young middle distance runner in Australia in the late 1970's having smashed the then National U17 300m record on the track in winning the 1977 All Schools title and coming second in both the 800m and 1500m at the same Champs in Melbourne.

The Cross Country Club was very strong in the 60's/70's, mainly due to the influence of Jack Pennington who organised the weekly competitions at the Corkwood and who encouraged the distance guys to regular social runs on Sundays.  One other top distance runner in the early days was Dave McInnes who ran for Queanbeyan and as I recall held the record for running round Lake Burley Griffin.

Also Race Walking was relatively strong with Dr Peter McCulloch, Robin Whyte, Peter Waddell, Jenny Mills and Miriam Harding (McCarthy) all being NSW Reps (Robin Whyte can give you further details). The ACT also had a good crop of throwers with Albert Magassy (Hammer), Yvonne Stockman (Shot), Pat Connell (who I believe passed away recently), Suzi Ghiradello (Javelin) and Warwick Selvey (Discus) (moved from interstate).  In sprints I can recall a few; Greg Jaggers, John Broadhead, John Snare (from RMC), Rosemary Mitchell (3rd in the 400m in Adelaide in 1974) and Lindy Snowie.  Then there were Hurdlers Joan Cross (Hallaran) Kathy Lee and Janet Smith.  Jumpers not to be forgotten were Walter and Paul Ghiradello, Michael Dick who won the National Open title in Perth in 1979 as well as winning silver in the Junior Title the same year, Yvonne Craig who won the Bronze at the Open title in Perth in the early 70's and of course Robyn Sluyters who was the National all Schools Championship in 1981.  In Multi Events Terry Beaton RMC (competed at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Auckland NZ), Col Robbie in the early years and Paul Ghiradello later on were two of the best.

On the Association history side the ACT achieved Statehood in 1980 following years of establishing itself worth of independence.  Presidents during the 50's, 60's and 70's included Pat Thompson, Bob Jay, Charlie Morris and Denis Wilson.  Joan Cross was Secretary for a good part of that time and was a prime mover to have Canberra allocated the Australian Women's Cross Country Championships in 1972.  This was the first time a National Championships had been allocated outside a State Capital City and more significantly the site chosen for those championships was where the present Parliament House now stands (Capital Hill).  Joan Cross was also one of the prime movers for approval to be sought (and given) for a National Sub Junior (U17) Women’s Match to be held in Canberra in 1972 and at which an ACT Team (minus Debbie Bryant who was chosen for NSW) was allowed to compete against all other States.

As usual athletics competition would be nothing without officials and there was a small group of stalwarts during this period who gave of their time willingly each week.  They included Eugene Magassy, Dot Mills, Arch Smith, Beth Smith, Joan Cross, Daryl Cross, John Muir, Ed Snowie, Jack Gallagher and Ewen Drummond. It should be noted that Ewen Drummond designed the first "wind Gauge" to be used in Canberra, a simple device based on mathematical principles and based on a table tennis ball on the end of a wire with a paddle at the other end sitting in a water bath.  On the Publicity scene Mike Sheehan was the first to have regular columns in the Canberra Times and have a weekly radio segment on 2CA in the early to mid 60's and he was followed by Daryl Cross who also had a 30 minute segment on the University Radio Station.  Daryl also did a regular column in Australian Athlete, a national magazine produced by Mike Agostini in Sydney.

The Australian Track and Field Coaches Association was formed in 1974 and the ACT Branch followed soon after with Daryl Cross as the first President.  Notable coaches during the time were Jack Pennington, Daryl Cross, Peter Bowman and Ed Helgeby.  It should not be forgotten that in 1972 meetings were held by the Executive, chaired by Charlie Morris with Joan Cross as Secretary, to discuss and submit an application to the then AAA of A for the 1977 Pacific Conference Games to be held in Canberra.  It should also never be forgotten that as a result of this application being successful Bruce Stadium was built at a cost of 6 million dollars (don’t know what present costs would be) and because this facility was then available the AIS was established in Canberra in 1980.  From recollection there were other events also held in the ACT during this time but as I said at the beginning our memories are fading but anyway hope that helps.

Organisational Issues

By Denis Wilson

I moved to Canberra in late 1973 having been the Secretary of the St George club and a NSW Executive member. I was asked by Clive Lee the NSW Secretary to liaise with the NCDC on the design of the Bruce Stadium which was to be the venue for the 1977 Pacific Conference Games (PCG).  John Marshall, then City Manager, agreed to be the PCG Organising Committee Chairman, Joan Cross the Committee Secretary and Lois Appleby was appointed the full-time administrator. Most of the sub-committees were Canberra based.

The Pacific Conference Games (PCG) was held at the new stadium in December 1977 with the Australian Selections Trials held on 29-30 October 1977.  Many of the officials were from the NSW association, which included many Canberrans, under Competition Manager George Carruthers.

In 1976 I was asked by Joan & Daryl Cross to stand as Association President and I remained in that role until 1985 with Joan Cross as Secretary until she and Daryl moved to Queensland in 1981.

Many ACT athletes in this period and earlier were competing in Sydney Interclub as second claim members of Sydney clubs particularly St George which paid travel expenses to athletes.

In the late 1970’s athletics was a prime mover for forming an Olympic sports organisation. Joan Cross was the first secretary /treasurer of the ACT Association of Olympic Sports the forerunner of the ACT Olympic Council.

A submission was made by Joan Cross to the NSW Men’s and Women’s Associations in October 1977 with separate submissions to the Men’s and Women’s Unions for the ACT Branch to become a separate state. My recollection was that the national bodies whilst sympathetic wanted the split to be agreed amicably by NSW.

This was also a period of change at the national and state level. At the national level the Men’s and Women’s Unions had amalgamated in 1977 and in May 1981 the now Amateur Athletic Union of Australia notified state associations that from 1 April 1982 only one association in each state would be recognised. In Canberra we had been well ahead of this development as there had always been only one body for both men and women.

The Men’ Association was insistent that the majority of ACT individual members agree to separating from NSW. There was a meeting of all interested parties in Canberra at which it was demonstrated that there was majority support for separation. The result was that as from 1 April 1980 ACT was recognised as a separate association but so as not to upset the perceived balance of state power the ACT was allowed two delegates to the Annual Congress but only one vote. Further athletes attending the AIS from interstate were to compete for their home state. This meant that some of these athletes such as Rob de Castella and Kerry Saxby never competed for the ACT although Canberra became their permanent home. The ACT began to make its presence felt at the national level. At one stage Joan Cross and I were both AA Board members with Joan also Hon. Treasurer.

The Walker’s Club and the Cross Country Club became specialist clubs within the new association with all their members registered with the association.

A not so successful moment was when the association was not prepared to affiliate the new Veteran’s Club as a full club. It is disappointing when fixed thinking does not cater for changing needs within the wider athletic fraternity.

In the meantime following the successful conduct of the PCG, the push was on for Canberra to be allocated the 1985 World Cup. Once this was confirmed John Marshall and Lois Appleby led the full-time organisation locally with another tight budget. Again most of the sub-committees were Canberra based. After some opposition local Peter Hamilton was appointed to the top official position as the Competition Manager. Peter is still an International Technical Official (ITO). Needless to say the World Cup was a huge success with over 20,000 spectators on each day and two GDR world records in the Women’s 400m and 4 x 100m relay in warm for October weather. Another memorable moment was Darren Clark shouldering another athlete out of the way at the final change of the 4 x 400m relay. This incident resulted in a Competition Rule change to make these changeovers more orderly.

As a state the ACT hosted the 1985 Australian T & F Championships, and the 1988 U16/18 and All Schools’ Championships. Whilst the ACT was responsible for the organisation we were still very dependent on large numbers of interstate officials to conduct the events.
Stadiums in the ACT

History of Athletics ACT


In 2015 Athletics ACT celebrates its 60th anniversary. The association was first formed in April 1955 and conducted its first ever competition that same year in October at Manuka Oval.



Formation of Athletics ACT


Status of ACT

First ACT team

Woden 1976


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