50 YEARS ON
Little did I imagine 50 years ago when as a 17 year old schoolboy I joined the Essendon Amateur Athletic Club that I would still be involved today. Indeed, 50 years ago I was welcomed by Ian Williams and Arthur Whitchell, who are still serving the club!
So, why did I join? I had some success in Primary and Secondary School as a sprinter (no Little Athletics in those days) and certainly enjoyed athletics, but was “inspired” to become more serious when reading in the local newspaper the successful junior sprinting exploits of the Club’s Russell Wade. Russell and I went to the same primary school, so I thought if Russell could do this I should give it a go (and the rest they say is history)
In 66 we trained at the Essendon Football Oval, dodging footballs and cricket balls, then we went to Montgomery Park (a soccer field) for a couple of seasons before winding up at our current location, the Aberfeldie Athletic Track
My first competition for Essendon was a time trial over 100 yards and I did well enough (9.8 hand timed) to make Essendon’s top team. My training companions at his time were Michael O’Dwyer and Russell Wade. Russell and I went on to represent Victoria in the Aust. Athletics titles in Adelaide in 1967
I was lucky enough about a year after I joined the Club to be part of a junior (U19) relay team that set an Australian 4 x 440 yards record. The other team members were Russell Wade, Don Esmore (the late famous heart surgeon) and Colin McCurry. Unfortunately for me, both Michael O’Dwyer and Russell Wade basically retired at the same time, leaving me without any sprint training partners however at this point of time I was becoming very interested in 400m running and so was able to do some seriously hard training with Ian Williams. Ian has taught me a lot over the years, and amongst these lessons, was consistent hard training will lead to success
Due to a lack of sprint training partners, and the fact at this point of time Essendon’s’ top grade was B grade, I joined East Melbourne Harriers (EMH). Under the guidance of Neville Sillitoe EMH was Australia’s top sprint club. Neville in my view is Australia’s greatest sprint coach. EMH competed in A grade. Such was the depth of sprinters in EMH that we had 12 runners breaking 11 for the 100m, 9 under 22 for the 200m and 9 under 50 for the 400m. In order to maintain your position as an A Grade sprinter (there were only 3 spots available in the A grade team) you had to run fast every week. With Olympians, Australian sprint champions such as Gary Holdsworth, Peter Norman, Greg Lewis, Laurie Darcy, Richard James, Bruce Frayne, Colin McQueen, Don Hanley etc. you can just imagine the quality of the training sessions.
EMH’s strength (sprinters, plus the great Ken Hall) was Essendon’s weakness, whilst Essendon’s strengths, middle distance runners, a home track & club administration etc. was EMHs’ weakness. Thus when I ultimately returned to Essendon to commence my coaching career (as well as still continuing to run) the merger of Essendon and EMH was the logical step towards the creation of the wonderful club we now have.
Our current home ground exists thanks largely to the efforts of Ian and Don Williams who in a remarkable short time successfully convinced the then Essendon Councillors to construct an all-weather athletics track (there were very few around at that time). Ian and Don basically did all the work for Councillors, finding the most suitable location, best design, including clubrooms and cost of construction! When one considers our club had only around 60 members the construction of the track was an amazing achievement.
The opening of the track was a big event, one of the rare occasions in those days where the men and women competed at the same venue. Indeed the track was initially only used for women on Saturday competitions.
If I was to reflect over the past 50 years, I consider the following significant events (in no particular order), to be the:
- amending of the Club’s constitution so as to permit female members (I was Club Chairman at the time)
- merging with East Melbourne Harriers (EMH) and then Essendon Aberfeldie
- winning of the men’s’ A Grade premiership, breaking an unbeaten run of Box Hill which lasted way over a decade
- wining of the women’s A grade premiership
- creation of the Aberfeldie athletics track
- significant sponsorship from Essendon Football Club
I have been privileged to serve on the Clubs’ committee, and it gives me great pleasure to see the next generation stepping up and becoming committee members.
I look forward to what the next 50 years will bring