At the Annual Conference in 1976, The Little Athletics Association of New South Wales received a request from the Children’s Day Committee of the New Zealand Amateur Athletics Association for a team of New Zealand children to compete against NSW as a regular annual competition.
The conference attendees quickly accepted the opportunity to host the inaugural meet which was held at the National Fitness Camp Athletics Track (in Narrabeen) on Sunday 27 March 1977. Air New Zealand donated a magnificent trophy for perpetual competition and on this occasion, NSW were the victors.
The New Zealand team spent 10 days based in Sydney and in that time the team and supporters saw the sights of Sydney and NSW with bus and ferry trips.
In addition to the Trans Tasman meet, the children competed in several low-key fun athletics meets against Blue Mountains and Sydney centres, finishing up with barbeques.
The return match was held when New South Wales travelled to New Zealand in January 1978. A team of 80 Little Athletes, along with parents and supporters made up the touring party. Included in the team were many of the State Champions who put up a strong showing against a very strong New Zealand team. During the 10 days in New Zealand, the total group of around 140 were based in Auckland and competed in four low key fun athletics meets, culminating in the Trans Tasman challenge meet at the Mt. Smart Stadium on Saturday 28 January 1978. Selected athletes also competed in the supporting events of the International Meet at Auckland on 30 January 1978.
And so the Trans Tasman Challenge was born, and hosting rights alternated every year since. During the many NSW Team visits to New Zealand since 1978, our Little Athletes have stayed overnight at a Maori Marae, experienced the delightful odours of the geysers at Rotorua, delved into the world-renowned Kiwi Hot Pools at Waiwera, visited Rainbow’s End Fun Park and explored the Auckland museum.
When the New Zealand touring squad has visited Australia, they have enjoyed similar cultural exposure for the kids, including visits to the Opera House, Taronga Zoo, and the Blue Mountains. An excerpt from the July 1989 LANSW newsletter highlights the purpose of the Trans Tasman tour for young athletes: “The aim of Trans Tasman is to expose the children to the people and customs of another country.” “Most people’s memories are of the marvellous food, the lasting friendships they have formed and the beautiful country; it is so different to ours, with its hot pools, geysers and mountains.”
“Athletics, as you can imagine, form a large part of the tour – but there is also a full itinerary of sightseeing and plenty of fun-filled activities.”
Sadly in January 2020, the final tour was undertaken to Auckland by a NSW team; the New Zealand Committee having advised they were no longer able to sustain the tour for athletes in the U11 and U12 age groups.
Over the 43 year history of the tour, many “Little Athletics tragic’s” have been part of the Trans Tasman organising committee, working tirelessly leading up to and during the 12 days in New Zealand, as well as hosting the New Zealand Teams in Sydney, but I believe everyone has enjoyed every moment of it, and the final Committee (Heather Mitchell, Maria McConville, Ron Budd, Marian Bennett, Claire Yeo, Tracy Lennon and Sally Richardson) are extremely sad that this long-standing tradition has come to an end. Vale LANSW Trans Tasman.
Article by the Trans Tasman Committee 2020 for the LANSW 19/20 Annual Report.