The first Little Athletics Australian Teams Championship was held in March 1970. The first four years were known as matches and would later be known as Australian Little Athletics Championships (ALAC). The 1970 match, held in Melbourne, was between NSW, Victoria and WA, with the NSW team comprising only members of Randwick Botany. After Little Athletics NSW were formed in December 1970, our first official NSW team was selected for the 1971 match, and were held in Sydney.
It was not long before NSW became the leading State in Australia. They contested their first official Interstate Match in 1971 and by the 1974 they had won their first title, overall claiming five of the nine championships they contested in the ‘70s.
In this article we look at each year of the ‘70s and some of the many tremendous athletes to emerge from those teams. Many achieved in athletics, but also in other sports and in sports administration, coaching, media and business.
HISTORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN TEAMS CHAMPIONSHIP
Between 1970 and 1973 four interstate matches were held with only NSW, Victoria and WA competing at all matches. The inaugural Australian Team Championships commenced in 1974.
From 1970 to 1982 the age group was under-12. From 1993 to present the age has been under-13 and in 1987 an under-15 multi-event was added.
1970: First unofficial Interstate Meet
Held at Olympic Park in Melbourne, NSW, Vic and WA competed, with Victoria winning and NSW third. The NSW team included Mike Whitney who became a fast bowler for Australia and now works in the media. Another athlete Peter Singleton held records from 100m to 800m at his Randwick Botany club and Sydney Boys High/GPS for over 30 years
1971 Interstate Meet
The first NSW team was selected for this match against Vic and WA. Marlene Matthews opened the event held at Hensley Field in April. The NSW team included future Australian fast bowler Mike Whitney and outstanding 9-year-old walker Bev Wilkins (Hayman) who within a year was winning Australian junior (U18) championships and eventually represented Australia at the World Indoors and Commonwealth Games. Long jumper Diane Brown was the only NSW winner. Deniliquin Centre were represented by Roger Menadue who had won three state titles. The Victorian team included future Olympic long jump medallist Gary Honey. Victoria won the points score with NSW third.
1972 Interstate Meet
This match was held in Perth with a fourth team, NT added. NSW continued to progress placing second to Victoria 264 to 220 points. NSW women were very strong winning five events. Belinda Ryan won the sprint double and led home the record-breaking relay team. Bankstown’s Tony Heslop won the middle-distance double, both in record times. Race walker Bev Wilkins was selected for her second team. Interstate athletes included future Olympic high jumper Chris Annison (WA) and Commonwealth Games medallist Astra Vitols (VIC).
1973 Interstate Meet
A strong NSW team placed second again to Victoria at the competition held in Melbourne.
Winner of the 100m, 200m and long jump, NSW’s Debbie Wells, would within three years be competing at the 1976 Olympics. High jump champion, Margaret Hamley would go onto win national senior titles and medals in heptathlon/long jump/hurdles and after working at Pymble Ladies College is now Pathways Manager at Netball NSW. Middle-distance champion, Paul Gilbert, represented Australia at the 1983 world championships and is the 14th fastest 800m athlete in Australian history with a time of 1:45.6. His niece Anneliese Gardiner would compete in the 2006 Australian Teams Championships and his sister, Kate Gilbert (Kelland) would be a member of the 1978 team and served for 17 years as Secretary/Committee Member at the Ryde Little Athletics Centre. At her third Australian Teams Championship, Bev Wilkins won the walk and would go on to be a pioneer in the event in Australia and compete at the Commonwealth Games. A State-medallists in sprints, jumps and throws, Gianna Ranalletta’s niece and nephew Kimberley and Brett Watton both competed at the Australian Teams Championship and also in the high hurdles at the open national titles in during the ‘10s.
1974: With the addition of Tasmania and ACT, there were now seven teams competing (only QLD were missing) and the event was now titled Australian Teams Championships. NSW had pushed Victoria in the point score in 1973, but in 1974, on home soil in Sydney, they claimed their inaugural title 556 to 549 points.
NSW’s sprints/hurdles medallist, Glenn McLaughlin, would go on to win national senior 400m hurdles medals and clocked times of 46.7 (400m) and 51.45 (400m hurdles). Winner of the walk, Janine Shepherd AM, would in her ‘20s overcame a major injury while bike riding to became a cross country skier and pilot. She became an inspirational author and public speaker.
In other teams were: Catherine Milburn (V) mother of Sydney-based world championship representative sprinter Charlotte van Veenendaal; Chris Bradshaw (V) Australian team doctor and Commonwealth Games decathlon representative and Kathryn Lee/Periac (ACT) a hurdler who won national senior medals and has worked at the VIS, Athletics Australia and the AIS.
1975: There was no stopping NSW as they strengthened their hold on this title, easily winning 575 to 507 points as the meet went to Perth. Future world race walk cup representative Rachel Thompson won the walk, while Linda Cox (Armidale) a future national junior 1500m champion ran in the 800m. In the hurdles, triple jump and on the relay, was future national junior 400m hurdle champion David Joyce. There was some wise work by the NSW selectors. David Hickman won the 100/200/400 treble at state, but they also selected Murrumbidgee’s Aaron Hall who was only fourth in the State 200m, but he would go on to win four gold at the Australian champs in the 100/200/400/relay.
In the Victorian team was Michelle Baumgartner, the 1990 Commonwealth Games 1500m finalist who ran bests of 2:00.97 (800m) and 4:10 (1500m).
1976: NSW maintained their stranglehold on the event held in Adelaide, winning the points score over Victoria 662 to 583 points as QLD made their inaugural appearance at the meet. Finishing out of the places in the walk was Jamie Harrison who would go on to represent Australia at five world cross country championships and become a medical doctor. Fourth in the 400m, Diane Holden, would go on to win six Australian senior titles and compete at the world championships and world Indoors. Now based in Perth, Diane’s daughter Elyse Ainsworth has represented Australia in sailing at the Youth Olympics and world championships. Liz Rose (now Miller), who won medals in the 400/800m in Adelaide went on to win national senior titles at 1500/3000/5000/half marathon and compete at three world cross country champs. Her daughter, Eleanor, is a leading NSW junior distance runner. Fourth in the discus, Jacquelin Magnay, has become an award winning and world leading sports journalist. She covered athletics in Sydney for decades, but is now based in London as the European Correspondent for The Australian.
1977: At home in 1977, Victoria bounced back to take the title ahead of NSW 469 to 433 points. Australian 400m record holder and dual Olympian Darren Clark was outside the medals in the sprints. Future national junior champion long jumpers Kim Thorley (pb as a junior 6.33m) and Rob Hannah (pb as a junior 7.54m) both leapt 5.31m to win their long jump titles. Also in the team was three-time national junior 400m medallist Glenda Hall, national junior champion heptathlete Amanda Thomas.
1978: In Canberra, NSW rebounded to win the title from SA, WA as Victoria were in a shock fourth place. Sprinter Melissa Babbage was on the team in 1978. She went on to win a national junior medal and in her career became a physio. Later on she became an investment banker with Deutsche Bank, married federal treasurer Joe Hockey and joined the Athletics Australia & APC boards. Winner of the walk, John MacLean became a triathlete and during a training ride he was hit by a truck and rendered a paraplegic. He has gone onto become a great paralympic sportsmen. Sprinter Sue Alton represented Australia at the world university games and is the mother of Nick Hough who also competed at the Australian Teams Championships and won bronze at the Commonwealth Games. Distance runner Sue Mahony represented Australia on four occasions including the 1987 world championships. Sprinter/hurdler Graham Garnett has in recent years returned to the sport as a prominent coach.
1979: In Perth in 1979, NSW continued its dominance with a 42-point win over hosts. Medallist in the 1500m, Tania Adams went on to win many state and national distance running medals. Her daughter Georgia Evans was recently a leading junior distance runner. Adams contributed to the administration of the sport as Executive Officer of Athletics NSW in the ‘90s. Sprint medallist Cathy Emmerson became a physio on national teams, dual middle-distance medallist, Suzi Hartgers moved to Perth, went into teaching and is now a coach of leading Australian athletes. Middle-distance runner, Sean Williams, went on to a long senior career as a leading NSW distance runner. He moved into a successful coaching career, initially in Sydney and now Melbourne. High jump gold medallist Lisa Rutter continues to be surrounded by athletics. She married leading Australian sprints coach Paul Hallam and her daughter, Jacinta Doyle, a leading coach in the Sutherland Shire, was a talented sprinter/jumper/hurdler, competed at the Australian Teams Championships, ran for Australia at the world youth championships and won national senior medals. Jumper Eddy van der Jagt still competes in masters athletics. Jenny Jones won the walk and would go on to represent Australia. Her daughter Tayla Billington was a state team member in 2010. The team also included three of the finest ever NSW Little Athletes – sprinters Nicole Leistenschneider and Michelle Moroney and thrower Stephen Carline. Carline, was easily the best discus thrower in Australia. These days he can be heard daily across dozens of radio stations and viewed on television as the traffic presenter. The NSW team was coached by Jackie Byrnes who would in the future coach Melinda Gainsford-Taylor and Jana Pittman.
Interstate teams included: three Olympians – Michelle Lock (Q) 400m pb 50.78, Fred Martin (WA) 200m pb 20.48 and David Culbert (V) long jump pb 8.13m.
David Tarbotton for Little Athletics NSW
Image: 1974 NSW team