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Sport: Little Athletics
Interviewee: Trish Bright, born 1956
Date of Interview: 14th Oct 2010
Transcription: Glenys Murray, Dec 2010
Are there any outstanding young athletes that have come up through the Little Athletics?
In our centre we have had a few. There was Preya Carey she had been to the Olympics for the relay. Jana Pittman she’s not part of our actual club but she was a little athlete. You’ve got Rugby League people like Jaryd Hayne, Jamal Idress. There’s a few of the walkers and just recently you’ll find Sally Pearson that was just over at the Commonwealth Games. She was a Little Athletics in Queensland. We’ve just had the Youth Olympics which Nicholas Hough one of own Hills District Little Athletics won gold over there. He’s an up and coming young fellow.
You’re creating new athletes. Can you give me a bit of a history of the Little Athletics movement in Australia? How and where did it begin?
I think it was round about 1964 there was a gentleman called Trevor Billingham in Victoria in Geelong. He had gone to a carnival and there was young children came up and wanted to join. He said “no you’re too young”. It wasn’t until a few months later he was doing a coaching programme and children came up as well and he again said “no you’re too young”. He realised that these younger children needed something as opposed to the older athletes. So he started up a Little Athletics club down in Geelong for the younger children and it progressed from there. Up into NSW.
What’s the history of Little Athletics in NSW?
Little Athletics started in 1970 in NSW after obviously the Victorian one. You’ve got on the border Deniliquin and those areas as well. They started out in the Eastern Suburbs there was Randwick-Botany, Manly Warringah and then in 1970 was when they formed the Association in NSW.
How many people were competing? How fast did it grow?
They’ve grown up till now. We can get anywhere now between 35 and 45,000 children in NSW itself. There’s approximately 220 centres going from the border all the way up to Ballina. You’ll find Murwillumbah and those ones associated with Queensland Little A’s. It’s just too far for them to travel down. Queanbeyan are joint ones with the ACT Little Athletics. So out of that you have five regions which then come together at the State Championships.
So it’s up to over 40,000 members Little Athletics just in NSW?
In NSW yes.
So it’s a big movement?
What’s the history of The Hills District Little Athletics Club? What can you tell me about that?
Hills District commenced on the 21st October 1972 with children ranging from the under sevens to under twelves. In those days they used to hold it down at the Ted Horwood Reserve which is in Baulkham Hills which was linked to the Baulkham Hills Sports Club. From the history of reading it, it was based on schools. So you had your schools with the actual clubs underneath which formed the big Hills District Little Athletics. Then it wasn’t until the 1988/89 season that they became incorporated and therefore it was just the one club as opposed to being based under schools competition.
What are some of the milestones that your club has lived through?
There was the development of the track going from the 360 to the 400 metre circular track which helped our zones and our regional carnivals. We have plenty of schools using the ground as well and I do know the public school itself they hold their zones down there as well.
The new building helps with the storage of extra equipment because we now have three sets of high jump bags. That helps because the more equipment you have on a Saturday the quicker it is to get through the events. Having the extra storage we’ve got storage that we can use and storage that schools can use as well. Council in February (2010) ripped up the whole ground because over the years it was getting pot holes. Children were putting their foot into it. They (the Council) have levelled it all off, fixed up the drainage system in the actual field itself so that it goes into a big tank. Then the tank itself will then water the ground. So that it can go into the desalination plant which they’ve put up. That helps the rose garden around the area as well.
Sounds very highly intricate and also environmentally friendly?
Yes the desalination plant comes from the swimming pool as well. They do a backwash from there and the way now that they’ve got the ground sorted out with the big drains going down and more going across. It helps so you don’t have a bog near the triple jump which we used to have.
Have the Council been supportive through the years?
Usually they are we’ve got people from our Athletics Club on what’s called the 355 Committee which managers the ground for the Council. So sometimes if there’s improvements the Athletics Club might say to them “we’d like to do this do we have our approval’? It depends on the financial side of Council itself but the last big ground that they’ve done. That was a lot of work that they put in with all the equipment that they had to have. The soil and then returfing it. Manpower and everything else. We’re very grateful for what the Council has done in that respect.
Going back to the history of your club, what were some of the challenges that the club had to face in its early days like the early decades?
Challenges would have been the same as it is nowadays. Trying to get volunteers to do the work. Without looking too much into the history that I haven’t been able to. Probably just the facilities themselves. At that time they were down at Ted Horwood Reserve which was also being used for cricket pitch as well. You had to contend with that in the middle of the ground. Then trying to get a long jump pit put through. Money, the financial side of it starts no matter what year you’re in.
So what’s the biggest challenge that you’re facing today in the club?
Challenges today is volunteers. A lot of people think that you’re a baby sitting club and want to drop the children off. We try to discourage that. Sponsorship because of the global financial crisis that everyone is saying we’re in. If you’ve got a sponsorship from a certain company they want to see members of your club supporting them as well. So because you’re an athletics club what’s the sense of getting a builder or a plumber or someone like that if you’re not going to get the business? The only way we can do that is by each week announcing these are our sponsors if ever you need anything to be done go to this person. We’ve had a builder that’s been there since I’ve been there. He’s one of our major sponsors. He helped build and design the clubhouse that is there. So he was a member back in the early 1970’s and then he has got his business going by people such as ourselves getting him to do renovations on your house. That is the big issue of trying to get the sponsors and knowing that the next year they’re not going to be a sponsor if they haven’t had any feedback or any contributions for the last year.
You’ve already mentioned briefly the 355 Committee. Tell me in a bit more detail what it actually does?
It helps manage the ground for the Council. At the time hockey used to use the field in winter time for training purposes. At the moment now there’s only The Hills District Little Athletics and The Hills Senior Club that use the ground. So you try to make sure that if there is a problem you go to the 355 Committee. They will say “OK yes we can work it out”. If it’s a major thing the 355 then go to the Council and say “look this is a disaster it might be insurance or a risk”. The 355 manages the bookings for the ground in relation to school bookings. The Council has the major booking with the Athletics Club but the 355 manage anyone that wants to do a lease in relation to school carnivals. Money coming from that helps to fix up the ground, fix up the facilities, fix up the amenities. Council has their park managers that do the mowing but we sort of keep an eye out more or less on how the ground is going and what needs to be improved.
Has vandalism become a problem for sports ground users in general?
It is due to the fact that the ground is a public park. You’ll see people down there doing their exercises. We have had people graffiti on the clubhouse. When we got the new building some people obviously didn’t like it so they started putting superglue in our padlocks so that we couldn’t get into them. They would smash the equipment room enough to be able to get in there and steal rakes and things like that. Just recently we’ve had somebody set a bonfire on the main track after the Council has just resurfaced it.
That’s a shame.
It is a shame.
Now can you explain the purpose of special event days such as state relays, Trans Tasman Challenge, Hills Family Fun Days. Zone and State Championships, Gala days, Zone Carnivals?
You’ve got Little Athletics NSW Association. They run the state championships. They’re still in control of the zone and the region. They run the Trans Tasman and the state relays. Now the state relays are held in November. It’s just a team event. So you might have a four hundred metre team event. Then you’ve got a team that do the long and the high jump. So you’ve got four children doing that and four children doing the track event. It’s fun for the kids. You’ve got people from all over the state coming down to it. Then you have the Trans Tasman trials which are held in November. Then they’re usually held in January. That alternates between going to New Zealand and this year we’ve got New Zealand coming over here. That’s only for the under elevens and under twelves age group. Then you’ve got the state multis which is the ones that are held in the country. Depending on which centre wants to host it. From there you get your top under fifteen that will go to nationals.
The Fun Day is just basically our centre. In the early days they used to hold a challenge trophy which was between us and it used to be with Ryde. You’d have the Macquarie Shores up in the Newcastle area and even up as far as Raymond Terrace, Medowie. So they used to alternate each year to which area it was going to. Sometimes it could have been down at Hills District. We stopped that over the five years because the children weren’t keen to travel. One of the centres up past Newcastle didn’t have many children anyway so it was too costly. We used to have a gala day ourselves. We’d run it either as a heptathlon different events. The last few years we’ve been running it as an age group. You can invite anyone from NSW to come. We send out flyers to all the centres saying this is on, which was a great success. We used to have the handicap trophy. So you might have a seven year old who’d start first as opposed to a fifteen year old at the top. They were quite good runs. We used to do them on a straight track or the eight hundred. We stopped that at the moment because we weren’t getting enough from out of area so it was mostly for our centre. So this year we’re just having a fun day for our centre. It will still be based on a handicap, spot prizes for doing a good jump and little things like that. Just to bring a little more excitement in for the kids. We've also this year going to do a Super-Hero Day, so you can obviously race in your normal outfit, but you have to put your Super-Hero on afterwards. And again, just to have a little bit of fun for the young kids, and it helps the little tiny tots to get involved as well.
The Australian Little Athletics Championships are held every Easter aren’t they? Who’s competing in that?
In those it comes from the under thirteens age group only. The selectors look at the multi event to find out who’s excelling. Because you’re limited to the amount of children that do go they like to say if you’re a 400 hundred metre runner you might also be good at the long jump. So they look at that. You compete at the State Championships. Usually its up to the first three children that will actually go. It depends on the availability of the parent. It does cost a little bit of money. They get together twice before the championships where they have coaching days with the coaches who are on the staff of the Little Athletics Association. Then they (the Championships) alternate between all the states as well. Last year it was in Queensland, this year it is down in Victoria.
How high a level can athletes aspire to in track and field?
In Little Athletics itself besides the under thirteens you just go to the state championships. The other ones will go to nationals. A lot of the children now through their own schools can go onto what’s called All School Championships which were only held last weekend. This is all of NSW. Again you put your name down to go into that. As long as you’ve got the time to be able to do it. I mean recorded time. Then the nationals will be held in Victoria. Again it is a costly event for the parents. Sometimes you have a raffle to help with all of that. Again the Council also contribute to children who get to the national level. I know myself because my daughter was lucky enough to go to the Pacific School Games down in Canberra and Council helped contribute to that as well which I was grateful for.
You’ve got a great Council there? What’s the procedure in claiming a record?
At club level we like if you’re doing sprints at least to have two timers on it. It’s just a click of your finger to be able to start. It’s nice to have two, preferably three time keepers if you are able. In the field events if the age manager themselves I think this child is going to break a record. They would then get one of the committee or official at our club to go up there before they throw so that you know one that they’ve got the right equipment, the weight of it. Especially with shot putt that they’re actually doing it correctly. Unless you’re there you can’t say… you’ve got to measure it properly as well.
Has any member of the club in The Hills Shire broken any records?
Over the time they keep breaking records. We’ve got a record booklet that we keep. As I said this Nicholas Hough he tended to break nearly three records every week. He’s very talented. You can break an Australian record at the state championships which he has done. There’s a few others I’m sure. I know our current CEO Kerry O’Keefe who was Kerry Arkins her father was the founder of Hills District Little Athletics. Both her and her brother were quite good walkers so they have both broken records. She has gone to nationals as well. You have to have officials there in your regionals and state you can break an Australian record. By looking even at the Little Athletics Website you’ll be able to see that Nicholas Hough has done that as well.
You just mentioned the website of The Hills District Little Athletics. What is the purpose of the website?
The purpose of the website is to inform our members of what is going on. We do hand out a little booklet but a lot of the time people don’t look at it. If they’re on the internet they think I’ll just go into there to find out. It shows who’s on the committee, what coaching days it also shows what events are coming up, what you need to do to enter those events. There’s a wet weather number, it also has a hall of fame, coach’s profiles, and our sponsors. Then the Little Athletics Association website gives a list of all the centres. If you’re unsure of your area. You might live in Drummoyne you won’t know where the Little Athletics centre is closest to you.
So it’s very useful?
It is useful, it’s got better so that now you just key in your postcode and it will give you a range within five to twenty kilometres. It will show you the Little Athletics Club within that range. It helps me when people ring up at the association I can use it if I’m unfamiliar with the country areas especially Newcastle. They have a fair few in their metropolitan area as well. Just key in the postcode and it gives you the information, who to contact, the centres website as well.
So it’s a state wide thing?
It’s a state wide thing but most of the centres themselves have their own little websites where they also put the results up for each week. So that some centres are now giving the children a password to view their results. So that you don’t have competition from other centres looking up what you can and can’t do. Yeah they are very useful.
You briefly mentioned the words Hall of Fame. What is the Little Athletics Hall of Fame?
The one that we’ve set up on Hills District Hall of Fame is people who have got to different levels. Obviously if they inform us. We’ve got some who’ve done Australian best times in there. This is going back to 1972 I notice that again our CEO she’s in there. Nicholas Hough is in there, Preya Carey. There are a few legends from our centre itself.
What do the children and their families gain in benefits by being a part of Little Athletics?
The friendships that they’ve actually come up with again just speaking personally I know my son is still friends with some of the ones he started out with in the under sixes. It’s the same with my girls even though they’re not at the same school. The fitness they will get. The parents have even said “Johnny’s doing really well”. Even though he’s not in the top he’s enjoying the company. He’s enjoying just getting out and running around basically. We don’t force the children to do all the events. Obviously if somebody is unable to do a high jump then that’s fine. We don’t want to be pushing them into doing an injury by doing an event that they didn’t want to.
Does being a part of Little Athletics help in combating childhood obesity?
I think so because they’re getting the exercise. Obviously the throwers tend to be a little bit bigger than the sprinters. But because of the training that they’re doing they’re not what you call obese because they need that muscle and everything else as well. It does help combat it yes.
Who are The Hills Seniors? What’s their function?
Hills Seniors started up round about the same time that Little Athletics did. It was probably the first one there. I know one of our Olympians Marlene Matthews she started with seniors at Hills District. She then incorporated getting the younger children involved. With the seniors it gives them something else to go on with. At that stage you could only be under twelve for Little Athletics. There was a need to let the children keep going further especially if they wanted to aspire to be an Australian or an Olympian like Marlene. So they started that and what we do now is we have dual registration. You can still be a member of Little Athletics and compete at the senior level.
It is good and it is helping our senior club a lot. Speaking from personal experience my girls have been doing senior since they were under twelves. So these younger children are coming through and they’re doing relays and events with The Hills Seniors. They quite enjoy having the older people there as well. Telling them “OK I think you should be doing this” as well as their coach. They get along really well with them.
Is there any cut off age for Hills Seniors.
No, no we have a gentleman in the Hills Seniors, he’s sixty five and I think there are gentlemen who are older. Most of the seniors did the World Masters which was in Sydney last year. He’s been overseas to Finland and won gold over there. Our seniors do quite well and they enjoy it.
What are the facilities available for those with disabilities?
The only unfortunate thing with our ground is that it is grass. You’re unable to take in the wheelchair athletes. We have had children with one arm those types of disabilities because they can still run, they can still jump. It depends on what their classification is. One of our coaches has coached disability children before - he’s worked at the Paralympics. The disadvantage is that it is a grass court.
Now the Little Athletics in The Hills Shire will be having its fortieth birthday next year in 2011. Are there any special events planned to commemorate it?
We are at the moment trying to form a sub committee from the committee that we’ve got at the moment. To have a fortieth dinner and to try and incorporate some fun days as well as trying to get some of our life members involved. You work out over forty years how many children or how many families have actually gone through. The hard part will be trying to advertise it to them. We’ve got emails now so we can forward that out to everyone. Plus try to advertise in the local paper. There’s a community radio… she’ll put on the radio what’s going on. The Little Athletics Association itself will hopefully help advertise it.
So how does the future look for Little Athletics in The Hills District?
I think it’s good. Obviously because it’s got Rouse Hill I can’t see too many more centres starting up. They might go further out from Rouse Hill. The 380 that we’ve got this year is a good number to manage. Rather than some people standing around for ages waiting for their event we’re able to get it going quicker as opposed to finishing it at 12.30 1.00 o’clock session. I think it will still be there as long as the ground is in good shape. Thanks to the Council again. If you wanted to make it into Blacktown like a tartan(?) track then you’re looking at a lot of expense. The Council would then have to make it secure and it wouldn’t be a public park anymore.
Well we’re coming to the end of the interview. Do you have anything that you want to say things that I haven’t asked you perhaps?
No just probably along the lines of… because it is a Council incentive to do this thanking them for their work. I want to thank everyone that I’ve been involved with. They’ve given me the opportunity to be able to be secretary. By starting there it also gave me the opportunity to do work for the Little Athletics Association, I’ve been working with them for ten years as well. I just love the integration with all centres from all around. Mixing with different people and I just enjoy it. I love seeing the children enjoying themselves and having fun. Seeing the achievement of what children can actually do from it.
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