SUMMARY OF 90 YEARS OF HISTORY
Prepared by the late Jack Biggins, Life Member St Stephens Harriers was formed from a group of young lads who were members of St Stephens Church of England, Richmond, Bible Class who were looking for a recreational sport to occupy their spare time. Parents vetoed football too rough, cycling equipment too expensive, tennis lack of courts, so athletics was the sport adopted.At a meeting held in March 1908 St. Stephens Harriers was formed and office bearers were elected. George Langford was appointed Secretary, a position he held until his untimely death in 1942 aged 53.
It was under George’s leadership that the club rose to being one of the largest, best known and successful clubs in Australia. His dedication to the club and its interest was that over his lifetime he at various times held the positions of President of Victorian Athletic Association, Australian Athletics, Richmond Cricket Club, Australian Olympic Council, etc. He was appointed Track Referee to the British Empire Games Sydney 1938.
Richmond Cricket Ground was our training venue.
Success was not easily achieved until 1910 when the club won the C Grade Cross Country teams race. This immediately attracted more members in 1911 when the B Grade 5 and 10 mile teams won the Victorian Championships.
The first member to win an Open Championship was Thomas Vines who won the 1913 10 mile title in the time of 58 min 23.5 sec.
The Club continued with varied successes until War broke out in 1914 bringing most sporting activities into recess. 81 members (plus 14 former members) enlisted. 13 were killed in action and 8 received medals for bravery in action.
After the War competition resumed and the club continued to be successful in the winter season, being Cross Country Champions from 1919 to 1960 (except 1927 and 29 when Malvern Harriers were victors).
Always looking for ways to promote the club and seeking to do events that created interest with the newspapers etc, it was decided to attempt long distance relay runs, a first in Australian athletics.
The first event was from Melbourne to Sydney on 18th September 1929. There were 23 runners, each runner doing 5 miles daily. The 565 mile distance was covered in 54 hours 56 minutes 49 seconds. The baton contained messages from the Mayor of Melbourne and was handed over to the Mayor of Sydney on arrival.
Next was a 24-hour Relay on 11th September 1931 using the Church Hall as a base and the streets of inner Melbourne as the course. The total distance of 262 miles 125 yards was achieved with most of the 78 runners covering a one mile section two or three times. This created a World Record.
In 1934 the Club sent a team to Adelaide for their State 10 Mile Cross Country Championship where they won the teams race. On 30th September 1934 the team of 23 runners then set off for home by Relay which took 54 hours 9 min 29 sec.
In 1931 St. Stephens Harriers created a record attendance of 116 members at the opening Cross Country run of the VAAA.
1928 started our famous Queen’s Birthday weekend (June) holiday Relay run to Sorrento (mile sections) with the club staying at the Oceanic Guest House before Relay running home on the Monday.
After the 1939/45 War the weekend Relays continued with a Sports Meeting being held at the Sorrento Football Ground before returning home by car. This continued until 1951 when we ran around the Bay in a day – Queenscliff to Melbourne to Sorrento for the weekend. The weekends continued with different areas – Ballarat, Cowes, Warburton, Tidal River, Lorne, Marysville – until 1980 when the weekend trips were voted off the winter program.
In 1948 we ran another 24-hour Relay around Melbourne this time the distance being 271 miles.
Over the years many of our members attained Distinctions in their after-athletic lives. Among them were:
Sir Edgar Tanner – Member of Parliament and Head of Australian Olympics Commission
Sir Charles Moses – Head Australian Broadcasting Commission
Reginald Talbot – Lord Mayor of Melbourne
Very Worshipful Fred Head – Archbishop of Melbourne
Dr Carl Wood – Head of IVF Research Program
The honour of being elected to Life Membership of both the Victorian Athletic Association and our own club is not for years of membership but for the service in administration, officiating, committees, coaching, selecting and measuring cross country courses, working on track and cross country administration over a very long period. In the club’s 90 years 26 members have received the Club Award and 10 have achieved the Association Award.
The British Empire Games (Commonwealth Games) came to Sydney in 1938 and the Club made the most of the occasion. Fred Barry-Brown, Fred Colman and Gerald Backhouse were selected in the Australian team and George Langford was appointed Track Referee. A party of 54 members travelled by train and spent 7 terrific days at the Oriental Hotel in Kings Cross. Everyone had a Games Membership Ticket and wallet which gave them free entry to all sports (swimming, Boxing, cycling, etc), and with taxi fares only one shilling flag fall and sixpence per mile (4 members per car) we travelled to all venues and the sights of Sydney in style. Gerald Backhouse ran second in the Mile recording a time of 4.12.0. The winner was Alford of Wales in a time of 4.11.6, the margin between 1st and 2nd being 4 tenths of a second.
The 1956 Olympic Games were held in Melbourne November 22nd to December 1st and as usual many members of the club became involved in the athletic organisation in the years before and during competition. Twenty-three members became officials at the various venues with Edgar Tanner (Zack) being the Secretary of Australian Olympic Organising Committee. On Sunday December 2nd the club organised an Olympic church service at St. Stephens Church. The Church was packed with a large number of overseas athletes, many in their National dress uniforms. Barclay Palmer (British Shot Put Champion) and our own Australian Record holder for 110M Hurdles, Ray Weinberg, read the lessons.
The Reverend Bob Richards, U.S.A. and Olympic Pole Vault Champion, gave a most inspiring message in a sermon that held the whole congregation spellbound. The Choir comprised mainly of members of the club.
Under a system of priority bookings organised by the Association the club on behalf of 66 members purchased 966 tickets to the value of 1280 Pounds (the club treasurer almost had a nervous breakdown in handling the purchases and distribution to members).
St. Nicholas Boys’ Home Glenroy – In 1926 through Canon Lamble the club had a run from the Boys’ Home (52 boys, mainly orphans). It was such a success that the 5 Mile Club Championship was conducted from there for many years. 1927 saw thirty members giving the boys a Christmas party which began a close affiliation. The treasurer opened a special Fund in his books for donations. Apart from Christmas the club was involved during the year. They built a concrete cricket pitch in 1930, organised concert parties, built a recreational hall, complete with concrete floor, windows, sliding doors, full-size basketball court etc. in 1939. As War had broken out we had to return in 1947 to do the painting.
One of the lads brought up in the School was George Pearson who became an International rugby player and studied Theology. He became Vicar of St. Stephens Church and the Club’s President.
The Home at Glenroy closed in 1953 and moved to Newhaven, Phillip Island. As the distance was too far we had to cease our connection with the Home. We made one last visit and donated an assortment of sporting equipment, including a full-size table tennis table and a trampoline. This equipment was purchased with the remaining money in the Fund which was then closed.
Warburton House – In 1973 the club purchased a house in Warburton as a training camp, a base for weekend runs and holiday accommodation for members. For many years it was a great success but as interest waned the house was sold.
Training Ground – In 1965 the club, with the co-operation of the Melbourne City Council, obtained the use of a brand new training track at Yarra Park alongside the railway line almost opposite Olympic Park. In 1991 the Club relocated to Hawthorn and now use Auburn Quarry Reserve for training as well as Olympic Park.
Club Coaches – The success of most clubs is having coaches capable of bringing out the best of a member’s talent at the critical time for major competitions. Four members stand out not only for their ability in handling the athletes but also for their years of service. Tom Vines, a foundation member of the club, followed by Geoff Leete, then Bob Osborne who handed over to his son Norman. Norm held the position from 1962 to 1984. He then went to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra in a coaching capacity, then back to Melbourne as an A.I.S. coach. He went to the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton as coach to the Australian team. Norm is still coaching full-time both Australian and International athletes.
Club Journal – The first issue of the Club Journal named “Cross Country” (Facts and Fancies concerning St. Stephens Harriers) was printed by Whitehurst Printers, Bridge Road, Richmond, on 28th April 1923, and continued until June 1953 when the Club started producing roneo copies in July with Issue 29/1. On the 31st July 1991 when the women’s and men’s clubs had amalgamated the paper was named “St. Stephens Hawthorn Athletic Club Inc. Cross Country Journal.”
Wal Robinson and Barry Tregenza, St. Stephens Harriers members, were instrumental in the formation of a sister club to St. Stephens Harriers. Wal, a teacher at Burwood Primary School, was coaching a Little Athletic Club (Highway) and was keen to create a senior club for the girls as they turned twelve and were no longer eligible to compete in Little Athletics. On the 8th May 1969 the Club to be named St. Stephens Women’s Amateur Athletic Club was formed and the Club’s first affiliation fee was paid by Barry Tregenza. At that time men’s and women’s clubs were controlled by separate Governing Bodies and competition was conducted at different venues, Royal Park being the women’s first Interclub venue.
In 1982 the men’s and women’s Associations amalgamated and for the first time we saw men and women competing at the same venue. Our women competed at Doncaster while the men’s club remained at an all-male venue.
On 31st May 1991 members of St. Stephens Harriers and St. Stephens Women’s Athletic Club Inc. agreed to an amalgamation of the two clubs and a new combined club to be known as St. Stephens Hawthorn Athletic Club Inc. was formed. In the 1991/92 season, as a combined club, our men and women competed at the same venue (Doncaster) for the first time.
GENERAL STATISTICS (E & O E)
Victorian Cross Country Champions 1919-27, 1929, 1931-49, 1951, 1959,1962-63,1966-67,1973
Victorian Track and Field Champions 1924-25,1939, 1947, 1962, 1965, 1974
Victorian Interclub Champions 1919-20, 1939-40, 1945, 1963
Victorian Track Championships 115 Champions
Victorian Field Games 55 Champions
Victorian Cross Country 41 Champions
Australian Track Championships 55 Champions
Australian Field Games 11 Champions
Highest VAAA Registrations 189 1959
Derek Clayton created a World fastest time for the Marathon in Antwerp, Belgium in 1967 – 2 hrs 8 min 33.6 sec.
Since 1983 older members have held a reunion every six months and it is typical of the strong friendship created in their years of competition.
World War 2 1939/45 – A full record of enlistments and those who did not return was not listed in our records but two stained glass memorial windows were installed and dedicated in St. Stephens Church.