- Category: History
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The early settlers arrived in Australia with full knowledge of pedestrianism, a popular sport in England. Although no records were kept of the sport in the early days, it is known that the Englishmen found the heat excessive for long distance running. Sprint races seemed the order in those days. For small side stakes, the English Trooper did not think he could be beaten by a convict or Aboriginal over short distances. ....Professional foot racing in Australia is often said to have begun in the gold mining days. It did indeed boom with the findings of gold, and in areas where prospecting and diggings went on. The miners raced against each other on a handicap basis for the gift of a gold nugget offered by the local publican or the mine owner. The miners wagered their precious gold dust on the outcome of a race. It was in this manner the present day "Gift" races originated. The miners raced over various distances, but the main race was .. and still is .. the one over the Sheffield distance of 130 yards. Back in England, the Sheffield Handicap in Yorkshire was run over this distance, and the winner was presented with a purse of gold. With metrication, the distance has now become the slightly longer 120 metres. The distance is regarded as the true test for professional sprinters ..".
Competitors were bound by the rules and regulations of the Ballarat Athletic League ..".
In the gold mining days of the nineteenth century, each gold mining town had its own athletic club, and each club had its own rules and regulations. Townspeople supported their local champions so vehemently that club officials found it difficult to award races to runners from other towns. Even in the case of a clear victory by a visiting runner, the result would often be declared a dead heat.
The formation of the Stawell Athletic Club, with its honourable members all dedicated in their task to promote professional athletics, set a standard of ethics hitherto unknown at mining centres. Reports from runners of slipshod rules that applied all around Victoria prompted the Stawell Athletic Club to convene a meeting of all clubs promoting professional running in Victoria with the object of forming a controlling body. At this meeting, held in 15 April, 1895, the Victorian Athletic League was formed .."
And so went some of the early history of professional athletics in Victoria.
Records show that an athletics carnival, featuring a Ballarat Gift, was staged at the City Oval on Tuesday, December 27, 1949. The winner of the Gift over 130 yards was E.P. (Ted) Marantelli from 7.25 yards in 12.2 seconds. Our source reveals that at the same carnival was assembled the greatest ever field of eight cyclists to race in country Victoria.
Other records show that there were several Wendouree Gift meetings conducted by the Wendouree Athletic Club in the 1950's until the first Sebastopol Gift meeting was held on Saturday, March 19, 1960. Prize money for the 1960 meeting totalled $334.00 and by 1979 this had increased to $2,300.00.