History of the Ballarat Gift

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.

In 1988 there was no professional foot running carnival held in Ballarat. The break ended 30 years of tradition by the Sebastopol Sporting Club who had previously conducted the "Sebastopol Gift" Carnival at the Marty Busch Oval in the suburb of Sebastopol.

The carnival had struggled for a number of years - not for want of athletes, but rather to fill a void with organizers, officials and sponsors.

As a result of this and later in 1988 the Central Highlands Region Sports Assembly drew attention to the plight of the carnival and after much discussion at its meetings, embarked on a major exercise to resurrect the meeting to the professional athletics calendar.

The Central Highlands Region Sports Assembly invested considerable time and effort into the development and formation of a new organizing club which chose Ballarat's City Oval as the venue for the new look Gift carnival, the first of which was staged in 1989.

In recent years during the 1990's the club has almost always endeavoured to sustain the high standard of the carnival, within what has usually been a difficult budgetary circumstance.

Increasing costs for preparation and use of the City Oval influenced the club to establish links with the North Ballarat Sports Club at the Northern Oval. The use of this modern facility has boosted the stocks of the carnival to the extent that through excellent financial organisation and management the "Ballarat Athletic Club" appears to have set a much firmer direction for the conduct of future Ballarat Gift carnivals.

Our search for information on either athletics or professional athletics in Ballarat has also revealed that amateur athletics in Ballarat was firmly established in the district in 1891 when the Ballarat Harriers became active, while a local athletics centre was established in 1895, the same year that the Victorian Athletic League was formed by the professional clubs, most notably the Stawell Athletic Club.

A painting which now hangs in the social room of the Ballarat Football League Headquarters, on the City Oval, depicts the scene at the oval on the opening day in 1899. It is obvious that a rather large scale carnival was held to mark the occasion and in the foreground is the lane ropes for the sprint track.

As has been indicated earlier, the Ballarat region has had a long, albeit chequered involvement in the sport of pedestrianism as it is traditionally known. The involvement however, has continued to endure despite difficulties, perhaps through a preparedness of organisers to continually change its focus as circumstances around it have changed.

By supporting this years important event you will be helping to ensure that the Ballarat district is still a part of the tradition in perhaps another 100 years.

Men's Gift Winners

1949 E.Marantelli (City) 7.25yds 12.20s
1950 Albert Grant (Wendouree)
1953 T. Brudenall (Wendouree)
1954 M. Arnold (Wendouree)
1960 I.Daniels (Sebastopol)
1961 B.Malee (Sebastopol)
1962 A.Atkinson (Sebastopol)
1963 P.Heffernan (Sebastopol)
1964 W.Goggin (Sebastopol)
1965 P.Lenz (Sebastopol)
1966 P.Heffernan (Sebastopol)
1967 B.Ehlert (Sebastopol)
1968 A.F.Murray (Sebastopol)
1969 J.Coppins (Sebastopol)
1970 T.Harmon (Sebastopol)
1971 J.C.Keays (Sebastopol)
1972 M.Tancredi (Sebastopol)
1973 J.C.Keays (Sebastopol)
1974 B.Roberts (Sebastopol)
1975 B.Griffett (Sebastopol)
1976 L.Guiney (Sebastopol)
1977 G.Lumb (Sebastopol)
1978 B. Wilson (Sebastopol)
1979 L. Powell (Sebastopol)
1980 G. Hogan (Sebastopol)
1981 G. O’Halloran (Sebastopol)
1982 C. Blake (Sebastopol)
1983 G. Gregorio (Sebastopol)
1984 D. Horne (Sebastopol)
1985 C. Marks (Sebastopol)
1986 J. Templin (Sebastopol)
1987 D. O’Donnel (Sebastopol)
1988 Gift Not Held That Year
1989 P. Bennetto (City) 12.39s
1990 P. Bennetto (City) 12.26s
1991 C. Russell (City) 12.50s
1992 M. Ladbrook (City) 12.49s
1993 T. Birrell (Northern) 12.71s
1994 A. Paull (Northern) 12.13s
1995 V. Cavallo (Northern) 12.22s
1996 P. O’Dwyer (Northern) 12.22s
1997 S. White (Northern) 12.33s
1998 R. Ballard (Northern) 12.19s
1999 C. Pattison (Northern) 12.49s
2000 D. Paull (Northern) 12.43s
2001 J. Cara (Northern) 12.58s
2002 B. Blanco (Northern) 12.39s
2003 S. Beaven (Northern) 12.22s
2004 V. Oyanedel (Northern) 12.09s
2005 W. Vale (Northern) 12.49s
2006 N. Dixon (Northern) 12.29s
2007 N. Sampieri (Northern) 12.18s
2008 B. Lawal (Northern) 12.50s
2009 R. Mathews (Eastern) 12.49s
2010 P.O'Dwyer (Northern) 12.44s
2011 A.McCabe (Northern) 12.40s
2012 D.Tinney (Northern) 12.32s
2013 G. Ross (Northern) 12.41s
2014 N. Riali (Eastern) 12.46s
2015 C Mair  (Eastern) 12.36s
2016 N Angelakos  (Eastern) 12.57s
2017 J Nettlefold  (Eastern) 12.62s
2018 L Mitchell (Wendouree) 12.36s

Women's Gift Winners

1993 S. Carr (Northern) 13.94s
1994 E. Hutton (Northern) 13.73s
1995 A. Benton (Northern) 14.13s
1996 B. Marantelli (Northern) 13.92s
1997 A. Wilson (Northern) 14.12s
1998 N. Harriss (Northern) 14.41s
1999 C. Ratcliffe (Northern) 14.76s
2000 C. Ratcliffe (Northern) 14.30s
2001 C. Fox (Northern) 14.49s
2002 K. Moore (Northern) 14.30s
2003 K. Meagher (Northern) 13.83s
2004 S. Mollica (Northern) 13.92s
2005 M. Mcquade (Northern) 13.97s
2006 J. Nation (Northern) 14.21s
2007 S. Pollard (Northern) 14.16s
2008 A. Platten (Northern) 14.11s
2009 S. Byron (Eastern) 14.09s
2010 S. Taylor (Northern) 14.205s
2011 S. Taylor (Northern) 14.11s
2012 T. Hawking (Northern) 14.24s
2013 H. Dobbyn (Northern) 14.27s
2014 C. Cosgriff (Eastern) 14.27s
2015 C Wearne  (Eastern) 14.00s
2016 K Reddingius  (Eastern) 13.78s
2017 K Henderson  (Eastern) 14.09s
2018 K Jones (Wendouree) 14.03s