Corroboree Little Atheletics

A short history of the Corroboree Little Athletics club

A note from Garry Stevens (President during the 2019/20 season).

Corroboree turns 50 during the 2019/20 season which is a momentous occasion for our little club. We have a filing cabinet stuck up the back of one of our containers and we knew there was ‘stuff’ in there but really didn’t know what. I made it my goal this off season to go through the filing cabinet to see what I could find to help us celebrate our Golden Jubilee year. I was fortunate to come across a letter in the 1998 files from a man called Eric Boyson and it seems it was he who got this whole ball rolling. I have transcribed his letter here, word for word and it goes like this…

The Founding of Little Athletics

My wife and I brought Little Athletics to Canberra in the 1970’s when I was the Executive Director of the Canberra YMCA and my wife was our Community Services Director. We had seven recreational centres in Canberra and one at Queanbeyan. One of our Canberra centres was at Ainslie at Corroboree Park. Its name came from early settlement days when the Aboriginals used the area for their Corroborees. A park had been established where the corroborees had taken place and our centre was located within the old, tree lined park.

Each of our centres had a committee of management made up of local citizens, both men and women with one of two youth representatives as well. One of the committee members at the Corroboree park YMCA had come from Victoria. At one of our committee meetings he said “We have good judo, gymnastics, basketball, crafts, radio, photography, bush walking and table tennis clubs but we do not have any athletics for primary school children”. He went on to say that in Victoria he had been very active with a new activity called “Little Athletics”. He explained that Little Athletics had been formed by a Sunday School teacher in Victoria. The teacher felt that if he could arrange an active program for his Sunday school children on Saturdays he would have a better chance of getting to now them rather than just having them on their best behaviour only for a couple of hours on Sundays. As he was active with athletics he chose that as the physical activity. He realised that as his Sunday School students were all at primary school, he would have to provide reduced sized shot puts, javelins and discus. Also lower hurdles and even a shorter running track. He spoke to his friends and some of them were able to make the necessary equipment to his specifications. He called the new program “Little Athletics”. Our committee man was the Functions Manager of one of Canberra’s leading hotels. He said it would no problem to arrange a good room and meals at the hotel if we invited the founder of Little Athletics to Canberra. He also had connections with the airlines because of his position at the hotel and he could get free air tickets for our guests.

The committee became very enthusiastic, deciding to call a public meeting to launch Little Athletics in Ainslie.

We then wrote to a dozen public and church primary schools in the area asking them to tell their students about Little Athletics and invite them to nominate two teachers to attend a public meeting at the Corroboree Park Centre. The public meeting was held with the founder of Little Athletics as our main speaker. The Canberra Times gave us good publicity and a large number of local citizens, parents of primary school age children, also attended. After the founder had spoken, the meeting moved a resolution that Little Athletics be established at Ainslie.

We then had to find a venue. The Lady Principal of the Ainslie Public School was on my Board of Directors and when I reported on the public meeting to my Board she said their sports oval next to her school was not used on Saturdays and we could have the use of it rent free as long as we left it clean and tidy.

We then approached our bank as sponsor of the record book and place stickers which was to be given to each child as they enrolled. The bank manager thought it was a good idea because he had 2 young children who would participate and he readily agreed to pay for the printing.

Our Mothers Club started to raise money by selling fairy floss at Garema Place on Friday evenings when the shops opened for late night shopping. Very soon we had enough to purchase the basic equipment we needed.

We then called an enrolment day. Sixty children turned up, mostly with their parents, saying there were others interested who could not be there that day. With the parents handy, we recruited workers- starters, marshals, recorders and grounds men and women. The parents became as keen as the children. We even recruited several cabinet ministers and parliamentarians because they too had children who wanted to participate. We assigned one of our young activity-staff men to co-ordinate the program, but very soon the parents took over completely and our staff man only had to be there to represent the YMCA.

At the first wind up after a very successful season, we invited Warwick Selvey to speak to the group. Warwick had been a member of the YMCA when he was a boy in Sydney and I was then the Boys’ Work Director at the Sydney YMCA. Warwick has represented Australia at two Olympics in shot put, javelin and discus throwing. He had become a chiropractor in addition to an Olympian after he left school and he was now living in Canberra. After Warwick had recounted his experiences at the Olympics, one of the boys asked him to show them how he would throw a discus at the Olympics. Warwick agreed to do so, was given a Little Athletics discus and said “Gee, its a bit small” and threw it and we never found it again!

When the YMCA established a YMCA Recreation Centre at Belconnen, Little Athletics was formed a year afterwards at Belconnen by the YMCA, using the Canberra High School playing field which was next to our YMCA Centre at Jamieson. The then Minister for the Capital Territory, Mr Enderby, officially opened Little Athletics by throwing the shot put which he said he had been pretty good at when he was at University.

Little Athletics was shortly afterwards formed at Woden by the community and not the YMCA and so it began to grow elsewhere.

When we called the Public Meeting at Corroboree Park we never dreamed that we were starting something which would grow so big. When the Sunday School teacher involved his Sunday School class in athletics on a Saturday morning, he had no idea that it would become popular interstate.

When your children grow up, never be afraid to have new ideas and to put your new ideas into action because ideas have legs and they can travel far.

Those of you who miss out on trophies, do not be discouraged. The important thing is to ask yourself “Have I improved on my previous performances?”  If you have, then be happy. If you haven’t improved, then at least you tried and in the last analysis, that is the most important thing.

By Eric Boyson


David Boshier (one of our long term committee members and coaches) searched through the Canberra Archives and found the following Newspaper Articles

27 October 1970

Little Athletics for the Northside
A MEETING attended by more than 60 parents and children last Thursday night adopted a resolution to form a Little Athletics Association for children aged between seven and 12 attending northside schools. A further meeting will be held at the Corroboree Park YMCA Youth Centre at 7pm on-November 5 to finalise details for Little Athletics competitions, with a view to beginning competition on Saturday, November 14. The founder of the Little Athletics Association and the secretary-manager of the Victorian Little Athletics Association, Mr Trevor Billingham, told the meeting that four such associations had been formed in NSW.

He said the association believed that little athletics was a worthwhile recreational activity particularly if it was a family activity involving both the children and their parents. Mr Billingham trained with athletes John. Landy and Don McMillan and, ip 1956, was chosen to carry the Olympic torch for one relay section on its way to Melbourne.

The executive director of the Canberra YMCA, Mr E. O.Boyson, said the Little Athletics Association for the northside schools would probably conduct their competitions at the oval.

Mr Boyson. said yesterday the northside association was being treated as an experimental project and further little athletics centres would be formed in the future. He said the next centre would be formed on the south side of Canberra and the others would be in the Woden Valley and in Belconnen.

17 Dec 1970

Athletics meeting
The Little Athletics Association, sponsored by the Corroboree Park YMCA, will hold its last competitions for the year on Saturday, December 19, at the Ainslie Primary School Oval.
Competitions will resume at the Ainslie Primary Oval on Saturday, February 6.

The Little Athletics Association was formed for northside Canberra schools two months ago and has attracted about 140 competitors in the under-7 and under 12 weekly competitions. The executive director of the Canberra YMCA, Mr E. O. Boyson, said that it was likely that the Woden YMCA Youth Centre would sponsor a Little Athletics Association for schools in the Woden and Weston Creek areas early next year.

A word from club legend John Hunt

50th Anniversary of Corroboree Little Athletics Centre

I am delighted to be here today to celebrate the fiftieth year of this great club.

My involvement goes back to 1988, when my son Hume was inspired by the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games to ask if he could join a little athletics centre.

This was Corroboree and what a great choice we made.  He enjoyed two seasons of participation before taking up senior athletics and other sports, but I found myself becoming more and more involved, initially through officiating and coaching and then as a member of the Committee and President.

My decision to remain after my son left was driven by my commitment to the personal best ethos of the club and the friendly atmosphere it engendered.  I felt that such a fine example of community involvement deserved my support.

To see shy five year-olds coming to their first involvement in little athletics, to see them acquiring skills in running, jumping and throwing, to observe their growing confidence and pleasure as they improve their competition performances (“John, I got a personal best”) –that is a joy.

Many have applied the skills they learnt in little athletics to other sports.  The roll of honour includes those who have excelled in hockey, basketball, rugby league and of course athletics at national and international level.

We are not just imparting skills to these young people: we are giving them lessons for life.  They learn that success comes from intelligent application and that seemingly unattainable goals can be achieved if they desire them hard enough.  They learn to lose with grace and win with grace.  Whenever I meet former little athletes, they always recall with fondness their experiences in the sport.

Of course little athletics, more than most other junior sports, requires a big commitment from the parents.  Their involvement is essential to run the weekly events and to organize achievement awards, fund-raising and record-keeping.  Many parents spend many unpaid hours in providing the administrative framework for the smooth running of the sport.  They do this because they see the children as their hope for the future.

Corroboree has been very fortunate in having some wonderful parents over the years who have developed a range of innovations that make this club one of the best-run and happiest centres in the ACT.   It is wonderful that some of those pioneers are here today.

When I first became involved thirty years ago, we would have to fetch the equipment trailer from a shed within the ACT Parks complex by driving across a bridge over the drain, set up the throwing equipment at the circles on that side right next to bicycle path, then get together and then decide “What events will we offer today?  The long and triple jump pits had grass run-ups; the barbecue was a single unit brought by a parent.  But the high jump had excellent deep landing bags that served us well for twenty-five years.

And what good times we had!  Some of the records set in the 1980s still stand.  Some of those record-holders are here today.

One of the most pleasing developments over the years has been the opening up of little athletics to older athletes up to under 17 years.  We now have a strong representation of these fine young people who are excellent role models for the younger athletes.

So we have much to be thankful for.  I, most of all, am grateful to have been involved for so long in such a wonderful club.

John Hunt

Life Member

29 February 2020

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