Professional Running in Western Australia

The West Coast Athletics League (Inc.) is a non-profit organisation established to organise

and administer professional running events in Western Australia. It is managed, sponsored

and conducted through the efforts of volunteers from the athletic and local community

groups within Western Australia.

Professional running in Australia began in the gold rush era of the mid 1800s. Usually athletes raced each other for the gift of a gold nugget offered by the local publican or mine owner. While races were held over various distances the main race was usually over the distance of 130 yards (now 120 metres). With increasing prize money in the 1860’s the sport of professional running attracted a wealth of athletic talent from many sports. Competitions took on a carnival atmosphere and crowds would flocked to see international as well as local champions competing. In April 1878, nearly two thousand people witnessed the running of the first Stawell (Victoria) Easter Gift (won by W.J.Millard, a 24 year old farmer).

The prestigious Botany Bay Gift was first held in 1894, two years before the Modern Olympics. It was later cancelled in the 1930s due to allegations of corruption, later being revived in the 1980s. ‘It had a real party atmosphere. The most amazing people went there.’ (Botany Bay Historical Society President Anne Slattery) Similarly in Western Australia (WA) the enthusiasm for professional running (and cycling) events spread through the Goldfields at the height of the Western Australian gold rush era (late 1800s) with big prize money and crowds.

Professional running at that time was in conflict with the very strict (and austere) amateurism in the sport(s) of the day. If you associated, coached or even trained with an athlete who had taken part in a professional event in any sport you were banned for life from all ‘amateur’ athletic and sporting events including the Olympic Games.

In 1985, Athletics Australia reached an agreement with the Australian Athletics Confederation (made up of the state athletic leagues) resulting in a relaxation of the amateur rules to allow ‘professional’ runners to run in ‘amateur’ competitions. That agreement also a recognised that professional running events would be conducted exclusively by the state athletic leagues.

The West Coast Athletics League (Inc.) (WCAL) was established in 1987. The inaugural committee was formed with Lawrence Fitzgerald as the inaugural President, Rolf Stene (Vice President), Doug Wenn (Executive Officer) and Hugh ‘Bay’ Winning (Handicapper). At its peak in the 1990’s WCAL held more than 12 professional meetings throughout the state including Port Hedland, Kalgoorlie, York, Mandurah, Northam, Mullewa and Dardanup. Metropolitan races included the Austin Robertson Gift with other Gift events at Kelmscott and Midland and the educational institutions of Mazenod College and Mandurah Senior High School. There were also ‘one-off’ events held at the WAFL Grand Final (Aussie Rules football) at Subiaco Oval and the Ashes Test (Cricket) at the WACA.

At the passing of the Athletics WA involvement in professional running in WA a ‘renewed’ experienced and committed WCAL board was reformed in 2011 and included founding WCAL committee and Life member Kevan Hook (Secretary). Sadly Kevan Hook passed away due to a vehicle accident in late 2011, WCAL losing a long serving and committed supporter of both WCAL and ‘other athletics’ in WA. The reformed WCAL committee quickly grew the professional circuit again up to 8 meetings in 2013.

In recent years the number of events has reduced but the enthusiasm of the committee and athletes has seen events well received and attended by both athletes and the broader community. The current committee is committed to keeping those events in the WCAL calendar with a view to moving forward in a constantly changing society to increase the number of events as well as further developing innovation and excitement to an already exciting professional running program in WA.