AIS support of regional athletes 1981 to 2013

By Greg Blood

The establishment of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in 1981 has greatly assisted in regional athletes being significant contributors to the success of Australia in international sporting arena.

In recent years, on a voluntary basis, I have created alumni websites for six AIS inaugural sports –  athletics, basketball, men’s football, netball, gymnastics and swimming.  COVID-19 has interrupted this research for other AIS sports. Whilst undertaking this research, it re-emphasised to me the importance  of the AIS from 1981 to 2013 in offering scholarships to regional athletes.

My published article ‘ Commemoration of Athletes and Racing Animals in Regional and Rural Australia’ provides a historical view of the contribution of regional athletes. Many of us know of  tennis player Rod Laver (‘Rockhampton Rocket’), cricketer Don Bradman (‘Boy from Bowral’), athletics sprinter Marjorie Jackson (‘Lithgow Flash’) and boxer Les Darcy (‘Maitland Wonder’).

My research found that 27.5 percent of 2016 Australian Olympic Team  grew up in rural and regional Australia. Other research on this issue includes more than 16 per cent of professional NRL players (1998-2010) started as a junior in a town with a population less than 10,000 people and country Victoria has provided 22% (279 of a total of 1281) of the draftees into the AFL competition since 1997.    

The support of talented regional athletes is an important component of Australia’s  high-performance system. This has been acknowledged by the establishment of regional academies in most Australian states. The aim of most of these academies is to develop athletes for their next pathway – state and national representation.

The establishment of the AIS in 1981 ensured that many of our talented regional athletes trained with the best athletes in Australia in their age group in Canberra or other AIS locations and were provided with access to world class coaching and sports medicine/science and education and work opportunities.

In the inaugural AIS intake of 153 athletes in 1981, I found the following number of regional athletes taking up scholarships in Canberra – basketball (11 athletes), swimming (9), athletics (5), tennis (3), men’s football (3) weightlifting (3) and netball (2).  This amounted to 24 per cent of the inaugural intake.

There was early Olympic success for AIS regional swimmers at the 1984 Olympics with Karen Phillips (Nowra N) winning silver and  Michelle Pearson (Bundaberg Q) bronze medals. 

The AIS most successful regional swimmer has been three time Olympic gold medallist Petria Thomas who hailed from Mullumbimby, a small town in the NSW Northern Rivers region. In a recent Canberra Times article, Thomas said:

The AIS was really the only option for me, it was probably the best decision I ever made to come here, to see if I could reach my potential,”

“You come to an environment where everyone is striving for excellence and it’s pretty infectious actually.”

“Back in the day when all the sport programs were here, there was a cohort of athletes and coaches, it was quite a busy campus. Everyone was working to be the best they could be, both staff and athletes, as well as the support staff that were here as well”

“There’s no way I would have achieved those heights had I not been here.”

Besides access to world class coaches and sports science/medicine, Thomas was able to live in at the AIS and attend the nearby Lake Ginninderra College that worked closely with the AIS to ensure that it was mindful of the training and competition needs of athletes. Thomas later attended the nearby University of Canberra where she completed a sports administration degree.

Below I have listed some of the prominent regional athletes that the AIS in Canberra and Perth offered scholarships in five sports. This list is not exhaustive for the sports listed but provides some level of evidence of the support the  AIS has provided to regional athletes. It does not include capital cities. Darwin and Hobart are not included but these cities could be considered regional in terms of small populations and level of state competitions. I chose two individual athlete sports – athletics and swimming and three team sports – basketball, men’s football and hockey.

AIS Athletics in Canberra

Women –Gabrielle Blythe (Geelong V),  Kerrie Perkins (Kyogle N), Louise McPaul (Currey) (Wollongong N), Kerry Saxby-Junna (Ballina N), Benita Willis (Mackay N)

Men – Stuart Andrews (Wee Waa N), Tony Bond (Yass N), Duane Cousins (Bendigo, V),  Robert Crowther (Cloncurry Q),  Andrew Currey (Wee Waa N),  Nathan Deakes (Geelong V), Matt Favier (Tully Q), Dolph Francis (Nth Q), Heath Francis (Booral N), Paul Greene (Wollongong N), Gerrard Keating (Ballarat V), Hamish Macdonald (Alice Springs NT), Patrick Johnson (Cairns Q), Damien Marsh (Goondiwindi Q) , Scott Reardon (Temora N), Michael Roeger (Langhorne Creek S), Patrick Scammell (Albury N) , Jared Tallent (Ballarat V), 

AIS Swimming in Canberra

Women – Angie Bainbridge (Mereweather N), Belinda Hocking (Albury N), Jacki Grant (Gympie Q), Trudy Housman (Rockhampton Q),  Karen Lord (Nowra N), Audrey Moore (Launceston T),  Michelle Pearson (Bundaberg Q), Karen Phillips (Nowra N) ,Lyn Prosser (Harden N),  Linda MacKenzie (Mackay Q), Catherine Randall (Merewether N),  Clementine Stoney (Albury N),  Petria Thomas (Mullumbimby N), Jacinta van Lint (Albury N), Julie West (Townsville Q),  Stephanie Williams (Maitland N)

Men – Craig Boettcher (Newcastle N), Stephen Cameron (Parkes N), Matthew Dunn (Leeton N), Nick Ffrost (Mackay Q), Shane Herbert (Maryborough Q), William Goudie (Burnie T), Brad Jones (Griffith N), Gary Lord (Nowra N), David Orbell (Ipswich Q),  Adam Pine (Ballina/Lismore N),  Burl Reid (Rockhampton Q), Justin Norris (Newcastle N), Thomas Fraser-Holmes (Newcastle N) , Josh Taylor (Central Coast N)

AIS Basketball in Canberra 

Women – Kellie Abrams (Ballarat V), Val Ah Wong (Ayr Q),  Kate Alexander (Warrnambool V), Rebecca Allen (Wangaratta V),  Kristy Baker (Newcastle N), Sally Barney (Bundaberg Q), Suzy Batkovic (Newcastle N), Jenny Beha (Heyfield V), Liz Best (Bendigo V), Abby Bishop (Laura S), Robyn Blackburn (Eton Q),  Carla Boyd (Wynyard T), Tracey Brathwaite (Yankalilla S), Marion Brinkman (Ulverstone T), Sandy Brondello (Eton Q), Dee Butler (Wangaratta V), Renae Camino (Wollongong N), Nicole Carr (Alfredton V),  Nina Cass (Bendigo V), Christina Christie (Mackay Q),  Tania Clarke (Ulverstone T), Kerry Claydon (Everton Hills Q), Emma Clements (Manourang V), Michelle Chandler (Geelong V), Allison Cook (Ballarat V),   Rohanee Cox (Broome W), Teresa Cremer (Albury N),  Katie Davis (Warrnambool V),  Kathy Dick (Newcastle N), Mikaela Dombkins (Adamstown N), Tracey Dyt (Newborugh V), Katie-Rae Ebzery (Newcastle N), Trish Fallon (Geelong V), Bree Farley (Kadina S),  Tracey Febey (Devonport T), Jess Foley (Albury N),  Cayla Francis (Mt Barker S), Alicia Froling (Townsville Q), Keeley Froling (Townsville Q), Toni Gableish (Wulagai N),  Mandy Garrick (Shepparton V),  Desi Glaubitz (Traralgon V),  Hollie Grima (Evandale T), Shelley Hammonds (Wollongong N), Kerryn Harrington (Bendigo V), Kristi Harrower (Bendigo V), Jillian Haughton (Townsville Q),  Kate Hoan (Korumbara V), Cherie Hogg (Murray Bridge S), Sharon Hollingsworth (Swan Hill V), Nicole Hunt (Warrnambool), Kelsey Ireland (Kadina S),  Tonia Iverson (Albury N), Lauren Jackson (Albury), Jamie Kennedy (Nowra N), Lauren King (Ballina N), Jae KIngi (Maroochydore Q), Gemma Koehler (Geelong V),  Brigette Lane (Aitkenvale Q), Emma Langford (York Peninsula S), Tess Lavey (Bendigo V), Molly Lewis (Terrigal N), Jenny Lind (Townsville Q) , Kath MacDonald (Repton N), Tess Madgen Williamstown S), Jessica Mahony (Tamworth N), Raquel Marsh (Burnie T), Melissa McClure (Horsham V), Narelle McConnell (Maffra V), Emily McInerney (Bendigo V), Shelley Monaghan (Ayr Q), Julie Morton (Ulverstone T),   Christine Nelson (Ayr Q),  Bridgette Offeremans (Aitkenvale Q), Nadeen Payne (Townsville Q), Maddy Penn (Avoca Beach N),  Cecelia Preece (Manunda Q),  Katie Priest (Kadina S), Donna Quinn (Pittsworth Q), Jenny Reisner (Bungalow Q),  Gabe Richards (Seymour V), Tayla Roberts (Launceston T), Anne Robilliard (Moss Vale N),  Fiona Robinson (Collie W),  Teresa Sayer (Launceston T),  Jenny Screen (Adamstown N), Nicole Seekamp (Renmark S),  Debbie Slimmon (Malmsbury V), Deanna Smith (Castlemaine V), Belinda Snell (Mirboo North), Erin Seward (Broken Hill S),  Karen Smith (Rosedale V), Diane Stokes (Ulverstone T), Leanne Strooper (Elliminyt V), Gina Stevens (Ballarat V), Steph Talbolt (York Peninsula S), Marianna Tolo (Mackay Q), Wendy Toonen (Mackay Q), Rebecca Vanderjagt (SW Rocks N), Belinda Vanderploeg (Ballarat V),  Abby Wehrung (Daylesford V), ), Jenny Whittle (Southport Q) , Kim Wielins (Geelong V, Alex Wilson (Murray Bridge S), Julie Wilts (Warragul V), Kelly Wilson (Leongatha V), Sandra Woods (Wollongong N),   Hannah Zavec (Wangaratta V), .

Men -Matt Alexander (Warrnambool V), Martin Barmentloo (Littlehampton S),  Aaron Baynes (Mareeba Q), Rhys Bennett (Lithgow N), Chris Blakemore (Whyalla S), Peter Booth (Swan Hill V), David Bowden (Mt Gambier S),  Mark Brandon (Figtree N), Aaron Bruce (Horsham V), Jason Cameron (Mackay Q), Nic Campbell (Launceston T), Adam Caporn (Baldivis W), Leigh Carlson (Littlehampton S), Rhys Carter (Sale V), Marty Clarke (Penguin T),  Ned Coten (Narrogin W), Simon Cottrell (Beaconsfield T), Mitch Creek (Horsham), Scott Croll (Aitkenvale Q), Emmanuel D’Cress (Bunbury W), Larry Davidson (Picketts Valley N),  Matthew Dellavedova (Maryborough V),  Tyson Demos (Wollongong N), Josh Derksen (Toowoomba Q), Peter Dick (Mt Pleasant Q),  Ben Dowdell (Nowra N), Jeff Dowdell (Nowra N), Craig Evans (Dubbo N), John Fenton (Lithgow N),  Brett Flanigan (Moss Vale N), Harry Froling  (Townsville Q), Sam Froling (Townsville Q), Adam Gibson (Cluan T), Warwick Giddey (Wollongong N), Hugh Greenwood (Cremone T), Adam Grylewicz (Albury N), Darcy Harding (Bateman’s Bay) N),  Scott Harkness (Mandurah W),  Sam Harris (Launceston T), Peter Hill (Newcastle N), Jerome Hill (Cairns Q), Jacob Holmes (Heathfield SA), Ric Howard (Launceston T), Craig Irvine (Wurtulla Q), Bronson Kies ( Barossa Valley S), Mathew Knight (Burnie T), Grant Kruger (Banora Point N), Daniel Jackson (Wollongong N), Nathan Jawai (Cairns),  Brendan Le Gassick (Gold Coast Q), Damian Martin (Gloucester N), Craig McAndrew (Mossman Q), Scott McGregor (Newcastle), Sammy Mills (Thursday Island Q),  Tim Morrissey (Wollongong N), Mitch Norton (Townsville Q), Leon O’Neil (Wangaratta V), Jordy Page (Maroochydore Q),  Doug Peacock (Taree N), David Pennisi (Townsville Q), John Philip (Hamilton V), Ben Richmond (Somerset T),  Kurt Russell (Townsville Q), Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest S),  Glen Saville (Bendigo), Derek Schock (Burnie T), Shannon Seebohm (Millicent S), Mitchell Selwood (Orange N),  Ben Smith (Mandurah W), Clint Steindl (Mackay Q), Aaron Trahair (Ballarat V), Jay Tremelling (Broken Hill S),  Neil Turner (Bateau Bay N), Greg Vanderjagt (South Wes Rocks N), Lucas Walker (Launceston T), Steve Weigh (Rockhampton Q),  Paul Zadow (Murray Bridge S)

AIS Men’s Football in Canberra

Men – Clint Bolton (Bundaberg Q), James Brown (Tweed Heads N), Nathan Burns (Orange N), Ante Cicak (Geelong V) Steve Corica (Innisfail Q), Robert Enes (Shepparton V), Frank Farina (Cairns Q), Adam Federici (Huskinsson N) Craig Foster (Lismore N), Paul Foster (Lismore N), Sam Gallaway (Coffs Harbour N), Dez Giraldi (Wollongong N), Troy Hearfield (Tamworth N), Matthew Harper (Newcastle N), James Holland (Newcastle N), Steve Horvat (Geelong V), Josh Kennedy (Wodonga V), Ray Junna (Mareeba Q), Frank Lagana (Shepparton V), Mitchell Langerak (Bundaberg Q), Darren Northam (Gosford N), Craig McLatchey (Rockhampton Q), Robbie Middleby (Newcastle N), Tahj Minniecon (Cairns Q), Andrew Redmayne (Gosford N), Kurt Reynolds (Launceston T), David Sharp (Lismore N), Josip Skoko (Geelong V), Matthew Spiranovic (Geelong V), Mile Sterjovski (Wollongong N), Kris Trajanovski (Geelong V), Luke Wilshire (Wollongong N)

Note – AIS Women’s program started in 1998 and was generally camps based rather than residential.

AIS Hockey in Perth

Women – Michelle Andrews (Newcastle N), Teneal Attard (Townsville  Q), Tracy Belbin (Mackay Q), Edwina Bone (Orange N), Christine Dobson (Shepparton V), Louise Dobson (Shepparton V),  Kristin Dwyer (Mackay Q), Renita Farrell (Townsville Q), Susie Faulkner (Toowoomba Q), Kym Ireland (Rockhampton Q), Kate Jenner (Tamworth N),  Georgina Morgan (Armidale N), Brooke Morrison (Taree N), Hope Brown (Toowoomba Q), Karri McMahon (Berri S), Clover Maitland (Maryborough Q), Georgina Morgan (Armidale N), Jenny Morris (Maryborough Q) , Gabrielle Nance (Kingscliff N), Lisa Naughton (Newcastle N), Georgie Parker (Berri S), Kathleen Partridge (Armidale N), Casey Sablowski (Shellharbour N), Angie Skirving (Toowomba Q) , Kathryn Slattery (South Stirling W), Kim Small (Tamworth N),  Emily Smith (Crookwell N), Karen Smith (Toowoomba Q), Grace Stewart (Gerringong N), Julie Towers (Taree N), Krisren Towers (Taree N), Ashlee Wells (Morwell V), Kellie White (Crookwell N), Melanie Twitt (Wagga N),  Jade Warrender (Orange N), Mariah Williams (Parkes N)

Men –  Lee Bodimeade (Warwick Q), Michael Brennan (Toowoomba Q),  Kiel Brown (Toowoomba Q),  Nathan Burgers (Townsville Q), Baeden Choppy (Mackay Q), Stephern Colledge (Townsville Q),  Adam Commens  (Wagga N), Stephen Davies (Parkes N), Matthew Dawson (Central Coast N),  Tim Deavin (Launceston T), Troy Elder (Bundaberg Q), Jamie Dwyer (Rockhampton Q), Troy Elder (Bundaberg Q), Brendan Garard (Toowoomba Q), Matthew Gohdes (Rockhampton Q), Kieran Govers  (Wollongong N), Blake Govers (Wollongong N), Mark Hager (Maryborough Q), Robert Hammond (Townsville Q),   Fergus Kavanagh (Geraldton W),  Mark Knowles (Rockhampton Q), Brent Livermore (Grafton N), Eli Matheson (Lithgow N), Simon Orchard (Maitland N), Grant Schubert (Loxton S), Matthew Smith (Tamworth N), Matthew Swan (Mackay Q),  Glenn Turner (Goulburn N),  Tristan White (Wollongong N),  Dylan Wotherspoon (Murwillumbah N),  Aran Zalewski (Margaret River W), Michael York (Tamworth)

Thanks to past AIS coaches and sport administrators for assistance in preparing this list.

The team sports are more prominent than individual sports. This is most likely due to importance of team sports in regional communities. Basketball, men’s football and hockey include country athletes and teams in their state and national under age competitions. From my knowledge of AIS basketball, I know the enormous amount of work that Patrick Hunt and other AIS coaches did in the areas of coach development and talent identification in regional Australia.

Many scholarship athletes from AFL, rugby league and rugby union AIS programs were from regional Australia. These programs were camps based so these athletes did not reside permanently at the AIS.

There are numerous examples of highly successful regional athletes supported by other AIS sports programs (1981-2013) – track cyclists Kerrie and Anna Meares from Rockhampton to cricketer Ricky Ponting from Launceston are just a few.

To me the value of the AIS Canberra campus was that regional athletes transitioned from a regional town to Canberra which was closer to their home environment than the populous and busy capital cities like Sydney or Melbourne. Their accommodation, training facilities and educational institutions were close to each other and they were supported by AIS staff and onsite residential tutors. They were able to live and train with other talented athletes.

One of Australia’s greatest regional athletes Lauren Jackson (Albury N) commented that when she came to the AIS in 1997 she found that there were many other tall female athletes (rowers, netballers, volleyballers, basketballers) and that gave her a sense of normality. Growing up in Albury there would have been few tall talented female athletes.

Matt Favier from Tully held an early AIS athletics scholarship and whilst at the AIS in Canberra completed at Bachelor Physical Education at the nearby University of Canberra. He has since gone on to hold significant high performance management positions in Australia and England including AIS Director (2011-2017).

It is important that the Australian high-performance system moving forward ensures that talented athletes from regional Australia are provided the same opportunities that were provided by the AIS from 1981 to 2013. National sports organisations and state/institutes of sport need to ensure that talented regional athletes are well supported when they move to the national or state training centre.

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