My induction into the University of Canberra Sport Walk of Fame has made me reflect on the long-time support of the Australian Institute of Sport and Australian Sports Commission to sport information in Australia.
Like many children growing up in Australia, I developed an early interest in sport and tried many sports before settling on hockey, squash and golf. My interest extended to consuming sports results, facts, stories through newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Jack Pollard’s Ampol Sporting Records became my bible in the 1960’s and 1970’s – it listed results of major Australian competitions and interesting sporting facts and records – this was way before the internet’s easy and update access to this information. I occasionally still use it.
In the late 1970’s, I commenced a Bachelor of Arts in Librarianship at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE)- now University of Canberra. My sporting break at the CCAE came with the introduction of sports studies degree with the establishment of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in 1981. This degree allowed me to complete two sports history subjects taught by Dr Brian Stoddart. Through these subjects, Dr Stoddart passionately and expertly introduced me to examining sport beyond results. I distinctly remember researching essays on the infamous cricket ‘underarm bowling’ incident in 1981 and Australian soccer and multiculturalism.
In March 1983, I was appointed as a Librarian at the newly established AIS Information Centre. It was my dream job – combining my interest in sport and information services. What struct me early on was the fledgling AIS commitment to research and information – particularly through AIS Director Don Talbot and Deputy Chair Professor John Bloomfield. In 1983, it had employed two librarians in a staff of 54 – a significant financial commitment. The inaugural AIS Information Centre Manager was Nerida Clarke. What struck me early on was that I was working in an information centre not a library – the information centre had a broad mandate to assist coaches, athletes, sports scientists, sports medicine professionals and administrators wherever possible – the term demarcation was frowned upon. There were the normal librarian tasks that I was skilled in – cataloguing books, journal subscriptions, inter-library loans but I would often be required take photos, video talks and competitions, maintain video cameras and recorders etc. By undertaking a wide range and ever evolving tasks in a small embryonic organisation with limited funds, a wonderful camaraderie developed, and respect was quickly gained from coaches and sport scientists that were under pressure to develop successful programs and athletes. After all, when the AIS was established it did not have a guaranteed existence.
Early on I quickly discovered that high performance sport was a 24/7 environment. One Saturday morning, Head Swimming Coach Bill Sweetenham rang me at home and needed help with a video recorder at a camp located 40 kms outside of Canberra. As I travelled to the camp, I was concerned that my limited audio-visual experience may not be able to help. Thankfully the problem was simple – importantly I quickly realised that this was expectation of AIS coaches. This early experience became part of my ‘service and excellence’ ethos during my long career – don’t say no but how can I help.
Another important lesson learnt in the early years working with Nerida Clarke was the need to have a vision and a long-term plan. It was obvious that the information services offered to the AIS staff should be expanded to the wider Australian sport sector particularly to national sports organisations (NSOs) and state institute/academies of sport. The 1980’s was the period where NSOs commenced employing more professional staff – particularly coaches and development officers due to increased Commonwealth Government funding and required access to the latest information and research.
In 1989, the vision and plan came into fruition when the Hawke Government’s Next Step funding announcement led to the transition from the limited AIS Information Centre to the expanded National Sport Information Centre (NSIC). By developing and promoting a national sport information service plan over the preceding seven years, the NSIC was promptly established in 1990 and services expanded.
An important contribution to the development of my career and greatly assisted with the development of sport information services in Australia was the professional development opportunities provided to me. In 1987, I undertook a six-month job exchange at Canada’s Sport Information Resource Centre (SIRC) – this Centre created and managed the international Sport Database. An outcome on this exchange was Australia adding its sport research to the Sport Database and an understanding of the delivery of information services to NSOs. I also undertook two international fact-finding and networking tours in the early 1990’s to Europe and North America – this allowed me to investigate different approaches for sport information services. It should not be forgotten that during the 1980’s, the AIS and ASC were determining the best approaches to program delivery in numerous areas of sport i.e., sports science and medicine, coaching, participation etc. International networking and observation were a key component of understanding best practice. I often reflect that if you want to be the world’s best then you need to know what your major competitors are doing.
In 1987, the Hawke Government decided to merge the AIS and ASC with the former becoming a division of the ASC. Many from the AIS opposed this merger but at the time I found it made sense in coordinating services such as information services, finance, human resources and facility management. In reflecting back on the merger, I think there was a decline in the culture of excellence as bureaucracy sometimes stifled innovation and calculated risk taking.
The 1990’s was exciting but extremely busy decade at the AIS, ASC and my area – NSIC. New services were developed to supply tailored information particularly to coaches, sport scientists, sports medicine professionals and administrators. This ranged from print/email monthly alerting services, increased recording major sports competitions and video/dvd loans to clients outside Canberra,. In the days prior to the internet and digital transmission, these services were time consuming and slow but still very effective for the time. Sydney’s successful bid in for 2000 Olympics and Paralympics led to increased cooperation and networking between the NSIC and state-based information services. .
The advent of the internet in Australia the late 1990’s allowed the NSIC to significantly transform its services – information services such document requests, alerting services, databases, images, video were delivered electronically. NSIC staff developed the AIS and ASC’s first internet site – you can view the first website courtesy of Wayback machine. It also assisted many NSOs to develop their first website.
NSIC staff were always encouraged to be innovative and take calculated risks in developing services. Gavin Reynolds, the Audio-visual Manager, pursued an online digital repository of training and competition video footage called SPIDAR.
Some services that I had a strong involvement in developing that still remain today but in different guises were –
- Daily sports news service – early on this was a print service for AIS/ASC staff but I helped expand it to an online service that was distributed to key external clients. It is now accessible to over 30,000 Clearinghouse for Sport members. It did require me to start work in those days at 7am but as we know sport is not 9 to 5 for many.
- Australian Sport Publications Archive – with the digital world coming to the fore in the late 1990’s it was decided to develop a digital archive of important Australian sport documents – AIS/ASC publications, NSO annual reports, reviews and plans and significant Australian sports reports i.e., Shaping Up, Crawford Report etc. I frequently use the Archive as part of my sport policy research as these documents highlight decisions made in developing a sport or the Australian sport system.
- OASIS (Online Australian Sport Information Service) – this was the forerunner to the highly successful and vital Clearinghouse for Sport portal.
Whilst I retired from the NSIC in late 2011 after nearly 30 years of working in sport information, I have still maintained a strong interest in the NSIC and its flagship service the Clearinghouse for Sport. NSIC led by Gavin Reynolds and Claire Kerr have ensured that it is has moved from just providing access to sport information but to portals of evidence-based information on many critical areas of sport. The Clearinghouse for Sport allows its clients to quickly understand a sport issue through evidence, strategies and guidelines. This is critical in a time-poor working world.
In my ‘retirement’, I decided to continue to use my skills and experience to assist in the development of sport in Australia. Paralympics Australia Tony Naar recognised my skills and interest in sport history and encouraged me to assist their new History Project. This led to me to creating and updating over 300 Wikipedia articles on Australian Paralympians since 1960. Up until the History Project, very little was publicly known about Australia’s pioneer Paralympians.
I have had a long interest in the AIS and ASC history and assisted Dr John Daly, Professor John Bloomfield and Jim Ferguson in their books on the development of sport in Australia. I also created an AIS Alumni website with the intention of documenting AIS sports – so far only six sports have been completed as COVID interrupted my access to physical resources held by the NSIC. Its always important to recognise the contribution of athletes, coaches and others and their achievements in the development of a sport.
In recent years, I have undertaken two projects in my desire to increase an understanding of the development of Australian sport –
- Australian Sport Reflections – I established a blog where I could publish my reflections on different aspects of Australian sport from an historical perspective. Leading Australian sport administrators – Ron Harvey, Jim Ferguson, Greg Hartung and Lawrie Woodman have also contributed their important reflections to this blog.
- Greg Hartung Collection – I assisted Greg Hartung to prepare his substantial collection of papers on the development of Australian and Paralympic sport from 1970 to 2013 for deposit in the National Library. This will be a critical resource for anyone researching the history of various aspects of Australian sport.
Now that I have more free time, I have commenced more detailed Australian sport history research and have two research projects underway.
- History of sports grounds in North and South Canberra 1920 to 1970 – the development of sport in Canberra in this period has a strong connection with the Commonwealth Government as it was responsible for the management of the city.
- Sporting Interests and Contributions of Australian Prime Ministers from Barton to Albanese – this research will trace the impact of all Australian Prime Ministers on the development of sport in terms of their interest, funding, organisations, programs and issues such as Olympics/Paralympics, war, boycotts and apartheid.
I look back to 1983 to now and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a one of the pioneers in Australian sport information services. I reflect that the National Sport Information Centre/Clearinghouse for Sport is still vibrant after 40 years – this is testament to the many staff who have that made long term commitments to its objectives and clients. In my time, these included Nerida Clarke, Gavin Reynolds, Jodie Davis, Joanne James, Chris Cooper-Smith, Jill Haynes, Alan Cockerill, Beth Manning and Deidre Gardner. These committed staff provided core stability, expertise and passion that allowed it to always move forward and take advantage of new opportunities in the information technology and service space.
I reflect on the many brilliant, enthusiastic and committed people that I have assisted in the development of Australian sport. Many of these people have become world leaders in coaching, sports science / medicine and administration The AIS through its inaugural Director Don Talbot pursued high standards and culture of excellence that has led Australia in becoming a leading world sporting nation. The inaugural AIS leaders in sport science and medicine – Dr Richard ‘Dick’ Telford / Dr Allan Hahn (physiology), Dr Bruce Mason (biomechanics), Dr Peter Fricker / Craig Purdam (sports medicine), Jeff Bond (psychology) and Vicki Deakin/Dr Louise Burke (Nutrition) are fine examples of what striving for excellence in sport can achieve.
Early AIS Coaches such as Bill Sweetenham (swimming), Ron Smith (football), Adrian Hurley and Pat Hunt (basketball), Warwick Forbes and Ju Ping Tian (gymnastics), Craig Hilliard (athletics), Wilma Shakespear (netball), Charles Turner (water polo) and Reinhold Batschi (rowing) have gone on to make a significant contribution in and outside their sport.
I assisted many coaches in and outside the AIS – they all had very high expectations and often demanding but were always so appreciative of the information support provided to them. I developed a good rapport and friendship with many AIS athletes – those who regularly visited the NSIC or worked as athlete trainees. I look on with fondness and a sense of pride with what many of these athletes achieved in the sporting arena, and I’m constantly amazed of what many have achieved after retiring as an athlete.
I enjoyed assisting the numerous post graduate scholars, PhD scholars and scholarship coaches over 30 years at the NSIC. I look back at the number of sports scientists and coaches that had their early grounding at the AIS and are now significantly contributing to Australian sport at the highest levels.
I have great admiration for many ASC staff that became world leaders – Lawrie Woodman and Gene Schembri (coaching), Henny Oldenhove and Shirley Willis (participation), Peter Downs (disability sport) and Debbie Simms (ethics). A great deal of what I have outlined could not have been achieved without the support for sport information by ASC CEOs and AIS Directors. Two senior managers that strongly supported the role of NSIC for many years were Bob Hobson and Dr Ross Smith.
In accepting the University of Canberra Sport Walk of Fame recognition, I’m thankful to the many people that encouraged and supported me to have a career in sport information and history from sport historian Dr Brian Stoddart at CCAE to long-time Managers Nerida Clarke and Gavin Reynolds.
I will continue to research and publish on Australian sport history as its important to understand and recognise the past as we move forward.