Formation of Bacchus Marsh Little Athletic Centre – by Michael Cooper (Inaugural President)

It is with a great deal of pride and satisfaction that I am witnessing the marking of 50 years of the Bacchus Marsh Little Athletic Centre.

I seek your indulgence of telling my own story, with the prime purpose of relating how a 25-year-old without any kids of his own, was elected to chair of a junior sporting body.

It is pertinent to note that in the 1960’s there was little opportunity for junior sport in the Marsh. There was a swimming club and some junior tennis. No junior football, netball or cricket for kids at that time. I was a keen athlete although not very good but interested enough to have a long jump pit into my uncle’s vegetable garden, and a sand pit to land from a high jump. As a 12-year-old, we had a school excursion to witness one day of track & field events at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. In 1962 for my first work year holiday, I travelled to Perth for the Commonwealth Games, again witnessing several days of track & field events. During the mid-1960’s, I offered to organize school athletic sports for St Bernard’s School, which were held annually at Darley Park.

As a teenager, I was inspired to have a crack at the Professional Running circuit by the success of (Bacchus Marsh’s) John Carr winning the 1957 Stawell Gift. At 17 years of age and just out of High School, I hitch-hiked to Stawell at Easter 1962 to run in the Novice 100yd handicap and experienced the amazing thrill of running on the world-famous track. I was to compete on the circuit including Stawell, for the next 6 seasons. In the 1966/67 season, I was fortunate enough to win a couple of Gifts on the circuit and went to Stawell with hope of at least winning a heat of the Gift however had to be satisfied with a heat win of the minor75 yard event.

I may be preaching to the converted but let us recap the birth of Little Aths. In the early 1960’s former amateur athlete and Geelong School Teacher Trevor Billingham, rued the fact that there was no peak body for junior track & field athletics in this State, and set about formulating a structure which was to form the foundation of the Little Athletic movement, initially in Victoria, but was to quickly spread to other States. The first official Little Aths was run at Geelong in October 1964, just 5 years earlier than our own Bacchus Marsh Centre. Trevor’s strategy was to utilize the power of the Rotary Clubs around the State and embarked on a speaking tour at Rotary Club Dinners, (including BM Rotary) to spread his message.

Trevor was to later serve as a paid officer of VLAA and was awarded a BEM in 1973, an award that was equivalent to today’s Order of Australia. Sadly, he passed away at a relatively young age of 69 in 2005.

During 1968 the Marsh Rotary appointed their community projects officer and local businessman, Peter Coombes, to arrange a public meeting with a view to forming a Bacchus Marsh Centre. Although only 25 years old and no children of my own (at that time). with my background in athletics and experience in organizing St Bernard’s Sports, I was a natural target for them.

Initially a steering committee was formed, and I was nominated to chair. That Committee formally established the Centre and although missing the start of the summer season, we organized a couple of meetings prior to Christmas 1968, and then ran weekly programmes through February March 1969.

Initially Clubs within the Centre, were formulated roughly based on the then only two Primary Schools, but a strong contingent from the rapidly growing Melton area. Melton South had a strong following and were to early breakaway and form their own Centre. Soon after Marie Thompson and Brenda Shaw were to form a team from Ballan/Myrniong area called the Ballan Limes.

You know, it only took that first season for me to realize that we were on the cusp of something very special. I could foresee that with the very sound organizational structure, we had a vehicle to assist our children and future citizens through life itself. We could teach them to win humbly, to battlers to challenge themselves, with the recording of each performance to monitor themselves and to set goals, to work as a team in relay squads, and to form and build on friendships, and involve themselves side by side with their mums and dads

 Surely all the above attributes are what we aspire to be what life is all about.

I was married in April 1969 and had previously taken on Secretary of Darley Football Club, Darley Park Committee of Management, and the Bacchus Marsh Agricultural Show Committee, so I had a very full plate. Accordingly, I felt with the Centre up and running, I would step aside and encourage the parents of athletes to take over the reins and build on what promised to be a very worthwhile junior sporting opportunity and activity, in terms of not only fulfilling dreams, maintaining general fitness, and character building of our future citizens. I returned to the Centre around 1971, from memory as the official starter, and over the course of the next 12 seasons sat on the Committee mainly as Track & Field with a couple of terms as President thrown in. Ultimately my wife Dianne and I were to have 4 children, all who attended the Centre from the time they could crawl.

I get a real buzz when I hear that kids who were competitors in my early days have grown up with kids of their own and returned to take up the reins to run the Centre. And of course, an extra buzz when some of those kids have married each other. Watch out fellas, that little girl over there is probably a future life partner.

I am extremely proud of my Marsh Centre Life Membership. We moved to Ballarat in 1983 and was the inaugural President of Mt Clear-Ballarat LAC, serving on that Committee for 10 years, and receiving my second LAC Life Membership.

The motto Family Fun and Fitness formulated in those very early days. I have often wondered why we never added another “F” to that motto and that is “Friendship”. I know our family formed friendships way back in the early days and many others since. We have been gone from the Marsh for 35 years, and to this day, still value the many friendships born out of this Bacchus Marsh Centre.

Well done to the many Committees who have contributed to this vibrant organizations, and I know that it has a solid foundation, and each generation will keep it going for many more decades to come.


Bacchus Marsh Little Athletics – by Clem Dickson

On 14th November 1969 the Rotary Club of Bacchus Marsh, with the help of the Y’s Men Club called a meeting in the public hall to see if a little athletics centre could be formed in the Bacchus Marsh District, the response was encouraging. So, on 28th November 1969 a meeting was held to form the Centre.
Executive and all positions were filled with Michael Cooper being elected as President. The four Clubs were formed with two in Bacchus Marsh and two in Melton. The two in Bacchus Marsh were ‘St Bernard’s’ with children from St. Bernard’s School and the ‘Mashians’ with children from Bacchus Marsh State School and then Melton and Melton South. This meeting was held under the guidance of Trevor Billingham, Secretary & Manager of VLAA and founder of Little Athletics. The venue was to be at Darley Park on Saturday mornings. The official opening of the Centre was held on 1st March 1970.
After two years at Darley Park the Melton Clubs said they would like competition to be held in Melton. So, it was agreed that every second Saturday it would be held at Melton. Then in 1973 we had an Executive meeting in Melton, with five members from Bacchus Marsh attending and at the meeting the Melton Clubs said that they were going to form their own Centre. This came as a big shock to us. So that night we came back to the Marsh and we had a meeting in the car at about midnight. The big decision was do we disbanded as we only had half of the Executive or do, we reform and look for new members. The decision was ‘yes’ let’s reform the Centre. So, after many phone calls to Trevor Billingham, who was the founder of Little Athletics, he advised us how to reform the Centre. So, on 25th September 1973 a meeting was called at the public hall. The amount of people who turned up was very encouraging and a full Executive was elected. Trevor Billingham said that we could divide the town to get four Clubs. How this could be achieved was a dividing line in the Centre of town. So that meant Lerderderg Street and Patterson Street was that line. So, on the South side from St Bernard’s School a Club would be called Dolphins and a Club from the State School would be called Eagles. Then on the North side the Club from St. Bernard’s School would be called Boomerangs and the Club from the State School would be called Blues. On the night we had interested parents from Ballan who were keen to join the Centre, so they were called Ballan Limes. On the night each Club had a meeting and elected their Committees. So now the ‘new’ Bacchus Marsh Little Athletics Centre was ready to go. Our registrations for the year was about 230. This was after we had information days at all the schools in the district including Ballan.
After a few years the Bacchus Marsh Council offered to build an oval at the racecourse which we did not accept for two reason, that it was too far out of town and it was a very windy area. The Council was not very happy with us. Then in 1986 they offered us Masons Lane which we gladly accepted. We helped financially on the building of the clubrooms which was about 6 to 7 thousand dollars.
So that is an insight of the history of the Centre and we hope the next stage could see a solid running track installed.
In closing thanks go to the many past and present members for their dedication and to the many sponsors to keep this Centre going for the last 50 years.