By Colin Findlay
The Associated Public Schools Old Collegians Amateur Athletic Association (APSOC) provides competitive, participative and social opportunities for people with a range of running abilities and ages through the winter seasons.
The year 2021 sees the completion of ninety years of activity of the Association. There is in fact an even longer connection with cross country running that goes back to the mid 1800’s when the first cross country competitions were organised between the English Public Schools (and later the universities). Those challenges were taken up later in Melbourne when a combined team of old collegians from Melbourne Grammar School and Wesley College formed the Collegian Harriers in 1891. They, along with three other Harrier clubs, established the VAAA (now Athletics Victoria). The Collegians faded by the early 1900’s, until a generation later new old collegian clubs were established and the competition renewed. Much is owed to Jack Cooke and Tom McClelland (OX), Alex Jamieson and Ian MacDougall (OS), Jack Anderson (OW), and Frank Dyson and Jack Newman (OM), who brought the clubs together in 1931.
Initially, Old Xaverians threw down a challenge, to which Old Scotch and Old Wesley responded, to compete over a five mile (8 km) course at Xavier on 1 August 1931. The race started just inside the main gates on Barkers Road, went up the side road, over some barbed wire fences across a ploughed field, around the perimeter of the college, and back to the start. Repeat three times. Ian MacDougall (OS) won by just a few metres in 33:38, and led the Old Scotch team of four to win the inaugural teams challenge. The challenge was the only inter-club race for the first few years and the venue rotated between the clubs at their related schools.
At Wesley, runners started on what is now the Albert Park golf course, circled the lake and finished by crossing Queens and St Kilda Roads to finish with a couple of laps of the main oval. At Scotch, the course was similar to today’s Jamieson event, but at times involved crossing Gardiner’s Creek. At Melbourne Grammar, the course utilized both the Domain and Fawkner Park.
By the mid 1930s, handicap events and pack runs were organized to fill a season that also included VAA championships and handicaps. The names of Ken McPhail (OX) and John Tutton (OX) appeared as competitors, organizers and handicappers. By the end of the decade the Tan relay was instituted by Frank Dyson and the Old Melburnians club, and the Ivanhoe Relay (later known as the MacDougall Relay, then the Geelong Relay) was established on the calendar.
Jack Cooke and Tom McClelland, both talented athletes and deeply committed to their club (each was President of OXAAC over years), were the drivers behind the “Old Boys” challenge. They jointly donated the shield for the five mile Cross Country Challenge in 1934, to be held by the winning team. Alex Jamieson convened the organizing committee, becoming the first President, a position he continued to hold through to 1948. At this time the group was known as the Old Public Schools Amateur Athletic Committee and later the APS Old Boys Amateur Athletic Committee, and involved just the four Melbourne Associated Public Schools. Alex was not so much an athlete as a dedicated administrator and official. He was a generous friend to more than a generation of APSOC athletes.
Significantly, friendships developed across the clubs and social events were included in the winter calendar. There were pack runs through the bush from Alex Jamieson’s home in Blackburn followed by high tea; a combined team carried a baton from Princes Bridge with a message from the Lord Mayor of Melbourne to Healesville Shire, followed by a weekend of dancing, tennis and refueling. It is this social aspect of the APSOC activities that continues to the present time – as was overheard recently “I really only come for the afternoon teas”.
By 1940-41 many APSOC members enlisted in the services, which took its toll on available numbers for the runs, and sadly some of the best known were lost during World War 2. Ian Macdougall (OS) died as a prisoner of war in Germany; Frank Dyson (OM) was listed as missing while serving with the RAF in the Middle East; Ken Orchard (OW) was listed as missing on air operations out of Darwin. Subsequently the Association named events in honour of these three former stalwarts. Jack Anderson, the most consistent and successful Old Wesley runner for the decade, survived the battles and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry.
By 1942 competition had to be suspended. Upon resumption in 1946, fields of less than twenty were all that could be mustered. It took several years for the Association to consolidate. The winter program remained at four races between the four APSOC clubs interspersed with pack runs and the VAA program. Jack Monaghan (OX) and Ken McPhail (OX) shared most of the individual race wins, and not unsurprisingly then, Old Xaverians was the most successful club.
A new decade began with enthusiasm. Guided by Alex Jamieson, Ken McPhail and Jack Tutton, a new group including Lauchlan Wright (OM), Peter Le Get (OW), Bert Guyot (OW), Ron Stuart (OS) and Basil Thomson (OX) began to draw more runners together. The big event in Melbourne, however, was the 1956 Olympic Games. Although no APSOC runners competed, (Bob Grant (OS) threw the Javelin), a number were involved. Ken McPhail ran in selection trials for the marathon over the proposed course. But he saw much more of the Games as one of the announcers at the MCG. Alex Jamieson organized the Victorian stages of the Torch Relay, culminating in Ron Clarke running into the stadium right on time. Bert Guyot (OW) was Australian Track and Field Team Manager. Keith Lodge (StK) was in the selection trials for the 400m.
Peter Le Get had the honour of being the fourth last runner of the torch relay, right in the city to the steps of Melbourne Town Hall. About ten other APSOC runners including Lauchie Wright (OM), Michael Van Assche (OX) and Ron Stuart (OS) ran one mile legs of the relay, such was the influence of Alex Jamieson! Some runners doubled up, running additional legs in remote Victorian locations where it was difficult to find athletes able to maintain the six minute mile pace. In this relay, there were no local mayors or politicians out for their minute or two of glory over 200 metres as in more recent Olympic and Commonwealth Games relays. The enthusiasm created by the 1956 Games was maintained through the decade and the APSOC winter program became an integral part of the APSOC distance runner’s life.
Diminutive Ron Stuart was the outstanding athlete, being unbeaten in the APSOC events from 1950-54. As the decade progressed, Jim Hunt (OM) and Graham Wise (OS) took over as the leading athletes, sharing most of the individual fastest times. Team results were more distributed, with initially Old Xaverians being dominant, then Old Scotch and Old Melburnians.
As our individual clubs could not easily compete in the longer relay events, APSOC combined numbers to run in events such as the Melbourne to Geelong Relay; the Melbourne to Healesville Relay mentioned previously; and the Melbourne to Balwyn British Empire Day relay for the huge bonfire at Beckett Park. In 1958, with the enlargement of the Associated Public Schools group, St Kevin’s joined the competition led by brothers Keith and Alan Lodge, in whose honour the mid-season 16 and 8 km races are named.
Editor’s note: It should be recorded here that the author of these notes, Colin Findlay, a contemporary of Graham Wise and Jim Hunt, had an equally impressive record of placings in APSOC events. Colin has also played a leading role in the administration of the Association as Secretary and then President, and later Executive Officer.
A small number of Old Carey athletes joined the Association in 1963, including John Axsentieff, an outstanding young middle distance runner. St Kevin’s regularly fielded teams, culminating in the first St Kevin’s win in the Cooke-McClelland Shield in 1969. Individually, Rob McGuinness and Frank Devlin recorded fastest times in events.
Jim Hunt and Graham Wise were again the outstanding runners in the early sixties. Then saw the emergence of Peter Bruce (OX), who dominated events from 1965. Peter set several course records and won the Cooke-McClelland race on eleven occasions. Rod Bonella (OS), who had a relatively low profile but was a talented distance runner, ran in the 1962 Commonwealth Games marathon in Perth and took the bronze medal behind Dave Power (multiple Commonwealth medal winner) in 2:24.07. When assessed against Mimoun’s winning time at the Melbourne Olympics (2:25.00), this was an outstanding performance. Rod won the Cooke-McClelland and the Jamieson races, but competed infrequently due to his professional commitments in the horse racing industry.
Success in the team events was shared through the decade among Old Scotch (four wins in the Cooke-McClelland), Old Melburnians (six wins in the Dyson Relay) and Old Xaverians. In 1961, it was decided not to rotate events through different venues as in the past, but to hold each at the nominated club’s home venue. All events now have course records which are vigorously fought for and defended each year, and athletes can set marks for individual PB’s.
This period also saw the introduction of additional events into the program. The Secombe Trophy, now the Lodge Handicap, provided a ten mile (16 km) event at St Kevin’s in 1961. The original course involved crossing Gardiner’s Creek twice, and it is somewhat mysterious that a St Kevin’s athlete won the event five times in the first eight years. (Did they really walk on water?). The Mini Marathons were initially run in 1967 from Colin Findlay’s (OS) home in Bundoora, offering road runners the choice of a half marathon or quarter marathon, and the cross country runners a 5 km run. In due course, the event moved to Yan Yean and was hosted by Graham Wise. Forget the running, Graham provided the most sumptuous afternoon teas for the next thirty odd years.
The Hare and Hounds Handicap at Berwick was organized in 1969 by brothers Neil and Peter Lucas (OS). Neil was a regular member of winning Old Scotch teams and Peter a long serving official with APSOC (and later Chief Judge at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games). They obviously believed that cross country running involved racing across the countryside however appalling the weather might be – typically it meant mud, hills, mud, bush, mud, cattle yards, barbed wire fences and mud. Who was fastest in the first Berwick race – local lad Neil Lucas! The Lucas’s have given great support to the event since, which now tends to roads and trails rather than mud!
Old Scotch and Old Xaverians between them won every team event through the next decade and a half. Old Scotch teams included Ewen Wilson, Nigel Watson, Graham Wise, Mark Purvis, Tarquin Oehr, Bruce Hooley, John Marx, Stewart Handasyde, Stuart Facey, John Cormack, and the Andrews: Aitken, Cochrane, Kelso and Ramsay. Running in Old Xaverian teams were Peter Bruce, still dominating the individual fastest times, Robert and Nick deCastella, David Sneddon, Steve McCauley, Peter Reid and Chris Murphy. Their success probably reflected the enthusiastic coaching of runners by Pat Clohessy at Xavier during this time.
This period saw several additions to the program, a change to the administration and an interesting development in the wider community towards marathon running. The winter program had always included informal, friendly pack runs to fill the gaps between the APSOC and VAA events. These were replaced with competitive runs – The Tan Handicap (later to be named in honour of Ken McPhail); the Gilwell Park Relay (later to be named in honour of administrator Alan Hooley); and The Basin Handicap, later replaced with the Churchill Park Handicaps. Increasing road traffic forced changes to courses at Scotch, St Kevin’s, Albert Park, to the MacDougall Relay venue and even to the Tan circuit.
In 1974, all races were re-measured and converted to metric distances with minor adjustments to round up to the even metric equivalents. From 1970 on, the Presidency was placed on a two year cycle and was rotated among the clubs. An award for the “Athlete of the Year” was introduced in 1979 to recognize consistency over the season’s events.
During the 1970’s, marathon running became the flavour of the era, not only within APSOC but also in the wider community. The Melbourne Marathon attracted several thousand entrants and APSOC runners were right up in the field, challenging the distance and their personal best times. Peter Bruce finished more than twenty marathons with a best time of 2:18.46. Peter was known to run the whole MacDougall Relay course for training and on two occasions finished second in the field. The 1984 handbook contained four pages devoted to members’ marathon performances.
Old Xaverians, led by Steve Brennan, Nick and Anthony deCastella and Stefan Kasarik, and Old Scotch (Ewen Wilson, Andrew Cochrane, Steve Austin, Greg Lyons, David Lightfoot, Mark Purvis) continued with success for a number of years. But finally St Kevin’s broke through in teams races, taking the Dyson and Gilwell Relays, and the Jamieson and the Cooke-McClelland events several times between 1986 and 1994. St Kevin’s teams included Richard Hope, Cam Hayes, Simon Lewin, Tim O’Donnell, Rob Fregon and Richard Whitely.
Old Brighton Grammarians, Old Haileybury and Old Geelong Collegians joined the Association in 1987, 1989 and 1996 respectively, adding both numbers and talent to the fields. Participants in events were regularly more than 100, sometimes more than 150. Divisions were introduced in team races in 1990 with a promotion/relegation system based on team performances over each season. Old Haileybury hosted a new event – the Williamson teams race at Keysborough in 1991, later to move to the Berwick campus. Old Haileybury won its first of several teams events at the 1999 Cooke-McClelland.
In 1986, the Association took two major steps. Firstly, it changed its name from the APS Old Boys Amateur Athletic Association and became incorporated as the Associated Public Schools Old Collegians Amateur Athletic Association Inc. This fitted with state legislation which, amongst other things, provided some legal protection to the Executive. But more importantly, this recognized the growing number of women competing in the group. Pauline Bradshaw (OM) had competed for several years – the winning female team at the Dyson Relay is now awarded a trophy named in her honour. Pauline and others had the indignity of competing as honorary Old Boys, but by 1989 the women’s competition was an integral part of the program and in 1999, the female team events were attracting competitive fields. Lisa O’Connell/Lightfoot (StK/OS), Isabella Woo/de Castella (OX), Candice Charles (OS), Carolyn Schuwalow (OS), Jemima Macauley (StK) and Nicki Clark (OB) were among the leading female competitors in this period.
In 1988, two further annual awards were created to recognize the efforts of athletes who were not necessarily the most outstanding runner – the Most Improved Athlete and the Most Consistent Athlete. Somehow the handicapper’s name kept appearing as the most consistent athlete.
With the increasing numbers of competitors, it became necessary in the 1990s to move into computerized management of events. In past times, Ken McPhail and Basil Thompson worked laboriously through the names of likely runners (often at a convenient watering hole) the night before a handicap event and hopefully did not get too many stray entrants on the day (they were usually put off scratch to discourage late entry). The Association has been fortunate to have Field Rickards (OW) introduce the computer program and electronic tag registration which has been so beneficial to its running events. Runners now have their places and times printed out within minutes of the completion of a run. This system is supported by the APSOC website managed by Mark Purvis, who provides communication to all clubs and individuals. A bonus of the electronic world is the entertaining presentations made at the Association’s annual dinners.
Old Geelong Grammarians affiliated in 2002, becoming the tenth club in the Association. Old Geelong Collegians hosted their first event at Geelong in 2001, the former MacDougall Relay. It took a couple more years before the OGC women’s team took out the club’s first team title at Geelong. In 2015, the Association welcomed its eleventh and final club, Caulfield Grammarians.
Initially in the new decade, Old Scotch was the leading club, but then Haileybury began a series of virtually unbroken wins for three seasons, including a clean sweep of all events in 2003. They were led by Nigel Adkin who was fastest time in most events, supported by Matt Macdonald, Andrew Scott, Andrew Leach and Justin Wilson. Then Old Xaverians returned to the winning list. Julian Marsh and David McNeill were the leading individuals during this period.
No one club dominated the following years, the male championships spread between Old Xaverians, Old Wesley and St Kevins. Adam Pyke (OW) was twice the Athlete of the Year. Caulfield Grammarians found a niche in winning handicaps.
Amongst the women, Anna Thompson (OW) was outstanding and in due course went on to represent Australia in a range of track, road and cross country events, including the Commonwealth Games. Anna Worland/Kasapis (OW) was usually there with her, and not surprisingly the Old Wesley women’s team won most events over a five year period. Then the Old Xaverians women dominated team events for almost a decade.
With women making up to a third of competitors it was not surprising that the Association elected its first female President in 2019 – Sarah Somes (Caulfield Grammarians).
An interesting characteristic of the Association is the presence of older runners, in numbers to warrant awards in the age groups of 40+, 50+ and 60+. There have also been a few over 70’s and even a couple of octogenarians battling out the places at the tail of the field. We note Rob Schwerkolt (OS), Mark Purvis (OS), Peter Dodgson (OS) and Margaret Fitzgerald (OX), among others, consistently working their way through the age groups. This is not to suggest the Association is just a seniors organisation – a recent Old Scotch winning team consisted mainly of school boys.
We cannot leave this period without referring to the Covid-19 year, 2020. No events were held, no awards made, and no afternoon teas consumed due to Government and venue restrictions. Nevertheless the Executive committee had a busy if frustrating year, coping initially with changing situations, before being forced to abandon the season. This has led to changes to some venues in ensuing years.
The Association can be justly proud of its many years of activity. It is a unique group within the Australian sports scene. Much is owed to the enthusiasm of the first few Old Collegians, who not only ran against and with each other, but developed friendships across the clubs, a characteristic that still exists within the Association. APSOC has provided opportunities for talented young athletes to develop through to State and National representative level. It has also given the many athletes who simply enjoy a Saturday run with friends the motivation to continue at a level at which they are comfortable. Gratitude should be expressed also to the dedicated officials, administrators and senior athletes who have driven the Association for some three generations of cross country enthusiasts.
The APSOC website provides up to date results, the season’s fixtures, individual and team performance records and much more. All who are involved with the APSOC winter program can anticipate that the Association will surely progress to a century of activity with continuing confidence and enjoyment.
With acknowledgement to Luke Travers, author of Hill and Dale.