Murray’s 50 year gift to the Stawell Athletic Club

Date: 21st March 2023

He served two terms as President, received Life Membership in 1993, and received the Centenary of Federation Medal for services to the Stawell Athletic Club. Murray MacPherson celebrates his 50th year in June with the club which has formed such a big part of his life.

“The friends that I have made with the committee members, the runners, trainers and officials have meant a great deal to me,” said Murray.

Recalling his early days, it was via football (AFL) that Murray became involved in athletics. Quick on his feet, but never a runner, a committee member at his footy club originally got Murray involved at the athletic club.

“When I joined the SAC committee in 1973 the meetings were held on the second floor of the Mechanics Institute in the Main St. We moved into our new clubrooms at Central Park in the following year. I was nominated by Geoff Stewart who also served on the committee of the Stawell Football Club where I played football. As there were three nominations a ballot was held, and I was successful.

“In those days there were 16 committee members and eight auxiliary members. We were allowed to speak on any motion but didn’t get a vote. At the end of the meetings, we were expected to serve drinks to the committee members. The secretary was the legendary Hank Neil. Alistair Cox was the head starter, with Vern Chapman his deputy.

“The football team and the pro runners both trained at Central Park, and I was put under some pressure to run pro, but I declined. However, I did run in the footballers relay one year. In those days the VFL season didn’t start until after Easter, so several league clubs entered. I think in our heat we drew Melbourne and Fitzroy.”

While it was unlikely Murray knew back then he would be involved in organising the Stawell Gift for the next 50 years and beyond, he was familiar with the event and its place in Australian sporting history.

“I was very proud to become a member of the committee. My whole family, including my grandfather attended the Gift every year, with my earliest memory being as a six-year-old in 1949, when the great John Stoney ran a gallant third in a time calculated to be just under 10 yards inside even time.

“I think that there are a number of reasons why the Stawell Gift is held in such high regard. Firstly, the original committee chose the Easter weekend to hold their event which is the most suitable time of the year. Secondly the committee, who are all volunteers, have always run the event efficiently and this efficiency combined with the long history has built up a strong tradition.”

Murray was a race starter for many years and is thrilled to recall a presentation on his retirement as a starter from the Victorian Runners & Trainers Association.

“There is a degree of kudos involved with the position of head starter.  But for those who are privileged to hold that position it simply comes down to doing the job and not stuffing things up. I consider that a starter must have confidence in himself and his team, be able to switch concentration on and off. He must respect the runners and most importantly he must never get carried away with his own importance.”

Among his biggest moments, Murray counts starting his first Stawell Gift (won by Steve Hutton in 1996). “But my greatest satisfaction was starting the 2005 Stawell Gift which Joshua Ross won from scratch.”

Publishing his book “Twelve Seconds to Glory,” and “my daughter Sue joining the committee” are also up there for best moments over the 50 years.

According to Murray, his most memorable moments on the track are:

  • The Downes & McCracken Mile of the Century in 1964
  • Bill Howard winning back-to-back Gifts in 1966 and ‘67
  • Ravelo winning the Gift from scratch in 1975 which was also my first year on the starting panel
  • George McNeill winning the Centenary gift in 1981on his 8th attempt
  • Catherine Freeman winning the Women’s 400m from scratch in 1995 and ‘96
  • Joshua Ross winning his second Gift (from scratch) in 2005

“Finally, this journey has been very much a family affair. My three children all served as colour kids. Anne and Sue were the first girls to be colour girls. Anne became one of the girls who handed heat winners a bottle of champagne, when that was allowed, and Sue is now a committee member. My wife Joan has run the Fashions on the Field for 20 years and has made the Gift runners’ silks for even longer.”

Looking to the next 50 years, Murray believes the club is in good hands with the help of sponsors and local and state government which all understand the importance of preserving the iconic event in sporting history.

“Sonia Tressider, the sister of our former patron William Earle, was the first female committee member back in the 1990’s. Now the club includes a growing number of smart and efficient young women with the skills to move the club into the next decade and beyond.”

Twelve Seconds to Glory – The Official History of the Stawell Athletic Club by Murray MacPherson is available to purchase at the Stawell Athletic Club Hall of Fame.



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