50 Years On: Peter Durham Reflects on Historic 1974 Stawell Gift Victory

Date: 17th March 2024

In what can only be described as a remarkable feat, Peter Durham has attended every Stawell Gift since 1972, establishing a legacy that predates his own triumphant victory at the event 50 years ago in 1974. In this vivid recollection, Peter revisits the pivotal moments of his historic win, offering a captivating glimpse into his journey to glory:

 

I have many great memories of the lead up to my Stawell Gift win in 1974. I began my pro running career in the 71/72 season when I was contacted by the legendary trainer Jim Spain. I jumped at the chance to be coached by Jim at the Brunswick St Oval in Fitzroy. Jim had a great stable of runners, and my dad told me ‘If I was going to be any good that’s where I had to be.’  

In the 72/73 season I ran in my first Gift final, the Lavington Gift, in which I ran third. In the same season I was also able to make the Bendigo Thousand final where I also ran third. At the 1973 Stawell Gift I won my heat in 12.1 seconds and then was narrowly beaten in the semifinal. I think that nearly making the Stawell Gift final in 1973 showed me that I was close. 

In the 73/74 season things got a lot more serious. I won the Broadford 70m and then I went on a two-week holiday to Seaspray where I trained on the beach with my mate. When I came back, I was ‘flying.’ We went to South Australia for the Norwood Gift then to the Wangaratta and Lavington Gifts but didn’t feature in any finals at those meetings. 

One of the real benefits of our stable was that after a big race where we were beaten, we could run a trial as we had a great group including Murray and Treva McGregor and Alan Pollock among others, so our trials were highly competitive. 

Then it was Easter at Stawell 1974. We had run our trials on Jim’s trial track near the Yarra River in Hawthorn. Jim and his mate Charlie Booth used to mark out the track in a park. I won our trials and according to Jim my times were good enough for us to be a real chance at Stawell. 

We arrived in Stawell on the Tuesday before Easter. It had been raining for quite a while and we weren’t allowed to train on Central Park as it was mostly under water. In the heats of the Gift three runners ran 12.0 seconds and even though I only ran 12.2 my time was still good as I was in the last heat of the day and the track had become quite cut up as it was so wet. 

In the semifinals Eric Cumming again ran 12 seconds and remained odds on favourite to win the Gift at 5/2 on. I improved a metre to run 12.1 in my semi and was 7/2 second favourite for the final. 

The minutes before the gift final were electric, even so, I remained pretty calm. Meeting the dignitaries and then running down to the start seemed unreal, yet I was really confident that I would win. I told myself that I must be in the moment because I was very aware that I wanted to remember the great experience of running in a Stawell Gift final. 

We knew that Cumming was the one to beat and even though I had to give him a metre and a half start I drew him in the lane next to me which meant I could always have him in my sights during the race and hopefully run over him. We were called to our blocks then had a false start. 

At the second attempt I felt like I got a great start. I remember looking up and seeing I was already closing on Cumming. At about the 80m mark the field all bunched up, one radio commentator said, ‘At the 80-metre mark there wouldn’t have been more than one metre between the 5 runners.’ At about the 100m mark I got to the front, I felt Jakeman on my right for a moment, but I went to the line, a clear winner of the Stawell Gift. 

Strangely I can still remember all the colour and the noise of the crowd as we got close to the finish. I had won the Stawell Gift at age 26, in my fourth season, in 12 seconds dead. The last 10m knowing that I was going to win the Gift, was just sheer exhilaration. After my Gift win, my family and friends got together for a party where we replayed the tape of the Gift about a thousand times. 

After my Stawell Gift win in 1974, I continued running every year. I won the Traralgon Gift, the Caulfield Gift, the 200m event at the Burnie Gift in Tasmania and a few 70m events. I also went close on two other occasions to making the Stawell Gift final again. I retired from pro running when I was 40 and was able to win the 200m event for my age group at the World Veteran’s Games in Melbourne. After retiring from running, I took up coaching athletics for around 20 years where I had some success. 

I have personally attended every Stawell Gift meeting since 1972 and I have been coming back to Stawell with my family and friends every year and I keep coming back because it gives me the chance to remember and relive in some ways those wonderful times.

Being a Stawell Gift winner has given me a great amount of personal satisfaction and a sense of great achievement. I always look back on it over the past 50 years with a tremendous feeling of pride, knowing that the Stawell Gift has such a great standing in the history of Australian sport. 

The Stawell Gift is the race that everyone wants to win because it is iconic with a tremendously colourful history dating back to the Gold Rush Days and can give the winner an enormous amount of personal pride and recognition as it has done for me. 

Peter Durham, March 2024


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