Almanac Books: Paul Circosta and the writing of Vanishing Footprints





The journey in the writing of Vanishing Footprints – 1978 to 2021



In  August 1978, I was thumbing through my latest edition of Runner’s World magazine. This magazine was not available in Australia at the time, and I had organised my subscription directly from America. I had been a competitive long-distance runner since I left high school, and Runner’s World was the ‘bible’ of the sport with race articles, profiles of leading runner and articles on training.


As I flipped through the magazine, I noticed a picture of a man wearing a running singlet with the words ‘Queensland – Australia’ on the front. Queensland being my home state, this immediately grabbed my attention. Delving into the article, I found out that he was Mike McNamara, and that he had set several long-distance running world records in Canada in the early 1930s. Though I had some knowledge of Australian long-distance running history, I had never heard of him. That was to be the start of my search to find out about this man.


Research tools in those days were basically limited to clunky, hand-loaded microfilm readers, with little access to overseas sources of information. There was scant reference to this era of professional long distance running in running history books. This compounded the difficulty in trying to find out more about him.


Gradually thin snippets of information started to surface. I was able to find out that Mike had competed in the two ‘Bunion Derby’ transcontinental races in America in 1928 and 1929.These races crossed America from coast to coast and were each over 5000 kilometres long. After these races, Mike successfully competed in Canada for several years. Interestingly, I discovered that another Australian, Herb Hedemann, had also competed in both Derby races. Again, I was thwarted by an inability to find out much about them or their lives, families and careers away from running. Once more, I had to put my aside my search into the pair as I focused on my work career and other writings.


A few years ago, when I resumed my quest of discovery, the world of the internet had opened up new ways of searching for information. I could now trawl through family history sites, online newspapers and immigration and census records. The unanswered questions  that had stonewalled me were now starting to be answered. Around the same time several books were published on the Bunion races and the key participants in them. This allowed me to rate these forgotten antipodeans against their competitors and appreciate that they stood side by side with the best of the period.


Through my probing, the personalities of two runners started to emerge. Mike McNamara was a quiet, taciturn man, well respected by his fellow competitors. A journalist was to call him a ‘strong, silent man’. He fitted the profile of many of the Bunion runners – a man who worked with his hands as a tradesman and as a man of the land.


Herb, on the other hand, until much later in his life had no fixed career other than being an athlete. He was more outgoing, and a raconteur. Prior to going to America, he had been a professional runner in Australia, England and South Africa. His exploits included having won and defended the world professional mile championship, as well as winning a string of consecutive mile races. In no way could he be described as taciturn – he was someone who liked to remind the press of his achievements. He was a ‘bloke’ who marched to his own drum’s rhythm and tune.


As I got back into my research, and again with the help of the internet I was able to locate relatives of both Mike and Herb. Fortunately, they were extremely interested in their families’ histories, and were able to assist me with family stories of their relatives. With further good luck I was also able to meet and talk to several people that knew and had met my two ‘persons of interest’.


The life stories of Mike and Herb were now those of real people and not just stories of their running achievements.


The purpose of the book had become clear. It was to tell the story of two very individual men who, as expats in a foreign land, who had used their running skills to try to lift themselves out of poverty, and how they become the forgotten and lost men of Australian long distance running history. Lost not only in terms of having slipped from sporting memory, but also in terms of what they could have given to the development of Australian long-distance running had their hard-earned knowledge been used.


Through the drafting and editing phases of the book, I developed the working title – Vanishing Footprints  to reflect the forgotten achievements of Mike and Herb. As I got towards the finish line of this long journey, I decided Vanishing Footprints summed up their stories and would be the title.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Thanks for the insights and background to your book Paul, I always find it interesting the motivations etc behind creative endeavours.

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