Stawell – The Hush

John’s story about Ken Trewick was a ripper and it brought to mind many happy memories of Stawell from a time long past. While Trewick’s story is, was and always will be part of the folklore of Stawell it made me think about the thousands of runners who, over the past 130 years or so, have headed up or down the Western Highway with dreams of “cash and sash”. Most of them making the long trek home with neither.

I first went to Stawell in the early seventies. Dragged along by a couple of mates whose uncles ran (I think) and they knew others that had a trot as well. I was hooked within 5 minutes of walking into Central Park. The old grandstands, the crowd, the bookies (“on the gift final”), the beer and the running. It was great fun and full of atmosphere.

A couple of mates from work decided to tackle Stawell one year after running around on the pro circuit for a while. So it was even more interesting with Matty and Smithy having a go. Smithy wasn’t too bad and made the gift semis in about 1978 but was run out. Poor old Matty kept going back but didn’t ever make it through to the Monday stuff. He gave up the beer after Christmas until he’d done his dash at Stawell at Easter. Then he’d usually sit under a shady tree still in his running togs with six cans of solace contemplating what might have been and the harsh realities of pro running. “There’s always next year mate”, he’d say, eventually. “At least it keeps me out of the pub and off the piss for while”, was another Matty standard.

Stawell in those days was “liberal” in getting a beer at a pub on Good Friday. If you ate you could get into the pub and sip as much as you liked. Unheard of back in the seventies anywhere else in Victoria or, for that matter, anywhere else in Aus’ I’d guess.

We saw some great athletes in those days. Treva McGregor and his brother Murray. Made some money out of Murray over the years – thanks Muz! Warren Edmonson and wee Georgie (never give up) McNeill. We also saw some great distance runners and the handicapping system provides for great finishes. And still does, of course.

But the man who blew us all away was the first scratch man to win the gift. On the worst weather day ever for a final, Jean Louis Ravelomanantsoa stormed home in the red in 12 seconds in the best run I’ve ever seen by a human being before or since – Usain and others included! He ran something like 11 metres inside even time which is unbelievable. He gave the guy who ran second (Peter? Marks) 7 metres start and Muz McGregor was third from 7.25 metres. Muz broke his arm, I think, when he fell after lunging at the line. And, for some perspective, Ken Trewick won off 10 yards in 11 15/16 seconds. I guess that means Trewick might have won in a match race by a poofteenth of a second.

All great memories. But the thing I remember most is the hush that swept over the ground just before the start of the gift final. It was incredible. Thinking about it now brings up the goose bumps. It was just so quiet. Thousands of people and not a sound. I’ve been in situations like that before and since. National anthems before grannys at the “G for example and it’s pretty quiet then but there’s usually one or two with a belly full of bravo who’ll let fly before its finished. But not at Stawell on Easter Monday ‘arvo.

How nervous must those blokes have been (and be) trotting down the track to line up for the final of the planet’s most prestigious pro running race. And winning it, well…

So, good luck and best wishes to all heading up to Stawell this year whether it be for run or fun. And remember to take note of the silence just before the start of the final on Tuesday.

About Tim O'Sullivan

Frustrated Tiger supporter for the last 30 years since we thrashed the Pies in 1980. I love all sports but footy is my first love. Never a good player myself (hearing was too good!) but loved trying to get a game.


  1. johnharms says

    G’day Tim, Thanks for your piece. That silence is memorable. And yes, many silences are broken, if not by noise, by movement. I reckon there is also a stillness at Stawell. The Ravelo run must have been brilliant. I wold put Josh Ross’s second win up there as well. It really is one of the greatest things I have seen (live) in sport. One of those did-that-really-just-happen moments. I wasn’t at the 80 (or was it 81?) Wimbledon final but some of those shots from both Borg and McEnroe to save set/match points were ridiculous in their skill/demand elements. I had the same feeling and I was in a Queensland lounge room.

  2. Tim – you’ve nailed the silence at Stawell. To me this is just about the single most fascinating part of the race. Everyone in the crowd feels like they’re on the blocks.

    For the record I thought Ravello was absolutely stunning, but two other Gifts that stick with me are Proudlock’s, because he was a fighting machine and something of a smokey, and Edmonson, because he is up there with Carl Lewis for athletic beauty when he ran.

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