Stawell Gift: I won it for Dad


The telecast of a major sporting event is in the main a flimsy substitute for being present in the flesh. For all of the comforts of the home lounge room and proximity of the pantry, stage-managed expert commentary, corny post-scripts or unique camera angles are a poor substitute for the raw, “on the spot” moment.

We didn’t go to the Stawell Gift this year. An underwhelming media campaign built around a skinny kid from Tassie – our “next big thing”- failed to entice. Worryingly, for me it screamed of an event on the wane. Two and a bit hours from 12.30 on the idiot box would be my substitute experience. Predictably, at the allotted hour and with TV remote in hand I at once rued the decision, as timeless Central Park images including those maroon-jacketed officials who live for this week filled my lounge-room. The gruff tones of the crusty old starter, that beautiful grandstand with the wooden seats, the lane-ropes and the betting ring representing a still un-broken link to an era of raw community sport. The Gift has its origins in Victoria’s 19th century gold rush, when Melbourne was first Marvelous; the oldest professional foot race in the world that is still conducted.

Channel 7 coverage and Stawell seem strange bedfellows. Un-sophisticated Stawell community images are in stark contrast to the pizazz of the Seven footy telecast from the MCG at the conclusion of the Gift. Stawell Athletic Club’s conservative default aligns it more with an ABC-pitch but I concede that Peter Donegan is a ripper, as was Bruce in the years before him. Knowledgeable, authentic athletics fans.

About an hour into the telecast came a magic moment. A moment that was shared almost exclusively with the TV audience. A moment that I would have been missed if I was amongst the Central Park throng. Fifteen year-old Grace O’Dwyer from Ballarat had run the race of her short life to triumph in the Womens Gift. $40 000 to the better for her efforts. Typically, a fifteen year-old from the feminine side of the species is an emotionally-charged being. Response is often disproportionate to the stimuli. However, when you have just won the Gift, “overwhelmed” is perfectly OK! Grace’s dad and coach Peter has been to 28 Gifts, has coached winners and has personally been a runner-up in the great race. The O’Dwyer’s live for The Gift. Asked about her Dad’s history and persistence with Stawell, young Grace jumped into his proud arms and between deliriously happy sobs uttered “I’m just so happy to win it for Dad”.

This is when my tears came. Tears for every father who has nurtured and encouraged his sporting child, trying to balance his parental ambition for his beloved offspring with the genuine, albeit un-stated ambition of the child. Trying to reconcile reasonable encouragement and pride in a child’s performance with notions of reflected personal glory that inevitably and unfortunately arise.

At that moment I was every father who had cut oranges at junior footy, had played taxi-driver to far-flung kid’s tennis matches or who had barracked over-zealously on the sidelines of a junior netball court. I was Steve Martin in the movie “Parenthood” when his much-maligned, un-athletic lad with no confidence completed an unlikely high-ball catch to win his pee-wee baseball game.

Grace’s simple statement shone a light on all of the shared anxiety, anger and joy of being a sporting parent. Her dad’s Gift ambition expressed and magnified through Grace’s fulfilment. His face shone with pride and I felt his joy, whilst at the same time feeling a tinge of sadness for Grace’s mum, who whilst no doubt at the centre of the family universe seemed a mere bit-player in this parent-child sporting alliance. That shared sense of achievement is especially savoured by those people at the heart of that alliance. Being parent, coach and mentor blurs the lines of responsibility but occasionally yields a unique mutual reward.

The poignancy of the moment would not have been lost on those with grown children who well remember the years where child and parent vision were beautifully synchronized. A time before paths digressed as their child emerged from the cocoon of hands-on parenting. Such separation of thoughts will inevitably visit the O’Dwyer family household one day soon but their day of joyous, spontaneous, innocent celebration is now an indelible part of Stawell folklore.




About chris bracher

Known to stare longingly down Clarendon St still wondering how his red and white heroes ever left him, Chris Bracher's pining for his relocated team has been somewhat appeased by recent Bloods glory....but the pain never truly goes away!


  1. Beautifully expressed. Thanks Chris.

  2. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks Chris.
    I have always wanted to go to The Gift, though other persuits have taken preference. I think the winner invariably has a story of persistence and desire of their own or family and coach.

  3. Citrus Bob says

    great stuff.
    You have thoroughly captured the moment and I just wish some TV station would get their act together and thoroughly cover this great Australian sporting event (only rivaled by the Melbourne Cup). Thank you as always Peter Donegan – many of our so=called football experts could take a leaf from his book not to mention SKW. But I guess it’s not football and it is not likely to happen.
    Stick with your athletics CB. It is going to be a long year for the Blood stained angels. Heaven forbid I said that!
    Citrus Bob

  4. Keiran Deck says

    Thanks Chris, great piece!

    Grace’s words to her Dad was the moment of the Gift for me (apart from the race win of course). As a 24-year-old with a strong relationship with my Dad, I have many memories of sharing junior sporting triumph (and disappointment) with him. I totally understand Grace’s emotional dedication. Special.

  5. A little bit of brilliance from C.Brasher – South Melbourne, there.

    Agree with Citrus. How no one’s got behind televising the Stawell Carnival with a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality really sticks in my craw. But then again, maybe it’s because there isn’t a US-template to plagiarise from that no one’s bothered to have a crack.

  6. snowy from lonny says

    Chris,i also watched on telly,and it brought a tear to my eye,such emotion.I didn’t even know that there was a womens gift.Steve you are so right,Channel seven is sitting on a huge winner,could be awesome

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