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Track & Field Athletics Australia    by Graham Thomas 



1940 Nationals - Thelma Peake congratulates Decima Norman after Decima's record hurdles run

The 1940 Nationals were held, for the first time, in Perth, Western Australia.  Due to World War II, they were the last national championships to be conducted for eight years.

The star of the event was the Empire Games champion, Decima Norman, who made a successful return to her home-state, setting an Australian Record in the 90y Hurdles and winning another two championships. 

The seventh national women's championships were held at Leederville Oval in Perth, Western Australia on 8, 9 and 11 March 1940.

The WA women's association had only formed in 1936 and these 1940 National Championships were the first interstate event conducted in Perth. Because of the great distance to Perth and associated costs, participant numbers declined from 1937.

West Australian star Decima Norman, now competing for NSW, returned home to Perth to star in these championships. Other outstanding performers included Irene Dowsey, Cora Hannan and Lola Foster (pictured at right, in newspaper article).

Victorian athletes won six events and, as a result, the Doris Mulchahy Shield for most successful state.


Defending Champion and Empire Games gold medalist Decima Norman was entered in both 100y and 220y in Perth but did not start. Her withdrawal opened up both events and there was no clear favourite. Until late the outbreak of World War II and the cancellation of the Olympic Games, the women's association had planned to send a relay team - based around Decima Norman - to the Tokyo Games. With Olympic selection a moot point, leading sprinters Joyce Walker and Eileen Wearne did not bother travelling to Perth for these titles.

Young Victorian champion Lola Foster won the first heat in a windy 11.3 by inches from local Merle Stoltze. Close behind was Valda Jones also making it through to the final. In the second heat there were complaints that both Jean Coleman and Irene Talbot beat the gun. Regardless, they were allowed to complete the race and qualify for the final. Coleman’s wind-assisted time was a swift 11.1, beating Talbot by a yard with a further half-yard to local champion Joan Woodland.

At 3.40 on Saturday afternoon on 9 March, the six women lined up to race the championship final. The track was good, conditions were cool although the women were running into a slight headwind. Nineteen year old Foster, running in the outside lane won by a foot from Coleman. The rest of the field, headed by Irene Talbot, were close behind, and all within four feet of each other.

Finish of the 1940 National Championships 100y

Lola Foster (left) pipped Jean Coleman in the 100y sprint.


Heats were held on the 7th March after the 100y heats. Lola Foster made it two wins in two starts with her win in heat one. She beat the favoured Jean Coleman by inches in 26.0. A yard behind Coleman, Valda Jones of NSW made her second sprint final in third place.

Irene Talbot of Victoria, who had not run well in the Empire Games in 1938, won the second heat comprehensively in 25.6 . There were complaints that she had got a three yard flyer after a poor start but she was awarded the race by 2 ½ yards from another Empire Games sprinter Joan Woodland of Perth. A second Perth teenager, Rae Bercone, ran third, another two and a half yards behind Woodland and also made the final.

The final was conducted two days later and for the first half of the race, there seemed to be little between the six runners. Into the straight, Irene Talbot, the fastest qualifier, suffering from a bad cold went ‘blind’ and could not complete the race. This left Jean Coleman, on the inside, and 100y champion Lola Foster, on the outside to battle out the finish. Jean Coleman managed to prevail by just over a yard in 25.9. A yard behind Foster, home town girl Joan Woodland held off Valda Jones for third place.


In 1940, the 440y championship was held for only the second time. During the thirties, record breakers such as Thelma Peake and Clarice Kennedy had been unable to achieve national honours in this event. Over twenty years later the event finally became a standard event in international competitions.

Defending champion Jean Coleman did not compete in the 440y in Perth, preferring to concentrate on the shorter sprints. Irene Talbot was the nominal favourite and expected to be challenged by two improving newcomers from Perth.

Two hours before the 440y final, Irene Talbot had run third in the 100y final. In this event she sprinted out fast and was a clear leader at the half way mark, seven yards ahead of Margaret Orr.

From here she hand on grimly, even when local Betty Judge passed Orr and challenged Talbot in the straight. The Victorian champion had enough strength to hold on and win by 2ft from Judge. Third placed Orr was a further ten feet behind, just ahead of Flo Green.

Irene Talbot (right) just beats Betty Judge in the 440y Championship.


After their duel in the WA Champs, Brenda Judge and Margaret Orr were expected to be close rivals again.

Victorian Flo Green, after being squeezed back to last shortly after the start of the race, sprinted to the front of the pack and proceeded to lead through the first lap ahead of Mitchell, Peake, Orr, Faulkner and Judge. The runners continued running Indian-file until the final 300y where Margaret Orr made her move.

Into the back straight the free-flowing local runner Margaret Orr challenged and, passing Green easily, looked to be the likely winner. With the race all but over, Betty Judge began a long sprint for home. About fifteen yards from the line she caught her arch-rival and went on to break the tape first and win by about two feet.

Queensland’s veteran all-rounder Thelma Peake was a further five yards back. This was the only national championship 880y Peake was ever able to compete in. She won ten straight Queensland titles in this event through the thirties and would have been favoured to win a national 880y championship earlier in her career, had the event been contested at the nationals.

The event was actually barred at the Olympics for thirty years before being reinstated in 1960.

Nineteen year old Betty Judge had set an Australian record of 2-24.7 to beat Orr (2-25.3e) a few weeks earlier in Perth. The two West Australian women had traded victories throughout the 1939/40 WA season and both had helped demolish the state record.

Judge had excelled in both academic and sporting endeavours through her schooling. She was interschool champion in 1938 for Perth Modern School and started competing in interclub athletics for the Perth Club. In 1940 she commenced study towards her Bachelor of Arts at Perth University. She was coached by Frank Preston, who discovered and trained Decima Norman, for four years and then started coaching herself. She reportedly trained on a diet of underdone steak and two hours before her races swallowed a concoction of raw eggs beaten with sugar.

This was the only national championship for Betty Judge. She studied at Perth University during the war years and, though competing infrequently herself, provided coaching assistance to young athletes. One of these athletes was the future Olympic champion and world record-holder Shirley Strickland. Judge helped re-start the WA women’s association in 1946/47 and even raced some more times against her old rival Margaret Orr, now married as Margaret Troode.

Judge retired in 1947 when she married the politician Kim Beasley. In 1948 she became a mother with the arrival of a son Kim Junior.  Fifty years later, Betty's son, became the leader of the Federal Opposition in Australia.


No heats were required as only six women had entered the event. The favourite looked to be former sprint champion Decima Norman who had started to train seriously for the hurdles and recently won the NSW Championship in record time.

In the championship race. held at 3.50 on Monday afternoon, Decima Norman held a slight advantage from start to finish and never looked likely to be beaten. She beat Doris Carter by 1yd and her time was announced to be a new Australian record of 12.0 seconds. This sliced 0.1 off her own national best and was worth around 11.7 for the slightly shorter international distance of 80m Hurdles.

Defending champion Isobel Grant was not at her best due to a groin strain and could only finish third, another yard behind her Victorian team mate, Doris Carter. Ca
rter had a busy afternoon, also winning the High Jump and Discus events.


Olympic finalist Doris Carter won a record fifth Australian title in Perth during these championships. She had been a little below her best high jumping standard since the Berlin Games, but her victory here was hardly in doubt.

After she cleared 1.52 and eventual runner-up Hilda Mott-Williams failed, Carter did not attempt further heights. She was also competing in the Discus and Hurdles finals (she won the former and came second in the latter) and later was asked to run in the relay unexpectedly.

Local girl Phyllis Howe did well to place third but was behind her WA record of 1.48 set in February. Australia's number two, Enid Soult, the NSW Champion at 1.498m did not compete - only a small team of five women made the long trip to Perth.


Empire Games bronze medallist Thelma Peake of Queensland was going for her fourth consecutive national long jump title, but was not favoured to beat the Empire Games champion in the 1940 event.

Norman's best long jump was 5.80, set during the Empire Games final in 1938 and Peake's personal best was 5.66 from 1937. The duo were both of international standard and were unlucky that the 1940 Olympics were cancelled. The Long Jump (and the Shot Putt) had been scheduled to make their debuts as Olympic championship events in 1940.

In a solid series of jumping, Norman's best and winning leap was just 9cm behind her Australian record. She also had two jumps of 5.40m/17’ 8 ¾ during her series. Thelma Peake could not improve her best to challenge Norman but comfortably took second place with her best leap of 5.32.

Merle Stoltze was behind her best of 5.48m set two weeks earlier, but still took third place with her 5.16m effort, just beating Queenslander Hilda Mott-Williams on countback.

Decima Norman (above) took Thelma Peake's Long Jump crown in Perth


Veteran Cora Hannan, the inaugural Australian champion from 1933, set the scene in the first round with a solid putt to lead the competition.

Local favourite Emily Clifford was expected to star but could not beat her fourth round effort of 9.18m. She seemed to suffer from nerves, competing in the first final of the afternoon.

Two days later Clifford threw 9.76 to beat Hannan (9.52) and Mitchell (9.28) in a specially arranged invitation event.

En route to Perth for the titles, the NSW and Victorian teams stopped in Kalgoorlie. The athletes were treated to a surprise gala reception by local officials and townspeople. The reception was in honour of Cora Hannan as officials had learned she was the grand-daughter of Paddy Hannan who helped establish Kalgoorlie in the eighteenth century.


Three times national champion Cora Hannan was the favourite after her 34.43 win in the NSW Championships, but improving local champion Emily Clifford had a chance of upsetting the titleholder.

Clifford led throughout most of the competition with her 31.87 throw. In the final round, 1936 Champion Doris Carter, who was competing after winning the High Jump and running second in the hurdles settled to hurl the platter 32.58 and steal the gold medal.

Doris Carter had smashed Cora Hannan's national record by five and a half metres with a 38.67 throw late in 1939 but was considered more as a high-jumper and hurdler. This performance was not bettered by another Australian woman until 1956.


Victorian Charlotte McGibbon had arrived on the athletics scene in Victoria in 1936. Only twelve years old, she threw the javelin 28.44 to rank in the Australian top ten that year.

A year later and only just thirteen, McGibbon headed the national javelin rankings with a 33.69 throw just prior to the National titles and Empire Games selection meet. Despite this she was not selected in the Victorian team and so missed selection for the Empire Games.

Since this time McGibbon's performances had improved and she set her first national record in the event late in 1939; still only fifteen. She would hold the national record for the next seventeen years.

In this competition McGibbon threw 36.80m (120’ 8 7/8") on her first throw and was never headed. Vera Askew placed second - her best throw of 34.32 also on her first attempt. Askew (as Mrs Pepper) would be runner-up to McGibbon in two more national championships in 1950 and 1952. She had to wait until McGibbon had retired to claim her first and only national title in 1954.

4x110y Relay - 1940 Nationals

WA NSW and Victoria (left to right) in the 1940 relay championship


The local West Australian team led for most of the first 300yards, but Valda Jones and Decima Norman of NSW had a wonderful final exchange which left WA anchor Joan Woodland with too much to do.

The local teenager seemed to make some ground up on the Empire Games champ, but NSW ran out the winners by 1 ½ yards in an Australian record of 49.6 which was believed to be a world best.

Last, and two yards behind the WA team, was the Victorian team, who had replaced Irene Talbot with high-jumper Doris Carter, after Talbot had broken down in the 220y final.

Her gold medal here made Decima Norman the most successful athlete of the championships with three victories. Doris Carter also did well with two gold, one silver and one bronze medal.

An unofficial, non-profit, just-for-fun, page but © 1995-2003 by Graham Thomas