On Easter Monday, the running of the 137th Stawell Gift again put western Victoria on the national stage, boosting local businesses big and small.
When the starting gun fired on the grass track at Central Park in the gold mining town of Stawell on Monday, all eyes were on Australia’s richest foot race.
First run in 1878, the 120-metre sprint with a $170,000 prize pool, including $40,000 each to the winner of the men’s and women’s event, is helping strengthen Victoria’s reputation as Australia’s sporting capital and capturing the heart of the nation in Stawell, 250km northwest of Melbourne, which has a population of about 6,000.
Demonstrating its commitment to invest in regional areas, the Victorian Government has supported the Stawell Gift with $600,000 over four years (for 2016 to 2019), including a major power upgrade to the venue where the race is held, Central Park, which is also the base for local football and cricket.
The hotly-contested sprint by some of the finest athletes has been an integral part of the nation’s sporting culture since it was first run in 1878, and since the first Women’s Gift took place in 1989, Cathy Freeman, Sally Pearson, Tamsyn Lewis, Jana Pittman and Melinda Gainsford-Taylor have competed.
Four Australian Olympians have taken out the Stawell Gift: in 1990, Dean Capobianco (1992 and 1996 Olympics), in 1991, Steve Brimacombe (1996 Olympics), in 1992, Andrew McManus (2004 Olympics) and in 2003 and 2005, Joshua Ross (2004 Olympics).
Strengthening Stawell’s economy: two other investments underway
1. Bulgana Wind Farm. The Victorian Government has supported the construction of a $450 million wind farm with battery storage. The 15-year support agreement between the government and Neoen Australia will deliver the Bulgana Green Power Hub.
Nectar Farms plans to be co-located with the wind farm to access power, from behind the grid, to supply energy to 40 hectares of glasshouses for horticultural production. Estimated to cost $285 million and create more than 300 new jobs, this glasshouse project is making Stawell Nectar Farms the world’s first protected crop farm completely powered by renewable energy. In additional to supplying high quality vegetables for both the domestic and international markets, it will benefit local jobs and the environment.
2. The Grampians Peaks Trail. This 144-kilometre hiking trail from Mount Zero to Mount Abrupt in Grampians National Park – famous with international tourists and domestic visitors alike – is being built with the assistance of a $19 million injection by the Victorian Government.
Stawell Gift fast facts
- Professional footrunning has its roots in the English midlands in the 19th century, where the winner received a small nugget of gold. The Stawell Gift distance of 130 yards is said to be the distance between two local pubs in Sheffield
- In Australia, foot running began as entertainment for miners on the Victorian goldfields. The first Stawell Gift, with a prize total of 20 pounds, was held on sandy gravel at Botanical Reserve in Stawell West in 1878 and won by farmer William Jackson Millard. The race moved to Central Park in 1898
- The Stawell Gift is managed by the Stawell Athletic Club, most of whom are volunteers
- Cathy Freeman claimed victory with 53.24 seconds in 1995 and 50.48 seconds in 1996. Just four months later at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, she broke her own Australian record by running 48.63 seconds and claiming silver.