The Penrith/St Marys Amateur Athletic Club was started in the1960/61 season by Joan & Ted Edwards, Secretary of the Blue Mountains Branch and Bill Eason headmaster of St Marys High School to provide Athletics in the area.
The first secretary of the club was Mrs Rona Cassidy. Some of the foundation members were Gordon, Allan, Nena Hopkins & family, Rona Cassidy & Family, Max Weekes family and a few other interested people. Gordon Hopkins is a life member & took on many demanding rolls including President & was untiring in his efforts to provide the best facilities for that time.
It was always Sunday afternoons, a real family outing, going early in the mornings, for sight-seeing then on to athletics in the afternoon.
Even in those days the club had top class athletes. Boris Stchebina and Allan Hopkins were both outstanding & their records stood for many years.
The first athletics track was at Ridge Park, Oxley Park on the Adelaide St side. The NSW Association altered their metropolitan boundary to Queen Street, St Marys. To stay in the Blue Mountains Branch, the club changed their venue to the St Marys football ground. This was our second oval, the present sight of the St Marys “Target” centre.
The Oval had to be prepared exactly to specs and the club held a top class carnival with Olympic athletes competing. The football club put the land up for sale & the club had to move again.
In 1967 the Penrith City Council allotted us a section of land behind the St Marys High School, where the tennis courts are now. At about this time the clubs name was changed to the St Marys Athletic Club. The members worked hard getting the grounds ready for competition – long jump pits were dug out, throwing areas set down and fully marked out. While this was happening a temporary track was cut out where St Marys High school agriculture area is to day.
In 1968 the two NSW associations again changed their metropolitan boundaries to the Nepean River (where it is still to-day) Our Club fought to stay in the Blue Mountains Branch, but to no avail. The club was spilt into 2 clubs and put into the metropolitan competitions.
Our members were so disappointed all of our club coaches & almost every official left. Gordon Hopkins was the only foundation member to stay. A special meeting was called,. Mr. Stan Harris, gave the ultimatum – close down the club altogether, or stay to help the few athletes we had left.
The athletes would be helped.
The name of the club was changed again to The Nepean District Amateur Athletic Club & the Nepean Women’s Athletic Club.
Mr & Mrs Harris picked up the pieces, both taking a full athletics coaches course with the Department of Education. Both receiving their diplomas & proceeded to coach members of the club.
Every week, for 6 months they took a car load of athletes to Narrabeen for special training with the top coaches in the State. Mr Harris held the position of President of the NDAAC from 1969 to 1972.
Nena Hopkins took the position of Secretary of the NWAAC for a short time. Mrs Harris took over the position when Nena left to be married in 1970.
The club started to rebuild again.
In 1970-71 the Penrith City Council built the athletic field where it is to day. There were many setbacks in the process, but the Blair Athletic Field was opened by Mr. Ron Mulock for the Penrith City Council as part of their Bi Centenary celebrations.
The field was set out by experts from AAA of NSW in conjunction with the Penrith City Council to Olympic track requirements. Again our officials had to set out, do all the marking (we still have to do this to-day) – 9 miles (14.4 Kilometres) of lines at least- dig out all the long jump pits, set out the throwing circles, just as a start. The only way they could get water onto the oval for watering was from a main, outside the oval. They borrowed fire hoses and let them run overnight. Stan Harris & Gordon Hopkins did all the work. One day, Gordon Hopkins, with Stan & Mavis Harris, were marking the oval in creosote, they went to buy some lunch, but while they were away a fire started near the South Creek, it swept right across the oval & when the workers returned everything was black- the lines could only be found by sweeping the track with a broom.
Frank Hartnig joined the club, and with his help for many years, many improvements were made to the oval & surrounds.
On competition and carnival days, tents had to be erected for the canteen, goods & all equipment had to be transported back & forth to the oval.
Little Athletics started in NSW & officials of the 2 senior clubs decided to help the younger children who could not join the senior clubs.
On the 14th July 1971 officials started the Nepean Little Athletics club first competing at Blacktown. The following year it was decided to bring our athletes back to Blair oval for their competition. From about 9 children to start off with, to around 750 in the late 1980’s to what it is to-day.
The Nepean Women’s club held competition at Blair Oval, but the men’s club had to travel to Fairfield each week for their competition until 1973, when they came back to Blair.
1974 was another year when the Nepean Men’s club almost folded up. The position of Secretary was taken by Mrs. Harris for the 2 Senior clubs.
In 1975 newcomers to athletics, Mr & Mrs Soane, took over the running of the NDAAC. They worked extremely hard to set the club on its feet. The only competition they could find for our boys was at E.S Marks field in Sydney and they transported the boys there each week.
In 1976 the athletes were allowed to return to Blair.
Mr Soane won a trip around the world to study athletics in other countries. He brought his ideas back to Australia but the State Little Athletics & AAA did not follow up his recommendations.
Mrs Soane arranged working bees at her home & the ladies made all the uniforms for all clubs. This was a very big job, & between times these same ladies manned the canteen, besides carry out all the other duties associated with an athletic club.
Mr Wilkins was also the founder of the “C.A.T.S.” a new training scheme where the athletes got specialised training in every event – “The Combined Athletics Training Scheme”. The improvements of athlete’s in every event was outstanding, finding talents they didn’t know they had.
Our athletes had the highest medal tally for State Championship in the metropolitan area. Mr Kevin Stone began by assisting Mr Wilkins to train the walkers. Mr Wilkins had to retire due to bad health & Mr Stone took over the training. Nepean became known all over the State for the Quality & depth of our walkers. Mr Stone became President of the Progress Committee & was the main person to keep the oval in good order since Mr Hartnig left.
With the geographic position of the oval vandalism was always a problem. Our new sit-on lawn mower, a line marker & a training bike were stolen from the change room; Toilets were smashed & in a very dangerous condition; all our Javelins, stop-watchers, guns & caps were taken. Charges were made against the culprits, who had also taken canteen goods – 100dozen soft drinks - and over 50 t-shirts. All of these had to be replaced at the clubs expense.
In 1977 a new club house & canteen were built by Penrith City Council. The hall was named the “Mavis Harris Clubhouse” in recognition of the years of work done to further athletics in this area. The Women’s State Association also honoured Mrs Harris with a 10year service award. During that year our club was host for the State Road Walks and Marathon Run, also for the Australian Road Walks & marathon run for AAA. We held cross country for the Little Athletics & the Women’s AAA. right through the year. The three clubs worked as one in all the organising and we were highly commended by each association. It was a tremendous success & we were the envy of every club Mrs Harris was the co-ordinator- Mr Wilkins was the driving force.
The school and churches started using the oval more frequently for their athletics carnivals.
The canteen had always been too small but the small band of workers would serve over 2000 children in a day in the early 80’s. Now we cater for over 30000 children a season – some of these using the oval up to 5 times a week.
Also in 1980 the NWAAC, combined with the NDAAC to form just one senior club, the Nepean District Amateur Athletics Club.
In 1981 Mrs Harris was honoured by the NDAAC with the first life membership of the club in 20 years.
In 1982 the 2 clubs state senior association combined to form one association. We all hoped this would be some benefit to our athletes.
By 1985 Blair Zone was formed & athletes from other club joined for a combined competition with Lethbridge Park, Blacktown & Penrith, Nepean Club is the only one of these 4 clubs that is still operating to day & we still have a Blair Zone competition each Wednesday evening at Blair oval.
In 1986-7 season Nepean had 4 athletes selected in the 1st World Junior Team and each of those athletes are here to night, they are Mark Garner, Michelle Keys, Ian Garrett & Stephen Perry, some of these athletes also competed in the World Champions, World Indoors, World Cup & other International meets. That is when Evelyn Stark first became involved with the club and she read a story in the local newspaper asking for ideas to raise funds to assist these athletes and rang the number and made a suggestion & was told that sounds like a good idea can you arrange that, & guess what I’m still here on the committee to-day.
Since that time Nepean Has had at least 1 athlete in most of the World Junior teams. Some of those athletes are also hear tonight they are Linda Coffee on 3 occasions Susan Knapton & Michelle French other are Stephen Hadfield , Brenda MacNaughton, Bekie Lee & Brook Keys.
Three of our athletes have represented at the Olympic Games in 1988 & 1992 they were Ian Garrett, Nick A’Hern & Mark Garner. At the Commonwealth Games we have been represented by Bev Hayman, Ian Garrett & Mark Garner while Ed Holicky (visually impaired) represented at the Para Olympics.
Other International representatives were Amber Menzies, Greg Hunt & Jason Zabiello.
We have a very strong team of Veteran athletes that have competed at State, National & International Level, many of these athletes are also with us to this day. We have Heike Forth, Gabie Watts, Belinda Westcott, Annette Tillman, Michelle French, Robert Osborne those not hear are Ken Porter, Vanessa Beddie (hearing impaired athlete), Anthony Butt & Sally Agius.
To help our athletes we have a strong band of workers that run BBQ’s at Bunnings & St Marys Spring Fair; until 2009 we ran the Australia Day Fun Run for council, this was held for about 15 years, the club now runs in conjunction with the International Regatta Centre (Sport and Rec ) a Marathon half marathon, 10 K and 5 K .
So as you can see we still have quality athletes in our club but unfortunately it is becoming harder to attract athletes with bad weather stopping our competition and without a tartan track.