Athletics Australia says farewell with sadness but many fond memories to its Life Member - Ron “Curly” Carter who passed away on 19 August.
When Ron and fellow athletics writer the late Judy Joy Davies were elected life members of the sport in 2010 they were trailblazers even then – as it had been an honour previously reserved for the likes of administrators, team and technical officials.
But in times of change, it was an easy and logical decision to recognise a quite different but very important and substantial contribution to the sport.
It was clear Ron also thought it was a good idea and excitedly brought his family to the presentation at the old stadium at Olympic Park in Melbourne.
But Ron was breaking new ground much earlier. As a journalist at The Argus in the 1950s and then at The Age, Ron covered every Olympics and Commonwealth Games from 1952 till 1992, retiring from The Age in 1993. His coverage of athletics thus spanned a period of 40 years.
Ron was also chief football writer with The Age and covered swimming and other Olympic sports.
Yet he demonstrated a special passion for athletics which so very fortunately for it led to prominent coverage in the mainstream media for the sport, which is greatly envied today.
Australian athletics was very much richer for Ron’s contribution and commitment which extended from inter-club competition and state championships to national and international meets.
His time at the athletics desk covered the golden years of the sport in Australia but also some challenging and less-rewarding times. He always found something to write about – acknowledging a fine performance, highlighting the sacrifices many athletes had to make to remain in the sport or covering the bigger issues in track and field administration.
But he is especially remembered for the constant flow of those “good news” yarns about track and field athletes, both rising talent and the established stars – enabling them to become household names around the country both for their achievements and life stories.
Of course he didn’t miss the opportunity (and rightly so) to note a crazy decision by an athletics administrator or a perplexing call by a competition official. Ron had the trust of so many of the key players, he was rarely unaware of anything of the remotest relevance going on in the sport.
Ron thus played a respected role as the conscience of the sport and often carefully drove agendas for reform, especially advocating the “rights” of athletes in terms of selection. He readily gave sound advice to new administrators especially those who were fortunate to be employed within athletics.
But always his coverage was fair, balanced and in the interest of the sport. His body of work was immense - covering athletics at a time when the mainstream media were far more active in the sport than perhaps is the case today.
For most of his working career athletics in Australia was separated between the pros and the amateurs. Whilst administrators, officials and athletes could not, Ron as able and happy to cross the divide. He particularly enjoyed covering the Stawell Gift each Easter and had great respect for the talents of many of the “pros”.
He gave his seal of approval enthusiastically when the AA Board finally made the call to open the sport up from 1985 and was thrilled when John Dinan and Chris Perry were selected soon after for the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1986.
Ron developed great friendships in the sport. Athletes liked and respected him. There were few of their stories that he missed - covering the good and the bad.
As with all journalists there were the special moments. In 1952 Ron paid his own way to the Olympics. It was there that he saw gold medallist Shirley Strickland wandering alone out of the stadium after her victory and he offered her a lift back in his taxi. After she left he found her gold medal on the seat beside him and famously had to yell - “hey Shirl, you’ve forgotten something”.
Ron’s wife Dorothy has no doubt that he loved the people involved with track and field and the sport itself.
“He never had the build to be an athlete but when he started reporting serious athletics he asked to train with Franz Stampfl's group for a story and Franz flatly refused. But Ron kept at him and finally Franz said to come along one evening.
“Of course Ron came far last in everything - but he trained and trained. After the third training night Franz said okay you can train with us. Ron would go out on long runs around the tan with the gods of running and arrive back when they were packing their bags to go home.
“But it all paid off. He discovered a love of running for himself and on Saturday mornings when he lived in Doncaster he would run the Dandenong Ranges. Sometimes 20 miles.”
It was thus as committed long distance jogger Ron devised the idea of tackling the 1972 Olympic marathon course. Derek Clayton was hot favourite and Ron wanted a different angle for his story. Luckily he took some money in his sock for after around 8 miles of the grand plan he decided to turn the 26 mile jog into a 5 hour plus beer garden crawl. It made the front page of The Age.
In 1990, at the Auckland Commonwealth Games he arrived early. He gave Debbie Flintoff-King a voltaren tablet to help settle an achilles problem, enabling her to train until the medical team arrived. It was not until his retirement that a relieved Ron was reassured it was not a banned substance.
While simple yarns like these span the 40 year career of Ron Carter they reflect the relationships that he was able to develop with the athletes and the sport.
Ron’s contribution in showcasing our sport was special.
His devotion to family, his craft and to Australian sport will be remembered at a Memorial Service in The Long Room at the Melbourne Cricket Ground this Friday (31 August) at 2.00pm at which friends from athletics are most welcome.