Australian Sport History

Australian Sport History         
Prepared by  Prepared by: Greg Blood, AIS Emeritus Researcher and Christine May, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport, Sport Australia
evaluated by  Evaluation by: Associate Professor Murray Phillips,  School of Human Movement Studies, University of Queensland and President, Australian Society for Sport History; Greg Blood, AIS Emeritus Researcher (August 2017)
Reviewed by  Reviewed by network: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated  Last updated: 17 January 2018
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Community Sport Coaching
Wiki Commons, Sam Hood


Australia’s sport history dates back to Indigenous Australians (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) who maintained sporting traditions closely linked with culture and day-to-day life.

It was Australia's early European settlers who viewed sport as a leisure activity. Some of the first examples of sport in this form date back to the early 1800’s in the then colony of New South Wales, when cricket, horse racing, sailing, professional foot races and rowing were popular sports.

All sports and sporting organisations have a story to tell about how they were established and developed. These stories will often capture individuals and events that have contributed to the history of a particular sport—and the impact that sport from a historical perspective has made on communities and Australian society more broadly.

A number of cultural institutions and bodies in Australia support the development and management of sport history. These bodies can assist and advise sporting organisations on how to best manage and preserve their historical legacy.

Key Messages 


Australian sport history highlights the importance of sport in Australian society.


Australian sporting organisations need to manage their history in order to document developments in their organisation and sport and to recognise the achievements of athletes, coaches, and administrators.


There are range of resources and services that can assist Australian sporting organisations to manage their history.

Many Australians are passionate about sport, both as participants and spectators. Sport, and related concepts like ‘punching above our weight’, ‘having a go’, and ‘triumph in the face of adversity’, are often considered fundamental aspects of the Australian identity both on the sporting field and off [source: Australian identity and sport, Paul Barclay, ABC RN, (22 August 2016)].

The development of sport, individually and more broadly, as well as the history of the various representative bodies, is therefore a key part of Australia’s past, present, and future story.    

Although when we use the word history we instinctively think of the past, this is an error, for history is actually a bridge connecting the past with the present, and pointing the road to the future. Nevins, A. (1962), The gateway to history, Garden City, NY, Anchor


The vision of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame highlights the importance of sport history. ‘We exist to preserve and celebrate the history of Australian sport; and to excite the next generation of young Australians to achieve their potential both in sport and in life’

Australian sport history:

  • Provides an understanding of changes in Australian society from a sport perspective.
  • Documents the development of sport or specific sports in Australia.
  • Recognises the achievements in sport particularly athletes, officials, and organisations (clubs, teams, associations).

 Australia map


The Australian Society for Sports History (ASSH) was established in 1983 to encourage discussion on sport history in Australia through research, publishing, and events such as conferences and workshops. It holds a biennial conference and publishes a biannual peer reviewed journal, both called Sporting Traditions. In 1992, it played a major role in the publishing of the Oxford Companion to Australian Sport.

Museums Australia is an advocate for museums and galleries; their collections; and the people who work in them. The Sports Heritage National Network was formed in 1990 and ceased in 2011. For those interested in sports heritage, Museums Australia currently manages a discussion group.

The Australian Centre for Olympic Studies (ACOS) was launched in 2005, to provide a national focus for Olympic studies and continue the work of the Centre based at the University of New South Wales which closed in 2004. ACOS seeks to coordinate and publicise relevant university research, teaching, and community services. By gathering information about the organisation of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and other major international sporting events, UTS has developed a research database to assist in the organisation of future events. 

 World Map


The International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH) was formed in 1991 to promote and study the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Games. This is achieved primarily through research into the history of the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Games; through the gathering of historical and statistical data concerning the Olympic Movement and Olympic Games; through the publication of research via journals and other publications; and through the cooperation of the membership. 

The Olympic Studies Centre. Official references and sources on Olympism (International Olympic Committee)


Both internationally and within Australia there are many sports museums and collections. Museums come in many forms – academic, corporate, community, and institutional – and they manage a range of sport memorabilia which may include: documents, photographs, clothing, equipment, trophies, collectables, and more. Activities undertaken regarding sport memorabilia encompass collection; documentation through databases; physical and/or online access to material; promotion and interpretation of sport history; and preservation.

Australia has a range of sports museums. The National Sports Museum, originally established in 1984 as the Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum, is located at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and is recognised as Australia’s premier sport museum. There are other sport specific museums in Australia that include the Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame or museums relating to sports facilities such as the Sydney Cricket Ground Museum. Several other leading Australian museums have strong sport collections, such as National Museum of AustraliaPowerhouse Museum, and West Australian Museum. Other institutions including State Libraries and the Australian War Memorial organise temporary sport exhibitions.

In recent years, there has been a trend away from standalone sports museums in Australia.  AFL World (formerly Hall of Fame and Sensation) and the Australian Racing Museum closed down their physical operations in Melbourne and moved their collections and exhibitions to the National Sports Museum. In 2014, Western Sports Museum moved its collection to the Western Australian Museum.

Sport halls of fame recognise the achievements of high performing athletes. Generally, they induct athletes that have performed at a high level during their career and who have been part of significant achievements in their sport. Halls of fame tend to focus on athletes but may include administrators, coaches, and sports science and medicine professionals. In Australia, most sport halls of fame do not have a physical location.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame was established in 1985 and holds an annual awards night. Over 500 Australian sporting greats have been inducted so far and the National Sports Museum has a display recognising these inductees. The National Sports Museum also has displays for the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame, the Australian Football Hall of Fame, the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame, and the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. Besides national sport halls of fame, many states have established their own.

There are currently two major annual Australian sports awards - Sport Australia Hall of Fame [Wikipedia] and the AIS Sport Performance Awards [Wikipedia].  Three prominent former awards were: World Trophy for Australasia (1896-2000) [Wikipedia], ABC Sports Award of the Year (1951-1994) [Wikipedia], and Australian Sport Awards (1980-2006) [Wikipedia].

Radio IconOral Histories

Oral histories play an important role in documenting the history of sport. Oral histories are planned interviews with people who discuss past events from their perspective. These events may include the development of organisations, controversies, sporting events, and the performances of athletes. Often the information provided in oral histories may not be available through other sources.

National Library of Australia (NLA) Oral History Program has developed a collection of oral histories on people in Australian sport. It seeks to identify significant people and accepts nominations. It has undertaken two major projects related to sport. Access to some of the recordings is available through the NLA website, or by visiting the library in Canberra.

  • The Sports Oral History Project commenced in 2007 with funding from Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission) and the support of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. This project interviewed over eighty prominent people in Australian sport history, including athletes, administrators, and sports science and medicine personnel.
  • The Australian Paralympic Oral History Project is a joint initiative Paralympics Australia and the NLA to record the oral histories of a number of the people who were responsible for the growth and success of Paralympic sport in Australia. Over 50 people have been interviewed. This is an example of a sporting organisation taking a proactive approach to their history.

Video iconSport Films and Videos

Sport films and videos encompass international and Australian sporting events and documentaries about athletes and issues in sport.

  • The National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) collects feature films, documentaries, and television footage produced by Australians or about Australia. The sport collection includes footage from the 1896 Melbourne Cup, cricket's Bodyline Series, the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, plus much more. 
  • Sport Australia through the National Sport Information Centre/Clearinghouse for Sport also maintains a significant video collection covering important sports events and issues in sport. The Catalogue of Australian Sport Sector Library Collections provides access to search this collection.  
  • Paralympic Australia's audio-visual collection includes Australian broadcast footage from Summer and Winter Paralympic Games and other events, interviews with athletes, and sponsor advertisements. Copies are held at the National Sport Information Centre/Clearinghouse for Sport in Canberra and you can search the Catalogue of Australian Sport Sector Library collections to find what is held. Due to licensing and copyright restrictions access/use may be restricted, contact the APC for more information.
  • Paralympic history 1970s-80s, by Don Worley, NFSA/YouTube. Highlights from a collection of Paralympic films shot by Adelaide dentist and amateur filmmaker Don Worley in the 1970s-80s. The collection includes almost 10 hours of footage which helps chronicle the development of the Australian and international Paralympic movement from a time when such material is incredibly scarce. According to the APC, Worley’s collection is possibly the only footage in the world to survive from some of these early sporting events for people with a disability.

Image iconSport Images

Sport images can be located through a range of sources including sports libraries, national and state libraries, newspapers, and commercial photographers.

  • Images from the NLA, state libraries, and the APC can now be located through Trove, a national online catalogue. 
  • Wikimedia Commons is a new source of sports images related to Australia. As part of the Australian Paralympic History Project the APC has a collection of more than 40,000 photos from 1992 to the present. Its collection of images from 1960 to 1992 is also growing as they connect with earlier athletes and team staff. Photos with no monetary commercial value to the APC are released for use through Wikimedia Commons. By January 2018 3,077 images had been shared through Wikimedia Commons. Click here to see all images.
  • The National Sport Information Centre/Clearinghouse for Sport also has copies of Australian broadcast footage and images of Australian athletes purchased from external suppliers available to view at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) campus in Canberra. Due to licensing and copyright restrictions access/use may be restricted. 

resources iconWeb Archives

National Library of Australia’s PANDORA Project archives online publications and websites of national significance.  Over 300 Australian sports organisations and 170 sporting events have had their websites archived, List of PANDORA Sport Websites. Some specific collections of interest include: 

copyright iconCopyright

An important issue in using sport images, video, and other material is obtaining the required copyright permissions. The following resources may be useful: 

Federal and state government archives or record offices hold documents relating to the development of sport policy in Australia. National Archives of Australia (NAA) holds policy documents relating to departments managing sport and statutory authorities such as Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission). For instance, NAA holds documents relating to Australia’s policy on apartheid in sport. The New South Wales Records Office holds documents regarding the development of sport in NSW and the Sydney 2000 Olympic & Paralympic Games. Other state government archives hold similar documents. 

Many Australian sports organisations (national, state, clubs) commission academics, historians, or knowledgeable individuals to research and write their histories. Increasingly these history may also be hosted online rather than published in print form. Organisations such as the Australian Society for Sports History can provide advice on the process and assist in identifying potential authors. Recent examples of sport organisational histories include:

  • A centenary of rugby league 1908-2008 : the definitive story of the game in Australia, I. Heads, Pan MacMillan, (2008). Provides a brief profile on the 100 greatest players and documents in the history of rugby league in Australia by decades.
  • A-league: the inside story of the tumultuous first decade, John Stensholt & Shaun Mooney, Nero, (2015). In November 2004, shopping centre billionaire Frank Lowy walked into a packed media conference and announced the creation of a new professional football league. Armed with $15 million of government funds, Lowy wanted to wake the sleeping giant of Australian sport, and the A-League kicked off in 2005.
  • Athletics SA : a centennial chronicle 1905-2005, F. McEwen, (2005). Produced by SA Athletics. 
  • Australian Paralympic History Project has taken a broad approach that involves the collection, management, and preservation of Australia’s Paralympic movement history. It is a collaborative effort, which relies on the assistance of a range of organisations. This project was successful in securing an Australian Research Council Grant and the expected publications of the grant will include a traditional history book, an e-history, and a host of Wikipedia articles. The Project will be completed utilising Wikipedia to gather information and increase the understanding of the Paralympic movement in Australia to a wide audience. Information like this will add to already established information about Australia at the Paralympics [Wikipedia], which links to past Games and over 400 athlete profiles.
  • Between the flags : one hundred summers of Australian surf lifesaving, E. Jaggard, UNSW Press, (2006). Explains how and why surf lifesaving enjoys iconic status across Australia, and remains relevant and popular today. Covers all aspects of surf lifesaving including technology, competition, membership, and the professionalism of the organisation and its volunteers.
  • Blue heaven: the story of Australian surfing, M. Walding, Hardie Grant Books, (2003). 
  • Fields of green, lanes of gold: the story of athletics in Australia, Jenes, P., Playright Publishing, (2001). Book commissioned by Athletics Australia and written by Paul Jenes, Statistician, Athletics Australia. 
  • The Foundation Years: Disability Sport & Recreation (PDF  - 429 KB). Hess, Rob & Klugman, Matthew, Victoria University, (2014). Commissioned by Disability Sport & Recreation in Victoria to commemorate their 50th Anniversary.  [Note: print copy, available from the Clearinghouse for Sport, includes additional appendix photographs]
  • From Athens with pride : the official history of the Australian Olympic movement 1894-2014, Harry Gordon, University of Queensland Press, (2014). Chronicles Australia's Olympic journey, from the first Summer Games in Athens in 1896 to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi The journey was one of wins and losses, triumphs and disappointments, but the commitment of Australia's athletes shines through at all times. The book is a tribute to Australian athletes.
  • Going for gold: champions of the West (PDF  - 4.5 MB), Pyke, F., Western Australian Institute of Sport, (2010). Commissioned by WAIS and funded by  LotteryWest, through their Community History Grant Program.  
  • Gold rush : a decade of success, F.S. Pyke, Victorian Institute of Sport, (2004). Chronicles the work of the Victorian Institute of Sport between 1990 and 2000.
  • Hoop High: a history of Australian Olympic basketball 1956-2000, Dr. Adrian Hurley, [self published], (2015). Features detailed descriptions of the preparation, participation, games, and results by Australian Olympic basketball teams and officials from 1956 to 2000. 
  • Multisport dreaming the foundations of triathlon in Australia, Jane E. Hunt, Queensland White Press, (2014). Documents the foundation years of triathlon in Australia. It charts the evolution of the International Triathlon Union (ITU), Ironman, and age group racing, and weaves together the individual stories of athletes, administrators, race directors, and magazine publishers who helped to make the sport what it is today. 
  • Netball Australia History & Traditions project, includes detailed biographies and information on past players, the Australian netball awards, evolution, stats & records, and the Australian netball hall of fame. 
  • Swimming Australia: one hundred years, Phillips, M.G, UNSW Press, (2008). Book commissioned by Swimming Australia and written by Dr Murray Phillips, Sport Historian, University of Queensland.
  • Water warriors : chronicle of Australian water polo, T. Rockwell, Pegasus, (2008). Includes a detailed account of the development of the game; comprehensive listings of Australian water polo results for international and national events, Australian club championships, and State premierships; as well as Australia water polo representatives.

 Australia map


The Catalogue of Australian Sport Sector Library Collections is a union catalogue of participating Australian sport sector organisations including Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission), Queensland Academy of Sport, Victorian Institute of Sport, Paralympics Australia (PA), Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC), Swimming Australia, and Athletics Australia.

The Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN) is comprised of sports information and research professionals working across the sport and active recreation sector in Australia and the region. Members of the AUSPIN network cooperate with each other by sharing expertise, their experiences and information, as well as promoting, developing, and facilitating access to a broad range of sport information and research resources. Several AUSPIN stakeholders have strong collections on Australian sport history:

  • Sport Australia. The collection covers the Olympic, Paralympic, and Commonwealth Games from an Australian perspective, as well as major books, journals, annual reports, and videos by/about Australian national sporting organisations. It is now assisting organisations, such as the APC, AOC, Swimming Australia, Athletics Australia, and Gymnastics Australia, to manage their collections, as well as providing advice about collection management to other sports organisations. In 2013 the Heritage and Culture Committee (HACC) was formed to provide guidance on the preservation of significant items of heritage or cultural value to Sport Australia/AIS.
  • Paralympics Australia library collection is searchable through the Catalogue of Australian Sport Sector Library Collections and includes a unique collection of books and videos relating to Paralympic sport, particularly in Australia. 
  • Melbourne Cricket Club Library. Founded in 1873, has a comprehensive collection related to Australian sports and events, particularly those played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. These sports and events include: cricket, Australian football, Olympic, and Commonwealth Games. The library accepts donations and has acquired several significant collections.

Besides specific sport libraries, the national and state libraries are managing sport collections through legal deposit or the acquisition of special collections. University libraries with sport courses often maintain collections on sport history.

 World Map


  • Olympic World Library. Part of the Olympic Studies Centre, the Olympic World Library (OWL) is a library catalogue, information portal and a search engine for Olympic knowledge.
  • LA84 Foundation Digital Archive includes full text: periodicals, proceedings/interviews, Olympic Games official reports since 1896, and Olympic oral histories.  

In 2014 Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission) published Preserving Australian Sport History - a guide for sport organisations. This guide aims to provide sports organisations with a starting point on identifying and managing sport heritage items. Topics covered include:  identification, selection, registration of items, management, preservation, records management, dispersal, disposal, and financial assistance. It also lists organisations that may provide advice in the area of preservation.

The Community Heritage Grants (CHG) program managed by the National Library of Australia provides grants of up to $15,000 to community organisations such as libraries, archives, museums, genealogical and historical societies, multicultural and Indigenous groups. Previous sporting organisation recipients have included Australian Rugby Union, National Rugby League, Tennis Australia,  SA Amateur Football League, and more. A full list of recipients is available from the Community Heritage Grants website. Applications in 2017 were open from March to May, please check the website for more information about future opportunities. 

Organisations should also consider how their websites are archived. Many organisations change or dramatically upgrade their websites every few years. Information that is considered as obsolete or old may not be included in the new website. However, this information may be useful for historical purposes.  The National Library of Australia’s PANDORA Project archives online publications and websites of national significance.  Over 300 Australian sports organisations and 170 sports events have had their websites archived. List of PANDORA Sport Websites

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

Article iconArticles

books iconBooks

General Australian Sport History 

Paralympic Games
Olympic Games

Sport Specific History

Sports Museums and Halls of Fame

resources iconJournals

  • Sporting Traditions (1984-present). Journal of the Australian Society for Sport History. Available online through the LA84 Foundation website (1984-2010).

Video iconClearinghouse Videos

Please note a number of the resources below (as indicated) are restricted to ‘GOLD' AIS Advantage small AIS Advantage members only.
Please see the Clearinghouse membership categories for further information.

Other videos

Website iconWebsites

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