home Historical, Summer Series The Lindy in 1960s and 1970s Australia

The Lindy in 1960s and 1970s Australia

Kate Kirby looks into the history of the Lindy Award that, despite being awarded to the best ‘sportsmen’ of the year was at times won by women.

In Australia, the bestowing of honours on sportspeople is a tradition—connecting national identity with a history of sport and play. In 2022, the Australian Institute of Sport announced the most recent winners of the Sport Performance Awards, acknowledging Jessica Stenson (athletics), Cam Smith (golf), Emily Petricola (para-cycling), Ben Tudhope (para-snowboarding) and Donnell Wallam (netball). This current award system has replaced accolades of the past, including the Australian Sport Awards, the ABC Sports Award of the Year and the lesser-known Lindy Award.

The Sportsmen’s Association of Australia was established in the 1950s to foster interest in sport and mobilise support for charities. The presentation of the Lindy Award, named after Association founder Walter Lindrum, was an annual event. Initially, the Association compiled lists of the best ‘sportsmen’ of the year by polling sport magazine and newspaper editors throughout Australia. Despite the use of the phrase ‘sportsmen’, the Award was open to and, at times, won by women. For example, the 1961 list of recipients included Heather Blundell (squash), Dawn Fraser (swimming), Susie Javor (table tennis), and Margaret Smith (tennis). The Sportsmen’s Association progressed to form state branches. As the Association structure evolved, so did the format of the Lindy Awards, shifting in the early 1960s to state finalists running for the Lindy Award for Australian Sportsman of the Year.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, women won the national Lindy Award and were deemed Australia’s best ‘sportsman’ on multiple occasions. Sprinter Dianne Burge won the Lindy Award in 1966, beating other athletes such as Ron Clarke, Bruce Devlin, and Roy Emerson. Burge had won three gold medals at the 1966 Kingston British Empire and Commonwealth Games across 100-yard, 220-yard, and 4 x 110-yard relay events. In addition to outlining Burge’s achievements as “the first South Australian to win more than one gold at any Games for Australia,” editors at The Canberra Times deemed it relevant to describe Burge as a “secretary and a housewife.”

The Lindy Award Trophy. Sourced: Australian Sports Museum Website.

Squash athlete Heather McKay was announced as Australian Sportsman of the Year three times, winning the Lindy Award in 1967, 1969, and 1971. A 1977 article in The Australian Women’s Weekly acknowledged this achievement, stating it was “a feat achieved by no other Australian sporting personality,” but was also an accomplishment about which “most Australians wouldn’t know” because of the lower profile of the sport. Ultimately, McKay won 16 consecutive British Opens between 1962 and 1977, was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985, and later elevated to legend status in 2000; the three Lindy Awards were early markers of an illustrious career.

Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1927 - 1971), Friday 3 April 1970. Source: Trove.

Newspaper clipping from Queanbeyan Age. Friday 3 April 1970. Source: Trove.

Beyond this recognition of women athletes on the national stage, the Lindy Award profoundly influenced state structures, including in Queensland. A state branch of the Sportsmen’s Association of Australia was formed in Queensland in 1965. This branch nominated athletes for the national Lindy Award, including Dianne Hoffman (hockey) in 1967 and Annette West (hockey) in 1971. The Association’s structure flowed into regional Queensland community sports awards, too. Rockhampton and Sunshine Coast residents established Association committees to run local Sportsman of the Year Awards for their regions. Inspired by the Lindy, a local Sunshine Coast Sportsman of the Year Award was launched in 1968. Advertisements for the Award noted that it was open to any sportsman or sportswoman with a regional home base. In 1973, badminton athlete Dell Carr was the first woman to win the local Sunshine Coast Award, followed by track and field athlete Leanne Evans in 1975.[i] Regional recognition could feed upwards, too: records indicate that the Queensland branch of the Sportsmen’s Association of Australia included winners of the Sunshine Coast Award as nominees in the state award decisions.

By the 1990s, while the influence of the Sportsmen’s Association and Lindy Award structure remained, the language surrounding these kinds of awards had been adjusted to be more inclusive. The Queensland government launched a new Sportsperson of the Year Award in 1995, with swimmer Susie O’Neill named the inaugural winner. In regional areas, the language associated with local sports awards also shifted: from ‘sportsman’ to ‘sportsperson’, ‘sports achiever’, or ‘sports star’.[ii]

The history of awards and accolades connected to sport provides rich datasets for researchers to interrogate at national, state, and local levels. In addition to delivering timelined achievements of local athletes, analysis demonstrates shifts in community attitudes towards sport and gender. Despite the non-inclusive language applied by the Sportsmen’s Association in its earliest decades, the history of the Lindy Award marks the significant achievements of women in sport in Australia.

[i] “Top Sports Award,” Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser, February 24, 1976.

[ii] “Numerous Candidates for Monthly Sportstar Award,” The Morning Bulletin, September 21, 1982; “Sports Achiever Awards Alive in 1990,” The Morning Bulletin, January 6, 1990; Cathy Nilbett, A History of the North Queensland Sports Foundation: 1983 to 2005 (North Queensland Sports Foundation, 2005).

Kate Kirby is a PhD Candidate at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

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