Today, July 4, we celebrate the 98th birthday of Enid Pate (nee Evans), the oldest living Australian Commonwealth Games athlete, who competed in the long jump at the 1938 Sydney Empire Games.
Evans commenced high school at Sydney Girls’ High in 1932, the year NSW Women’s Amateur Athletics Association was formed. Prior to this, athletics for women was primarily only available at annual fairs and business houses picnic days.
Although only 12, Evans was keen to run in the senior age events at high school.
“However, the Sports Mistress kindly explained that it would be best if I compete in the junior events; which I won in spite of the restrictive ‘lady-like’ sports uniform with black sand shoes, brown stockings and those bloomers which seemed to bellow out when one was in action – Ugh, ” recalled Evans.
Over the next two years at high school, Evans won junior and senior trophies and also played hockey at state level.
In November 1935, aged 16, she left school and started her working career in a city office for Winns Department store. She was invited to join Botany Harriers athletics club and compete in the weekly competition over summer.
“My uniform was a sleeveless round-necked material cotton top, in light blue, with white Harriers crest in the centre. Black cotton shorts, almost to the knee in length, and with a white/blue stripe along the side seam. Shorts became shorter and shorter each season, but we never could have envisaged today’s uniform being permitted.”
In 1936 at the NSW championships she won the junior broad jump in a state record, and also claimed the discus and 50 yards titles. For the 1937 Australian Championships, in Melbourne, she needed to take leave from her office job at Winns. She placed second in the junior broad jump and third in the discus. She would later hear the Australian selectors were assessing performances for the 1938 Empire Games to be held in Sydney the following year.
In January 1938 Evans was selected to compete at the Empire Games.
“A fellow office worker, came up to congratulate me as he had read my name in his morning ‘Herald’ newspaper of my selection for the Empire Games team. I was sure he must have been mistaken – inconceivable!”
It was rather daunting for the teenager Evans as she arrived at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the venue for the 1938 Empire Games athletics competition.
“On the day of my events I entered the dressing room and a whole new world appeared for me – a host of busy, swiftly moving, noisy folk, bustling coaches, managers, massage tables.”
She was glad to, find Nell Gould, her friend and fellow competitor.
In the competition Evans fouled her first two attempts and managed 4.83m on her last attempt to place 10th in the Empire.
Evans competed for another two seasons, until March 1939 when there was upheaval for sporting clubs and organisations due to World War II. Inter-club events ceased and other youth/church sporting groups broke up.
“Friends dispersed and I lost contact with most athletes altogether.”
By the time international sports re-commenced, for the 1948 Olympics, Evans’ life had moved on.
“With new personal commitments, competitive involvement was no longer possible for me, but I maintained a keen interest in athletics.”