Shirley Strickland

Last updated

Shirley Strickland
Shirley Strickland 1950.jpg
Strickland at the 1950 Empire Games in Auckland
Personal information
Full name Shirley Barbara Strickland de la Hunty [1]
Nationality Australian
Born(1925-07-18)18 July 1925 [2]
Guildford, Western Australia
Died 11 February 2004(2004-02-11) (aged 78)
Perth, Western Australia [2]
Alma mater University of Western Australia
Height 5 ft 7 12 in (171 cm) [1]
Weight 126 lb (57 kg) [1]
Sport Athletics
Event(s) 100–400 m, 80 m hurdles
Club University, Applecross, Melville
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 100 m – 11.3 (1955)
200 m – 24.1 (1955)
400 m – 56.6 (1956)
80 mH – 10.89 (1956) [1] [3]

Shirley Barbara de la Hunty AO, MBE (née Strickland; 18 July 1925 – 11 February 2004), known as Shirley Strickland during her early career, was an Australian athlete. She won more Olympic medals than any other Australian in running sports.

Order of Australia series of Australian national honours

The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry established on 14 February 1975 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, to recognise Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service. Before the establishment of the order, Australian citizens received British honours.

Order of the British Empire order of chivalry of British constitutional monarchy

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order.



Strickland was the only daughter, the second of five children. She grew up on the family farm east of the wheatbelt town of Pithara, Western Australia.

Pithara, Western Australia Town in Western Australia

Pithara is a small town in the wheatbelt region of Western Australia. It is located about 240 km north of Perth, in the Shire of Dalwallinu. At the 2011 census, Pithara had a population of 257, a 25% fall from the previous 2006 census.

Her father, Dave Strickland, while working at Menzies in the goldfields of Western Australia, was also an athlete. [4] [5] He was unable to compete in the 1900 Summer Olympics because he lacked the money for a trip to Paris. [6] Instead, in 1900, he directed his efforts to the Stawell Gift 130-yard (120-m) foot-race, winning in 12 seconds off a handicap of 10 yards. [7] His performance was considered to be as good as those of Stan Rowley, who won the Australian amateur sprint titles that season. (Rowley went on to win three bronze medals in the sprints at the 1900 Paris Olympics). Dave Strickland subsequently went on to play one senior game of Australian Rules football with Melbourne-based VFL team St Kilda in 1900 [8] and six with WAFL club West Perth spread across the 1901 and 1909 seasons.

David McKenzie Strickland was an Australian rules footballer who played with St Kilda in the Victorian Football League (VFL).

Menzies, Western Australia Town in Western Australia

Menzies is a town in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia, 728 kilometres (452 mi) east-northeast of the state capital, Perth, and 133 kilometres (83 mi) north-northwest of the city of Kalgoorlie. At the 2016 census, Menzies had a population of 108.

Western Australia state in Australia

Western Australia is a state occupying the entire western third of Australia. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, and the Southern Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east and South Australia to the south-east. Western Australia is Australia's largest state, with a total land area of 2,529,875 square kilometres, and the second-largest country subdivision in the world, surpassed only by Russia's Sakha Republic. The state has about 2.6 million inhabitants – around 11 percent of the national total – of whom the vast majority live in the south-west corner, 79 per cent of the population living in the Perth area, leaving the remainder of the state sparsely populated.

Her mother, Violet Edith Merry, was American-born with a British mining engineer father and a Norwegian mother. [5]


Shirley Strickland's early education was by correspondence. From 1934 to 1937 she attended the newly established local East Pithara School, winning a scholarship to attend Northam High School, [9] where, in 1939, she won 47 out of 49 events as a schoolgirl athlete. [10] After high school, she entered the University of Western Australia from where in 1946 she graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Physics. In her spare time she lectured in mathematics and physics [1] to returned servicemen at Perth Technical College, played wing in the university hockey team and gained a reputation as an extremely gifted sprinter and hurdler.

Northam, Western Australia Town in Western Australia

Northam is a town in Western Australia, situated at the confluence of the Avon and Mortlock Rivers, about 97 kilometres (60 mi) east-northeast of Perth in the Avon Valley. At the 2016 census, Northam had a population of 6,548. Northam is the largest town in the Avon region. It is also the largest inland town in the state not founded on mining.

University of Western Australia university in Perth, Western Australia

The University of Western Australia (UWA) is a public research university in the Australian state of Western Australia. The university's main campus is in Perth, the state capital, with a secondary campus in Albany and various other facilities elsewhere.

Old Perth Technical School

The 1910 Perth Technical School building is located at 137 St Georges Terrace, Perth, Western Australia, adjacent to the Old Perth Boys School building, which had served as part of the school's former temporary premises since opening of classes there on 16 May 1900.

Athletic career

The Second World War was disruptive to women's athletics in Australia. Some runners, including Strickland, enlisted to help the war effort. [11]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

While teaching at Perth Technical College, she was coached by Austin Robertson, a former world professional sprint champion and South Melbourne footballer. [6] She improved her 100 yards time from 11.8 to 11.0 flat. At the 1947 Western Australia state titles, she won the 100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards, the 90 m yards hurdles and the shot put.

The following year, she took up running seriously, with great success. She won the national title in the 80 m hurdles in 1948 and was part of the Australian delegation to the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. There, Strickland finished third in both the 100 m and 80 m hurdles and won a silver medal in the 4×100 m relay. Despite being awarded 4th place in the 200m final, a photo finish of the race that was not consulted at the time, when examined in 1975, showed that she had beaten American Audrey Patterson into third place, a discrepancy that has been recognised by many reputable Olympic historians. [12]

After winning three gold medals in the 1950 British Empire Games, she won her first Olympic title at the 1952 Games in Helsinki. She won the 80 m hurdles in world record time (10.9 s). A baton mix-up cost her a second gold medal in the 4×100 m relay. In the 100 m, she again won a bronze medal.

She set a new world record of 11.3 s for the 100 m in Poland in 1955, and in the 1956 Olympics, she won again in the 80 m hurdles and with the Australian 4×100 m relay team.


Statue of Shirley Strickland outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground Shirley Strickland.jpg
Statue of Shirley Strickland outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground

De la Hunty maintained her Olympic involvement in athlete administration, with the Australian teams during the 1968 and 1976 Olympics in Mexico City and Montreal. [2] She also coached sprinter Raelene Boyle for the 1976 Olympic season. [13]

Along with her husband, de la Hunty had a longstanding involvement with the Australian Democrats. She was a founding member, and later served as president of the party's branch in Western Australia. [14] From the early 1970s through to the mid-1990s, de la Hunty was a perennial candidate for state and federal political office, although never elected. She stood in six state elections – in 1971, and then in five consecutive from 1983 to 1996. In 1983, 1986, and 1996, she stood for the Australian Democrats, while in the remaining years she stood as an independent candidate. She ran for the Legislative Assembly in 1983 and 1993 (in East Melville and Melville, respectively), and for the Legislative Council in 1971, 1986, 1989, and 1996. [15] :76

At federal level, all but one of de la Hunty's runs for office were made as a Democrats candidate. In total, she contested seven federal elections—four consecutive from 1977 to 1984, as well as the 1981 by-election in Curtin, and then in 1993 and 1996. She ran for the House of Representatives in 1981 (Curtin), 1984 (Fremantle), and 1993 (Canning), with the latter being her only independent candidacy at federal level. At all other elections she contested the Senate, where she was generally placed second or third on the Democrats' ticket. [15] :350 Although never elected to parliament, de la Hunty served two periods as a City of Melville councillor, from 1988 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2003. [14]

De la Hunty was one of several female Australian Olympians who carried the Olympic Flag at the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Games. [1] In 2001, she attracted media attention by auctioning her sporting memorabilia including her Olympic gold medals. [10] She was criticised by some for that but asserted she had a right to do so and the income generated would help pay for her grandchildren's education and allow a sizeable donation to assist in securing old-growth forests from use by developers. Her memorabilia were eventually acquired for the National Sports Museum in Melbourne by a group of anonymous businessmen who shared her wish that the memorabilia would stay in Australia.

Personal life

Shirley Strickland aged 23 Shirley Strickland 1948.jpg
Shirley Strickland aged 23

In 1950, she married geologist Lawrence Edmund de la Hunty, who had been one of her students at Perth Technical College. They had four children: Phillip (1953), Barbara (1957), Matthew (1960) and David (1963). Matthew was the lead singer in Australian rock band Tall Tales and True. Barbara graduated in Science.[ citation needed ] Phillip's intended medical career was destroyed by heroin addiction though he later graduated with honours in Science. [16] David is an ophthalmologist practising in Rockingham. [17] Lawrence died of a heart attack in 1980, aged 56. [16]

De la Hunty was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) on 26 January 2001 for service to the community, particularly in the areas of conservation, the environment and local government, and to athletics as an athlete, coach and administrator. She had been appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil) (MBE) for services to athletics on 1 January 1957.

Her body was found on 16 February 2004 on her kitchen floor, but the coroner determined that she died on the evening of 11 February. There was no full autopsy and the coroner said the cause of death was "unascertainable", though not inconsistent with natural causes. [16]

The Western Australian government honoured her with a state funeral, the first ever for a private citizen. [16]

In 2005, some members of her family approached the coroner regarding the circumstances of her death. In 2006 an investigation was conducted by detectives from the major crime squad. In 2008 probate was granted after a dispute over her will was resolved in the state Supreme Court.

Shirley Strickland Reserve in Ardross, a suburb of Perth, is named in her honour.

In 2014 Strickland de la Hunty was inducted into the International Association of Athletics Federations' Hall of Fame

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  15. 1 2 Black, David (1989). An Index to Parliamentary Candidates in Western Australian Elections, 1890–1989. Parliament of Western Australia, Parliament House, Perth, Western Australia
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  17. Specialist eye surgeons at Perth Eye Hospital, 2018. Retrieved 31 August 2018