125 years of Adelaide University Sport
Celebrating the history of sport on campus
Adelaide University Sport (AUS) has greatly evolved since it was established in 1896 when the Boat Club (est. 1881), Lawn Tennis Club (est. 1885) and Lacrosse Club (est.1889) came together to form the Sports Association. Sport now has a far greater presence at the University of Adelaide, with almost 40 sporting clubs, intervarsity teams, social sport programs and an on campus gym, to help students build relationships, learn new skills, stay active and healthy, compete in high level competition and enjoy their time at university.
According to AUS President David Penn, AUS plays an important role in university life for many students.
“Being involved in one of our many sport and recreation clubs is an ideal way for our students to take a break from study and to keep themselves healthy and active.
“In my experience as a student, it was also a great way to meet people from all faculties, through the common link of a love of the sport of our choice.’’
AUS has a long history of celebrating excellence and success. In 1908, the Association adopted the rules of the prestigious University ‘Blues’ awards, originating from Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the 1800s, for student athletes competing at the highest level. In this year, 28 Blues were awarded to University of Adelaide students, starting a rich tradition of celebrating excellence in athletic achievement.
Since then, myriad notable athletes have been part of the Association, including: Australia’s most successful Paralympian Matthew Cowdrey, South Australian hockey dual Olympic gold medallist Juliet Haslam, Olympic rowing gold medallist Kate Slatter, former Matilda’s Vice Captain Moya Dodd, and Olympic boxer Johan Linde.
Women were first admitted to AUS in July 1911, and in December of that same year, the Association had its first woman Blues recipients, with Miss B. Crump and Miss M. Fowler both awarded a Blue for hockey. AUS would have to wait until 1973 for its first female President, Miss Gillian Birdsey, who took over when the President at the time stepped down. Before this, Gillian was acting as the Association’s first female Deputy-President.
As sporting opportunities for women grow, AUS has continued to embrace the opportunity to support women to achieve their sporting heights. Following the success of Australia’s gold medal- winning women’s rugby 7s team at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Rugby Australia created the UNI7s competition, acting as a feeder league to the national team. AUS made the decision to become a part of this competition and created its first elite sporting program, the University of Adelaide Romas, named after Dame Roma Flinders Mitchell (1913 – 2000) who was a pioneer of the Australian women’s rights movement and a University of Adelaide alumna.
In 1910, the University Oval was opened, with a pavilion built alongside after 13 donors contributed 100 pounds each to construct it. This same year also saw the iconic Adelaide University Boat Shed built, thanks to the generosity of R. Barr Smith. AUS was given control of the University’s sporting grounds in 1929, including the facilities at the Waite Park Grounds.
Adelaide University Water Ski Club first leased Adelaide University Sport’s Morgan facility on the banks of the River Murray in 1970, and was given the option to purchase by the original owners. This lease was transferred to the Association in 2003.
The West Beach Facility, which is currently going through a $2.5m upgrade, was first used by the Adelaide University Soccer Club in 1973, after a formal request was made in 1964 and permission was granted to initially develop a facility there in 1973. In 2004, the Thebarton Training Centre opened. The first clubs to use the facility for training were the kendo and basketball clubs.
AUS prides itself on helping students achieve sporting goals while balancing athlete life with their studies. The Don Stranks Scholarship was established in 1992 to support students who excel in football or cricket, while the Bob Heddle Scholarship is awarded to students who excel in their chosen sport. In 2019, AUS announced a partnership with People's Choice Credit Union to award three new scholarships for women in sport, athletes with a disability, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes.
The enduring influence AUS has had on people's lives is something of which the University should be incredibly proud, according to the Association's president. “Many people establish links and friendships for life through the shared experience of University Sport. It has also become a great way for our international students to make friends and to become involved in campus life,’’ said David.
If you would like to find out more about AU Sport, or make a gift, please visit: adelaide.edu.au/sports
Story: Jahan Emery
Photo: Credits: University of Adelaide Special Collections and Archives