Date of interview: 30 August 1985.
Interviewer: Valerie Poole
Image: Jim Achurch competing in the Javelin throw at the 1956 Olympics Games in Melbourne.
Images of Jim Achurch in Sunshine Coast Libraries Catalogue.
Jim Achurch Oral History [53 MB]
One of the Sunshine Coast’s greatest athletes was Jim Achurch.
He was Queensland’s very first competitor to attend the Commonwealth Games and won gold for Australia in 1954 in the sport of javelin.
Jim, born in 1928, grew up travelling through country towns in NSW where his father Claude, a former NSW cricket representative, managed wool and pelt shops.
After he completed an apprenticeship as a railway carriage builder in 1952, he moved to Nambour where his family had established a small crops farm at Bli Bli, where he farmed with his parents.
Prior to moving to Bli Bli, Jim had taken up athletics in the late 1940s to improve his fitness on the tennis courts and was determined and trained hard. He quickly earned a reputation as a first class cricket and tennis player on the Near North Coast. In 1953 and 1954 Jim won the Maroochy Open singles in tennis for the Bli Bli Tennis Club.
In his own words Jim described when he first took up the javelin. ‘While jogging around an oval I saw people tossing a ‘stick’ around.’
Jim had a go at throwing that ‘stick’ which was the javelin and by the end of that afternoon he was throwing the javelin much further than the instructors.
Working hard for Noel Day on Mapleton Road in Nambour, he practiced the javelin by launching his only javelin on the hilly farm. He was worried at times about launching his javelin too far as it might become lost in the long grass and hilly terrain which was not ideal for retrieving the javelin. Jim came into Nambour when he could on weekends, to train on the flat ground. With his hard working nature and determination he was offered a half share in Noel Day’s farm.
In early 1953 and 1954 Jim won the Australian titles with a javelin throw of 216 feet (65.8m). Only the top 10 athletes in Australia were sponsored and their fares paid to participate in the Vancouver British Empire and Commonwealth Games. He was not one of those selected for sponsorship.
The local newspaper, the Nambour Chronicle, promoted the appeal for Jim Achurch to represent his country in Vancouver, Canada. Only the financial assistance from local people in a Nambour funding drive enabled him to go.
A fund raising venture initiated by the COD in Nambour (Committee of Direction of Fruit farming in Queensland) asked farmers to consign a case of their produce to donate to the funds for Jim Achurch. And donate they did. They marked their donated produce boxes ‘British Empire Games Fund Brisbane’.
Jim represented Australia in javelin at the 1954 Vancouver British Empire and Commonwealth Games, where he won the gold medal with a throw of 216ft (66.2m) whilst breaking the standing record by more than 17 feet. (5.18 metres)
That throw stunned his rivals and thrilled the crowds. It broke a Commonwealth record which stood for 14 years. He certainly lived up to the local region and its faith in him.
Jim married Christine Winkle a local girl in 1955.
VP: Jim, how did you start your career in javelin throwing, from the beginning?
ACHURCH: Well, my big love was tennis, and I used to run out of steam when I played in big tournaments, like a three sets or five setters, and I decided to run
around the, the block, and I met up with a team mate, a school mate of mine, and he suggested to go down to the oval where the athletic folk trained down
there in the club, run round there, and the first time I went down there, and running around, and I asked the mate what was that thing they were throwing over there and he said, "Oh that’s a javelin", and he took me over there afterwards and that was where I got first introduced into javelin, just picked the thing up, and got a few pointers.
VP: Was there somebody there coaching?
ACHURCH: Yes, there was a coach there and he was coaching several chaps, and he just gave me a few pointers on how to throw the thing, and that’s how I first started, that’s how I first started.
VP: And he was a javelin coach?
ACHURCH: No, he was a field games coach. He concentrated on his sport, it was hammer throwing, but he knew the minor points of javelin throwing but he could kick anybody off, but you couldn’t go, couldn’t say he was a coach in javelin throwing, no.
VP: And where was that?
ACHURCH: That was down in Concord, down in New South Wales, in Sydney.
VP: And how old were you, then?
ACHURCH: I must have been about 22, I suppose, round when I first started.
VP: Was that, you had to join the athletics club then?
ACHURCH: Oh after a while they sort of kidded me into...that a particular night I shaped up pretty well apparently, according to him, and the chaps he was training that particular night had been going for three months, and after the few pointers he gave me, I ended up throwing better then those chaps that night and he was a bit enthusiastic and got me to come down the following weeks to come and get a few more pointers, and that’s how I really, how I sort of stuck to it, and then I joined the club, and threw regularly for them on a Saturday afternoon at, in the competition in Sydney then.
VP: And did you have any other coaching, did, was there anybody else that came, that coached?
ACHURCH: I didn’t have any actually coaching, got hints off different players, throwers, but those days, there wasn’t a great many coaches around because there just, there field games, especially javelin, there just wasn’t a .... Australia wasn’t up in the world class by any means and we didn’t know very much about it over here so, there were only hints or, pointers that different, better class throwers gave me, and sort of helped me in the earlier days.
VP: What do, why do you think that you had such a strong throw, such a natural strong throw?
ACHURCH: Well, I could always throw pretty well, that’s a stone or a cricket ball, or something like that I, in my young days, when I was a little fellow, Dad had a farm and we used to have a few rabbits on the farm. I used to chase the rabbits with a stone, I used to throw stones at them and I think I developed a lot of throwing. I put it down to a hell of a lot of throwing, through throwing stones at the rabbits all the time. But and, but I could naturally, just naturally, throw fairly good and….
VP: Tennis, that would’ve helped you with your strength.
ACHURCH: Well that would have helped me with the...it’s a, it’s a throwing is a bit like a tennis action, a serving, of a, when you serve it, a ball, a throwing action is very much similar to a serving action and put all that together, you know, I could sort of throw fairly well right from the very start actually.
VP: And how did you rate at the end of that season? You started and it was only the middle of the season.
ACHURCH: Oh, I started at about the middle of the season, then I, the club put me into a State Titles and I end up having a third place in the State titles, which was, quite pleasing.
VP: And into the next seasoning, did you have anyone to improve your style or technique?
ACHURCH: No, not really. Only the … as I say the few pointers from here and there, and I used to get any of the books, the athletic books that had javelin throwing in them, used to get them and read up, and try and do a lot of them myself, but I used to train twice a week with the club and with the javelin throwers that were down there and we used to help each other and watch out if we we’re doing mistakes as we throw and what little knowledge we did have, we used to help each other that way.
Moving to Nambour 1952
VP: When did you move to Queensland?
ACHURCH: Nineteen – fifty, 1952, I think it was, just a few years before, Commonwealth Games I think it was, yeah.
VP: Yeah, and why did you come to Queensland?
ACHURCH: Well I was boarding down there by myself, and my parents lived up at Bundaberg and they decided they’d come to Nambour and they sort of wanted the family together and my two sisters were up here as well, so I was the only one way down there in Sydney and they were all up here so they asked me to come up here, which I’d just finished my apprenticeship, out of me apprenticeship for a couple of years and had nothing to keep me down there other than sport. But I was very keen on farming, and Dad said that he’d buy me a farm if I was interested, and come up and worked on the farm, which, I used to like.
VP: And was there any athletic clubs in Nambour when you came up here?
ACHURCH: When I came up here there wasn’t any athletic clubs, no. There was one chap who was very keen on athletics and he was a State shot-put champion and he used to go down to Brisbane, and I accompanied him to go down to Brisbane, and we both belonged to.... well he got me to join the club that he belonged to and we used to go down to Brisbane every Saturday, well every second Saturday, cause the javelin is, is only held every second Saturday in a competition.
VP: Can you tell me about your trip to Brisbane?
ACHURCH: Well, when he didn’t go, and this is, he didn’t sort of go that often, so the times that he didn’t go I used to get the train down and that was an all-day session. I used to get the train about 8 o’clock and get into Brisbane and get a bit of dinner then get the bus out to St Lucia where we... and Lang Park at those times when we took part of an afternoon, had me three throws and get ready to come home or try to get a lift back home - there’s no buses - and get the train back home and arrive home at about 8 o’clock at night and the train arrived in Nambour and it was an all-day session just to have two, three throws, sometimes six. Everybody used to think I was mad but, perhaps I was.
VP: And that’s how you competed?, you…
ACHURCH: That’s the way I competed. Yes.
VP: Three throws.
ACHURCH: That’s the way I competed, in three throws, or six throws, whatever, whatever they thought. It was getting close to competition, they gave everybody, State Titles, they’d give everybody something six throws just before a bit more competition, but time didn’t allow every, every Saturday to be able to do that, so you had three throws and you….
VP: And you were just scored on the highest, the longest, the furthest throw?
ACHURCH: Yes, the furthest throw, you take. You have your three throws and the best throw is the one that’s counted; doesn’t matter when you throw it, first, second or third throw, it’s only the best one that’s counted.
VP: And how did you train up here at Nambour?
ACHURCH: Well it was a bit difficult. Later on I went partnership with me brother-in-law and we had a farm up Mapleton Road, and there wasn’t too, wasn’t too much flat ground; what there was, it wasn’t long enough, so I used to throw the javelin into the ground at night time, it was, it was on a farm you work daylight to dark, more or less and you couldn’t throw very far yet, at night time, you just had a torch with me quite often when the moon light wasn’t out, just throw it into the ground, but at weekends I used to come into Nambour and of a Sunday morning I used to go down to the cricket oval and have me real hard throws down there on the off days I didn’t...
VP: This is for your distance?
ACHURCH: This is for the distance yeah, and get a bit more technique. But just for a strength throwing, I just threw into the ground, and in a short distance, no more than about 20 metres or something like that. Down the park, down the oval, well I used to throw just as far as you could, after you got warmed up and that. I had quite a few throws and that was me training.
VP: And did had, you did this by yourself?
ACHURCH: Yes, I had a friend that used to come along to bring the javelins back to me, but he didn’t know anything about throwing, he just helped me down there sometimes and, but this is, this is where the big trouble starts. Once you start throwing hard, you don’t know what your body, is doing - and a lot of your movements - and you have got to have someone there really, there to pick out different faults, which when you’re throwing you really don’t know what you’re doing wrong, and that’s where I got into a lot of faults, and once you get into those, well they’re very hard to get out of them then.
Technical aspects of Javelin
VP: And what were the javelins made out of then?
ACHURCH: Mainly aluminium and wooden, either made out of the wood was hickory or laminated, but you never trained with wooden ones because you broke them fairly easily even with a good throw, the way it used to stick into the ground and the tail used to flip, it used to crack, the aluminium would stand up to all that and they weren’t quite as sound-good to throw with, but you trained with those, and when you went into competition - State Titles and Australian Titles - you always had a choice of aluminium or wood, but most time everybody used wooden ones. It was a solid weight, where the aluminium was a hollow weight.
VP: You preferred the wooden ones?
ACHURCH: Oh, I preferred the wooden one to throw in, yes, my word.
VP: And how many javelins then, if you broke them so often, how many would you have to take to, say the State Titles?
ACHURCH: The State Titles, like that, the State, the Athletic Association, they supplied the javelins, you didn’t have to use your own javelin. Training I used me own javelin of course, but at the State Titles, Australian Titles, the Association always supplied the javelins, so you didn’t have to worry. If you had a particular liking to your javelin and you always threw well with it at training and you wanted to take it, well you could take it to the Australian Titles, but you’d have to be there a few days before and get it weighed and measured and everything had to be correct, the correct weight and everything like that then you put it into the pool, and when you put it into the pool, everybody uses it, which doesn’t make any difference. If they want to use a strange javelin or someone else’s javelin that’s okay, but everybody’s got the choice of that, of the amount of javelins that are there and if yours is in the pool, they want to use it, they use it.
VP: That’s unusual isn’t it?
ACHURCH: No, not really. Someone might get a, advantage by having his own javelin. He got so used to it, but they’re all the same, same weight, same length and all that sort of business, so...
VP: How heavy and long are they? What’s the standard?
ACHURCH: One pound twelve and a quarter ounces, but that runs into, the men’s javelin is 800 grams, and the women’s javelin’s was 600 and the junior boy’s is 700 grams. Length is...I just can’t remember what the length of it is. It’s - no I can’t remember the length.
VP: They seem about, it’s about, would they be six foot?
ACHURCH: Oh, they’re over six foot.
VP: I’ve never seen one.
ACHURCH: Must be about eight feet or something like that, I just really can’t remember the length of it.
VP: How did you carry your javelin, when you used to come into training and that sort of thing or if you took your own javelin, tell me did they have a case or?
ACHURCH: Well you wrap the point, generally put something over the point, it’s quite sharp. Well if a javelin hits you, and someone’s thrown it and you’re a distance away, it can go right, stick right in like a spear, come out the other side, if it just doesn’t hit anything hard, It’s got a sharp point on it when it’s brand new, but mine, I used to take anywhere, because I hit so many rocks in training that it just bent the, just buckled the point up a little bit - there’s no point on it at all hardly - and pushed all the lead back and it’s, I probably broke little bits off, so the correct weight wouldn’t be there every time you measured it you see, so I never bothered to take it anyway. But travelling in planes and all that or on buses, it’s very awkward carting the things, but as long as the point was covered up securely and you could take it along that way.
Australian Javelin Record
VP: So, actually to go to the, like the Queensland Titles and that, it wasn’t a big expense involved in having to buy your own wooden javelins…?
ACHURCH: Oh no, we didn’t have to buy any javelins. As I say the Association supplied all the, all the javelins, but when we went down there to training, down there to competition, we never used to have the wooden javelins. It was always aluminium ones, but at big titles, as I say they break so easily and Association’s up for expenses all the time, every time they break, they’d have to get new ones. So they only use them once, once or twice a year in big meets. So, but they supplied them all, that was all taken out to the oval and all, all lined up there. You could have about a dozen javelins all lined up and you just picked which one you want, a wooden laminated one, a wooden hickory one, or the aluminium ones, always several of each variety.
VP: You won your first Australian record in 1953, with a throw of 199 feet and a quarter of an inch, is that right?
ACHURCH: Yes, that’s right.
VP: And then again in 1954, you broke that Australian record with a throw of 216 foot, four and a quarter inches. Were you the first, Australian to break the 200-foot mark?
ACHURCH: In Australia. I was the first Australian in Australia to do it because a friend of mine that, who got picked in the, in the London Olympics, and he was the first Australian ever to throw 200 but that happened to be over in Europe, over in London somewhere, but in Australia, I was the first Australian to throw over the 200 mark.
VP: That’s marvellous isn’t it, that’s a long way.
ACHURCH: It seemed to be that day, those days.
VP: With these records to your credit, did you expect to get picked for the Vancouver Empire Games?
ACHURCH: Well, they were in, Empire Game class, that was in the Empire Game class and the results that we could get from overseas they were up with the other throwers and if a person was lucky enough to get picked in a team I thought I’d do reasonably well over there. I wouldn’t have thought I’d win anything but I’d do reasonably well.
VP: These were of course now the Commonwealth Games, and you were picked to go to Vancouver in 1954. How did they inform you?
ACHURCH: Well I was, generally when you go to an Australian Title, they generally, the winners are the ones are picked for sure. Then they do some close, some close throws, or close calls in some of the races, the second and third quite often go, but generally they pick the winners of the Australian Titles and they’re pretty well assured of getting in the team then.
VP: And how many competitors were picked to go, in 1954?
ACHURCH: About forty, forty athletes, that’s men and women. Twenty of those were picked, and all finance was provided, and the next twenty had to be, had to find their own finance to get over there and it happened to be in Vancouver in Canada. It was pretty expensive to try and get over there.
VP: Which twenty were you picked in?
ACHURCH: Unfortunately, I was in the second twenty where I had to find my own finance.
VP: Did you expect to be in the first twenty?
ACHURCH: Well, after winning the Australian Titles, and the distance as well in within reach of the record for the Commonwealth Games. It was a bit disappointing when I wasn’t in the first twenty. I thought I should have been in there but powers to be never picked the name, to go in the first twenty.
VP: You were the only javelin thrower?
ACHURCH: I was the only javelin thrower from Australia to go over to the Games, yeah.
VP: As you now had to pay your own way, did you have that sort of money? How much would it be?
ACHURCH: I really don’t know the amount; it could be about 500 pounds in those days to get over to Vancouver.
VP: This would just be the plane fare?
ACHURCH: This is just the plane fare to get over there. Those days I didn’t have that much money to, for trips, so I decided I, it doesn’t look like I could go, but when a friend of mine, Don McNiven, that I used to go down to the athletics on Saturday afternoon with sometimes, he formed a committee, and they had a fund raising functions at different times and they put the ‘Jim Achurch Fund’ in The Chronicle, and anybody that liked could contribute to it, and that’s how most of the money was raised and I put in the rest.
VP: Do you remember how much the collection made?
ACHURCH: I think it was in the vicinity of 250 dollars. 250 to 280 pounds I mean, I beg your pardon. That way back it’s it.
VP: That’s what I was trying to think. And your total fare was about 500.
ACHURCH: I think it was round about the 500 in those days, yes.
Representing Australia in Empire Games Vancouver CA
VP: Was there much interest in Australia, in sport then?
ACHURCU: Oh yes, there’s quite a bit of interest all over the...especially around the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Game time everybody seemed to get real keyed up and a lot of young...after they performed, the had those events, the clubs and that sort of, the more young ones starting off, especially athletics and all that sort of business. They got keen after all the results came out. They seemed to die out in the next two years. Commonwealth and Empire Games, well those days it was the Empire and Commonwealth Games, now it’s just Commonwealth Games, are every two years, but no the interest is growing pretty steadily in it and I think it will keep on going pretty well there.
VP: That’s the Commonwealth Games, is one year and then two years it’s the Olympic Games.
ACHURCH: No, every second year, there’s a big one, that’s the.... one year it will be the Commonwealth Games, two years time the Olympic Games, two years after that it will be the Commonwealth Games again, yes.
VP: How did you feel about representing your country?
ACHURCH: Oh, of course anybody be thrilled pink to be able to, get the nod to say that you represented Australia at a sport, so I was very pleased to be able to go over there, not thinking I’d do well, but I thought I’d be up amongst them anyhow, but I didn’t think I’d actually end up winning anything.
VP: Did you feel that there was much pressure on you to win?
ACHURCH: No, not really. I wasn’t expected to win, but do well in it, but once I got over there and I found that some of me throws were right up with the other throwers then the pressure might have got a little bit tougher on me. And I had troubles over there to make a bit more pressure on me. I couldn’t train properly, I had trouble with the elbow and I had to get treatment for that and I couldn’t throw hard in training. I did only very light throws and exercises in training, and when the actual event started, well that’s when I had me first big throws over there actually, cause I, in training if I had’ve hurt my elbow throwing hard at any stage, well that’d be the end of me. If I’d be, if I warmed up and if I hurt my elbow or any other part of me body in the actual competition you can generally last out for six throws. You put up with the pain when you’re cold, when you get cold and cool off and you’re in trouble then of course.
VP: Was that a recurring injury or you just did it while you were over there?
ACHURCH: No, it’s a recurring injury. The, all javelin throwers throughout their career, they seem to have elbow, or shoulder or back trouble. You always seem to hurt your back and/or your other warms in some way as you throw because there’s a fair bit of jerking going on as you’re throwing. But they all seem to have trouble, haven’t come across one yet that hasn’t had any trouble.
VP: With the Australian team, was it considered a large team then?
ACHURCH: Yes, quite a fair size team for going away, especially. All finance was all very hard to get, but there is a whole Empire Games team, including all the sports was quite a big one, so I really don’t know just the amount was, the number of people going over, but it was quite a big one and we actually took up a full plane going over the Pacific. It was supposed to be at those days one of the biggest flights in number to go across the Pacific, so they took out, no they put in, extra seats down the corridors to make up the seating arrangements for all the Australian Team. We all went over there together.
VP: Do you remember what sort of plane it was?
ACHURCH: Canadian Pacific, yeah Canadian Pacific went over there.
VP: And do you remember any of the team?
ACHURCH: Oh yes, I. Being in athletics you, you sort of associate very little with some of the other sports unless you go to a lot of meetings where they perform, but you only sort of hit them when there’s big meetings on like this the Commonwealth Games or Olympic Games. You sort of get to know them when you all live together and that sort of business. There’s quite a few names that I can remember. There’s a lot that I can’t place at all now, slipped out of the memory.
VP: Can you tell me who they were?
ACHURCH: In the athletics especially, there’s Marj Jackson, she was the "Lithgow Flash". I got to know her very well over in Canada. Heck Hogan, the late Hector Hogan, I, he was one of Australia’s top sprinters. I was in the same room, room mate as him over there. Bruce Peaber, he was a pole-vaulter. John Landy, he’s another chap I met while I was, while I was away. In athletics, if you’re in the field games you sort of know the field games throwers and that, more so than the distance runners or sprinters, unless you happened to be going away in a lot of State teams together, you seem to know them all, you sort of tend to know all your field games more so than the distance runners and that.
VP: Where did you stay in Vancouver?
ACHURCH: In Vancouver, they had their University recess, and at the time were the Commonwealth Games were on and there was accommodation was available at the University where all the students stayed. So they, in recess they all went home somewhere, and we had all their rooms, which was quite handy.
VP: Was it the Columbra, the British Columbia University?
ACHURCH: Vancouver there’s another, I just can’t think of the province, but Vancouver was where they held the Games, and in the University they had built the Olympic Games, oh the Commonwealth Games swimming pool. It was held right in the University, so it was all a matter of just walking to the swimming pool. It was very handy.
VP: And were all the athletes from all the other countries, they were all staying at the same place?
ACHURCH: Yes, they were all staying at the same place, and that’s where you ate together and all this sort of business and you sort of met a lot of friends from overseas that you, you wouldn’t have a chance of meeting any other time. One of the most friendliest chaps I came across was in the Fijian team, Vilian Lugar, he was a javelin thrower. He was a bit the same as me, he didn’t have very much training and didn’t know too much about it, and the coach of the Fijian team came to me after training one day, would I come and try and get some of the boys, very limited in their experience of throwing and could I give them a little bit of information and hints of throwing javelin, which I did and I got to know this Vilian Lugar, who eventually came over to Australia to, and went to St Lucia University as a, training as a Methodist Minister and he eventually learnt more than I could tell him and he eventually beat my Queensland record.
VP: Oooh, you showed him too much?
ACHURCH: Too much I think, yeah but a very nice chap. Good to show him.
VP: And when you, when you went over there, did they give you the uniform like they have now?
ACHURCH: Yes, they fully, fully fitted you out with all your, your street uniform and they have your track uniform, it was all supplied by the Australian Government, as we went over there. We didn’t have to supply that, and the shoes, everything was supplied.
VP: Could you tell me what your street uniform was?
ACHURCH: Green blazer and a grey pair of slacks and a tan shoe and a panama hat was the street. The tracksuit was green with a gold strips down the side, the shorts, and I think it was a white singlet, a white singlet and green shorts and the gold braid down the side of the shorts.
VP: Do you remember what you competition number was?
ACHURCH: No, no, I’m afraid I don’t know that.
Opening Ceremony Empire Games Vancouver CA 1954
VP: Was there an opening ceremony?
ACHURCH: Yes, the same, the same as the big opening ceremony, the opening day and you all march on, quite a big, big turn out. It was very nice, yes.
VP: Do you remember who carried the Australian flag?
ACHURCH: I wouldn’t be real sure, but I think it was [Mervyn] Woods. He was the Australian scull, sculler of the time. He had represented Australia before and I think he was the one that carried the flag if I remember right.
VP: You marched in there?
ACHURCH: Yes, all the team marched, except for some of the ones that were, were performing the next day. They could please themselves if they marched or not. It was a pretty tiresome business. You’re marching for a little while then you’re out in the oval for quite a few hours just standing there and the speeches going on and a few other little items going on and you got pretty tired just standing there. So there were some of the swimmers who had to perform the next day, they may not have, may not have if they chose to. But most of them did.
VP: Did you have any idea how many people were in the stadium?
ACHURCH: No, I didn’t have any idea at all how many people were there. It was pretty full, most days. It was very popular Commonwealth Games and they had a good roll-up.
VP: Were the Australians well received?
ACHURCH: Yes, they were. Yes, we’re sort of liked pretty well I’d say. When we used to...go down to training, we used to have, quite a few of the town folk come down to watch you train and they wanted to ask, they asked all questions about Australia, and different things and any of our time we had off, they used to, take us for drives and show us the countryside, or just outside Vancouver, around Vancouver.
ACHURCH: Apparently they had a pool over there too. Drivers supplying their own cars and if a bunch of us, say twenty or so, twenty-five so, if they wanted to go on a trip somewhere or go out somewhere, that’d just apply at our office where we had to make inquiries, and book a day and we’d get quite a number of cars come in and just take us for drives.
VP: Do they still do things like that now, in the Commonwealth Games?
ACHURCH: Not very much. There might be odd ones that get little trips like that, that you might have friends or something like that but it’s pretty keen and your whole atmosphere has changed from the real friendly games now, which they’re pretty friendly but it’s more competition. They, they, they’re trained and keyed up a little bit more but it’s sort of don’t go on too many trips. They’re really concentrate on their training and resting and getting ready for their performance. But after that, after they perform, after that there’s a good chance of getting trips to go away which they’re entitled to. If they’ve got friends, or they just meet friends over there, they take them round little sightseeing tours, which is very nice.
VP: How many days of competition, did the games go for?
ACHURCH: It went for about ten days. This is all sports, not athletics, but all sports. All, it went for about ten days.
VP: Do you remember what day you started on?
ACHURCH: I was, about the middle of the first week, I had the javelin throw event was on. I suppose the athletics was on for about a week and about the middle of that week was the event, the javelin. And after the javelin, well you could relax and. . .
VP: Could you just explain a bit how that’s run? Is it run in heats or. . ?
ACHURCH: No, the actual javelin throw over the Commonwealth Games - I just can’t remember the number that were in it - but every, every thrower has three throws. It could have been about say, twenty in the event so each one has three throws, and then they pick the leading six those days. But it’s changed now and it’s the leading eight. Those days it was the leading six, has another three throws and the rest they’re out of it. But the leading six have an extra three throws and the winning throw out of those six, the best throw of each particular person, is credited a distance.
VP: And then that’s the medal winner?
ACHURCH: The winner yes, the highest, biggest distance out of those last six throwers is the winner.
VP: Well in the first round you must have thrown well enough to get in the first six.
ACHURCH: After the first round I was leading, after everybody had thrown. The second round I was still leading and they started to peg me back after that. When I came to throw on me sixth throw, which I happened to be the very last throw of the competition. I was leading, I was laying about fourth or fifth and it happened to be the last throw that actually won the, the competition. So it was a great thrill.
VP: Do you know how long that was?
ACHURCH: 224 feet, nine and a quarter inches [68.52m]. Those days it was feet and inches.
VP: Was that your longest throw ever?
ACHURCH: That was, up til then it was, by a long way. I have done it, done a better throw, when I came back to Australia, but it was with my javelin on my, on the Nambour Cricket Ground. But then again as I say they couldn’t take any records of it because the javelin wasn’t up to the strict length and weight because I knocked the points off it a little bit, but that was the second longest throw, which didn’t quite, at these measurements these days, it doesn’t quite come up to about 70 metres, almost 70 metres I think it is.
VP: And was that a record?
ACHURCH: That was. The Commonwealth Game record. I think the record was broken. Held by a chap named [Stan] Lay, from New Zealand, and I think it went for about ten years [The record was set by Stan Lay at the Empire Games in 1930 and held for 26 years] before that throw of mine happened to break it.
VP: Wow, that’s what I thought too. How did you know that you’d won? Was it announced on a PA or…?
ACHURCH: Well you’ve got a pretty fair idea when you throw the javelin, when the markers go out there and mark it. You’ve got a pretty fair idea. But from that distance you couldn’t, everything was very tight and close. I think I won only by about 13 inches, from that distance where I threw from to where it landed, it’s very hard to say just where I was laying compared to the other competitors. But it wasn’t very long before I found out. Everybody started to come over to congratulate me, so I thought I must be right out in the front.
VP: Who presented the medals?
ACHURCH: That’s, that’s one of the officials in the Commonwealth Games from Canada that presented, presented the medals. I just don’t know what his name was or what position he took in the Games, I really don’t know.
VP: How did you feel when you climbed up onto the Number One block?
ACHURCH: It was one of the most, thrilling experiences I’ve ever had in my life I think. When they stood up there and faced the flag and they played "Advance Australia Fair" and the old tears started to roll down the eyes. It was very pleasing indeed.
VP: After the Games were over, did any of the coaches from other countries approach you?
ACHURCH; There was a coach from a University or College in Vancouver that came over and he talked about the javelin and javelin throwing and performance and all that and he was wondering if I was interested in coming back over to Canada later on, come to College and be able to throw for the College at one stage. But I was farming at the time and only interested in farming, so I gave the idea away.
VP: Did anyone comment on your style or the way you threw?
ACHURCH: Not then, but later on in years I was told that by, a coach that came from Europe - and over in the European countries they knew how to throw javelins - and he commented how I was hardly doing anything right. But I’d got into that style and once you get into that old style, it takes a little bit, a long time getting out unless you’re with a coach all the time. Well I had no chance of being with this particular coach because he came from Melbourne and I just had no chance of getting out of it at all. So I had to stick with me old ways.
Welcome Home Parade at Nambour
VP: Australia won twenty gold medals, second only to England with twenty-three medals in that Games. How were you received when the team arrived back in Australia?
ACHURCH: I happened to be the only Queenslander of the whole contingent to win a gold medal. When I arrived back in Queensland, the club members, some of the club members and officials and Mum and Dad at the time met me down in Brisbane. And when I arrived back in Nambour they had a car waiting for me up the top of the hill which was a bit of a surprise. I didn’t know this was going to happen - and it seemed to be the whole town that turned out to welcome me home and drive down through the streets, led by the Maroochy Band at the time and got down to the Railway Square and get up on the back of a truck, and all the speeches were made and the traffic was stopped at one stage but they allowed a little bit of traffic through - nowhere near the traffic these days, I don’t know how they’d get on now - but it seemed to be half the town had turned out to welcome me home. It was very, very pleasing indeed.
VP: The Chairman then was D.A. Low?
ACHURCH: Yes, the Chairman at the time was D.A. Low, yes.
VP: Did you find all of a sudden that you were a popular man in town, that everybody knew you?
ACHURCH: Yes, I did really. Quite a few people knew me before that, but it seemed after that, that most of the town knew me or knew of me, and every time you went down town there was quite a few people asking questions and saying "Gidday" and some of them I didn’t really know from a bar of soap, but it was very pleasing to be able to talk with them and to them. Seemed at the time when I went down there that half of the town knew. Changed completely these days of course with so many here,I guess a lot of them wouldn’t know too much about my performance or anything like that now. Course a lot of the people go away from the district and a lot of new ones come. It’s grown so much these days.
VP: Yeah. After that did you continue with your javelin with the view of the Melbourne Olympics coming up?
ACHURCH: No, not really. I decided, I’d probably retire because I was very busy with the farm and had interests in my other two favourite sports, which were cricket and tennis. But officials from the club had a word with me and they/we decided to keep going because it was only two years to go, and each country is allowed to put three entries in each event. They reckoned if I kept going the way I was going, I’d have a very good chance of making the Olympics and it was only another couple of years they reckoned. So, that’s what I did. But the interest in the javelin had waned a little bit. And Yet I used to train and everything like that but the interest wasn’t quite there after I sort of got me goal, which was a gold medal for Australia, and myself. It sort of waned a little bit.
VP: Did you still have to go to Brisbane to compete?
ACHURCH: Yeah, still had to go to Brisbane. Eventually they did form a club in Nambour here, and I joined that, but I still performed with the club down in Brisbane, however the club here went to Queensland Titles and this sort of business, and eventually a lot of young members joined the club and I did a bit of coaching in the field games part of it for the club those days.
VP: Was there any professional coaching for you now?
ACHURCH: No, there still wasn’t any professional coaching, but when I looked like getting picked for the Commonwealth-Olympic Games - in fact all the top runners and performers in the State were, got together for one weekend - and this Frank Stanfell, this coach from down in Melbourne, came from one of the Baltic countries where they throw a lot of javelin, and he coached the different athletes in their different performances over the weekend and he gave me quite a few hints in the javelin and he reckoned that the way I, the style I had wasn’t too good for throwing, that I should alter it pretty drastically, and I found it very hard to do so but, especially by yourself. You had to have a coach there with you all the time to see how you were going as you do your movements to get any result at all. It seemed that I was set in my old movements that were to him were bad. It was very hard to change in only three months before the Olympic Games.
VP: You did try to change?
ACHURCH: I tried, yes, I tried his way, but as I say if he had been there, things might have worked, been a lot different, but I, just little things, little things that had to be altered. Cause I had the strength there to throw, it was just the main throwing part was alright, but all the little techniques that put them all together - and there’s so many of them that you’ve got to put together that you, get better distances. If I had’ve had him coaching me all the time, then it may be a little bit different. I could’ve been better.
VP: It must of been very confusing to try and change your style?
ACHURCH: Especially when you’re set and with only a short distance time to go before you had to perform and once you get into an old rut, it’s very hard to get out of that bad habit, out of the our rut at all.
VP: What sort of points was he trying to change in your throw? Could you explain the javelin throw?
ACHURCH: Well, the javelin throw you got to throw behind a mark. And touch the mark or go over the mark, well it’s a foul throw and all that entire complete throw is wasted. So you measure out a run and as you’re running up, it’s got to be fairly fast, the movement, you can’t come too fast because if you come too fast, you can’t do your movement smoothly, which has got to be done correctly. So you come up at a fairly good pace, go through your movements all nice and slowly, freely, smoothly and no jerking or anything like that and there’s so many things that just got to be right, right at the time, they follow each other. There’s dozens of things that just gotta, just follow, follow as you go through your performance and you let the javelin go and you land behind the throwing mark about a foot to six inches, and hopefully as you let the javelin go, that you’ve done everything right, the flight is rightand you’ve got plenty of weight behind it, and it just sails through the air to a very good throw.
VP: Where does the javelin come through sort of?
ACHURCH: Fairly close to your ear, straight over your shoulder, whereas you throw a cricket ball or anything like that, you’re a little bit to the side. But that’s the only difference. You’ve still got all your power in throwing if it’s a ball or a javelin, but a javelin technique is square-chested and comes over your shoulder where the cricket balls they, you’re more to the side.
VP: How did you go in the Olympics then?
ACHURCH: I didn’t do any good down there. I had a little bit of trouble with the shoulder and the back. In the morning they have the heats of the, well what they call the throw-off period. You had a distance you had to throw that was set down and anybody that threw that distance well you were into the final, and you had three throws to get that distance, and I just wasn’t able to get to the final because I didn’t go the distance.
VP: Were you the only javelin thrower still?
ACHURCH: Australia had two, two javelin throwers that particular year. Neither of us made the final, no.
VP: Who was the other one?
ACHURCH: Bob Grant, from Victoria.
VP: And when you came back to Nambour then, did you decide that was enough javelin throwing?
ACHURCH: Yes after, after the Olympics I definitely retired. After that, I thought and sort of gave the game right away and sort of concentrated on me other sports and work. But eventually I got into veterans’ athletics, that’s another old story I suppose and after many years absence I kicked off again in athletics. I enjoyed it very much too.
VP: How did you fare with the veterans’ athletics then?
ACHURCH: Well I took part down in Brisbane again. It was nothing, nothing was held up here, and there was no club, but I had to join the Veterans’ Athletics Club in Brisbane. Used to go down there, not too regularly, but especially when the javelin was on,I concentrated on that. And took part in other events as well, in the throwing part of it. I won all my age, cause the’re divided in Veterans, you’re divided up into age groups, this sort of thing. Won all me age groups that I, every time I threw down there, and won the State Titles, went away to the Australian Titles and did all right in those and made records in me age group and eventually they had a World Titles which is held every four years, but this year it happened to be over in Christchurch, and I went over with the Australian team over there, to perform over there, and still had a bit, I got into a bit more trouble over there. Before I went over there, I hurt me knee and couldn’t train properly and it held me up performing I think, as not quite as good as I should have - I just couldn’t train the way I wanted to train - but anyhow I got second over there and a West German beat me in the final over there.
VP: What year was is that, Jim?
ACHURCH: The year 1981, over there.
VP: Then you went onto the Australian Championships in Canberra, didn’t you?
ACHURCH: Later on, it was a couple of years later on, we had our Australian Titles again. And they weren’t, fairly close I used to go to them. It was at Easter time - they always hold them at Easter time - and my last throw was at Canberra. They had the Australian Titles there. As I say I was interested in tennis, and they had a tennis tournament there as well, over the Easter period, so I took part in the tennis and got a bit of time off from tennis and took part in the javelin throw, in the Australian Titles, which I was lucky enough to make an Australian record and it was good to retire on an Australian record.
Highlights of Jim’s Career
VP: Yes, it certainly was. And what do you consider would be the highlights of your career?
ACHURCH: Well I’ve had a few, I think standing up in Vancouver, at the dais getting the, receiving the Gold medal. I think that was one of the best that I could remember. Returning to Nambour, coming down the main street and seeing all those people welcome me home, that was very nice to be able to do. While I was over in Vancouver, this particular day that the javelin was on that I, which I had just won, that particular night, the business men of Vancouver put on a dinner for one athlete from each country, and I was the athlete picked out to represent Australia at this dinner, and at the dinner the Duke of Edinburgh was a guest. I met him there and it was another very pleasing duty to be able to perform to represent Australia at this particular dinner. The Veterans, I think the most pleasing event there, was coming second in the World Titles, which I enjoyed very much. I think that’s about the highlights of my javelin career.
VP: What about the Blues Award?
ACHURCH: Oh the, in the early days, the "Telegraph" used to run a turn out during, once a year, they called it the Blues. The Blues Award was the top performances on each sport were picked out and they were the Blue winners. Then they had all the winners of those sports, and all the editors of the sporting editors got together and they picked out the Blue of Blues. That particular year that I was entered into it, I was lucky enough to be picked as the Blue of Blues and that Blue of Blues has gone on now to be the Sportsman of the Year Award and they are very popular these days.
VP: Do you remember what year that was?
ACHURCH: It was just after I came back from the Commonwealth Games. It could have been in about ‘45
ACHURCH: Oh`54 was the Games, `55 probably was the, just after I come back. Yes.
VP: There have been a lot of changes in the javelin throwers, since your time?
ACHURCH: Oh yes the, even the style of javelins and the techniques and the training that’s gone into then these days is completely different. We used to, we didn’t bother about weight work or anything like that in those days, but now they, they throw during the summer time and have gym work all through the winter to build up their muscles and their bodies and even the javelins as I say have been changed. They’re..
VP: You only trained in the summer time?
ACHURCH: I only trained in the during, oh yes, the..
VP: That was the athletic season?
ACHURCH: That was the athletic season and I played tennis and that in the wintertime. So I kept pretty fit all the time, but now a days if you’re gonna concentrate on, say a javelin well you do a lot of your own gym work and this sort of business in the winter time to build your body up to be nice and strong for when the season starts in the summer time. Then early just before the season starts, you get your techniques right and all that other training until the competitions and the big events take part.
The javelins these days, they’ve altered them, aerodynamic designed now and they’re designed to go different distances. If you’re a fifty-metre thrower you pick on fifty-metre javelin and you get a better performance out of that than what you would have if you picked a ninety metre or a hundred-metre javelin. But if you’re a hundred metre javelin thrower or there-abouts, you pick on one of the ninety or hundred metre javelins and you get better performance out of that so they’re all aero-dynamically designed to go those distances, and help the throwers that can do those distances. But in my day, well it was just a plain javelin, and everybody threw with the same kind of javelin. And the techniques of course have developed like everything, they’ve developed them over the years and new ideas, and just better performances now, just better coaches and more of them and everybody’s getting keener and oh they’re just going from record to record these days.
VP: Well with the Australian Coaching College now in Canberra, it makes a big difference to the athletes.
ACHURCH: Oh yes, that’s ideal. They should have them in every State, which I think they eventually will get. But once they get a few of those around Australian sport, all sorts of sports will go ahead in leaps and bounds. That’s what they really want, yes. This is what you’re gotta have these days, the time to and money to help there to devote to all these things. Hey, you don’t have to work and perform like this, if you’re going to work all the time and have your spare time as training, you just can’t compete with ones that are gonna train all day, every day of the week sort of thing. You just can’t keep up with those; they’ll just beat you every time. Doesn’t matter what sport it is, you’ve gotta have that concentrated training and coaching all the time.
END OF INTERVIEW