Tucked away in the western side of Centennial Parklands is a true hidden gem, once called the home of athletics in NSW – E.S. Marks Athletics Field.
This humble looking but important community facility is a surprise for many reasons, most notably of its role in Australian athletics history, its new world-standard synthetic running track and the fact that most people who pass it every day would not even realise it exists.
What is so important about E.S. Marks Athletics Field?
E.S. Marks Athletics Field was originally named Sydney Athletics Field, and was constructed in 1906. While an athletics field was created, it wasn’t until 1947 that a cinders track (the first in Australia at the time) was installed.
In 1953 the facility hosted the Australian University Games, and a year later athletics events related to the Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games) were held at E.S. Marks Athletics Field.
A short time later in 1956 the grandstand was built around the track for the facility to cope with the boom in demand for athletics following the Melbourne Olympics. It was around this period that the facility was labelled the home of athletics in New South Wales.
By 1962 it was hosting the Australian Athletics National Titles, however as the cinders track aged and alternate synthetic tracks at other venues were built, the facility fell out of favour.
After resurfacing in the late 1970s, and the installation of permanent electronic timing, the national championships returned to the Athletics Field in 1980 (source: Athletics NSW).
A place for athletes…and sporting teams
E.S. Marks Athletics Field was certainly a venue for champions. The powerful East German athletics team competed at the Athletics Field in 1985, while Seb Coe, Daley Thompson, Carl Lewis, Kerry Saxby-Junna, Matt Shirvington, Cathy Freeman, Louise Sauvage and Melinda Gainsford-Taylor have all used the track to compete or train.
For a while the NSW Waratahs and Sydney Roosters used the in-field of the track for training, and in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 members of the US Track Team and various Paralympian athletes trained at E.S. Marks Athletics Field.
In 2013, the NSW Government granted Centennial Parklands $967,000 to completely replace the synthetic running track and undertake several safety upgrades.
Today, more than 55,000 people use the track and facilities every year. It is a major venue for school carnivals, Little Athletics meets and athlete open night training, as well as a venue for football teams on the high quality in-field sports ground.
There are four training open nights a week available at the track, and you can book and save on ‘at the gate’ prices online here.
Which all sounds great…but one last question remains unanswered…
Who was E.S. Marks?
An equally interesting, and almost an equally unknown story, is about the facility’s namesake.
Ernest Samuel Marks (1871–1947) was a former Lord Mayor of Sydney and a notable figure in the history of Australian sport. In fact, his obituary notes Marks “probably did more for amateur sport in Australia than any other man”.
The Australian Dictionary of Biography notes that: “In 1888-90 Marks won over forty trophies as an athlete. He was a founder and executive-member of the New South Wales Amateur Athletic Association, the Amateur Athletic Union of Australasia and the International Amateur Athletic Federation; vice-chairman of the New South Wales Olympic Council and the Australian Olympic Federation and chairman of the Australian division of the British Empire Games.”
“As touring manager, he attended the Olympic Games in London (1908), Stockholm (1912), and Los Angeles (1932) where he was awarded the Veterans’ medal. He also founded sporting clubs and institutions such as the Darlinghurst Harriers, North and East Sydney Amateur Swimming clubs, Manly Surf Club; and the New South Wales Amateur Swimming Association, Sports Club Ltd, Amateur Billiard Championship committee and National Coursing Association. For fifty years he was a council-member of the New South Wales Rugby Union.”
Marks believed the one sure way to personal and national prosperity was to teach young people how to play. He put this belief into practice by working, through his position on the Sydney City Council, for the establishment of children’s playgrounds and encouraging young people to participate in organised sport.
The King of Sweden decorated him for his services on the international jury at the Stockholm Olympic Games, and he held the Veteran’s Medal of the International Amateur Athletic Federation. Marks was a foundation member of the International Amateur Athletic Federation.
A very worthy person to have an athletics facility named after him!
– posted by Craig Easdown