Article by David Griffin
Indigenous athletes have played a big part in Professional athletics in Australia.
Robert Kinnear was the first indigenous athlete to win the Stawell Gift, winning in 1883. Lynch Cooper followed with a victory in 1928, and of late, Josh Ross won the 2003 and 2005 Stawell Gifts.
Perhaps the best ever indigenous performance at Central Park was in 1996 when Olympic Gold medallist Cathy Freeman bolted home in the 400 metres running from scratch.
Former Stawell Gift finalist Tim Mason, has introduced an opportunity for remote indigenous athletes to follow in the footsteps of Lynch Cooper and Josh Ross, by bringing them to the Stawell Gift.
Enter three teenage athletes Solomon Puemorra (16 years), Deqwayne Puemorra (18) and Alex McKenzie (18) from the back blocks of Western Australia. Three boys from remote Derby, trying their luck in the big smoke.
The boys don’t wear shoes, let alone race in spikes, and as for starting blocks, they have never heard of them.
With hunting, fishing and football high on the agenda in Derby, the Stawell Gift was never a consideration. It is now.
After 18 months of organising, raising money, creating networks and jumping logistical hurdles, Mason got the boys to Stawell for an experience of a lifetime.
With specialist sprint training all three improved. In reality that wasn’t the point, it wasn’t just a running expedition. This was more about life.
At the same time as he was organising the indigenous experience, Mason was organising the Parkdale Gift.
Last run in 1954, the Parkdale Gift was a celebration of sport, with boxing and tennis added to a full day of Pro running.
Rather comically after the event finished, Mason publicly thanked the committee. It was a committee of one, Tim Mason was it.
Tim Mason is easy going and personable. Known as ‘Emu’ he laughs a lot and is the brunt of his own jokes. It’s not hard to like him.
There was a time when Mason was primed and ready to go. The Xavier student could run, and fast. He made two Stawell Gift finals with 1990 his best chance. He was beaten by an up and coming Western Australian athlete by the name of Dean Capobianco.
Trained by current Sprint handicapper Graeme Goldsworthy, in typical Mason style he laughs when he recalled that close to $50,000 went begging in running second to Capobianco.
“It wasn’t just the prize money that we missed but it was what we lost in the betting ring. ‘Goldy’ gave me the betting slips a while ago and they are now filed away in the scrap book. I will look at them if I ever want to get depressed”, he said with a chuckle.
“Initially you are disappointed, it’s something you think about when you’re young. You train hard and it becomes your focus for a few years”.
“I had my time, I went close but it didn’t happen. I really just love the sport. I enjoyed the thrill of the punt. When you and your stable think you’re a chance, it adds to the mystique of the sport”.
“I also really loved being part of a stable, the camaraderie and everything that comes with pro running”.
He won four pro races and he has fond affiliation with Bendigo.
“I made the 1994 Stawell Gift final as well but I wasn’t really a chance. My highlights both came at Bendigo”.
“The Bendigo Gift was my first win in the pros' and the Bendigo 400m win was a highlight because of the circumstances, and the 50 minute inquiry by the stewards after the race”, he joked.
These days he is back on the track and is trying his luck in the Masters 300 metre races. He even made it to Stawell last year but injuries didn’t help his cause.
Mason is busily preparing the 2019 Parkdale Gift and has just returned from Broome where he organised the first ever Kimberley Gift with help from his adversary Dean Capobianco.
Running his eye over a new crop of indigenous athletes he was well pleased with what he saw.
“The indigenous runners are great and they are almost an untapped talent over in WA. There are so many good indigenous runners, imagine if we can give a few of them a chance to experience something a little bit different”.
“It was great to have Capo helping out as well, he was a great athlete and now just wants to give something back”.
Tim Mason doesn’t want accolades or a pat on the back, he just wants to make a difference, and frankly speaking, he is.