Shirley de la Hunty (Strickland) AO MBE

Shirley was the first Australian woman to win an Olympic medal in athletics in 1948.

Honour Roll

Shirley was born in Guildford, Western Australia on 18 July 1925. She grew up in poverty with four brothers on a farm in East Pithara. She boarded at Northam Senior High School from the age of twelve, and wanted to study engineering at the University of Western Australia but was rejected as there were no women's toilets in that department. Accepted into the Science faculty, she gained an honours degree in Nuclear Physics.

Shirley rose to prominence in the 1947 West Australian and 1948 Australian athletic championships as a sprinter and a hurdler. After just one year of competition she was Australia's number one athlete and was automatically selected for the 1948 London Olympics. She won three medals - silver for the 4x100 metre relay and bronze in the 100 metre sprint and 80 metre hurdles - prompting one sportswriter to comment, "She is one of the finest athletes in the world".

By the time the 1950 Empire Games came around a new champion had emerged, Marjorie Jackson. Shirley had to be content with silver in the sprint events while retaining gold in the 80 metre hurdles. At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics she won a bronze medal in the 100 metre sprint and a gold in the 80 metre hurdles which she won in record time. Unfortunately, Winsome Cripps dropped the baton in the 4x100 metre relay, denying Australia a certain gold medal.

By this time Shirley had married and was known as Shirley de la Hunty. She gave birth to her first child in 1953 but was back in peak condition in 1954. Regrettably, she missed out on the 1954 Empire Games team when she misheard the starting gun in the hurdles.

Shirley was determined to defend her Olympic title on home turf in the 1956 Olympics despite accusations that she was too old. Described as a housewife (ignoring her thesis on cosmic particle detection) the 31-year-old mother won a gold medal in her event, the 80 metre hurdles, taking her Olympic tally up to seven medals. This achievement was especially noteworthy for it challenged the notion that once women had children their sporting careers were over.

In 1957, she was awarded an MBE. After retiring she moved into coaching and attended the 1968 Olympics as an official. She coached Raelene Boyle among other successful athletes. Despite her success at coaching she was never selected as accompanying coach to an Australian team, a fact which she attributed to the male-dominated sports administration.

By the 1970s she began to pursue a new passion: the environment. She was a founding member of the Tree Society and conceived and initiated the Conservation Council of Western Australia (Inc.) as a forum for nature conservation groups. She was also a foundation member of the Australian Conservation Foundation.