1955 was a particularly significant year in New Zealand race walking as it was the first year road walks were introduced to the National Championship programme.  The formerly named New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association then finally fell into line with world athletics and mirrored the NZ Championships to the Olympic Programme.  This meant the introduction of the 20kms and 50kms walks at the NZ Championships.  In turn, this also signified the end of track walking at the National Championships.  Many of the older track walkers could not make the transition to the road as the distances were so much greater.  This resulting in, for whatever reason, an inability to put in the extra training that was required to be competitive on the road.

Most people don't realise that the first Auckland Racewalking Club was Striders.  The Club was started in 1966, by Morrie Hinton and Ross Pilkington.  Racewalking Auckland’s current club president, Mike Parker, was 13 at the time and attended the very first meeting of the Club.  The history of the Auckland Racewalking Club really started then and not with the Auckland Race Walking Association.  Striders was also affiliated to the Auckland Centre.  The Club established many firsts but is now virtually forgotten as only one or two current members, Morrie Hinton and Mike Parker, go back that far.  The Club eventually folded after a period of protracted infighting.

Auckland Junior Mile Track Walk Championship
7th Feb 1967
Mt Smart Stadium
Please note the Striders (SAWC) Club uniform on middle two competitors.

Racewalking Auckland officially began as the Auckland Walkers Association in November 1986, with a name change a year later to the Auckland Race Walking Association.  In December 2007, it changed again, to the Racewalking Auckland.  Of the early organisers, Roger & Colleen Pilkington, Kevin Taylor, Peter Phillpotts and Jane Jackson, Peter remains as an active and regular Sunday morning participant, and a valuable source of advice to new walkers.

Auckland Racewalking History...1950’s, 60’s & 70’s
Message from Mike Parker; RWA Club President
May 2009

The modern era of Auckland race walking is clearly defined.  It began in 1956 when the New Zealand Amateur Athletics Association finally fell into line with world athletics and introduced National Championship events over both 20 km and 50 km.  Race walking on the road had finally replaced track walking at least at the New Zealand Athletic Championships.  Our National Championships finally mirrored the Olympic Programme with a 50 km event; the 50 km had been an Olympic event since 1932.  The New Zealand Championships would also include a 20 km race in anticipation of this new event scheduled to be held at the Melbourne Olympic Games later in the year.  Auckland fell into line with the NZAAAs and introduced Provincial Championships over these distances.  This was the end of track walking at the National Athletic Championships – at least for the next 21 years anyway.

It would however be an injustice to the track walking Champions of the immediate pre-road walking era to dismiss them out of sight, to not give them some mention here.  The long road events did effectively end the careers of the majority of these speedsters.  The extra training required, and the long hard slog involved in racing over distances that would have seemed horrendously long compared to anything they had encountered before, often times in hot humid conditions, would not have been to their liking.  These men did their sport for fun, which was the essence of the era they competed in.  Having to race extra long distances would have been quite alien to them, certainly not a fun experience.

Track Walking had first appeared on the National Championship programme in 1888 with the introduction of the Mile Walk; two years later the Three Miles was added. In 1932, a Half Mile race became an unlikely additional event.  The two lap sprint survived just three years, being deleted from the Championships in 1935.

Much controversy surrounded track walking, judging was a contentious issue.  Heated arguments and disagreements about interpretation revolving around what was legal and what constituted illegal walking blighted the track walking years.  Such controversy aside, surprisingly, the Mile and Three Miles survived intact until 1954.  They were replaced the following year, 1955, with a Two Mile Track Walk and a 10000m Road Walk.  The 10 km was the first New Zealand Road Walking Championship.

The NZAAAs still could not get it right though; the 10000m Walk had been an Olympic event, although intermittently since 1912.  At the Olympics, it was a track race.  Why the authorities in New Zealand decided to hold it on the road is anyone's guess?  Why they held it at all is a more relevant question though, when one considers that the following year the track 10kms would be replaced by a 20km road event at the Melbourne Games.  So it came as little surprise when the powers to be in New Zealand the following year, 1956, deleted the Two Mile and 10000m Walks and replaced them with the longer walks over the current Olympic distances.

In these the final years of New Zealand track walking, Auckland had two fine champions, Peter Hellreigel and Don McNab.  Hellreigel, a former New Zealand Junior Champion over the Mile in 1948 and 1949, won the Senior Mile in 1952.  One had to go back 31 years since the last Aucklander had taken out a National race walking title, that being the great Dave Wilson, winner of the Mile and Three Miles in 1921.  Yes, the same D. Wilson who had raced in that historic event at the Auckland Domain against F. H. Creamer back in November, 1897, when four world records had been set in one fantastic day!  It's a fitting tribute to that great day, 112 years ago, that Racewalking Auckland still meets at the Domain.  The Auckland Domain quite fittingly remains the spiritual home of Auckland Race Walking today.

Peter Hellreigel had no desire to compete on the road; track walking was his preference.  He gave the sport away in the years immediately preceding the introduction of Road Walking at the National Championships.  It was fitting that Hellreigel, one of the last survivors of the track walking era still alive today, was chosen to fire the starter’s pistol at the inaugural Harry Kerr Centennial Relay in 2008.  The tall, stylish McNab however was a totally different character.  McNab was the transitional figure at this time in New Zealand race walking, in fact far more so than Norm Read.

Read had arrived in New Zealand the day after Labour Day 1953.  He joined the Otahuhu Athletic Club and raced for the first time in this country at Sturgess Park.  Norm had come to the other side of the world in part for adventure but more importantly in an attempt to realise his boyhood dream of competing at the Olympic Games.  He was disappointed to find that the only walking races held here were on the track.  There was still no such thing as road walking in New Zealand!

Whereas Read struggled to get on even terms with this country’s leading track walkers, McNab had shown himself to be the dominant force.  Don won the last New Zealand Three Mile Track Walk title held in 1954.  He then went on the following year to win the inaugural New Zealand Road Walking Title.  After a terrific battle with Read, he headed home the soon-to-be Olympic Champion by the barest of margins - literally the thickness of his athletic vest - recording the fine time for that era, 49:01.  McNab was a first class race walker, probably one of the finest to not wear the Black Singlet!  Don showed just how good he was in 1957, when just four months after Norm had triumphed in Melbourne he finished just inches behind the Olympic Champion in the National 20 kms, sharing the winning time of 95:54.6.  McNab remained at number two on the NZ All Time Top Ten List for the 20 km until replaced by Southlander Trevor Mayhew ten years later in 1967.

McNab's performance against Read at the 1957 Nationals was the end of the road for Don, he faded from the scene soon after.  Another Aucklander from this era also managed to gain National honours.  Ian Freeth took out the Junior Mile in 1954. Freeth, apart from Hellreigal, was the sole Aucklander to win a National junior track walking title up to that time.

With the passing of McNab, Auckland race walking slipped into the doldrums, that is until the arrival of Morrie Hinton in 1960.  The pencil-thin Hinton had been cajoled into taking up race walking when he was in the Air Force, stationed at Ohakia. Morrie's P.T. Instructor was one Jimmy Hyslop - a former ten-time New Zealand Track Walking Champion over both the Mile and Three Miles.  The diminutive bow-legged Hyslop convinced Hinton that he had the makings of a race walker.  Morrie took to his new sport like a fish to water, finishing second to three time former National Champion Roy Lamberton in the 1955 W.C.N.I 10 km Road Walk.  In the following year 1956, Morrie recorded his first Championship success winning the W.C.N.I. 20 km.  He was not however selected for the Nationals that year, and after a period back home in the Waikato he made the move to Auckland in 1960.  At this time the Waikato could boast walkers of the calibre of Ray Nixon an Australian, now settled in Kawerau, National Junior Champ Jim Scott and Morrie; the Province had a decided edge over Auckland.

During his first couple of years in Auckland, Hinton was virtually a solo act.  There were literally no other quality walkers for him to train with, let alone compete against.  To get meaningful competition, Morrie had to travel back to the Waikato to race against the likes of Nixon and Scott or even further afield to the West Coast for races against Arnold and Maurice Lloyd, Frank Eustace, Paul Westfield and Norm Read who was now living in Taranaki.

Hutt Recreation Ground; Wellington
November 1957

L to R:
Don Thomson, Neil McGaskal, Unknown (please email RWA Secretary if you can name this person), George Turner, Morrie Hinton, Harry Tetlow
Athlete Biographies:
Don Thomson;        NZ Junior Mile 1951                              Morrie Hinton;        NZ 50km 1962                        Harry Tetlow;          NZ 50km 1958
                          NZ Junior Mile 1952                                                              NZ 50km 1963                                                     
                          NZ Senior Mile 1954                                                              NZ 20 Miles 1972
                          NZ Senior 2 Miles 1955                                                          NZ 30km 1987     

On Sunday mornings Morrie and a group of social walkers would meet up in the Auckland Domain for leisurely training walks.  There was the occasional race mooted but these never eventuated.  There was even talk in 1961 of forming an Auckland Race Walking Club.  It all came to nothing; Auckland just did not have the numbers at the time for such a venture to get off the ground.

By the early 1960s however, the future of Auckland race walking was beginning to look decidedly better.  Ray Nixon, fourth in the 1960 Australian Olympic Trial over 20 km had moved to Auckland from the Waikato.  Ross Pilkington Snr who had started out as a track walker back in 1954 was back competing again after another one of his intermittent layoffs.  There was also Takapuna's Charlie Walker and Hawera's Terry Lamb a two time place getter in the National Junior 10 km.  Norm Read was also back living in Auckland.  Norm had moved back there after his return from the Rome Olympics, having been sold on the idea of going into the grocery business by Barry Magee.  During the years 1961 to 1963 Norm had a Four Square franchise in Te Atatu, and consequently he did little race walking.

During the period 1960 to 68' this small group achieved considerable success at the National level.  In 1961, Ray Nixon finished second to Norm Read in the National 20 km.  Charlie Walker completed a fine double at the Nationals in 1965 when he finished second to Norm in both the 20 km and 50 km – the two races being held less than a day apart.  The following year, 1966, Charlie again finished second in the 20 km, this time to Trevor Mayhew.  In 1967, Terry Lamb finished fourth in the 20 km behind Mayhew, Read and Jim Trowell. Ross Pilkington Snr, although not quite of the same calibre as his aforementioned rivals, also recorded some decent performances at the National Championships, finishing third in the 20 km in 1964 and 1968 and third in the 50 km in 1965 and 1968.           

There can be little argument though that Morrie Hinton was consistently Auckland's best performing race walker throughout the sixties.  Two National Titles, the 50 km in 1962 and 1963 and a total of nine National Championship medals speak for themselves.  His National 50 km success in 1962 had quite fittingly been achieved along the Auckland water front on Tamaki Drive.  The previous year Morrie recorded his first national success when he finished second to Norm Read in the 1961 50 km Championship.  During his long career in athletics, more than 50 years at the time of writing, the evergreen Hinton managed to win four national titles and amassed twenty New Zealand Championship medals.  By anyone’s reckoning such longevity is impressive.

Throughout the 60's and early 1970's Morrie Hinton and Ross Pilkington Snr were the recognisable faces of Auckland Race Walking.  These two strong willed characters also led two distinct factions of Auckland race walkers.  At times there was a deep chasm running through the centre of our event.  Some walkers tried to remain neutral, not get drawn in, but at the time, with the constant infighting, this was well nigh impossible.  Everyone seemed to eventually finish up on one side or another, at one time or another.  There were occasions when the battles fought before and after races were more keenly contested than the races themselves.  There was seldom a race held without some brooding tension hovering about in the atmosphere.  With two such strong willed, eccentric individuals sharing little more than a grudging respect for one another and only seeing eye to eye on the rarest of occasions, the chances of finding any long term solution to the tensions was made all the more difficult.

Of course this did little to endear the Auckland Amateur Athletic Association towards race walking.  They looked upon the race walking fraternity with disdain and treated us all with contempt.  During these years whenever a road walk was put on by the Centre at Mt Smart, it would start and finish on the track.  I always had the overriding feeling during these years that when the starters pistol fired and we set off out of the Stadium, the powers to be secretly hoped we would all get lost and never come back!  Such was our unpopularity at the time.  Whose fault was it?  Well I’m not going to apportion blame here.  The walkers certainly didn't help their cause and the Centre did little to help race walking with their attitude towards us.  What I do know is that deep seated resentment and ignorance remain to this day.

There was one brief period during almost a decade of infighting when both Morrie Hinton and Ross Pilkington put their differences on hold and set about joining forces.  A strong feeling existed among Auckland race walkers that we would get a better deal if we united and formed an Auckland Race Walking Club.  Certainly we would have a far stronger voice in our dealings with the A.A.A.A.  With the increasing numbers of walkers in Auckland such a venture seemed likely to succeed.         

The inaugural meeting of the new club took place at the Lovelock Track in February 1966.  Those present were Morrie Hinton, Ross Pilkington Snr, Les Barker, Hugo Wilson, Garth Cowley, Kevin Henwood, Mike Parker and Ross Pilkington Jnr.  It was a Sunday morning following a long training session and we sat on the wooden benches adjacent the Owairaka Club Rooms as the officers of our new club were elected.  Les Barker, an old stalwart of Auckland athletics, one of Arthur Lydiard's original training partners, was elected Club President. Morrie Hinton took on the roll of Secretary/Treasurer.  The club was named Striders Amateur Walking Club, or simply “Striders”.  It was the second specialist race walking club formed in New Zealand after the Taranaki Amateur Walking Club which dated back to April 1959.

Striders operated year round but was only affiliated to the Auckland Centre during the summer track season when the vast majority of events were held at Mt Smart Stadium and on road circuits nearby.  Our Club strip was distinctive, a white vest with the letters S.A.W.C. punctuating two deep blue vertical lines.  Most Auckland race walkers joined the new club.  During the winter months, walkers reverted to an athletic Club of choice. Striders had a full programme of scheduled events. The Club met on Sunday mornings. Occasional track races were held at the Lovelock Track. The 'Hour Walk' and 'Missing Out' races were popular events and road races were sometimes held on a one mile circuit nearby to the Lovelock Track.  The Auckland Domain however was the more regular meeting place for club events.  Races would be held around the inner circuit of the Domain.  On weekends when there was no race scheduled long training walks would be the order of the day.  Whereas Racewalking Auckland now meets at the Pavilion in the Domain, Striders meeting place was in the cul-de-sac near at the Botanical Gardens.

Striders did not have a programme of Club Championship events as there was really no need.  The Auckland Centre was good in this regard.  At the time there were Auckland Championships for Senior Men over 2 Miles, 20 km and 50 km and for juniors over one Mile and 10 km. In order to be selected for the nationals you had to finish in the first three at the Provincial Championships.

Unfortunately the fillip race walking received through the formation of Striders was short lived – just 18 months to be precise.  Key personalities in the club were unable to bury their differences and work together for the common good.  Ego, resentment and personal ambitions were the destructive forces that destroyed the Club.  In early 1967, the Pilkingtons resigned and joined their local Ellerslie Athletic Club.  Ross took other walkers with him, seriously weakening Striders.  Morrie Hinton and a few of us loyal to him remained, but the club was doomed and it folded shortly after.

Many lessons can be learnt from the demise of Striders.  I don't think I need to elucidate on what these lessons might be.  The fact that we in Racewalking Auckland have been able to avoid such pitfalls is good testimony to the people we have in our club today.

As the sixties drew to a close, and despite the failure of Striders to go the distance, Auckland race walking was about to enter a new and more dominant era.  Two performances during 1969  gave warning of this.  Kevin Taylor, a first year senior and having just moved to Auckland from Southland, finished third in the National 20 miles behind the country's leading race walkers, Owen Warner and Jim Trowell and Mike Parker.  Parker, at fifteen, appeared to have won the National Junior 10 km by a clear margin.  However, he was deprived of the title due to the error of officials who inadvertently had the finishing tape across the start finish line a lap too early.  When acquainted with this error, Parker had to make up a fifty metre deficit on the final lap.  Although unable to overhaul the leader, his finishing time of 52:38 was, like Taylor’s performance, a clear indicator that Auckland was about to enter a new era.

During the 1970's with the likes of Kevin Taylor, Ross Pilkington Jnr, Mike Parker, Shane Donnelly and the evergreen Morrie Hinton there was practically not a single major walking race held anywhere in the country where one or more of these Aucklanders didn't figure prominently.  But that’s a whole different story!

Mike Parker
May 2009