• Kyle Vander-Kuyp meets with Percy Hobson for the first time since 1990. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Over half a century after making sporting history, Percy Hobson is still leaving a lasting impression on young athletes.
Melinda Boutkasaka

Living Black
22 Aug 2018 - 5:45 PM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2020 - 12:13 PM

Gundabooka man Percy Hobson was the first Indigenous athlete to ever win a Commonwealth Games gold medal.

At only 20 years old, the high jumper broke a record and made his country proud when he bounded over a 6’11 high bar at the 1962 games in Perth.

“It was relief. Didn’t sink in straight away, you know… I was just emotional. I didn’t cry or anything, I just felt really good,” said Mr Hobson.

“On the night I'd won it, mum never had any visitors ever. And that night the whole house was packed, people wishing her good and all that.”

Since then, athletes have been looking to him for inspiration.

Former Olympian Kyle Vander-Kuyp says Mr Hobson was a huge motivator for him to succeed.

“I’ve watched some of the footage of Percy training in a backyard. In his own facilities, (with) mattresses, but just the determination and the drive, the persistence," he told Living Black.

The Woromi and Yuin man first met the gold medallist in 1990 when his hurdling career was just starting out. He was in awe of Mr Hobson’s rise to the top despite the discrimination he faced at the time.

“I’m enormously proud [when] I think of the environment back in the 60s for all Indigenous people. On the sporting field, even if you were doing great things, you know... what was happening behind the scenes and how hard it was.”

Joel Baden is a 22-year-old high jumper who hopes to follow in Mr Hobson’s footsteps and win gold for his country.

“I think it’s great. I think stories like Percy’s are moments that get lost in history... especially lost on current athletes or even the public," he said.

While Mr Hobson has left a lasting impression on these athletes, his shy nature keeps him out of the spotlight.

Victor Bartley is on the board of the Bourke Shire Council and is an unabashed Percy Hobson fan. He says Mr Hobson put their town on the map and should be recognised for this feat.

“I'm 71 now [and people] still talk about Percy and what he did. They talk about him in awe, so he virtually put the Aboriginal people of Bourke on the map,” he said.

New records, gold medals and racism: Percy Hobson on becoming the first Indigenous person to win gold
For all his humble demeanour and intense shyness, Percy Hobson’s sporting career and achievements are more than worthy of attention.

His hometown is doing its bit to pay tribute to Mr Hobson's achievement. There's an entire section dedicated to the athlete at the visitor centre, the council has erected a sandstone memorial detailing his successes - and the plans don’t stop there.

“What I'm trying to do is raise some funds to get that iconic photo of Percy, when he's jumping over, on [a] tower, and I think it'd be a great idea to do it,” said Mr Bartley.

“There's got to be some money out there somewhere to show what we can do for one of our people who's done something and so much for his community and what he's achieved.”

Former Bourke resident and author Helen Coolican is also writing a biography on Mr Hobson’s life.

The pair speak every Monday, and Mr Hobson considers Ms Coolican to be an encyclopaedia on his life.

“Oh, it is definitely a labour of love. But it always has been to me that one of the most exciting things that I can remember about my childhood because the whole town went berserk,” she said.

“Here I am, 55 years after the event still excited by what happened and wanting to tell the story, so I think that proves something doesn’t it?”

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