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Richard (Dick) Coombes (1858–1935)

Mr. Richard Coombes, who for many years has been an outstanding personality in amateur athletics and other branches of sport in Australia, died yesterday at his residence, 18 Rivers-street, Bellevue Hill. He was 80 years of age.

Mr. Coombes, who was known as the "father of athletics" in Australia, was born near London, and came to Australia in 1886. Immediately upon settling down in Sydney he became interested in sport. He was one of the original members of the New South Wales Amateur Athletic Association at its foundation in 1887. Until 1893 he was a vice-president, and since then held the office of president, a position he retained through the intervening years.

Mr. Coombes was hon. secretary and later captain of the Harefield (England) Hare and Hounds Club, with which organisation he competed as a cross-country runner. By the formation of the Sydney Harriers, cross-country running was revived in Australia in 1888, and he acted as one of the hares in the club's first run at Marrickville.

In that year Mr. Coombes formed the Sydney Amateur Walkers' Club, the first organisation of its kind in the colony. He had competed in England for 10 years as a heel and toe exponent, and was champion of the London Athletic Club. The rules of walking drafted by him were adopted later by the associations throughout Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. He was president of the Amateur Walking Union of Australia from its foundation, and occupied a similar position in the New South Wales Walkers' Club.

He led the first Australian team of athletes to New Zealand, which competed at Dunedin in 1889, and has completed 20 visits to the Dominion since. In 1895 Mr. Coombes managed a team to Rockhampton, and the tour was instrumental in bringing about the formation of the Queensland A.A.A. Two years later the Australasian Union was formed. He was president of that body, which originally included New Zealand until the secession of the Dominion, but retained his position when it became the Amateur Athletic Union of Australia. The first wire handled hammer was imported to Australia by Mr. Coombes that year, and in 1898 he had sent to him the first discus seen here.

In 1911 Mr. Coombes was manager of the Australian team at the Empire Games of London, and he was on many occasions in charge of the New South Wales representatives at the Australasian championships. In the local association for many years he held the positions of referee, starter, and handicapper respectively, in addition to acting as a judge of field games and walks.

For 31 years Mr. Coombes was a member of the International Olympic Committee, and for the greater part of that time he was the sole representative of Australia and New Zealand. Upon two occasions he was invited to act as judge of walking at the Olympic Games, but was unable to accept the offer. He was a member of the Australian Olympic Federation from its formation.

His interest in rifle shooting was keen. He was the only vice-president of the Metropolitan Rifle Club's Union. For 17 years captain of Sydney Rifle Club, he was a successful competitor, and was later president of that body. In 1927 Mr. Coombes received from that organisation a trophy inscribed "50 years a marksman."

Rowing and sculling also commanded his attention. Mr. Coombes competed in England, and was coach to a London rowing club. In Australia he became interested in amateur organisations, and as editor of the Referee acted as stakeholder for the majority of professional sculling races held here.

Mr. Coombes for 22 years was president of the New South Wales National Coursing Association, of which, with his brother, the late Mr. F. W. Coombes, he was one of the founders. For 17 years he acted as hon. slip steward. In 1917 his efforts resulted in the formation of the Australian Coursing Union, and he was president from its inauguration.

In England Mr. Coombes was captain of the Kingston on Thames Bicycle Club in the days of high wheel machines. He was a vice-president of the Sydney University and many other amateur athletic clubs, and occupied a similar position in the Athletic Union of the Great Public Schools. At the annual track and field championships of these organisations Mr. Coombes was a regular visitor, and usually acted as referee, until illness caused his absence.

Mr. Coombes is survived by a widow and a daughter. His remains will be cremated at Rookwood this afternoon.

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Citation details

'Coombes, Richard (Dick) (1858–1935)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 26 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Argus
  • Amesbury
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17 March, 1858
London, Middlesex, England


15 April, 1935 (aged 77)
Bellevue Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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