The Fastest Woman in the World

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Fastest woman

Basin Reserve, 11 December, 114/235/02, Evening Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library

 First published in FishHead, March 2015

Few places in Wellington are as rich in social history as the Basin Reserve. Nowadays it is regarded internationally as one of the world’s oldest and best cricket grounds. Since the 1860s cricket has always been its main purpose but for much of last century it doubled as a venue for all kinds of other sporting and cultural gatherings.

This photo shows an interprovincial athletics meeting in 1950. The crowds were there, though, to see a guest appearance from the world’s fastest woman, world record holder Marjorie Jackson from Australia. Earlier in the year  she had won four gold medals at the Empire Games in Auckland. Still to come were Olympic golds at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and further world records.

Beforehand there had been local rumours that she had not been racing much lately and there might be a local upset. But, as the photo shows, that was a very forlorn hope.  In fact, she beat her own 100-yard world record, although it did not count, as she had been wind assisted - swept along by one of Wellington's gale-force northerlies.

Elite women athletes were still somewhat of a novelty. In previous decades conservative sports administrators had decreed that women were not capable of such exertion, and Jackson’s visit still prompted some discussion in the sports pages about whether such achievements might make women less “feminine.”

Nowadays the Basin has been remodelled as a cricket oval, regarded by many as one of the best test match venues in the world. It is classed as an historic area by Heritage New Zealand, but that history is under some threat. The grand old stand shown here, built in 1923 and now housing the national cricket museum, may soon be demolished as an earthquake risk, after years of neglect. More worrying is Tranzit New Zealand’s ongoing determination to build a concrete flyover up against and overlooking the Basin’s northern face - despite that proposal being soundly rejected by a board of enquiry last year. A summer day on the Basin embankment could never be the same after that.

(The Athletics New Zealand National Track and Field Athletic Championships are on in Wellington this month, 6-8 March at Newtown Park)


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