When the first team of athletes with a disability left Australia’s shores to compete in the 1957 Stoke Mandeville Games, the administration and nomination of the team was easily managed by Dr George Bedbrook and his staff at the Royal Perth Hospital. Bedbrook, as the director of Australia’s first spinal unit, had been issued the invitation in person as a challenge by Ludwig Guttmann, the director of the spinal unit at Stoke Mandeville, and he took it upon himself to oversee the selection and management of the team.
By 1960, there were spinal units in several states, all using variations of the Guttmann philosophy of sport as a vehicle “to transform a hopeless and helpless spinally paralysed individual into a taxpayer.”
One of the outcomes of the success of spinal units was that people with paraplegia and quadriplegia now often survived their injuries and were able to be reintegrated into the community. To support them once they left the hospital environment, paraplegic and quadriplegic associations were established in states with spinal units. As sport was such a major part of rehabilitation, it was inevitable that these associations played a major role in developing national sporting competitions.
In 1960, the various state associations got together to form the Australian Paraplegic Council (which later became the the Australian Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Council). As part of its responsibilities, the Australian Paraplegic Council took on responsibility for selecting and organising international sporting teams.
In the early years, the same people who oversaw the rehabilitation of people with spinal injuries also sat on the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Council. For them, making selection decisions and arrangements for sporting events was just an extension of their broader role in assisting the rehabilitation and reintegration into society of people with spinal injuries.
The first of these events was the 1960 National Paraplegic Games, held in Melbourne in March 1960. Teams attended from Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. These Games were the selection event for the 1960 Paralympics.
After these first Games, national championships that were variously referred to as the Australian Paraplegic (and Quadriplegic) Games or the National Wheelchair Games were held every two years – in Melbourne (1960, 1970), Sydney (1962, 1972), Adelaide (1964, 1973), Brisbane (1966) and Perth (1968). They were held leading up to major international games – the Paralympics and Commonwealth Paraplegic Games – and served as national selection trials.
A process was in place to select Australia’s Paralympic Teams.
The Australian Paraplegic Council was established. Its roles included organising a National Paraplegic Games and selecting a team from those Games to attend the 1960 Paralympics.
Date: March 1960