Historian delves into Coast’s sporting heritage

University of the Sunshine Coast

A University of the Sunshine Coast researcher who is investigating the Sunshine Coast’s sporting history hopes her work will also shed light on other important aspects of the region’s past.

Kate Kirby (pictured above) has been appointed Historian in Residence – Heritage Library by Sunshine Coast Council to explore the topic ‘Sunshine Coast gold 1901-2021: local high-performing athletes winning on the world stage’.

Ms Kirby, who is a history academic and a PhD student at USC, said while the Coast had produced plenty of successful athletes, they were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to understanding the region’s sporting prowess.

“They’re the ones that make the podium and win the gold. But what I’m really interested in is what’s underneath that – what does the community do to enable athletes from this area to be on the world stage?” she said.

Ms Kirby plans to look carefully at the history of other aspects of grassroots sport, including local clubs, coaches, administrators, business sponsors and volunteers.

“That’s really where the story usually is,” she said. “History shows it’s often a community effort, or at least a family effort, to get athletes winning on that high-performing stage. It can’t be in isolation, especially when you’re not in a capital city.

“The Sunshine Coast has a long sporting history, going back to Indigenous sport, games, and play, and it is interesting to explore how sport of today is informed by games and play of the past.”

Ms Kirby said sport was a great vehicle for exploring wider society and hoped her research would provide insights into other aspects of the Sunshine Coast’s past.

“I think for a lot of people, sport history is very relatable. It piques interest in looking at different periods of society,” she said.

“Like other forms of social history, including food, music, or dance history, sport history gives you that ‘in’ and lets you explore some of the wider social patterns of the time and helps you consider how and why things change.”

Her PhD supervisor and USC Senior Lecturer in History Dr Amy Clarke said Ms Kirby’s project was likely to unearth valuable information about our sporting past, which will have special value in the lead up to the 2032 Olympics.

“Kate is taking an innovative approach to her research and to this residency,” Dr Clarke said.

“She has developed her own digital humanities tools for unearthing and analysing data and is proving how valuable a humanities education can be in the digital age.

“USC History has long been an eager collaborator with Sunshine Coast Council, including via the Council-sponsored student prizes that are on offer each year for USC Heritage students, so we are thrilled that we have another opportunity to further build this relationship.”

Ms Kirby will write three stories and make three public presentations before her residency concludes in June. The community is invited to contribute by emailing information to [email protected] or phoning 5420 8600.

People can also meet Ms Kirby at a Historians in Residence community open day on Wednesday 23 February from 9.30-11.30am at Bankfoot House Heritage Precinct, Glass House Mountains, and from 1-3.30pm at the Heritage Library, Nambour.

Registration is required, with in-person or by phone meetings available. To register and to learn more about Sunshine Coast Council’s Historian in Residence program visit heritage.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/Programs-and-Events/Historian-in-Residence

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