The athletics community mourns the passing of Charlie Booth.
Charlie passed away in the early hours on Tuesday morning at the age of 104.
Charlie was born on 1 October 1903 and was a champion runner in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Charlie left school at 14, became an apprentice fitter and turner and later worked as an engineer, he played one game for North Melbourne and won numerous world masters titles in the 1980’s and 1990’s. He still holds the Australian records for 100m for Men 85 (16.98secs) and Men 95 (28.57secs), the latter set in 2002.
He made regular visits to Stawell for the annual Stawell Easter carnival, from his first appearance in 1921 until his last in 1938. He finished second in the 220 yards hurdles race in 1938 before returning the following year to win the same event.
Charlie attended the past ten Gift carnivals with his son Neville who is responsible for the sound system at Central Park each Easter. And even this Easter just past, at 104, Charlie could be seen helping out with the cables, or sitting in the secretaires tent on Central Park watching intently the goings on at the 127th Easter Carnival.
He instinctively put his hand up to run in the special ”Old Man’s” race at the 125th Anniversary Carnival in 2006, until he decided that the spring in his step had deserted him and he was better served simply watching from the sidelines.
He said at the time that the sound of winning the pig on offer as first prize was worth running for.
Along with the his annual pilgrimages to Stawell he was also a fixture courtside at the Kooyong Classic tennis tournament, and just like at Stawell he was fussed over by generations of stars, officials and friends.
Famously, after being bashed on the way home from a party in St Kilda he lay “dead” on a mortuary table, until he decided it was time to go home, scarring the life out of a cleaner on duty.
Whether this story lies in the same category as the one about him inventing the starting blocks, will perhaps now never be fully verified.
However on the subject of the latter, Athletics Australia historian and statistician Paul Jenes wrote in his history of Australian Athletics, ‘Fields of Green, Lanes of Gold’ that 1929 was a year of great significance as “it was the year Charlie Booth invented the starting blocks.”
According to Jenes, he invented them with help from his father when he couldn’t do starting practice on the lawn at home, as in those days athletes simply dug holes. Both professional and amateur bodies banned their use declaring them a mechanical aid, before the women’s association gave approval in 1937.
He patented them in Australia in 1940, but couldn’t afford a worldwide patent.
Charlie’s wife Catherine passed away in 1996 and along with his only son Neville he divided his time between the Gold Coast and Melbourne.
“He started to go downhill after Easter,” Neville said from the Gold Coast.
“He usually picks up once he gets up here but this year he didn’t. He went to hospital on Sunday and passed away just after midnight on Tuesday.”
Neville said his father would be farewelled in a private cremation as per his wishes.
“He didn’t want people to worry about having to travel to the Gold Coast or to Melbourne for his funeral; he just wanted to slip out the back door.”
“He always said he wanted to be remembered as a guy who leaves with a good reputation.”
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