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The Department's history

The department has developed through a number of stages during its 50 years.

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The Department of Sport and Recreation story

Our Department has developed through a number of stages during its 50 years. These stages included:

Although the original organisation has grown and, in some ways, changed its operation, it has maintained a strong tradition of:

  • emphasising physical activity, health and recreation
  • community education and development
  • leader training.

Unlike some other government departments, we have emerged from a "total service" background and we maintain this strong emphasis. (Our only regulating role, by the way, is our link with the Boxing Commission).

The following is an outline of our history since our humble beginnings in 1939, when we had a staff of two, used some borrowed furniture and a typewriter of doubtful pedigree. 

1939 National Fitness Council of WA

The development of a recreation service in Western Australia had its earliest beginnings in the National Fitness movement in 1939.

The National Fitness movement in Australia emerged from a need to prepare Australians to fight in the Second World War but, as foreshadowed by Sir Frederick Stewart, economic and social development in peacetime has placed a new emphasis on the importance of recreation.

The start of the National Fitness in Australia was marked by the inaugural meeting of the Commonwealth National Coordinating Council for Physical Fitness in Melbourne in January, 1939. In WA the first general meeting of the National Fitness Council of Western Australia was held in February, 1940. The Council operated under the chairmanship of the Minister for Health, Alexander Panton, until January, 1944, when the Premier, John Willcock, disbanded the council and appointed a new one. The new council, which was announced on 23 March, 1944, then became part of the portfolio of the Minister for Education, John Tonkin.

The National Fitness Act of Western Australia was passed on 27 December 1945.

Voluntary committees

As the National Fitness Council operated on a very limited budget, it depended heavily on voluntary workers and worked with a series of committees which frequently co-opted people with special skills.

Among these early committees were the Greater Peron Development Committee, the Associated Sporting Committee and the Associated Youth Committee which had their own constitutions with membership comprising of nominees of affiliated organisations.

The National Fitness Council's role in the affairs of these associated committees was that of a catalyst and sponsor and the committees provided a channel through which the Council's ideas and projects could be promoted. The Council helped the affiliated voluntary associations to help themselves with equipment grants and loans, clerical services and provided advice through its professional staff.

Other committees where The Ways and Means Committee, later to be re-named the Finance and Administration Committee, and the Physical Training Committee which became the Leader Training Committee.

A Recreation Committee was formed in 1950 to advise the Council on "all matters concerned with the preservation and development of adequate recreation spaces in both metropolitan and country areas". This committee advised local authorities on recreation areas, open spaces for various sports and the siting of swimming pools. It also acted on behalf of individual groups by making many successful approaches to local authorities, Town Planning etc., for playing fields and other recreational facilities.

The Playgrounds Committee was formed in 1943 and experimental playgrounds were established during summer school vacations. These playcentres were continued on a small scale for some years until public concern grew for the increasing number of "latchkey" children. Each year playcentres were introduced into new areas reaching a peak of over 50 centres in the mid-1970s. However, from that time the financing and management of the playcentres were taken over gradually by local authorities.

The Associated Sporting Committee

The Associated Sporting Committee evolved out of a loosely defined relationship between the Amateur Sporting Federation of Western Australia and a sub-committee set up by the National Fitness Council in 1940. This sports sub-committee gradually assumed most of the functions of the Amateur Sporting Federation, which became almost defunct towards the latter part of the forties.

In April 1950, the National Fitness Council resolved to form the Associated Sporting Committee and state sports associations were invited to formulate a constitution and elect a committee. Representatives of twenty-three sports responded.

Initially, and for many years, the role of the Associated Sporting Committee was as a channel through which the National Fitness Council implemented its policies. The Council financed the committee's work and provided administrative organisational back-up which resulted in many years of successful co-operation between the two organisations. A technical library of coaching books and films was created, a WA sports dictionary compiled and, in 1953, a series of "schools for coaches", which were a resounding success, signalled the start of the coaching accreditation scheme aimed at raising standards of coaching. Tours by State coaches and coaching clinics were organised and a number of prominent coaches, some from overseas (such as Pancho Gonzales and Balkrishan Singh) visited WA.

This program was a forerunner of the present Coach-In-Residence scheme. The Sportsman of the Year Award, which has continued to the present day, was established by the Associated Sporting Committee in 1956. 

From the establishment of the Community Recreation Council in 1973, the role of the Associated Sporting committee began to change until, in 1976, the sports associations opted for a completely autonomous and separate body and the Western Australian Sports Federation was formed. It was financed by the Community Recreation Council and still receives financial assistance from the Department.

Recreation Camps

As camping was recognised to be an ideal environment for recreational activity, leader training and community living, the development of camps was supported from the outset by both Commonwealth and State National Fitness Councils. To organise this, a Camps and Hostels Committee was formed, and the first State Youth camp was officially opened at Bickley by the then Minister for Education, John Tonkin, in 1945. The following year the Council acquired a former military camp at Point Peron.

Youth Council

The National Fitness Act of 1945 specified that the National Fitness Council should become "the instrument through which the government of the State may co-operate with recognised voluntary youth organisations in the development of youth service", and it was to "encourage through recreational and other community activities a strong spirit of community service".

Prior to 1939 a number of voluntary youth organisations had been in operation in WA, the Junior Farmers' Federation (now "Police and Citizens") was started and other youth organisations subsequently formed the Youth Welfare movement which in 1942 became the Associated Youth Committee of the National Fitness Council. 

By 1945 the Associated Youth Committee had grown to a total of 30 delegates, each from permanent and independent voluntary youth organisations.

As this wider interest in youth developed, the functions of the National Fitness Council began to fall into two definite areas, physical education and youth education through co-ordination, stimulation and assistance to voluntary youth organisations.

Associated Youth Committee activities in these early years included "youth nights", where films were shown and prominent citizens invited to speak, a Pageant of Youth, religious services, dinners and exhibitions, courses in debating and public speaking, residential youth conferences and rallies.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Associated Youth Committee's role was being challenged by young people who saw its role as either a forum for youth and other combined youth organisations, or as a potential political lobby.

The Youth Council of Western Australia was formed as a result of a request in 1962 from the Associated Youth Committee to the Minister for Education, which was delivered through the National Committee then to the National Fitness Council which then communicated  to the Minister, for a committee to be appointed to investigate the needs of youth in WA. The results of a survey by this committee revealed that existing services fell far short of the needs.

It was discovered that voluntary youth organisations catered for far less numbers of the 14-19 age group than what was generally though, the contact they did have was too fleeting to achieve any significant impact and the voluntary organisations lacked trained staff, facilities and the finance required to be able to do their work adequately.

The investigating committee recommended to the government that it is "urgent" for there to be an establishment of a comprehensive and co-ordinated youth service in Western Australia and that a youth council be established to act as the controlling body for the implementation of the youth service. 

In 1964 the Youth Service Act was passed and the Youth Council of WA was established in March 1965 and, in the words of the Hon E H Lewis, Minister for Education:

"It was decided that the National Fitness council was already fully engaged with its present duties and could not reasonably be expected to accept this added responsibility. It is proposed therefore that initially an entirely separate organisation should be set up. It is conceivable that when the youth council is properly established there will be a tendency for the two councils to come together and ultimately unite". 

1973  Community Recreation Council

In 1973, this is exactly what happened. The Youth, community Recreation and National Fitness Act was passed and the Youth Council and the National Fitness Council combined to form the Youth, Community Recreation and National Fitness Council. This was shortened in general usage to Community Recreation Council (or CRC).

1979 Department for Youth, Sport and Recreation

The Youth, Community Recreation and National Fitness Act of 1972 was replaced by the Youth, Sport and Recreation Act in 1978. As a result  on the 1st January 1979 the Community Recreation Council became the Department for Youth, Sport and Recreation and more directly under the control of the Minister for Education, Cultural Affairs and Recreation.

It comprised of the same staff, who worked under thet same Director and Deputy Director, however, the State Government recognised the value of the collective and individual expertise of the members and a number of them became members of an advisory committee, set up to advise the Minister. This Youth, Sport and Recreation Advisory Committee was formed under the chairmanship of the previous Council chairman, Mr Harry Dettman. Subsequently, this committee established a number of sub-committees as follows:

  • Youth Sub-Committee
  • Sport Sub-Committee
  • Community Recreation Sub-Committee

Because its functions overlapped those of the Institute of Sport Advisory Board, established in March 1980, the Sport Sub-Committee was subsequently dissolved.

As a result of Professor J Bloomfield's report on the Development of Sport in Western Australia, the Western Australian Institute of Sport was established in March 1980, as a branch of the Department.

With the establishment of the Department came a period of rationalisation and consolidation, a major organisational change being the creation of three easily identifiable divisions. The Recreation Advisers Division continued to be supervised by a co-ordinator and two similar positions were created - a Co-ordinator of Developmental Services and a Senior Administrative Officer.


As demand for the Department's services continued unabated, it became clear that a more economic and equitable rationalisation was needed.

As from July 1, 1982, a complete restructuring of the Department saw the establishment of an extensive regional service throughout the State. 

In addition to five regional offices already operating from Albany, Bunbury, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie and Karratha, offices were established at Carnarvon, Kununurra, Narrogin and Northam, plus a metropolitan regional service at Perry Lakes.

This wider spread of staff ensured that the Department's services and programmes would be more readily available to the community.

This became increasingly evident in relation to the Department's grant aid programmes. The expanded regional scheme enabled local government authorities and community groups to discuss, on the spot, plans and applications for financial assistance with experienced, professional staff. 

The extension of the regional scheme also resulted in an improved delivery of specific departmental services, particularly in the areas of sports education, recreation programmes for elderly people living in care situations and health and fitness education.

Recreation for older adults

A significant initiative during the 1982-83 financial year was the establishment of a branch to promote recreation for older adults. The efforts, in the areas of the elderly, the disabled and the infirm aged provided an improved balance to the Department's services and stimulated many mature-aged adults to contact the Department for advice and assistance. 

While the programmes devised and promoted by the Department for the benefit of older people in care were invaluable to the staff and residents of such institutions, it became increasingly clear that some 85 per cent of those over 50 were well and mobile, with a further 10 per cent retaining their independence in the community.

The Life. Be In It. campaign had created an awareness by the family (i.e. mum, dad and the children) of a wide range of activities they could enjoy, but the recreational needs of the grandparents had been largely overlooked. The Department encouraged mature-age groups to form their own organisations: 


A major initiative in 1982 was the introduction of the Sports Culture Instant Lottery. The proceeds enabled the State Government to increase funding for sport and cultural activities in Western Australia, ensuring all levels of participation and performance received adequate help, including the elite individual performer or team, sports clubs in remote country areas, children's sport, veterans' competitions and sport for the disabled. 

Under guidelines carefully developed with sports organisations, the Department assisted in areas such as coach education, travel to national championships, equipment subsidy and hosting major events.

Of great significance was the decision to subsidise the salary of executive and administrative officers of sports associations. This was a constant request from these organisations and led to a rapid growth in the number of salaried personnel working in the "sports industry". 

With the change of government in 1983 and the appointment of a new Minister for Sport and Recreation came the establishment of a number of advisers and advisory committees to replace the Departmental Youth, Sport and Recreation Advisory Committee, and its three separate sub-committees plus the Sports Instant Lottery Distribution Advisory Committee.

The new advisory committees were the WA Sports Council and the WA Recreation Council.

In addition, as a further development in the provision of increased resources for elite sports people, a new Western Australian Institute of Sport was established. This differed from the previous WAIS in that, initially, it would cater for a limited number of sports, with other sports being admitted as finance became available. It was to concentrate on those elite sports people with the potential to represent Western Australia at State and National level and function as a departmental base of the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. The original WA Institute of Sport no longer functioned as a branch of the Department.

The Department focused on junior sport and the education of parents and coaches, together with the modification of rules, playing areas and equipment to suit juniors. The Department had a vital role to play in this regard and was already recognised as a leader in this field in Australia.

Life. Be In It.

Withdrawal of Federal government support of the Life. Be In It. campaign in 1981 saw the Department's involvement reduced considerably. 

The campaign was taken up again as a private enterprise concern based in Victoria in 1982, with the Director of this Department, John Graham, representing Western Australia on its Board of Directors.

Within the Department, the responsibility for maintaining the momentum of the campaign rested with the Community and the Occupational Fitness Branch.

Life. Be In It. has always been viewed as an ideal marketing tool to further the work of the Department in encouraging positive attitudes to health and physical well-being.

Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme

This became an independent, non-government agency in 1981.

1985 Department for Sport and Recreation

With the establishment in 1985 of the State government's new Youth Affairs Bureau, which assumed responsibility for some of the coordinating and information services for youth provided previously by the Department, the time was ripe for a change in name.

This was especially desirable in view of the confusion caused by the inclusion of "Youth" in the title.

As the Department was providing numerous services and programmes to the total community, the new name, Department for Sport and Recreation (which received official approval from the Governor of WA on May 21, 1985) reflected more accurately the scope of these services and programs.

1990 Ministry of Sport and Recreation

During 1990/91 the newly-named "Ministry", in conjunction with many other "co-workers" in the sport and recreation fields, had achieved a number of successes:

  • worked with the Sports Council on the continuing development of a Sports Plan for Western Australia;
  • in conjunction with the Sports Council, Sports Federation and Sports Associations identified priorities and a suggested framework to assist the Health Promotion Framework, when it was established in February 1991, develop its funding guidelines for sport and recreation;
  • conducted a number of seminars and training programs to assist Sport Associations and members of those associations, and on request worked with Associations on management, restructuring and other issues;
  • pursued a number of initiatives in junior and aboriginal sport, with substantial increases in the number of participants in the programs;
  • established and assisted a working party prepare a report for the Minister on major sporting facilities entitled "Planning for International Standard Sport Facilities";
  • significantly improved our working links with local government authorities in the metropolitan area, to develop and enhance "co-worker" initiatives in recreation;
  • continued to advance the concept of Wellness in the community with the establishment of a Wellness Branch, a Wellness Foundation and a number of visiting speakers who addressed over 7000 people;
  • undertaken a number of research projects in both sport and recreation.

One of the key overall thrusts of the Ministry had been leadership development of our youth. While the community attention is often directed, quite justifiably, to the problems associated with juvenile crime, this caused people to overlook the tremendously successful development opportunities provided by sport and recreation. Through an increased range of specific programs offered by the Junior Sport Development Unit, Aboriginal Sport Unit, recreation and regional staff, an expanding number of young leaders were being developed. Exciting results were achieved.

The Ministry also adopted a community development approach, which emphasises skilling and resourcing the community, rather than simply providing ongoing services to the community.

2000 Sport and Recreation Way2Go

Policy Development

The organisation continued to provide active leadership in policy development. Projects completed included:

  • Child protection policies and initiatives in the sport and recreation industry. Several briefings for staff and industry were held and the resource kit was re-printed. A staff member was trained as a Harassment Free Sport Contact Officer.
  • Diving and snorkelling draft codes of practice were developed and presented to the public for comment and ongoing development. The codes evolved from a recommendation of the Underwater Recreational Diving Taskforce that was accepted by the Government in late 2000.
  • Ticket scalping. Preliminary research revealed that this was not an issue of major concern in Western Australia and the Government decided not to proceed with legislation until there is a demonstrated need supported by key sporting bodies.

Western Australian Sport and Recreation Council

The Western Australian Sport and Recreation Council oversaw several key projects during the year, with executive support provided by Sport and Recreation. However, as a result of a reviw of government departments, statutory authorities, boards and committees, the Council was disbanded on 31 July 2001.

2001 Department of Sport and Recreation

Policy Development

  • Strategic framework for high performance sport (Future Success – A Strategic Plan for High Performance Sport) prepared by the Independent High Performance Working Group. It contained 22 recommendations to improve support services to the high-performance sector to ensure WA had sustainable high-performance outcomes.
  • Diving and snorkelling draft codes of practice. The codes were launched in December 2001.
  • Water safety A framework for Western Australia commenced.

Risk management

The Department provided ongoing leadership and support in the Government’s response to public liability and insurance issues, particularly in relation to sport and recreation.

The Department:

  • Contributed to and was represented on four State Government working parties to explore options for the sustainable management of public liability insurance.
  • Was represented on the Standing Committee on Recreation and Sport (SCORS) working party on public liability to develop long-term strategies for the sport and recreation industry.
  • Provided regular updates to stakeholders on developments relating to public liability insurance and how it impacts on the sport and recreation industry.

Physical Activity Taskforce

The Department hosted the Premier’s Physical Activity Taskforce secretariat. The Taskforce had responsibility to develop and implement a 10-year whole-of-government, whole-of-community physical activity strategy for Western Australia. The target is to achieve a five per cent increase in physical activity levels throughout Western Australia by 2011. Following extensive community consultation, the Taskforce prepared a Strategic Direction Report for Cabinet consideration.

In November 2001, Cabinet asked the Taskforce, in conjunction with the Departments of Health, Education, Transport, and Sport and Recreation, to prepare implementation plans.

Facilities planning and development

The Department’s Facilities Branch initiated a series of seminars targeting those who operate and manage sport and recreation facilities in Western Australia. The first stage (28 facilities) of a review of 84 regional aquatic facilities, undertaken in partnership with local governments, was completed. This review, when fully completed, will provide an independent appraisal of the status of the facilities and provide an assessment of the future needs of these ageing aquatic centres.

Sport and Recreation Ministers’ Council (SRMC)

Western Australia is a member of the Ministers’ Council and continued to make an important contribution to the direction of sport and recreation policy and service provision in Australia. Each State and territory government reports to the Ministers’ Council through the Standing Committee on Recreation and Sport (SCORS). Issues included:

  • Insurance and public liability;
  • Risk management guidelines for sport and recreation organisations;
  • Water safety;
  • Aboriginal reconciliation;
  • National audit for sport and recreation facilities.


The Department provided consultancy services to 104 State sporting associations, a variety of recreation organisations and local governments throughout the State. There were more than 1600 consultations with identified clients during the year providing advice on the following areas:

  • Management 
  • Governance
  • The change process
  • Policy development and implementation
  • Sport development
  • Legal issues

Recreation peak sector bodies

The Department committed physical and financial resources to the development of community recreation, including:

  • Facilitating a review to develop close partnerships and alliances between WA’s five peak recreation bodies (Leisure Institute of Western Australia Recreation, Parks and Leisure Australia WA, LIWA Aquatics, Fitness WA and Outdoors WA). The review recommended that an umbrella management body for recreation be established and to be supported by a secretariat.
  • Working with Fitness WA and the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection to establish a code of practice for the fitness industry in Western Australia.
  • Working with Parks and Leisure Australia (WA) and LIWA Recreation to facilitate a merger of the two bodies.
  • Working with Outdoors WA to implement the National Outdoor Leader Registration Scheme; the Australian Organisation Registration Scheme; the National Training Framework; transferring the Abseiling Instructors Course from the Department to registered training organisations; and the Outdoor Pursuits Enquiry.
  • Coordinating industry forums for the underwater dive sector.

Regional support

Consultancy services were also provided to a number of regional organisations and local governments. All regional offices conducted Club Development Scheme workshops, focussing on risk management, insurance and public liability.


Goal: Physically active lifestylesfor Western Australians

The Physical Activity Task Force

The Department hosted the Physical Activity Taskforce secretariat. Key achievements included:

  • Completion of widespread community consultation;
  • Submission to Cabinet of Strategic Directions,a 10-year strategic plan to increase the physical activity levels of Western Australians by five per cent:
  • Formulation of a whole-of-Government implementation plan for 2002/2003; and

Physical activity working parties were established in four regions, and participation initiatives were created.

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