Australian Paralympic History Project

For the first 30 years of the Paralympic movement in Australia, there was no umbrella organisation responsible for the Australian Paralympic Team or the Australian Paralympic movement.

In the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, the APC created a new approach to Paralympic sport by following the able-bodied model of elite sport development. This was rewarded when Australia topped the medal tally in Sydney. Paralympic sport in Australia was dynamic, young and forward looking.

But there was no way to pass on the torch – our teams and our athletes were not connected to the history of the movement and there so was no mechanisms to celebrate the achievements of the past in the context of the present. So in 2010, the APC established the Australian Paralympic History Project.

What is the Australian Paralympic History Project?

A project to capture, manage and preseve the history of the Paralympic movement in Australia in a way that is relevant, accessible and places the Paralympic movement within its broader social context.

We lack resources, so we:

INNOVATE – Find new ways to tell our story.

PARTNER WITH EXPERTS – We don’t have the necessary knowledge and skills, but others do.

ENGAGE OUR COMMUNITY – Our alumni have a key role because this is their story.

ENGAGE THE WIDER COMMUNITY – The broader community is touched by Paralympic sport and wants to contribute.

1960 Aussies pre-departure photoshopped LOW RES

Elements of the Australian Paralympic History Project

Oral histories

The history project commenced in 2010 with an approach to the National Library of Australia (NLA) to record the oral history of 1960 Paralympian Kevin Coombs. By June 2014, 42 interviews had been recorded under an agreement between the APC and NLA through its national history and folklore program.

The oral histories tell the stories of people who have played a significant role in the development of Paralympic sport in Australia from the 1950s to the present, including all eight 1960 Paralympians who were still alive in 2010.

These interviews are part of the NLA’s national collection.


The APC has a collection of more than 40,000 photos, most from 1992 to the present. Its collection of images from 1960 to 1992 is also growing as we connect with earlier athletes and team staff.

The APC aims to ensure that all images are stored digitally with appropriate metadata. Most images since 2000 are in digital format. Earlier photos, negatives and transparencies are being progressively scanned.

Photos with no monetary commercial value to the APC are released for universal use through Wikimedia Commons. Every time they are used, they promote the APC, Paralympic sport and Australia’s Paralympians.

By June 2014, 1,762 images had been shared through Wikimedia Commons.

Audio-visual collection

The audio-visual collection comprises Games footage, interviews with athletes, sponsor advertisements and footage of events.

Through a partnership with the National Sports Information Centre (NSIC), the collection has been digitised from a full range of diverse media formats onto DVDs and hard drive, cataloged and stored at the NSIC.

Scrapbook scans

Much history is revealed through the personal stories and details of the participants. Scrapbooks and photo collections of Paralympians provide context and interest to their stories.

When these are loans to the APC, they are scanned and filed for use in the history project and future reproduction when required. The APC holds scans of the scrapbooks and ephemera collections of Australia’s first male and female gold medallists and other athletes, team medical staff and administrators.


From Australia’s first Paralympic gold medal and the bow and arrows used to win it, through to the uniforms of the 2014 winter Games team, the APC is assembling a collection of items of significance to the Paralympic movement in Australia.

The APC works with the National Sports Museum to conserve and manage this collection, some of which is on display in the Museum in Melbourne, pending the establishment of an Australian Paralympic museum. Most of the collection is currently housed in the APC’s archive in Canberra.


The APC library is a unique collection of 1,312 cataloged items on shelves in the APC office. It includes books about Paralympic sport and Paralympians, results from international competition, including the Paralympic Games, magazines, reports, submissions and proposals relating to the APC and Paralympic sport.

The library is cataloged through the NSIC and the Clearinghouse for Sport, which means that all items in the APC library are fully discoverable online, with subsequent access controlled by the APC.


Ongoing contact with the members of Australia’s Paralympic teams is a measure of the maturity of the Paralympic movement in Australia.

Almost a quarter of Australia’s Paralympic alumni are members of the alumni Facebook group. Birthdays are recognised through social media and face-to-face activities are planned to strengthen the relationship between the APC and the alumni.

Alumni are involved in the history project as contributors, especially through Wikipedia. The APC also supports a role for the alumni as ongoing ambassadors for, and contributors to, the Paralympic movement in Australia.

Australian Paralympic Hall of Fame

The Australian Paralympic Hall of Fame was established in 2011 by the APC to recognise individuals who have, over time, made a significant contribution to Australia’s Paralympic success; enhance the profile and understanding of Paralympic sport and Paralympic athletes within the Australian community; and promote the role of the Paralympic movement within the development of Australian sport and society.

Team reunions

Team reunions are important in helping the APC connect with its alumni. The APC has held reunions for the 1960 and 1964 Teams, in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Each Team competed, and most of their members retired decades before the APC came into existence. The reunions also provide an opportunity to connect current Paralympic athletes with Paralympic pioneers.

Following the reunions held so far, the APC has also benefited from donations of objects, loans of scrapbooks and photos, and contributions to the oral history project.

Sport history posters

The University of Canberra and the APC have combined to create posters which tell the Australian history of each sport currently supported by the APC.

In London 2012 and Sochi 2014, these posters formed part of the decoration of the Australian allotment in the Paralympic Games Athletes Village, helping the athletes and other Team members to learn the history of their sports in an environment where it was relevant and poignant.

The 2014 alpine skiing posters were also available for download from the APC’s education website so that schools, clubs and individuals could have them cheaply printed and put on display.


Since 2010, the APC has enjoyed a relationship with Wikimedia Australia, the parent body for Wikipedia in Australia.

In 2010, there were few articles on Paralympic sport in Wikipedia compared to Olympic sport, and very few articles on the Paralympic movement in Australia. Now, more than 47 volunteer Wikipedia editors create and update Paralympic content. The APC coordinates exchanges of information to ensure that needs are addressed. The APC, with UQ and Wikimedia Australia runs 1-3 workshops annually for new and existing editors.

The project has created almost 900 new articles, including ones about every Australian Paralympic medallist, all members of the 2012 and 2014 Teams and all articles about classification in the English language Wikipedia. During the London Games, these articles were viewed more than 1.9 million times.


Cowbird is a vehicle to tell stories using photos, audio and text. It can be used to create a story collection to tell the stories of a particular group. The APC is working with Cowbird to present the stories of the Paralympic Oral History project interviewees in the same way, using extracts from the interviews and then linking to the full oral history interviews.

This will be a unique way of drawing attention to the oral histories and bringing the stories of Australia’s Paralympic community to audiences.

Based on the success of this project, the APC plans to offer the opportunity to every Australian Paralympic to tell their story through a Cowbird collaboration.

Centre for Paralympic Studies

The APC has established the Australian Centre for Paralympic Studies to:

– Capture and manage information about Paralympic sport, including collecting and managing historical and ongoing records and data.

– Control and coordinate Paralympic research in Australia to benefit the APC.

– Encourage, promote and give prominence to Paralympic research.

The APC seeks to accredit universities which it can work with to promote research into, and teaching about, Paralympic sport.

Written history

The narrative contained within the written history of the Paralympic movement in Australia will wind through the history project, connecting its elements in a multidimensional tapestry.

The online narrative will link to Wikipedia articles about athletes and other key participants; it will link to photos; it will link to the oral histories, to videos: and it will reference the APC’s physical collections such as memorabilia and the library.

The written history will utilise recent successful online storytelling techniques to tell the story of the Australian Paralympic movement in a compelling way that can be accessed linearly or non-linearly. A “print on demand” book is also planned.

The APC has commissioned the University of Queensland to create the written history. UQ has received additional funding through a National Research Council grant of $240,000 for the project, which is seen as an innovative way of telling history.