The news of the death of Betty Cuthbert this week reminded me of a special connection between the Olympian and one of our own Shoalhaven Aboriginal elders.
Now in her seventies, Aunty Ruth Brown can not only say she knew Betty Cuthbert, but that she was one of the few to have beaten her in a foot race.
As a young girl growing up in North Nowra, Ruth dreamed of being a runner, and wrote a letter to her idol Betty Cuthbert.
Today, Ruth lives at Rose Mumbler village, and though her health is not the best, staff say she still talks about Betty and the friendship they shared.
In 2010, Ruth told me how Betty had taken her under her wing.
“I wrote to Betty Cuthbert in Sydney. I said I wanted to be like her. I said, I’ve got no one to coach me. She wrote back. She said, ‘you get yourself up here’.
“Her family lived at Dundas and they were a beautiful family. I stayed with them on weekends. Betty had a twin sister, they had their own cottage out the back. They couldn’t get over how long my hair was. It was that long I could sit on it. They used to brush it, it was all curls.
“I was 19 and Betty must have been about 23 or 24. She said to me, ‘you can win gold, you’ve got the stamina’. I pipped her at the post once in the 200 metres. Just once. We stayed in touch after I gave up my spikes. She’d write to me and I’d write to her.”
Ruth was born in 1943 and grew up in Page Avenue.
“Growing up, the other girls just wanted to talk about getting married and having babies. I didn’t want that. My brother wanted his little sister to be prim and proper, but I didn’t want to be. I just wanted to play sport.”