Class of 1955
Herb Elliott is arguably one of the greatest Australian athletes to come through Aquinas. The same year he was Head Prefect (1955) he broke the Australia Junior 880 yard record up against boys two years his senior.
It was a taste of things to come and he went on to dominate middle distance running in Australia and the world from 1957 to 1961. During this period, he set the world record for the mile and then the 1500 metres.
Herb won gold for Australia in the 1960 Rome Olympics, bettering his own world record. He never lost a 1500 metres or a mile race over this period.
Herb’s journey to greatness began on the oval at Aquinas College, as he said: “I’d been brought up a Catholic at Aquinas College in Perth and you’re constantly confronted by this idea of being a better person. That appealed to me. My motivation was very pure. I wanted to be a better human being. That was my number one thing.” On leaving Aquinas College, Coach Percy Cerutty trained him solidly at Portsea near Melbourne and ingrained in him the need to push through “the lactic acid stage” saying: “it’s only pain”!
Herb was not just an outstanding sportsman; he was also a born leader and was praised for the way he led the Athletics team and the College prefects of 1955. On leaving Aquinas, he studied at Cambridge University, was married and had his first child in quick succession. He secured his first role at Shell and went on to take up several big non-executive roles in his business life.
His very strong moral compass has been a dominant driver throughout his life. Herb once returned a clock to the French Embassy in protest of French nuclear testing in the Australian desert. In August 1962, it brought him controversy again when he refused a $250,000 carrot to joining UN publicist-promoter Leo Leavitt’s offer to turn professional. Looking back his big takeaway from an outstanding athletic career is “If you were going to grow, your motivation had to be more than just winning or getting money.”