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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Norman, Clara (Decima) (1909–1983)

by Sally Cawley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Clara (Decima) Norman (1909–1983), athlete, was born on 19 September 1909 in West Perth and adopted at an early age by Francis James Norman, gardener, and his wife Elizabeth Young Norman, from Jolimont.  Named Clara, but known as Decima, at the age of 6 she moved with her family to a farm at Tammin.  She completed her education as a boarder (1923-25) at Perth College, where she showed a talent for all sports; she was school and interschool athletics champion in 1925, and she competed in swimming carnivals and played netball and hockey.

Working as a clerk, Decima continued to participate in various sports, including surf lifesaving, but remained passionate about athletics.  As there was no regular organised competition for women in Perth, she trained by herself on the Swan River foreshore.  Impressed by her tenacity, a former professional athlete, Frank Preston, began coaching her in 1932, and for seven years remained an important influence on her sporting career.  Decima won the women’s 100- and 220-yards events in the inaugural Western Australian championships in 1932, and again in 1933, in times similar to those of the best athletes in the eastern States.  Because there was no local women’s club registered with the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association of Australia, she was barred from selection in the Australian team for the 1934 British Empire Games and the 1936 Olympic Games.  She was included in the 1935 State women’s hockey team.

A modest, petite brunette, 5 ft 2 ins (158 cm) tall and weighing 7 st. 12 lb. (48 kg), Norman was known as 'Dashing Dess'.  She raced in Perth and on the eastern seaboard, sometimes in special events arranged to compare her times with those of other athletes.  In 1937 she helped to found the Western Australian Women’s Amateur Athletic Association, which affiliated with the national body thereby allowing a State women’s athletics team to compete at the national championships in Melbourne that December.  She won the 100- and 220-yards races and ran in the successful 4 x 110-yards relay team.  Selected for the Empire Games held in Sydney in February 1938, she won three individual gold medals (for the 100- and 220-yards and the long jump) and two gold medals as part of the winning 440- and 660-yards medley relay teams.  Her times in the sprints (respectively 11.1 and 24.7 seconds) were world class and her jump of 19 ft 0¼ in (5.80 m) established an Australian record.

Norman set her sights on the 1940 Helsinki Olympic Games.  To take advantage of better facilities, she moved to Sydney early in 1939 and joined the South Sydney Athletics Club.  In New Zealand in March she equalled the world record of 11 seconds for the 100-yards.  The Games were cancelled because of World War II, and her last significant competition was the 1940 national championships in Perth, where she competed as a member of the New South Wales team.  She set an Australian record in the 90-yards hurdles, won the long jump and ran with the successful relay team.

Back in Sydney, Decima formed a relationship with Eric Stewart Hamilton.  For several years she managed a restaurant business.  Late in the 1960s the couple moved to Perth.  By then Norman was using the name Clara, and in 1971 she changed her name by deed poll to Clara Hamilton.  The Hamiltons subsequently retired to Albany.  They had no children.  In 1982 Clara was appointed MBE.  Survived by her partner, she died on 29 August 1983 in Perth and was cremated with Anglican rites.  She was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Radi (ed), 200 Australian Women (1988)
  • G. Mitchell, Pursuing Excellence (1998)
  • West Australian, 3 September 1983, p 67
  • Sportsview (Perth), April 1990, p 4

Citation details

Sally Cawley, 'Norman, Clara (Decima) (1909–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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