Bruce Coe and his study of Ernest Marks

Wednesday was a red letter day for me.

Bruce Coe submitted his PhD thesis for examination.

The title of his thesis is ES Marks and His Contribution to Australian Sport. Robin McConnell and I have worked with Bruce over the last two years and we have been  intrigued constantly by the unfolding story of a remarkable volunteer in the formation of Australian sport.

In an age when we lament the disappearance of volunteers and voluntary associations I think Ernest’s story makes for compelling reading.

Once the examination process has been completed I hope to work with Bruce to write more about Ernest.

Bruce’s Abstract is:

This thesis presents a chronological study of the life of Ernest Samuel Marks, a proudly Jewish man who was universally known as a champion of amateur sport in Australia, a highly efficient administrator in many sports and a long-serving alderman, and sometime Lord Mayor, in the City of Sydney, who, over half a century since his death, has been largely forgotten.
Ernest Marks was a man who found the time and energy to devote to his love of sport, to public service, to patriotic work and to charities, to history, to communications, to business and to his faith. He was a man who for sixty years was an exemplar for volunteerism through his multifarious unpaid activities within and without the world of sport.
His realms of influence included:

  • Amateur sporting clubs and associations in Sydney, New South Wales and Australia
  • Australian Olympic and Empire Games Movements, including the chairing of the
    organising committee of the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney, the first pageant of
    international sport to be hosted in this nation
  • International sport, through his links with a number of bodies including the International
    Olympic Committee
  • Municipal Council of Sydney where, for a quarter of a century, he was a highly respected
    alderman with a particular interest in the provision of playing facilities for children,
    especially the underprivileged
  • Patriotic activities during both World Wars
  • Manifold charities
  • Philanthropy
  • His Jewish community.

As an administrator, Ernest Marks contributed to the modernisation of sport in Australia from predominantly locally-based games to that where activities and competitions were well organised and this nation had become a significant player on the international sporting stage.

This thesis celebrates his story and, in the words of John Ritchie, a former General Editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, ‘rescue [s] and restore[s] a comparatively unknown person to his … rightful place’. I believe that by sharing the story of the life and times of Ernest Samuel Marks which hitherto had been forgotten, under-estimated, misrepresented, confused or ignored, this thesis has added to the body of knowledge of those who have contributed to Australian sport. In the process, I believe that I have also been able to underscore his profound sense of civic responsibility.

ES Marks' Portrait (Joseph Wolinski)

Marks and Coe: Meeting in the Commons

There was an opportunity this week to meet in the University of Canberra’s Teaching Commons. The occasion was Bruce Coe‘s upgrade seminar. Bruce has been researching the life and times of Ernest Samuel Marks and with encouragement from his supervisors (Robin McConnell and me) he is seeking to register for a PhD from his Masters by Research. To make this transition the University requires that a candidate present an upgrade seminar that is open to peer review and is assessed by two assessors.

At present the Commons works on a ‘first in, best dressed‘ system where users of the space access available space. We found a great room with a presentation screen.

Bruce’s working title for the thesis is The Indefatigable E.S. Marks and His Contribution to Australian Sport. In his introduction to the seminar, Bruce noted that:

On 2 December 1947, E.S. (Ernest Samuel) Marks died in Sydney, in his seventy-seventh year. Two days, later a 500-word obituary appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald stating that Marks was ‘a notable figure in Australian sport’. Later in the obituary, it was opined that Marks ‘probably did more for amateur sport in Australia than any other man’. Despite this acknowledgement, there is virtually no detailed account about Marks in the sport history literature.

Bruce’s submission for a Master of Sports Studies by Research degree sought to address this inexplicable gap in the literature and aimed to make a distinctive contribution to knowledge about Marks’s role in the origins of organised sport in Australia. In his proposal, Bruce noted Richard Cashman’s observation in Paradise of Sport (1995:62):

There has been too little consideration of the role of officials in shaping sporting institutions. The influence of some administrators has in some instances been immense. Whereas the playing careers of élite performers often do not extend much beyond a decade or two, some officials have dominated, and virtually run a sport for three to five decades, acquiring a substantial power base in the process. During an extended period of office an administrator can become a powerful figure in a sport, a position enhanced by political, social and media connections.

Richard Cashman identified Marks as one of a dozen influential administrators of amateur sport in Australia and documented their service to the shaping of various sporting institutions. Marks’s sixty years of giving to sport resulted in a ten-line summary. Bruce’s work seeks to extend this evidence through a painstaking study.

This is a copy of his slide presentation in his upgrade seminar ES Marks.