Those who don’t jump
will never fly

Doris Jessie Carter was a high achiever, in athletics and military service. She jumped and she flew.

Doris Carter, WAAAF.

Doris  was an Olympic high jumper –  the first Australian woman to compete in field events at an Olympic Games when she represented Australia in the women’s high jump at Berlin in 1936. There, she became the first female Australian track and field athlete to reach an Olympic final.

Though she finished  equal sixth, later reports note she was credited fifth after the competitor who finished fourth was disqualified. It was also revealed she competed in the final with an ankle injury.

After a sporting career that included representing Australia in hockey,  Doris Carter went on to a distinguished career in the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force, becoming a director.

She was the first woman to fly in a Canberra bomber and a Vampire jet. Her proudest moment was in 1996 when she co-led the Melbourne ANZAC Day parade.

Doris Carter was born in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg on 5 January 1912, the eldest child of Edmund and Jessie Carter.

She attended Ivanhoe primary and high schools before opting for a career as a teacher and going to Melbourne Teachers College.

After graduating, she taught at Melville Forest in the Western District of Victoria and then at South Preston and Moreland Girls Central schools in Melbourne.

At school she became involved in athletics, showing talent in several events but particularly the high jump.

She held the Australian women’s high jump record for 20 years and was not beaten in that time. The pinnacle of her achievements was selection for Australia at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and then  Empire Games in Sydney two years later.

She was at one time  the Victorian 90 yards hurdles champion and finished third in that event  at the Australian championships In January 1936. She won five national championships at high jump (1933, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1940) and two at discus throw (1936, 1940).

At the women’s athletic championships in Brisbane in 1935, Doris Carter set the national high jump record, clearing 5ft 3in. She retained the title in 1936 with a leap of 5ft 3.8 ins.

The world record for the women’s high jump at the time was 5ft 5in, set by American  Jean Shirley at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

In April 1936 after Doris Carter became Australian female high jump champion the was much speculation she would be selected in the Australian Olympic team to got to Berlin in August. The speculation was right.

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald on 16 April 1936 described  the “unassuming” Doris Carter as  “one of the most popular women athletes In Victoria.”

The report referred to  the many difficulties she faced to become an Australian champion: “For six years she taught at the Melville Forest school, on the South Australian border, and whenever possible came to Melbourne In her small car for track meetings as a member of the Melbourne Women’s Amateur Athletic Club”

She  was one of four women named in the Australian Olympic team that set sail for Berlin on the SS Mongolia   from Sydney on May 13. The team comprised 33 athletes and officials. And support crew.

Australia’s 1936 Olympic team

Australia contested the same five sports as in the two previous Olympics: swimming/diving, athletics, cycling, rowing and wrestling. It would be the last time Australia sent a team of fewer than 50 athletes to an Olympics.

1932 cycling gold medallist Edgar ‘Dunc’ Gray carried the flag in the Opening Ceremony.

There would only be one medal for Australia in Berlin:  John ‘Jack’ Metcalfe won a bronze medal in the triple jump.

Doris Carter carried an ankle injury into the high-jump final. The gold medal-winning height of Hungary’s Ibolya Csák was lower than Doris Carter’s Australian record.

Other strong Australian performances came from 800m runner Gerald Backhouse (8th), rowers William Dixon and Herbert Turner (6th in the double sculls), and swimmer Percy Oliver (7th in the 100m backstroke).

Adolf Hitler at the Berlin Olympics, 1936

Doris Carter recalled later her sense of unease during the Games: “’There were so many people in uniform and there was the Hitler Youth and they were all very enthusiastic. It was pretty obvious that they were preparing for war, but they led us to believe that it was their fear of the Russians,”’ she said.

“Beautiful facilities, but I remember vaguely how we went from the dressing room to the ground, it was through a long tunnel. I was fortunate enough to go back to Berlin in 1946 when I went over to the victory parade, and it was very obvious then that all these tunnels and these underground entrances to get into the ground were really all air raid shelters ready for the war that was to come.”

After the Berlin Games, Doris Carter competed in the 1938 Empire Games (later to become the Commonwealth Games) in Sydney. She was fifth with a jump of 5ft 1 in.

The star of the Empire Games was  Australian athlete Decima Norman, who won five gold medals in track and field. Margaret Dovey, the future wife of Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam, finished sixth in the 220 yards breaststroke.

Doris Carter still  held athletic aspirations after her track and field career. She represented Australia in hockey and  later played golf and took on sports administration roles.

The Melbourne Herald reported: “Miss Carter is a keen student of athletics, and her knowledge of the technical side of the sport and her winter training classes for girl athletes at Royal Park arc proof of her sincere efforts to further the development of women’s athletics in Victoria.”

She was involved in the administration of women’s athletics both at State and National levels; she was President of the Victorian Women’s Amateur Athletic Association from 1945 to 1948 and twice served as President of the Australian Women’s Amateur Athletic Union, firstly in 1948 and again between 1952 and 1962.

She was one of the two female members of the Organising Committee for the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 where she also took on the role of Assistant Manager to the Australian Olympic Team.

After  her success as an athletic competitor,  Doris Carter  joined  the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force(WAAAF), serving  from January 1942 to October 1945. She led the WAAAF contingent in the Victory March in London.

Members of the Australian Victory Contingent in
Berlin, 1946. Squadron Leader Doris Carter is at left.

The Old Colonists Association  of Victoria website takes up the Doris Carter story: “Doris was with the Department of Post-War Reconstruction from 1946-48 and at the time of her appointment was in charge of the Child and Youth Migration Section of the Department of Immigration. Before returning to Australia, Doris spent a month studying WRAF organisation and establishments in Britain.

“On 11 April 1951 Doris was appointed Director of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) with the rank of Wing Officer. In 1957 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE). The Citation was as follows: ‘Wing Officer Carter served with the WAAAF during the 1939-45 War and was later recalled to represent the WAAAF in the Victory Contingent which visited the United Kingdom in 1946. During the war years this officer showed outstanding ability as an organiser and leader and when it was decided to reconstitute the Women’s Branch of the RAAF, she was again recalled and appointed Director of WRAAF in April 1951. In the appointment Wing Officer Carter, by outstanding leadership and tireless effort, has moulded the WRAAF into a most effective force.  

Flight Officer Doris Carter shows WAAAF officer trainees
how to make rissoles from military food supplies over an
open fire during a bivouac at Launching Place,
near Melbourne in 1943.

Her ability to establish and maintain a perfect balance between womanly aspects and service requirements, and her genuine interest in the welfare of all airwomen have won for her the confidence and respect of all members of the Service. Her organising abilities and outstanding personal qualities were recognised by her appointment as Manager of the Australian Women’s Olympic Team in the recent Olympic Games and the manner in which she performed this task brought international recognition and added prestige to the WRAAF, and the RAAF as a whole.”

American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt  spoke to WAAAF
women on a visit to Melbourne in 1943.  Second from right
is Flight Officer Doris Carter, officer in charge
of the guard of honour.

Doris Carter moved to Rushall Park (retirement village, Fitzroy, Victoria) in 1986 and lived there until her death on  28 July 1999.

SUMMARY OF DORIS CARTER’S CAREER (from Australian Women’s Register)

  • Teacher with the Victorian Education Department
  • Participated at the Berlin Olympic Games – Track and Field Athletics – placed sixth in the high jump
  • Played interstate hockey
  • Represented Australia at the Empire Games, Sydney
  • Member of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF)
  • Officer-in-charge of the WAAAF Victory Contingent to London
  • Department of Post-War Reconstruction
  • Officer-in-charge of the Child and Youth Migration with the Department of Immigration, London
  • Director of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force
  • President of the Australian Women’s Amateur Athletic Union
  • Manager of the Australian Women’s Team at the Olympic Games, Melbourne
  • Appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire
  • General secretary of the YWCA, Melbourne
  • Member of the Board of Trustees at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra
  • Member of the National Fitness Council, Victoria

FOOTNOTE: The Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) was formed in March 1941. There was considerable pressure form women keen to serve and the Chief of the Air Staff wanted to free male personnel serving in Australia for service overseas. The WAAAF was the first and largest of the wartime Australian women’s services. It was disbanded in December 1947.


QUOTE: “Those who don’t jump never fly” – Leena Ahmad Almashat, Harmony Letters, 2011.

PICTURES: Australian War Memorial; TROVE newspaper articles.