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1956  Melbourne Summer Olympics

1956 Summer Olympics - Olympic Playgrounds of Melbourne

The Playgrounds of Melbourne

Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics programme was spread over sixteen calendar days, with no competition scheduled for the two Sundays, although one rowing event at Ballarat had to be postponed because of bad weather on the previous Saturday and special permission was given for it to be held the following day.

(To keep locals entertained, there were two free open-air concerts performed by the Victorian Symphony Orchestra given at the Botanical Gardens given on the Sundays.

Twelve of the fourteen remaining days where dedicated to competition with the Opening and Closing Ceremony days, although the latter also included the Gold Medal match in football.  

Thirteen venues were used, along with three long-distance road races

 

Broadmeadows

Cycling (Road Race)  

Exhibition Buildings

Basketball (Qualifying and Finals)

Modern Pentathlon (Fencing)

Weightlifting

Wrestling

Lake Wendouree, Ballarat

Rowing

Canoeing and Kayaking

Laverton (R.A.A.F. Base)

Shooting (Clay Pigeon)

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Foy and Gibson’s store, corner of Bourke and Swanston streets welcomes visitors to Melbourne

The building had another odd connection to the Melbourne Olympics - it was constructed by a well-known Collingwood builder, Ernest A Watts, who was later selected as the contractor for the short-lived plans for the main stadium at Princes Park

Main Stadium (M C G)

Opening ceremony  

Track and Field

Australian Rules Football (Demonstration)

Baseball (Demonstration)

Hockey (Final)

Football (Semi-Finals, Final)

Closing Ceremony

Oaklands Hunt Club

Modern Pentathlon (Riding)

Modern Pentathlon (Cross-country Run)

Olympic Park

Football (Qualifying, No. 1 Arena)

Hockey  (Qualifying and semi-finals, No. 2 Arena)

Cycling (Velodrome)

Olympic Pool

Modern Pentathlon (Swimming)

Swimming

Diving

Water Polo

Port Phillip Bay

Yachting

St  Kilda Town Hall

Fencing

West Melbourne Stadium

Boxing

Gymnastics

Williamstown Rifle Range

Modern Pentathlon (Shooting)

Shooting (Pistol and Rifle)

Non-stadium events

20 km Walk : M.C.G., Richmond, South Yarra

Marathon : M.C.G., St. Kilda Road, Dandenong Road to Clayton and return.

50 km Walk : Same route as the Marathon, but extended to Springvale.

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Due to Australian Quarantine restrictions, the Equestrian events were held in Stockholm, Sweden in June at the Stockholm Olympic Stadium, originally designed and built  as a venue for the 1912 Olympic Games.

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The M.C.G.

 
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  From top left : Aerial view of the M.C.G., Opening Ceremony, 22 November, 1956; Front of the new Olympic Stand, late 1955 with ongoing construction behind the facade; the M.C.G. with the Olympic Flame, early morning on Closing Day, 8 December; and the Australian XI finds a new opener - U.S. Vice-President Richard Nixon at the M.C.G. while on a lightning visit in October, 1953 … Nixon : “You couldn’t miss the ball with a bat like this”; Reporter : “But they do. Mr. Nixon, they do!”.
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  From top left : Spectators raise the “brollies” early A.M. of the Closing Ceremony (remarkably, an early shower which quickly disappeared across the eastern suburbs was the only rain in 16 days despite Melbourne’s reputation for erratic late spring weather; September, 1956 and the running tracks being laid; view of the old grandstands, Opening Day, and also Opening Day with thousands arriving without understanding that tickets had to be pre-booked.
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From left clock-wise : The Olympic  Flag is lowered; the Royal Box (H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh; the Olympic Flame is extinguished, the Farewell Message on the scoreboard.
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M.C.G. foreground, above clock-wise from left No. 2 arena (Hockey), (below) Velodrome, No. 1 arena (Football and athletics training), Olympic Pool.  Government House peeks in extreme rights.

Opening Ceremony, the unlit Olympic Flame awaiting Ron Clarke’s arrival and the last leg of the relay of the Olympic Torch from Olympiad, the home of the ancient Games in Greece.
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  The Olympic Flame, above as the Official Party enters the arena, and below, Ron Clarke lighting the Flame
 

The Olympic Park Complex

 

The Olympic Park reserve of 22 acres was Crown Land, originally Melbourne's first zoological gardens but converted to the Friendly Societies Ground after the Yarra was re-directly to the south in the late 1970's

Before government-provided welfare became the norm, "friendly societies" were community groups (often "lodges") to which every day citizens contributed in turn for protection against medical expenses or unemployment.

The combined societies used the ground for picnics and sports days, but with the rapid growth of Melbourne and suburb and the availability of alternative venues, the central location fell into disuse, and in 1924, part of site was leased to the noted ex-totalizator operator and entrepreneur John Wren and Stadiums Limited who erected a steeply-banked concrete track for motor cycle racing and known as the Motordrome at a cost estimated at £40,000.

Following a couple of fatal accidents and a drop in public interest, motor cycling was abandoned, but the central area was large enough to host football matches and the Victorian Football Association held their finals there in the early 1930s. The Melbourne Football Club also played a few games there when the M.C.G. was unavailable.

Remaining portions of the grounds continued to be used for State and high school sports; amateur athletics and other sports, including cricket,: football, tennis, baseball and lacrosse.

After Wren's lease expired in 1941, the Motordrome was taken over by the Defence Department and used for athletics and other sports (the Trustees at one point in 1942 offering it the Victorian Football League for the finals when it became known the M.C.G. would not be available.

By the time that the Games were being mooted post-war, the site was regularly being described as an eyesore and had fallen into a state of advanced disrepair, the track still functional, but with few spectator facilities.  Reports show it being used for soccer, hockey and baseball.

The athletics section upgraded in 1950 with the installation of two cinder tracks - 120 yards down the grandstand side and 440 yards with an 80 yard straight, first permanent cinder track in Australia, but suffered a major blow with the destruction of the 1,500 seat grandstand in a fire on 16 March, 1951

The Construction Committee decided to re-develop the entire area; plans included a swimming and diving centre (originally proposed for Fawkner Park), a cycling track (the Velodrome), and separate soccer and hockey arenas.  The project was announced early in October, 1953, pending "almost certain Commonwealth Government and Melbourne City Council approval”.

The cost was put at £500,000 - significantly by the time the official approvals were granted in late November, the total mentioned was £575,000. No explanation for the sudden jump was given at the time, but it may well have been the inclusion of the hockey pitch - the original programme released in November, 1953 had the events being played on “local grounds”.  Hopes were that the pool by February, 1956, cycle track and training tracks, by. September, 1955, and the running track and sports oval by October.

Preliminary work of the project started in February, 1954 with the removal of old trees and builings at the west end, the swimming pool site.

A minor hiccup came in May, 1954 when the State Government announced that it was replacing the 16-man management committee of Olympic Park with a new 11-man Trustee under the chairmanship of Cr. P."Les" Coleman, the Minister for Transport and also the chairman of the Construction Committee.

Predictably, the move which the Government claimed was not political, but simply to allow streamlined planning raised the hackles of several existing officials, Bill Uren claiming it was in fact a State political move, Edgar Tanner suggested the new Trustee "was not representative of amateur sport", while Prime minister Menzies wisely refused to comment.

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The Olympic Park complex

From top : S(wimming); F(ootball; H(ockey); C(ycling) and T(ransport Hub)

 The unique cantilever design of the Olympic Pool - as Father said to an incredulous eight-year-old at the “it’s the only building in the world where the roof holds the walls up and not the other way round”!
  

The Olympic Pool

The design of the Olympic Pool was opened to competition in October, 1952, the winner selected in December as plans submitted by the Melbourne architects Messrs. Boland, McIntyre and Murphy (the latter in conjunction with his wife, also an archtect) incorporating a revolutionary cantilever design with the roof supporting the angled side-walls rather than the reverse and considered a world-first. The Melbourne firm of McDougall & Ireland Pty. Ltd. were announced the successful tenderers by the Olympic Construction Committee in May, 1954 with a quote of £292,000, the lowest of five and the company was noted as having just completed the Degraves Street subway under Flinders Street - it was noted that all tenders for the pool (electrical and mechanical services, filtration systems) had then been let at a cost of £341,000, compared to an earlier estimate of about £300,000.

A month prior to the building contracts being awarded, a tender of £41,608 was accepted from Roche Bros, of Melbourne for earthworks and drainage - the latter became a serious problem when in a cost-saving measure the Construction Committee reduced the number of agricultural pipes, with the result that the surfaces were flooded several times in the weeks leading up to the Games. Fortunately Melbourne’s normally changeable late Spring weather remained fine throughout the two weeks except for a few showers on the morning of the Closing Ceremony.

The Olympic Pool  could seat around 5,500 - the demand for tickets was such that the O.O.C. could have used a much bigger building had it been available even several training session were held in front of a capacity crowds, but cost of construction and little likelihood of large crowds at swimming and diving events post-Games were the limiting factors in the decision.

The first building to be completed in the 1956 Olympic Games construction programme, the caretaker's cottage at Olympic Park was handed over 22 April, 1954 - the building, obviously of prefabricated concrete materials (as were most at the Olympic Village in Heidelberg) was completed in 13 working days by the Housing Commission and its stark appearance was described by many as “official vandalism”.

Whether "amateur sport" gained much from the Pool is a matter for conjecture; as early as mid-1955 when the venue was only partly constructed, Olympic Park Trustees announced that it would not be available to the public, the secretary suggesting that no public swimming pool in Australia had ever shown a profit.

It was suggested that it would be made available for hire for championship carnivals, but not on a long-term basis, with plans to cover the pool with a moveable platform for basketball and as a concert stage hosting an audience of 5,000. (At least part of the moveable section was already in place by the time the Games were held with the Victorian Symphony Orchestra performing a concert of chamber music an a platform erected over the diving pool as part of the Fine Arts program attached to the Games.

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 Hockey (Great Britain and Northern Ireland (white) versus Australia  A Germany player slips the ball past a Russian defender during their first round match at Olympic Park
  

Football and Hockey Stadia

Given that the size of the fields used for both football (the term officially used throughout the Games) and hockey are smaller, there were probably any number of suburban grounds catering for Australian Rules and/or cricket could well have been used for the preliminary rounds - both Princes Park in Carlton and the Junction Oval at St, Kilda had catered for finals crowds of 50,000-plus when the M.C.G. was unavailable during the war, both the O.O.C. with the land freely available including both sports in the Olympic Park complex.

Perhaps central to this decision was the need to provide training facilities for the Games  themselves and then post-war as the facilities for athletics at the M.C.G. were obviously temporary.

The decision was made to install an Olympic standard six-lane cinder track at Olympic Park, to be used for training purposes prior to and during the Games and to be maintained as a world-class facility for future generations, and with the central area of sufficient size to accommodate the preliminary rounds of the football.

The football and athletic training track could seat 3,000 in the stand, but accommodated another 37,000 on the terraces.

With the crowded schedule of events, a separate hockey pitch was also established with rather fewer facilities as little significant use was envisaged after the Games; it featured a small stand seating 1,050 in twelve tiers at an estimated cost of £33,717 and banked terraces for 20,000 standing room patrons.   The hockey field was laid with grass tracks to handle the overflow of some 1,500 amateur athletes who competed each Saturday. One suggestion had the venue as "ideal for Amateur football in winter"; an early diagram when the complex upgrade was announced also showed tennis courts, but there is nothing to suggest they were seriously considered.

In reality, while most of the cycling sessions saw a full house, the football averaged just over 6,000 with the highest just on 12,000; the hockey attracted just one crowd of over 1,500; but both arenas were described as potentially significant assets for Melbourne’s future sporting prospects.  The hockey crowds were perhaps the most disappointing for Olympic officials - the post-Games reports suggest over 30,000 programmes were made available to the public, but only a little over 16,000 actually sold.

Twelve teams competed after Holland, one of the leading nations withdrew, causing a re-drawing of the fixture with three preliminary groups of four teams. India, who ranked No. 1 after the Dutch withdrawal defeating Pakistan (ranked 3) in the final, 1-nil.

This like the football final was played at the M.C.G. before much larger crowds, but contemporary reports suggested that the size of the Main Stadium detracted from the spectacle with the crowds too far away from the action.

No. 2 Oval was later used by the Victorian Hockey Association in summer and the the Victorian Amateur Football Association in winter - the latter were forced to abandon use of the facility after the Olympic Park Trustees accepted on offer in 1962 by the Melbourne Greyhound Racing Association to establish a track and improve the grandstand after the Melbourne City Council considerably increased the rental on their original track which enclosed the playing surface at North Melbourne Football Club’s oval at Arden Street.

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 The Olympic Pool and soccer stadium under construction; the six-lane cinder track yet to be laid,  The Pool construction, March, 1956
  

The Velodrome

The Velodrome also had its share of controversy when in March, 1955, the construction committee reversed an earlier decision to build the track to the Olympic standard of 333 1/3 metres (three laps per kilometre which the measurement system used for all Olympic events, or equating to 5 laps to the mile), instead reducing it to 250 metres or about six laps to the mile, said to be ideal for professional sport.

The Amateur Cycling Association of Australia voiced allegations that the decision came after the appointment of a professional promoter to the committee and who had plans to lease the facility after the Games; both it and the sports’ international body, the Union Cycliste International also objected to the proposed board track, instead demanding it cement or concrete, but conceded that if construction of the reduced track had gone too far, it would accept the 250 metre alternative.

Eventually the standard size track was installed after the International federation withdrew its approval of the 250 metre alternative; the surface became a compromise, of wooden construction but with a cement surface after a Melbourne engineer demonstrated a method of spraying cement onto the New Zealand pine board track. The result was said at the time to probably be the fastest track in the world.  

The Velodrome at the time of the Games featured a permanent stand accommodating 4,400 and a temporary stand with another 3,500 seats - ticket sales figures published after the Games suggest that the stadium was close to full at every session, the total sales to the public averaging 7,200. Original estimates placed the likely cost of construction at £125,000, but after a four-month delay because of the disagreement, the total cost was said to be £174,000.

 wp069f27e6_06.png  Carnage at the ‘Drome. What was described as the only really bad fall occurred in the third repechage of the 2000 metres Tandem event between Germany and U.S.S.R.  Both pairs fell heavily and the Russians were unable to continue due to their injuries.
 

Lake Wendouree

 
 

Perhaps central to this decision was the need to provide training facilities for the Games  themselves and then post-war as the facilities for athletics at the M.C.G. were obviously temporary.

The decision was made to install an Olympic standard six-lane cinder track at Olympic Park, to be used for training purposes prior to and during the Games and to be maintained as a world-class facility for future generations, and with the central area of sufficient size to accommodate the preliminary rounds of the football.

The football and athletic training track could seat 3,000 in the stand, but accommodated another 37,000 on the terraces.

With the crowded schedule of events, a separate hockey pitch was also established with rather fewer facilities as little significant use was envisaged after the Games; it featured a small stand seating 1,050 in twelve tiers at an estimated cost of £33,717 and banked terraces for 20,000 standing room patrons.   The hockey field was laid with grass tracks to handle the overflow of some 1,500 amateur athletes who competed each Saturday. One suggestion had the venue as "ideal for Amateur football in winter"; an early diagram when the complex upgrade was announced also showed tennis courts, but there is nothing to suggest they were seriously considered.

In reality, while most of the cycling sessions saw a full house, the football averaged just over 6,000 with the highest just on 12,000; the hockey attracted just one crowd of over 1,500; but both arenas were described as potentially significant assets for Melbourne’s future sporting prospects.  The hockey crowds were perhaps the most disappointing for Olympic officials - the post-Games reports suggest over 30,000 programmes were made available to the public, but only a little over 16,000 actually sold.

Twelve teams competed after Holland, one of the leading nations withdrew, causing a re-drawing of the fixture with three preliminary groups of four teams. India, who ranked No. 1 after the Dutch withdrawal defeating Pakistan (ranked 3) in the final, 1-nil.

This like the football final was played at the M.C.G. before much larger crowds, but contemporary reports suggested that the size of the Main Stadium detracted from the spectacle with the crowds too far away from the action.

No. 2 Oval was later used by the Victorian Hockey Association in summer and the the Victorian Amateur Football Association in winter - the latter were forced to abandon use of the facility after the Olympic Park Trustees accepted on offer in 1962 by the Melbourne Greyhound Racing Association to establish a track and improve the grandstand after the Melbourne City Council considerably increased the rental on their original track which enclosed the playing surface at North Melbourne Football Club’s oval at Arden Street.

 

 

With Albert Park Lake considered too small and shallow and the Yarra unsuitable because a planned widening of the bridge at Swan Street thought likely, a decision was taken in 1950 to hold rowing and canoeing events held at Lake Wendouree at Ballarat, some 70 miles north-west of Melbourne after a brief suggestion (quickly squashed by the Board of Works) of Maroondah Dam or the O’Shannassy Reservoir south-east of Melbourne as a possible site.

Given it was apparent from the start that the events could not be hald in Melbourne itself, many country municipalities raised their hands - Geelong with its Barwon River for rowing and Corio Bay for yachting; Mildura on the Murray, Colac (Lake Corangamite), Camperdown (Lake Bullen Merri, “wonderful sheet of water”, but no accommodation), Wodonga (Hume Weir), even Eildon Weir where housing was likely to be left after workmen completed raising the height of the retaining wall.

Subsequent inspection by an international rowing official however revealed that Wendouree was also too shallow, and the O.O.C. turned to Lake Learmonth about ten miles north-west of Ballarat, but the site was undeveloped with no shore facilities, and said to prone to roughness due to prevailing winds.  

Faced with a huge expenditure required at Learmonth, the O.O.C. requested the International Rowing Federation to reduce the permissible depth to allow the original suggestion of Wendouree to be used, this granted provided some conditions were met.

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The main course ran from top left with the finish lower right as indicated above and below, the latter also showing the 10,000 metre course (2 laps)
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The specially-constructed starting bay and jetties before the start of the eights final, the crews from top being : U.S.A., Australia, Sweden, Canada
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The Ballarat Olympic Village prior to occupation
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Although probably the only viable location, Wendouree in fact met most of the perceived requirements - still water, the availability of a 2,000 by 75 metre straight course, and tall weed growth around the edge to give protection from winds (although some of one day's repechage heats did have to be postponed with permission given to complete them on following day, a Sunday, the only time competition took place on the Sabbath).

For 10,000 metre canoeing and kayaking events, a parallel course was laid out which when rounded out at either end resulted in two laps of 5,000 metres.  Jetties, a judge's box and spectator stands accommodating 2,300 were erected, the natural banks of the lake allowing about another 12,000 to view the racing.

Some additional work was required - both ends of the course were deepened to restrict choppy waters during the event and parts of the shore required excavation for the starting and finishing bays.   Volunteers from local organizations in conjunction with Ballarat Council cleared an estimated 50,000 cubic yards of weeds.

One unforeseen problem arose - prior to the Games, one of the three boat houses at the lake was destroyed by fire and was unable to be re-built in time, requiring in some temporary shed accommodation being erected for canoes.

Given the distance from Melbourne, a separate Olympic Village to house about 480 was required - given most of the competitors were only at Ballarat for two or three days before returning to the main Village at Heidelberg, the organisers opted for temporary accommodation already in use as a migrant camp using ex-Army Nissen huts of six or twelve rooms along with usual facilities. (below right).

Some 25 nations utilising about 75 boats competed at Lake Wendouree from Friday, 23 November to Saturday, 1 December

Victorian Railways established a number of special trains between Ballarat and Melbourne – on the day of the Opening Ceremony for competitors housed at Lake Wendouree, returning late that night, and then to transport spectators on a daily basis.

Post-Games, the attendances at rowing events was considere more that satisfactory, but the canoeing and kayaking (optional sports) failed to attract the imagination of public and ticket sales disappointing

West Melbourne Stadium

 

       (Perhaps better later known from HSV-7 World Of Sport days as "the House of Stoush"). The 42-year-old stadium in Dudley Street was originally nominated as the site for the boxing events, but it was totally destroyed by fire in the early morning of 24 January, 1955.Mr. Dick Lean, manager of the John Wren-controlled Stadiums Limited announced immediately plans to re-build, claiming the new facility would be ready for the Olympics and designed to accommodate up to 15,000 in air-conditioned comfort and with sports other than boxing as well as concerts and theatrical productions.(Reports suggested that since it opened in 1913, upwards of 30,000 fights, main and preliminary, had been staged at the Stadium with its weekly programmes suspended only twice — during the First World War, and for a while during the 1930-32 depression period.There were originally thoughts that the gymnastics and possibly wrestling might be held at the Melbourne Town Hall, but there were concerns at the space available and prior to the preliminary programme being released, they were rescheduled for the Exhibition Buildings, but after the provision of additional dressing room facilities financed by the Organising Committee, the Stadium was also awarded the gymnastic events.The Stadium re-opened on 12 October, 1956, an estimated 12,000 lining up for entrance, but with 4,000 having to be turned away.The Stadium’s capacity was approximately 7,000 for boxing (compared to 10,000 in the original).  For gymnastics, requiring more floor space for competitors, around 5,000 after the ring and portable ring-side seating was removed, although other sources suggested that around 4,000 tickets were consistently sold for the latter events.There were ten weight divisions in the boxing tournament, each conducted (pardon the pun) on a "knock-out" basis between November 23 to December 1, after which the portable facilities were removed and the gymnastic events, seven for women and eight for men, conducted between December 3 and 7.Each country was allowed to enter a team of eight gymnasts, but in contrast to the previous Olympics not more than six of them were allowed to participate in all exercises. Nations with incomplete teams, could enter one to three gymnasts for the individual competition. There also no provision for national or Olympic flags on the exterior of the building; instead they were draped from the roof structure - described as unconventional, but according to reports adding considerable colour to a building which at best could be described as “utilitarian”.Much of Dick Lean’s activities were assumed by his son Dick junior around 1960 and he progressively moved the venue away from boxing into successful promotions of major local and overseas musical acts which increased the use of the venue significantly and saw it renamed as Festival Hall.Perhaps the major achievement came in 1964 when Lean junior booked the Beatles to play the venue in 1964. It was undoubtedly the only covered site in Melbourne that could have accommodated the “Fab Four” and Festival Hall remains the largest enclosed live performance venue in Melbourne. Current publicity places the capacity at 1,740 (recent works at the sidney Myer Music Bowl on the lawns extending from the seating and stage, and the construction of a fence and gates has reduced the total capacity to a little over 12,000, but, of course, subject to the vagaries of Melbourne’s weather!, 

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 West Melbourne Stadium (“The House of Stoush”) showing the portable ring and seats (to the right).  These were removed after the boxing tournament ended and the expanded space used for gymnastics during the last week of the Games.
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  After the hasty conversion for Gymnastics, this image showing national flags hanging from the rood=f structure.
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 The Stadium, circa 1960
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 The Swedish Women’s team in the Portable Apparatus event
 

The Exhibition Buildings

 
  

Constructed from 1880 for Melbourne's first International Exhibition in 1882, the building offered extensive floor space with its central aisle and two cross annexes.

After the great Exhibition finally closed its doors,, the trustees of the Buildings were faced with a problem in generating revenue for maintenance and upkeep and along with several other initiatives, a  cycling track was constructed in the grounds to the north of the main building, roughly where today's Museum lies.

The original programme for the Games had gymnastics, wrestling and weightlifting scheduled to be held at the Exhibition Buildings, but by an odd coincidence of two destructive fires, there were a couple of later changes.

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Boiled fish or roast poultry, but no chips. The fire that destroyed the Exhibition Aquarium on the evening of Wednesday 28 January 1953.  According to the Exhibition Buildings’ history, only a sudden change of wind direction saved the extension of blaze to the Great Hall.

The fire came during a trade convention and caused an estimated £100,000 damage and as well as fears for the main building, there were concerns that the blaze might take hold in the migrant centre next door when trees overhanging the huts caught fire.  Fortunately the last six migrants had left the camp that morning.

A man and his son living opposite the Aquarium managed to kick in a fibro-cement wall and released cockatoos, macaws and peacocks, the seals were swimming in a large pool and were not seriously affected, but nothing could stop the water in the smaller fish exhibits from virtually boiling and none survived.

 

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Northern section of the Exhibition Buildings, 1920 showing (centre) the sports oval, cycle track, stand and a picnic area; War Museum of the left, State Parliament House on the right. This showed the planned expansion of the sporting facilities in 1920.

The position of the grandstand between the track and picnic ground appears to conflict with that shown in Thomas A’Beckett’s photograph of 1899.

The Aquarium was destroyed by fire in January, 1953 and later rebuilt internally with basketball courts for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

  

Wrestling and Weightlifting (Status Quo)

These two were conducted as planned - platforms for wrestling (two mats, each with four small scoreboards and bouts conducted concurrently) and weightlifting were built under the sunlight central dome over the intersecting aisles.

Temporary stands accommodating about 3,000 were erected in three of the aisles, the fourth (and shortest) for officials and competitors and the press situated above the mats. Because of the layout of the wrestling area, four small scoreboards had to erected so at to be visible to all sections of the public.

Although the Official Games Report makes no mention of it, it is apparent that the weightlifting and wrestling were held in the same area with the facilities, like those for boxing and gymnastics at the West Melbourne Stadium interchanged - weightlifting was held in afternoon and night sessions from 23 to 26 November, then after a day's break, wrestling from 28 November to 6 December, in this case with morning and night sessions (Sundays excepted in both cases).

In weightlifting, actual competitors numbered one hundred and five across the seven weight divisions and represented thirty four countries.  A training site was established at an Army Drill Hall in Hawthorn.

In wrestling, there were 123 entries from 28 countries for free-style events and 110 entries from 20 countries for Greco-Roman. Injuries and withdrawals reduced these numbers to 110 free-style and 85 Greco-Roman, making a grand total of 195 entrants from 30 countries.

There were 180 bouts in free-style wrestling and 138 bouts in Greco-Roman, a total of 318 bouts.

Wrestling was one of the sports that could not be accurately scheduled - rather than time limits imposed in other “martial arts” sports, a bout only ended with a “fall”.  This could entail transport requirements up to 3 a.m. instead of the programmed 11 p.m. conclusion of the programme

Gymnastics (Out)

Early thoughts were for the gymnastics to be held at the Exhibition Buildings, but given weightlifting and wrestling were also to held there, it appears that the O.O.C. opted instead for West Melbourne Stadium after plans for its reconstruction were announced.

Basketball (In)

It was originally planned to host basketball at the Glaciarium, an ice skating venue in City Road just behind today’s Arts Centre, the same venue as proposed for gymnastics.

The site was selected after the Committee inspected the Glaciarium, and St. Moritz (another ice skating rink on the Upper Esplanade, St. Kilda), and an undisclosed site in South Melbourne, probably the site of the later basketball courts at the northern end of Albert Park Reserve and behind MacRobertson Girl’s High School (these were constructed a military transport depot during the Second World War).

In early August, 1956, just seventeen weeks before the Opening Ceremony the Games Chief Executive Officer, Sir William Bridgeford announced a new court clear span roof building, with a floor area 150 feet by 203 feet would be hastily built at the Exhibition Buildings after Glaciarium management demanded £20,000 rental for the use of the site.  

The decision to reconstruct the Exhibition Aquarium site may however have been made some time before the announcement, as the same time it was revealed that a tender had been accepted from builders, Olsen, Foster Constructions at a price of £36,000 with both the O.O.C. and contractors expressing confidence that the new courts will be completed in ample time for the Games, but with the usual rider, “barring any strikes”.

Again, temporary seating was envisaged to allow the area to be used as display space after the Games if required, although it was suggested that the site would become the permanent home of the Victorian Basket Association; prior to the Game, there were five courts within the Exhibition, but these were regularly unavailable during trade shows and the like.  The capacity of the new facility was 3,500, but it was suggested with a build-up of interest in the sport generated by an influx of European migrants that many had to be turned away from night matches.

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Fencing : Modern Pentathlon

The fencing events of the modern pentathlon were also held in the rooms on the upper story (balcony) of the main building, additional lighting only having to be provided. There was only standing accommodation for spectators for this one day event - eight pistes were laid and these were also used for training of fencers engaged in the main events at St. Kilda Town Hall - all 36 athletes surviving the rigours of the brutal first day’s ride at Oaklands Junction competed and each had to face off every opponent.

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The Party To End All Parties

The Building also hosted the Farewell Party, intended for 8,000 guests from 8 p.m. until midnight on the final day of the Games.  Every visiting official and member of a team was invited to bring a guest. All members of the staff of the Organizing Committee who were working with the organization thirty days before the commencement of the Games were given two tickets.

With many nations by this time having already parted, or in the throes of doing so, the roll-up was given at “more than 4,000”, many of them in tears or close to.

The guests took charge of all sections of the huge building's main floors and balconies and spilled over into an all-nations dance party in its Royale Ballroom”..

What If? …

Given the almost complete lack in Melbourne of indoor venues of a size suitable for hosting Olympic events, the question that must be asked is whether Melbourne could have retained the rights to the Games if perchance the Aquarium fire had in fact spread to the main building?

The O.O.C. would have been in a weak position in its negotiations with the management of the Glaciarium when the decision was made to hold basketball on the new court (perhaps the St. Moritz could have been converted in time).  Wrestling and weightlifting probably would have had to revert to Melbourne Town Hall, the other alternative might have been to split the events to two suburban Town Halls.

It is also highly likely that Ted Waterford’s hopes and plans for a multi-purpose indoor stadium at either Olympic Park or in West Parkville would have received a rather more positive response from the O.O.C., Melbourne City Council and State Government

Broadmeadows

 
      

The cycling road race was held at Broadmeadows, about 12 miles from the city and close to Oaklands where the pentathlon riding and cross-country run were conducted.

It was the only cycling event held away from the Velodrome at Olympic Park - from 1912 to 1932, there had also been a road team's time trial, later re-introduced in Rome in 1960.  There were however two gold medals to be won - for the individual winner and for the team with the last three placings from their four riders.

The race was just on 116¾ miles, each of the eleven laps just over 10½ miles; of 88 participants on a warm afternoon, exactly half completed the race

The starting and finishing points in Pascoe Vale Road, the roads used were between 14 and 20 feet in width and sealed to make them as puncture-proof as possible; the topography was said to be rather more difficult than Helsinki, mostly flat. but with two steep rises in Somerton Road, and short climbs in Broadmeadows Road.

When the site was selected, the anticipated finishing time was suggested as likely to be about six hours, but improvements to the surface made over a series of test events saw the winner’s time as five hours, 21 minutes and 17 seconds.six hours. (Helsinki by comparison was also roughly 177 miles, but involving 18 laps with the winner’s time just over five hours and four minutes).

There were no existing facilities at Broadmeadows and temporary stands, competitor amenities and ancillary offices had to be constructed, mostly at the finishing point.  A dress rehearsal was held over 52 miles on 27 October, but was cycling officials were bitterly disappointed when only eight riders volunteered to participate.   

The race was held on 7 December and was not without controversy - before, during, and after!.

The individual winner was by around two minutes was Ercole Baldini, of Italy, from Arnaud Geyre, of France and Alan Jackson, Great Britain, but French officials bitterly protested that the official film unit car had helped Baldini win by pacing him over the last two laps of the course; the British team also complained that the car had consistently been 30 yards in front of the Italian and helping him (neither however suggested a reason why anyone in the car would have a motive to aid the Italian rider).

However, the Frenchmen decided that discretion was perhaps after all the better part of valour and at the last minute withdrew the protest. France won the Teams medal from Great Britain and Germany.

Italian officials locked Baldini away in a tin shed to protect him from hundreds of excited Italian supporters, but when he emerged for the Victory Ceremony some 15 minutes later, it was discovered due to a misunderstanding, a band had not arrived to play the anthem and with the distance from the city, disc records could not be sent in time. However, the presentations were made for the individual event and the winner's anthem sung by groups of Italian officials and spectators.

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 A helping hand, Broady-style! Unknown competitors get a cooling-off on a warm afternoon. The post-Games report suggests that only 738 seats were sold for the event, but given the open nature of the event. contemporary accounts suggested probably 30,000 actually saw at least part of the race.
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 The start of the road race - it is not clear how starting positions were determined; the text accompanying the image suggests the two leading riders were from Chile and Uruguay.
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The temporary Press accommodation at Broadmeadows; 69 seats were provided.

As for the presentation of the Gold Medal for the Teams event to France - C’est La Vie!  (That’s Life!)

(Well, not really!  It had been pre-determined some months beforehand that because of the remoteness of the locations where the results were to be decided that the Victory Ceremonies for the Modern Pentathlon and the road cycling Teams event were to held in the Main Stadium on the day after the completion of these events. The road cycling Teams medals were presented prior to the Football final on the closing day!

The Luck (or Lack) of the Irish

Even before the race, there were disruptions - several minutes before the scheduled start, three Irishmen attempted to gate-crash the event and had to been forcibly moved away from other riders before being questioned by police.

The trio claimed they were members of the National Cycling Association of Ireland, which was not a member of the international body and that they had entered for the race, but their entries had been ignored.  That their attempt to disrupt the race became apparent when they were later seen handing out hundreds of pamphlets.

The road race included a Great Britain and Northern Ireland team - Ireland was represented in Melbourne, but did not include a cycling team.

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The Broadmeadows course of just on ten-and-a-half miles

Constable Plod Intervenes  

The race had an amusing prelude - a 100-mile race staged at Broadmeadows in August, 1955 by the Victorian Amateur Cyclist's Union to give local riders experience in road racing ended in farce when a local constable demanded after the event concluded to see every rider that completed the course - eleven in total - and then took down their names and clubs for whom they rode as they had allegedly ridden on the wrong side of the road during the final half-mile!.  

Constable Plod (a.k.a. J. F. O’Toole) claimed he had driven alongside the riders and asked them to stop … "We all kept going, we had no idea he was a policeman", one of the bemused riders explained to the press.  "A few more yards down the road, the man shouted to us, Stop. Police" … "I heard one of the boys say, "Fair go, constable, we'll be finished in another 200 yards … someone started to sprint to the finish line and everyone else followed him").

 St. Kilda Town Hall

 
  

Given the Junction Oval in St. Kilda was along with Princes Park in Carlton regarded as one of Melbourne's two leading sporting arenas other than the M.C.G. in terms of capacity and convenience of public transport, it seems rather odd that it never appears to have been seriously considered as a likely site for hosting Games events in 1956, although the football club did make an application prior to Princes Park being selected.

(It is a matter of history that neither of the-then struggling St. Kilda and Carlton were part of the breakaway group of six Victorian Football Association football clubs that formed the Victorian Football League in 1897.

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St. Kilda were later invited to join the group purely on the location of their ground; Carlton likewise, but only after they could prove they had long-term tenure of Princes Park from the Melbourne City Council).

The suburb, perhaps best-known for its links to arts and the theatre, was to have minor recompense.

Fencing, whilst an age-old sport - in various forms of a military and non-aggressive nature - had always been an integral part of both the ancient and Modern Olympics, but from the Australian viewpoint was one of the newest sports to be included in 1956.  

 

The Australian Amateur Fencing Federation was not formed until 1949, the number of competitors in Australia was limited and the distance between the capital cities made training of officials difficult ; few Australians in fact had previous experience of a major fencing competition and the O.O.C. admitted it had little idea what the demand for spectator accommodation would be.

As a result, it was reluctant to consider expenditure on a new facility and considered several rooms provided by local councils at their municipal halls - eventually, St. Kilda Town Hall was selected over several others, the major advantage being that there were two adjacent ballrooms, each capable of holding four pistes (the strip 14 metres long and between 1.5 and 2 metres wide on which the fencers competed), along with space for temporary dressing and bathing accommodation and with special lighting.

(The Town Hall of 1956 was built as the municipal offices and public hall for the City of St Kilda in 1890, replacing earlier buildings that dated back to the early 1850's, but like many of the municipal halls envisaged during Melbourne’s “Boom” period of the late 1880’s and prior to the economic depression of the early 1890's, the original grand design was never quite completed).

As it emerged, the Town Hall proved to be (with perhaps the anticipated exception of the Swimming Centre) the one site where seating accommodation proved to be totally inadequate with at times, as many as 400 people having to be refused admittance after standing in a queue for over an hour.   Seats were not booked and admission was by ticket at the door.

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141 men from 20 countries and 23 women from 11 competed over 12 days, although some nations did not enter in the team events because of the high cost of transport to Melbourne.

The withdrawal at the eleventh hour of Egypt, Holland and Switzerland reduced the field in fencing as in other events. For the first time in the history of the Games the electric foil was introduced, removing much of the intense pressure previously placed in judges to determine whether a “touch” had been made

Port Phillip Bay

 
       

Yachting was unique amongst the Olympic sports in a number of ways, perhaps none more so that there were no disputes over venues, and no concerns over delays with well-established facilities already available.

Port Phillip Bay was an ideal venue, almost an inland sea covering 725 square miles, virtually free of current or tidal streams at the northern end (meaning the local yachtsmen had no advantage over those the visiting), and with several well-established yachting clubs and their facilities available.

The original schedule was for the events to be held from 26 November to 5 December, this eventually extended by one day after high winds on the 29 November made it impossible to complete the small Finn class

Five local clubs in total contributed to the Regatta.  

The yachting headquarters were established at the Royal St. Kilda Yacht Club which also hosted the Star class; they were joined by the Royal Brighton Yacht Club (Dragon class); Royal Yacht Club (5.5 square metre class); Elwood Sailing Club (12 square metre class) and the Sandringham Yacht Club (Finn Monotype, a single-seat dinghy).

Three courses were laid - the closest to shore and southernmost was a six-mile course sailed by the Finn class; further north a 14-mile course for 5.5 square metre and Dragons, and closest to Melbourne, a ten-mile course for the Star and 12 Square metre classes (the latter a new event).

All provided a water frontage, slipways, laying-up berths, masting derricks, gear lockers, spar and dinghy racks and dining facilities, but no residential accommodation.

In addition to the competition courses, a large patrolled spectator boat area was established off Point Gellibrand at Williamstown.  Obviously with limited appeal to spectators stationed on-shore, there were no enclosures and no tickets were sold.

Each class sailed seven heats with points accumulating from the placings in each   The smallest Finn class used 35 dinghies built in Australia with mainsails including spares imported from England

Australia's defence forces contributed considerably to the conduct of the yachting events.

The Navy was responsible for several specialist tasks - producing and laying marker buoys for the course, publishing charts for competitors, establishing and manning a radio communication centre, smoke launches and control boats on the course, and sentry duties and general duties at  the yacht clubs.  

It also provided three warships (H.M.A.S. Warramunga, Swan and Sprightly) to act as starter vessels and to accommodate the Judges.  The vessels also relayed the on-going positions of boats back to shore and were equipped with progress boards for the benefit of competitors.

An emergency crash launch and its crew were supplied by the Royal Australian Air Force - the R.A.A.F. Band played on twelve days of the Games, including the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Other than the bad weather on 29 November caused the Finn dinghy event to be postponed, the weather proved ideal for competitive racing with wind shifts and strengths varying from day-to-day testing competitors to their limit.  By common consent, the yachting regatta was adjudged among the most successful in the history of the Olympic Games.

Twenty-eight nations competed across the five classes; for virtually all events in the Games, three entry forms were required - for the nation, sport, and individual, but for yachting, another was required describing the boat involved.

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 Royal St. Kilda Yacht Club, headquarters for the yachting events at the Melbourne Olympics
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 H.M.A.S. Warramunga of the Royal Australian Navy acting as starting and committee vessel. Progress board is on the forward deck.
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Oaklands Hunt Club

 
 

Regardless of the fuss over quarantine laws, the question as to the equestrian section of the pentathlon event ass never an issue.

Given this involved competitors for a just a few hours, the normal procedure established over the years was that local horses were trained and allocated to contestants around a week before the event to allow a bonding for the one day cross-country ride.

The riding section of the Melbourne pentathlon was the first of the five legs – in fact, the second event of the Games  to commence – they started at 9.00 a.m. at the Oaklands Hunt Club north-west of Melbourne, just 30 minutes after the Foils Team Fencing as St. Kilda Town Hall.

Prior to the event, a training centre  was set up at Attwood, the Police Training Depot near Broadmeadows, about 10 miles from the Village, and where competitors had the opportunity to ride daily over country very similar to the competition course at Oaklands just two miles away; the O.O.C. purchased around 100 horses for schooling and training, of these just on 80 were considered of suitable standard for allocation when competitors arrived.

Fifty-four entries (including ten reserves) were received from eighteen countries — thirteen teams and five individuals, but following withdrawals, twelve teams and four individual competitors, a total of forty actually participated. As a result of injuries in the riding, four competitors were forced to withdraw and the remaining thirty-six (including eight teams) completed the competition.

 

Scoring

The 1956 Games in Melbourne were the first where points were awarded for individual performances in the pentathlon events - previously competitors had been rated according to their placings in each event.

For the riding event. the course was 5,000 metres with around 30 obstacles, mostly man-made. Since the horses had been proved equal to the difficult terrain, a pace of 500 metres per minute was set as the standard, the total time thus fixed at 10 minutes and 1,000 points, with an addition or deduction of two-and-one-half points for each second under or over such time. Six competitors finished in less than 10 minutes, thirteen negotiated the course without any obstacle faults and seven others had but a single fault. The fastest time was posted by an American rider, 9 minutes and 32 seconds. earning him 1,070 points.

 

Modern Pentathlon : Cross-country Run

Oaklands was used for the Modern Pentathlon for the 4,000-metre cross-country run on day 6 on a track laid just inside the equestrian circuit.

A similar system of scoring was used - the standard time was set at 15 minutes, for which 1,000 points were given, and for every second better or worse than that time three points were added or subtracted. All 36 that survived the first day’s ride competed, 19 bettered the standard time.

Oaklands Junction remains the leading centre in Melbourne for hunt club meetings and is also the location of Victoria’s leading thoroughbred sales complex.

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Pentathlon competitors at Oaklands handle one of several stone fences (above) and emerge from a creek bed crossing up a steep incline(below)
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The 1952 Helsinki winner, L. G. Hall splashes through a creek at Oaklands on his way to a second Gold Medal. His effort gave Sweden the remarkable record of eight Gold from the nine Olympics since 1912 when the Pentathlon was introduced

Road Runners

 

In addition to the cycling road race at Broadmeadows, there were three athletics events contested primarily outside of the Main Stadium, although all had their start and finish in the M.C.G.  The events were unusual in that no world records existed given the variations in natural terrain which they covered; there was an official "Olympic Best Time", but even this was confined to the Marathon as the two walking events were new to the Melbourne Games.

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20 Kilometre Walk (28 November). This was a new event, replacing the 10 km event of the Helsinki Games. Commencing at 2.50 p.m., the walk was east along Brunton Avenue to Punt Road, then eight laps of the loop along Batman Avenue to the Swan Street bridge, then along Alexandra Avenue before returning to the main stadium. The event attracted 21 participants from 10 nations.  As expected, the U.S.S.R. dominated the walk, taking all three medals.

50 Kilometre Walk (24 November) Also a new event which  followed the same course as the Marathon (42.195 km), but extended to near the corner of Springvale and Dandenong roads, this section of around four kilometres rising and falling about 80 metres.  

Under warm and trying conditions with a hot northerly-westerly wind, only six competitors completed the course in under five hours.  The shock, but wildly applauded winner of the Gold Medal was Norman Read from New Zealand, but noted as born in Great Britain and taking out N.Z. citizenship only a few months before the Games.

Marathon (1 December). The event became the first in Olympic history to have the field recalled shortly after the start after several runners fell in a pile-up on the first lap.    Commencing with two-and-a-half laps of the M.C.G., the route travelled west along Brunton Avenue to St  Kilda Road, south to the Junction, and then south-east along Dandenong Road to Clayton at a point just past the intersection of Huntingdale Road, returning the same route to the Main Stadium.

The Gold Medal was taken by thirty-six -year-old Algerian-born Alain Mimoun of France by just over a minute and a half - Mimoun later revealed he had run with the knowledge that his 26-year-old wife back in France had given birth to their first child just a day before the event.

Forty-six runners started, 33 finished, with the last man, a diminutive Japanese runner, finishing forty minutes after Mimoun, but awarded a hero's reception when he struggled into the arena, the only man outside three hours.

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The Marathon, one of the most highly respected of Olympic events, is based upon a popular myth stemming from the Battle of Marathon (circa 530 B.C.) in which a Greek messenger Pheidippides (sometimes Philippides, but for now, Phil-the-Greek)  ran to Athens from the town of Marathon carring the message of a Greek victory, supposedly gasping before the magistrates 'Joy, we win!' before he dropped dead from exhaustion at their feet

Given the antiquity and doubt over the history, the race distance varied from 40 to 42 kilometres (25 to 26 miles) in the early Olympic Games, typically based upon the distance between two points that the organisers found convenient.

The 1908 London Olympics marked the introduction of the now standard distance of 26 miles, 385 yards (42.195 km), but was not until the 1924 Paris Olympics that the distance became the international standard.

The original acceptance of the distance in London in 1908 remains significant in that it remains the only set distance of any Olympic event expressed in non-metric terms.

(I recall the marathon route being designated by green broken lines painted along the roadway to ensure runners that may have become separated from the main group remained "on-course" and some fifteen years later trying to spot the remains of the lines if the regular “Sunday drive” took us over any part of the circuit)

Shooting In The West

 
     

One suspects that if a straw poll had been taken prior to the 1956 Games as to which of the Olympic sport Melburnians were least interested in, shooting would have been a popular choice!It probably would also rate as the least interesting from a spectator's point of view - a running commentary of "Aim!", "Fire!", "Bang!" - perhaps followed by  "Bugger!", "Missed!" - would just about summarise a day's events.All shooting events were held in Melbourne’s west.WilliamstownThe Williamstown Rifle Range was constructed in 1878 for the use of the volunteer forces after housing developments encroaching on The Butts in the northern section of today's Middle Park saw the colonial government set aside the 77-acre site for residential development.It was the obvious choice for the bulk of the shooting competition, military authorities readily consented to use of the range for training and the six events held between 30 November and 5 December.  The Shooting section of the Modern Pentathlon was held at Williamstown on 26 November.Despite the long-established facilities, extensive efforts were required to establish Olympic ranges.Major earthworks were necessary to adjust the existing range to metric distances, and many of the existing targets required renovation because of the poor state of their frame. A new, combined range for the rapid fire pistol (silhouette) and small bore rifle was required, as was another for the running deer event (this suggested as the major part of the construction undertaken by a Melbourne builder, Mr. R. J. Griffiths who also designed the deer silhouettes).The range bordered the sea and was somewhat subject to wind; twenty-two shooting stations, each 12 feet wide and to accommodate two competitors were constructed over the firing points for the 50-metre  distance. During the practice period before the Games commenced, shooters complained that the man allotted the left side of each shooting station was more exposed to the prevailing wind than the other competitor on the right. The International Shooting Union then asked for a dividing partition to be placed in each shooting station to give all competitors similar protection from the wind. This was arranged, leaving 44 stations, each 6 feet wideExisting mounds were used as the protective background, but no special provision was made for spectators, only 634 all-day tickets sold over five sessions.The events at Williamstown were :

Laverton (Royal Australian Air Force Station)The Royal Australian Air Force Command agreed to the construction of a range on the command grounds at Laverton, so that the clay pigeon shooting contests would be held under the best possible conditions, i.e., an open space of level ground, with good light and a clear background. A completely new range was constructed, consisting of a trench where 20 “traps” were installed to launch the targets, the event held between 29 November and 1 December with an unreserved section for spectators, tickets at eleven shillings with just 764 sold over the three days.Basic clay pigeon shooting is performed with a shotgun with targets fired in the air on the shooter's call.  The targets are launched so all competitors receive exactly the same target selection - one straight, two left and two right targets - , but in a random order.  The sport effectively emulates earlier live pigeon shooting where the flight of the birds was unpredictable - live birds were used at the 1896 and 1900 Olympics.The sport has changed considerably over the years in terms of the guns used, but in 1956, the "pigeons" were made of clay and tar and painted black; they travelled at around  60 m.p.h. and from 50 to 55 yards when thrown by a ratchet device from a trap swivelling at 45 degrees to give every "bird" a different angle. The bird had to rise at least nine feet in the air for it to be considered a legal toss.  The event today is often referred to as trap shooting

  • Slow-fire Free pistol, 60 shots at 50 metres
  • Free rifle, 120 shots at 300 metres (40 prone, kneeling and standing)
  • Rapid-fire Pistol (Silhouette), 60 shots at 25 metres
  • Running deer, 100 shots (50 runs with single shots, and 25 runs with double shots at 100 metres)
  • Small-bore rifle, 120 shots(40 each prone, kneeling, standing) at 50 metres
  • Small-bore rifle 60 shots (prone) at 50 metres.
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 Massed crowds at the Williamstown Range, Port Phillip Bay in the background
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 A practice session at Williamstown showing the shooting stations, later modified with a dividing wall to give additional wind protection
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One less hoofed mammal to pester the good citizens of Williamstown - Gold Medallist V. Romanenko (U.S.S.R) on the 100-metre Running Deer range. The target, mounted on a trolley, traversed 23 metres with competitors firing once or twice depending on the section of the contest.  Contestants had a maximum of four seconds to fire in the single-shot and two in the double-shot.
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  Laverton (Royal Australian Air Force Station)The Royal Australian Air Force Command agreed to the construction of a range on the command grounds at Laverton, so that the clay pigeon shooting contests would be held under the best possible conditions, i.e., an open space of level ground, with good light and a clear background. A completely new range was constructed, consisting of a trench where 20 “traps” were installed to launch the targets, the event held between 29 November and 1 December with an unreserved section for spectators, tickets at eleven shillings with just 764 sold over the three days.Basic clay pigeon shooting is performed with a shotgun with targets fired in the air on the shooter's call.  The targets are launched so all competitors receive exactly the same target selection - one straight, two left and two right targets - , but in a random order.  The sport effectively emulates earlier live pigeon shooting where the flight of the birds was unpredictable - live birds were used at the 1896 and 1900 Olympics.The sport has changed considerably over the years in terms of the guns used, but in 1956, the "pigeons" were made of clay and tar and painted black; they travelled at around  60 m.p.h. and from 50 to 55 yards when thrown by a ratchet device from a trap swivelling at 45 degrees to give every "bird" a different angle. The bird had to rise at least nine feet in the air for it to be considered a legal toss.  The event today is often referred to as trap shooting

Sir Frank Beaurepaire Centre

 
  Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics was the death of Sir Frank Beaurepaire on 29 May, just six months before the Games opened.He was, however, to leave an indelible contribution to amateur sporting life in Melbourne before his passing.On 29 April, 1954, it was announced by the Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University, Professor G. W. Paton that Beaurepaire had made a gift of £165,000 to the University for the development of sport and physical education.(Beaurepaire actually had made his offer some eight weeks before, but insisted on a cloak of secrecy being maintained until he left for overseas on a tour of the U.K.  and U.S.A.)Payment of the bequest was to be spread over several years, but it was noted an initial instalment of £35,000 had been paid.
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Professor Paton (who at the time was also Chairman of the Olympic Games Fine Arts Committee and on the Board of Inquiry into the introduction of television Immediately prior to the opening of the Games)) said the money would be used to erect buildings m the University grounds for:

  • the needs of the University Department of Physical Education, especially for research into methods of physical education and medical and technical aspects of physical activities.
  • provision for swimming, gymnastics, squash racquets, boxing, wrestling and other such activities conducted by the University Sports Union, and
  •  a trophy hall and library to encourage students, staff members and the public to take a greater interest in physical exercises.

The Melbourne University commissioned Messrs. A. S. and R. A. Eggleston, a father-and-son firm of architects, later joined by a builder G. A. Winwood Pty. Ltd. of Richmond, who gained another contract valued at  £196,108 from the University later in the year for the reconstruction of Wilson Hall which had been destroyed by fire in 1952.

The Sir Frank Beaurepaire Memorial Centre was formally opened on 1 November, 1956, by Sir Frank’s widow, Lady Beaurepaire.

The cost by this time was put at £200,000 with facilities for swimming, gymnastics, athletics,boxing, wrestling, and basketball, along with the trophy hall and library.  

The jump from the original bequest of £165,000 to £200,000 appears to have been the installation of a cinder training track which was noted at the time of the opening as not being part of the gift (the source of the funds remains unknown).

The Centre opened in time for training sessions in track and field, swimming and gymnastics prior to and during the Games.

On Beaurepaire’s death, his Hawthorn home was valued at £20,000, and his personal estate worth £918,609, made up principally of shares in Olympic Consolidated Industries Ltd., valued at £906,290.  it was noted that State and Federal probate were are expected to total nearly £400,000.

His other legacy to Melbourne which many, many will remember was Beaurepaire’s active support of the Herald Learn-to-Swim campaign which he helped to found in 1929 and with which he served as president for twenty-four years. He fostered the installation of municipal swimming pools, and also financed a dressing-room complex at Albert Park Lake, perhaps close to his heart given his education and early swimming talents emanating from the Albert Park State School.

Swimming ability appears to be in part natural buoyancy of the body - some kids took to it, well, “like a duck to water”, others (author included) that might have had moderately average bility at other sports simply jumped in and dog-paddled, tread under water, or perhaps if the water was shallow enough, sneakily took a few steps along the bottom of the pool

   
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