Hemisphere Games – Australia held it’s first ever Olympic games in Melbourne in 1956. It had been some thirty years previously that Australia had first lobbied to hold the games. They had hoped to stage the 1936 Olympics, but these were given to Germany and held in Berlin instead.
Despite this setback many people were still involved in persuading the International Olympic Committee to take the games to Australia.
A former Olympian Frank Beaurepaire, who had himself won six Olympic medals for swimming was at the forefront of this movement. He was the Mayor of Melbourne and was instrumental in persuading Australian government and businesses how beneficial it would be to the country to host the games.
These officials and Frank lobbied the IOC for quite a number of years before they finally succeeded in persuading them to allow Melbourne the honour of hosting the games .Melbourne won the right to host the games by one vote over Buenos Aires Argentina.
Having been successful in his quest to host the games the people of Melbourne showed their appreciation by electing Frank Beaurepaire as Mayor of the city once again. This was the first time since 1942 he had been elected. Sadly only seven months before the games were due to be held Frank Beaurepaire died of a heart attack and never saw his dream fulfilled.
There were a few problems to overcome before the games were to take place. It couldn’t initially be decided where the main stadium should be, and combined with industrial stoppages and a seemingly complacent attitude toward the games it was even thought for a time that the games may have to be moved to another country.
But all the obstacles were eventually overcome and the XVI Olympiad took place on Thursday November 22nd 1956 in Melbourne.
The 1956 games were unusual in the respect that the games were actually held in two countries, in fact two different continents. Due to Australia’s very strict quarantine laws concerning the import of animals, it was decided that the equestrian events would be held in Stockholm Sweden. The actual games took place in Melbourne in November, while the equestrian events in Stockholm had taken place months earlier in June.
The official opening ceremony took place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The Olympic torch used to light the flame was carried by a young Australian athlete, who went on to become famous around the world. His name was Ron Clarke. The official opening ceremony was performed by the Duke of Edinburgh, and the athlete’s oath was taken by great Australian athlete John Landy.
Around 103,000 spectator’s who had crowded into the arena, watched the seventy-two participating nations enter the arena. A great success for the Olympic committee was the bringing together of East and West Germany to compete as a united team. They entered as the EUA and competed under a black, yellow and red flag complete with Olympic rings. Their “anthem” was Beethoven’s IX symphony Ode To Joy.
With a large team of 291 competitors the home Australian team were expected to do well and they didn’t disappoint. In all they won 35 medals of which 13 were gold.
Over one-third of the medals were won in the swimming pool. The Aussie freestyle swimmers dominated in the men’s and women’s events, having a clean sweep of all the medals in both 100m races. It came as no surprise when they also went on to win both the team relay freestyle events. Other notable successes for the host nation were, in cycling where they won gold in the 2000m tandem, and silver and bronze in the yachting.
The track and field athletes also had great success Shirley Strickland de la Huntly won Gold in the 80m hurdle as well as the sprint relay. Strickland won seven medals in total at three different Olympic Games. Her total haul was three gold -three bronze-and one silver, making her Australia’ most successful ever Olympian. The home crowd also found a new star in their “Golden Girl” Betty Cuthbert who won the sprint double, and was part of the winning relay team, bringing her total of Gold medals to three
Another innovation of these games was the way the closing ceremony was conducted. Prior to these games the closing ceremony was similar to the opening of the games, where the teams marched by nation. On the suggestion of a young Chinese Australian John Ian Wing it was decided as a symbol of global unity, that the athletes should mix and parade together. That practice continued to this day.