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MCG memories: 1956 Olympics

MCG Memories Wednesday NOV 23

"When I took a photo of the start of the 50km walk 60 years ago, I never thought that one of the participants would later become a good friend." Ann Rusden

In 1956 I was fortunate to be able to attend four days of the Olympic Games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground: the Opening Ceremony on Thursday November 22, the two Saturday sessions of the athletics on November 24 and December 1 and the Closing Ceremony on December 8.

My father, a long-time MCC member had been able to purchase tickets in the offer given to members when they agreed to vote away their rights at the ground for the duration of the games.

For the Opening Ceremony my father and I sat in the bottom section of the Northern [later Olympic] Stand, in a section that turned out to be not too far around from the Royal Box. We were very excited as it was to be the first time we were to sit in the new stand built especially for the Games.

There had been controversy over the delayed construction and a mighty rush to complete it in time. When we arrived on the day we were very disappointed to find that not all had been finished to final specifications, as we were sitting on long wooden planks, not the pristine bench seating that was eventually installed.

The day was full of ceremonial pomp and pageantry, very different to today’s style of Opening Ceremony with a military marching band and the dedicatory address and blessing given by Archbishop Booth.

However the main emphasis was upon the athletes themselves, as they formally marched into the ground. It was a sea of colour with their different uniforms. I especially remember the sky blue of the Indian team with the men all wearing matching turbans. The wave of cheering and applause for the different teams was deafening, especially for the Australians.

Two days later we returned for the athletics and this time we were sitting in the top deck of the Grey Smith Stand.  It was a day of memorable events: the pole vault - qualifying trials; hammer throw - qualifying and final; 50km walk, 400 metres hurdles semi-finals and final; women’s 100m first round and semi finals; long jump; 800m semi-finals; and the men’s 100m semi-finals and final.

During the course of the day I took a photo of the start of the 50km walk. This event had 21 starters from 10 nations and was won by Norman Read of New Zealand. In that race was Eric Hall of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who finished ninth.  He went on to compete for Great Britain again in 1960 in the 20km walk in Rome. Eric appears on the back left of the “pack” in my photograph, which is actually a colour slide.

I did not know Eric at the time; indeed we did not meet until 1996 when, accompanied by his wife Mavis, he was back in Melbourne for the 40th anniversary of the 1956 Olympic Games. Eric and Mavis attended a range of the celebrations organised by the Victorian Olympic Council including the formal dinner at the National Tennis Centre on November 22 (it was not at the MCG due to the Michael Jackson concert being held that night!) and the tour of the ground and the Australian Gallery of Sport & Olympic Museum the following day.

We met through my connection to tours and the MCC Library, which they also visited and spent time reading through the 1956 Olympic Games collection. They had an extended stay in Melbourne and during the course of their visit I arranged to take them on a few excursions around Melbourne while some colleagues from the library and I took them out for a few meals and had them over for dinner.

They have been back a number of times since, including 2002, when Eric competed in the World Masters Games. I sat with Mavis in the stands at the MCG to watch a far more informal opening ceremony for that event than the one in which Eric took part in 1956. I’ve visited them in the UK when on cricket tours or to see friends and over the years we have indeed become good friends.

The Halls’ main visits to Melbourne have been to commemorate the 1956 Olympic Games, having also attended the celebrations for the 50th anniversary in 2006 and the 60th anniversary taking place this week, where Eric and Mavis are here from Great Britain. They visited the MCG again on November 21 as part of the formal schedule of events for 1956 Olympians and their families and friends. It was then that another photo was taken of us inspecting some of the 1956 collection displays in the MCC Library.

Sport gives us many great and happy memories, but it also enables us to build strong friendships.  When I took a photo of the start of the 50km walk 60 years ago, I never thought that one of the participants would later become a good friend.

Eric Hall’s thoughts on the 1956 Olympic Games 50km walk were captured by the British Library’s oral history program and can heard here and here.

Want to contribute your own MCG memory? Find out how here.