Memorabilia from the XVI Olympiad, Melbourne 1956


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From the 22nd of November through to the 8th of December 1956, Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games, it was the first time in the history of the Games that an Olympiad was staged in the southern Hemisphere.

Preceded by a period of international turmoil and tension (cold war, Suez crises, etc), many countries boycotted the Games, thus the number of competitors (3342) was the smallest since 1932. Another setback was forced by Australia’s very strict quarantine laws, which caused the equestrian events to be held in Stockholm, Sweden instead. Back home the pre-games period was plagued by delays and disputes over organisation on the various Games construction sites, to the point where on three occasions (1951,1953 and 1955) – Melbourne came close to losing the Games. A year later, most of the problems were settled and the Games proceeded without any major problems and went on to become a magnificent success. Because of the goodwill and friendship between the teams and the abundant good spirited nature of the crowds, the Melbourne Games became forever known as the Friendly Games. The mood of goodwill was further consolidated by the decision of the Games organizers to adopt a suggestion from John Ian Wing, an Australian-born Chinese citizen, that all teams should mingle and walk (not march) during the closing ceremony. This became an Olympic Games tradition.

Competing on their home ground for the first time, Australia fielded a record team made up of 256 men and 35 women which went on to win 13 gold, 8 silver and 14 bronze medals, a record haul as well.

A capacity crowd at the MCG witnessed a glorious Opening Ceremony in which Ron Clarke scorching his arm carrying the Olympic Torch, lit the Olympic flame while having a slight stumble on the final step up to the block to reach the couldron.

The Games introduced us to a new crop of Australian sports heroes such as, Betty Cuthbert, Murray Rose, Dawn Fraser and Lorraine Crapp.  Some of the sporting highlights were Cuthbert in track and field, winning gold in the 100 and 200 metres and the 4 x 100 metres relay, in the swimming pool, Dawn Fraser winning her first two gold medals of a spectacular career and seventeen year old Murray Rose matching Cuthbert, by winning gold in the 400 and 1500 metres and 4 x 200 relay.

The introduction of television was also rushed in to enable Australians to view it all at home for the first time.

Medal Tally

Country               Gold                 Silver         Bronze           Total

1  USSR                37                     29               32                   98

2  USA                   32                     25               17                   74

3  Australia          13                      8                 14                  35

4  Hungary             9                     10                  7                   26

5  Italy                     8                       8                   9                   25



Sports and locations

Opening and closing ceremonies – MCG

Athletics – MCG

Basketball – The Glaciarium

Fencing – StKilda Town Hall

Soccer – MCG and Olympic Park

Weightlifting – Royal Exhibition Building

Modern pentathlon – Oaklands Huntclub and various arenas

Boxing – Melbourne Festival Hall

Hockey – MCG and Olympic Park

Yachting – Port Phillip Bay

Shooting – Williamstown range and RAAF station at Laverton

Rowing – Lake Wendouree, Ballarat

Swimming and Diving – Olympic Swimming Pool

Wrestling – Royal Exhibition Building

Cycling – Olympic Velodrome and country road course, Broadmeadows

Gymnastics – The Glaciarium

Demonstrations – MCG

The Olympic Village was at Heidelberg

The Olympic Pool, location for swimming and diving.


Brian Membrey's picture
Great images, but the Glaciarium WAS NOT used for Olympic events. Basketball and gymnastics were planned, but in August, 1956 after the proprietors demanded 20,000 pounds rental for six-week period, Games organisers ordered a new court to be hastily constructed new court to be built at the Exhibition and the gymnastics were switched to West Melbourne Stadium and conducted in the week following the conclusion of the Boxing tournament
Peter Maltezos's picture
Hi Brian,

Thanks for the correction!

My information was gleaned from ephemera of that time, so the printing of these pamphlets and guides was obviously done before the decision was made to move the events.

I collect, therefore I am.
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