Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey


Playgrounds : Fawkner Park (Close, But No Pool)

In July, 1952, two potential sites were announced for the 1956 Olympic Pool - an area in Fawkner Park off Toorak Road opposite the Fawkner Club Hotel, and another one on the boatshed site just west of Princes Bridge between Alexandra Avenue and the Yarra; the sites were suggested on the assumption that it might not be practical or advantageous to alter an existing "Olympic Pool" in Batman Avenue to the required Olympic Games standard.

At this early stage, there was no agreement as to whether the swimming events would be held at an indoor or open pool, the latter being used in 1952 in Helsinki; there was however a consensus that the ultimate venue should be adaptable to other sports with the pool below floor level and able to be easily covered over,

The option of upgrading the existing pool was considered unlikely as it required additional land from the Railways Department and an engineer's report revealed the back of the pool was broken and there were doubts the foundations would take additional buildings.

Within a month, it was assumed the site at Fawkner Park would be chosen with its proximity to St. Kilda Road trams and the South Yarra railway station; at the same time, the special committee set up to investigate sites received a £40,000 quote to demolish the Batman-avenue pool.

The Construction Committee commissioned test boring at Carlton and Fawkner Park; but when the chairman of the City Council Parks and Gardens Committee visited Fawkner Park, he discovered twelve 12 80-year-old elm trees on the proposed site and immediately demanded that preliminary work be halted.  It was ultimately concerns over the alienation of the parkland that saw construction plans abandoned.

A design competition for the Olympic Pool was launched in October, 1952 with entries closing in December, still on the assumption that Fawkner Park would be the site.

A similar competition for the proposed Main Stadium at Princes Park was decided around the same time, and winning architect, Frank Heath immediately suggested that Fawkner Park was too far from the Carlton venue and that organisers should abandon the plan and instead consider clearing Camp Pell (a.k.a “Camp Hell”) in Flemington Road near the corner of Elliott Avenue in Parkville, a U.S. Army base during the war, later converted to a migrant hostel and generally considered an eyesore and one of Melbourne’s worst slum despite being in a prominent location on one of the main thoroughfares into Melbourne.

The ultimate revolutionary design for the pool was selected in December, still on the basis of it being constructed in Fawkner Park, but the decision was taken at a time when there were major concerns over the burgeoning costs of the Games sites.

Eight Melbourne City Councillors declared they were in favour of switching the pool site away from Fawkner Park on the basis it would not be financially viable after the Games and that replacing the existing Baths at St. Kilda were thousands flocked to the beach would be a better alternative.

At the time the Melbourne Council already controlled four pools, all running at a loss, St. Kilda had none, and there was mounting resentment both in the public arena and within the ruling Labor Party Cabinet over the potential alienation of existing parkland).

The bombshell dropped on Fawkner Park on 14 May, when the Acting Premier Leslie Galvin (Premier John Cain was in England for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II) announced that the site would not go ahead; there were claims "an even more suitable site" would be found, with the most suitable suggested as St. Kilda, but in fact, St. Kilda Council had the previous week rejected any plans for construction of the foreshore.

The cancellation infuriated Olympic Control Committee chairman, Arthur Coles, who said he had a promise from Premier Cain before he left for overseas that the pool would be built as planned in Fawkner Park, and that he had no reason to suspect that the promise wouldn't be honoured.  

Coles, a key figure in bringing the Games to Melbourne and in the early planning, tendered his resignation to Galvin the following week, claiming he had pledged to the I.O.C. the pool would be built in Fawkner Park and he had been placed in an impossible position in terms of further negotiations.  The reaction of Cain to the cancellation was not recorded.

The eventual site at the Olympic Park complex was selected by a Pool Site Committee at the end of May..


Camp Pell, 1955, proposed at one stage as an alternative to Fawkner Park for the Olympic Pool. The building in the foreground was the communal wash-house.  

The Camp was demolished prior to the Games and returned to public parkland; many of the migrants resident there were later moved to the public housing at the Heidelberg Village after the Games ended.