Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

Although attracting little attention at the time, staging of the Olympic Games required the host city to stage a Fine Arts program.

At most prior Games, this constituted an Arts Competition, but following a proposal put forward by Melbourne at the I.O.C. Congress in Athens in May, 1954, it was agreed to both widen the scope, but to narrow the focus to national rather than international works.

The program in Melbourne was originally assigned to a Fine Arts Sub-Committee formed in November, 1953 and under the chairmanship of Professor George W. Paton, Vice-Chancellor at Melbourne University.

In March,  1955, however, it was decided to bring control under the Olympic Civic Committee of the Melbourne City Council with O.O.C. representation and the renowned conductor, Professor Sir Bernard Heinze as Chairman of the Fine Arts Sub-Committee.

(The Olympic Civil Committee under Cr. Maurice Nathan had funds made available by the City Council which eventually totalled £100,000 and was charged with many social and other functions normally undertaken by the civic authorities.

Other than the Festival, these included the accommodation of visitors other than those directly connected with the Games organization (these provided for by the O.O.C.), the decoration of the city, the establishment of information centres and provision of hospitality to visitors.

The Melbourne Festival had two themes :

Visual Arts and Literature with four sections - Architecture and Sculpture at the University's new Wilson Hall which was put forward as a modern example of the former, Painting and Drawing (National Gallery and Museum), Graphic Arts (Royal Melbourne Technical College) and Literature (Public Library),  

Music and Drama with three sections:

Theatre, principally four Mozart operas and a presentation of Ray Lawler's "The Summer of the Seventeen Doll" which premiered the previous year, both of these themes in conjunction with the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, plus an all-Australian puppet show, The Tintookies (devised by Peter Scriven) for day-time audiences; Orchestral with four concerts in Melbourne Town Hall, two each from the Victorian and Sydney Symphony Orchestra, plus two open-air concerts on the Sunday afternoons in the Botanic Gardens and one at the Olympic Pool where part of the diving pool was covered by a temporary stage); there was also five recitals of Chamber Music.

Just how successful the Festival was is impossible to gauge, but perhaps it was simply a case that over the two-and-a-bit weeks of the Games, Melburnians just had too much to handle.

The Official Report on the Games suggests that the concerts by the Victorian and Sydney orchestras were presented to capacity houses, those in the Botanical Gardens were packed, and the concert in the Swimming Pool was especially popular, but attendances at the opera performances “suffered from the general air of celebration and the social gatherings incidental to the Games”, and “… few people attended the chamber music concerts who would not have supported these at any other time”.

On the credit side, some suggest that the Fine Arts Festival may have been responsible for adding several cultural themes to the annual Moomba Festival which was introduced in 1955, the inaugural programme including a fireworks display, float parade, vintage car display, rowing regatta,  cycling race, tennis at Kooyong, and performances by the Victorian Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic choir.  


Playgrounds : The Fine Arts Festival

Above : The orchestral concert at the Olympic Pool

Below : J. Carrington Smith's portrait of Professor A. L. McAulay, one of the paintings in the Fine Arts section

Bottom : The Tintookies with good friend, Peter Scriven