Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey


Playgrounds : And The Others …

In this final section of Playgrounds, we document other sites that were considered, some in fact even pencilled in but later dropped for various reasons in favour of another venue.

The list only included those that appear to have received official consideration and not the “hopefuls”; in this latter category, there were six or seven country towns with a reasonable stretch of water who put their hand up for rowing events, but in most cases, with no accommodation facilities.

By general event category :

Compulsory Sports

Athletics : By far the most popular sport, track and field was always going to be held in the “Main Stadium”, but of course there was considerable debate as to where that elusive stadium was going to be!

Boxing : Originally assigned to the West Melbourne Stadium prior to it being destroyed by fire.  Stadiums Limited undertook to re-build the venue in time for the Games and there does not appear to have been any real consideration given to an alternative.

Cycling : Although nothing definite, there was early thought given to holding the Road Race on a circuit around the Domain on much the same course as the 20 Km Walk, but this would have meant up to 50 laps with the very real chance competitors being “lapped” two or three times, which would have been massively confusing for spectators.  The course was probably thought too flat and easy to be a real challenge; there seems to have some thought of a course at Templestowe used for local road races, perhaps ignored given transport difficulties.  

Fencing : After the Showgrounds plan was dropped, pretty much always St. Kilda Town Hall, although other municipal centres were considered and at one point even suburban Army drill halls were mentioned. With the perfect  clarity of hindsight . A perhaps larger site could have been found as the sport attracted unexpectedly large crowds with many turned away at some night sessions. As something of an oddity, the Fencing Association entrusted its plans for the Games to the joint secretaries, two Melbourne women, Mrs. Betty Stokes and Miss Doris Suttee, both described as former champions and Mrs Stokes as having represented Australia in the 1950 Empire Games in. New Zealand.

Gymnastics : No pun intended (much), but the gymnastics bounced around - initially at Melbourne Town Hall, then the Exhibition, the Glaciarium in July, 1953 before the redevelopment of West Melbourne Stadium with a suitable sized central area after some inner temporary seating was removed.  Like the Exhibition (wrestling and weightlifting), this meant that the two sports assigned could not be conducted simultaneously, but competition restricted to five or six daays, this was not a problem at either venue.

Modern Pentathlon : Given each of the five events lasted a single morning or afternoon session, three disciplines - shooting, fencing and swimming were easily catered for at the venues established for those sports, the riding event obviously required large stables and Oaklands was an ideal choice; from that point, it was common sense to cut a track for the cross-country run. (Early programs simply suggested “country venue”).

Rowing : As we noted above, many hands went up after the Yarra and Albert Park were ruled out. The Barwon at Geelong was possibly the second choice, but there were a number of problems - it was a tidal river and there were doubts as to whether a straight course of suitable length could be established due to a bridge over the lower part of the course. The big loser was the tiny hamlet of Learmonth, given a couple of months of glory after Lake Wendouree was ruled out as too shallow.

Shooting : always the Williamstown Rifle Range, although requiring extensive work to convert ranges to metric and with specialised targets.  The Laverton R.A.A.F. base came into play because of the specialized equipment required to launch the clay pigeon targets, but at the time, several trap-shooting ranges in outer Melbourne area were operating, although the work required to bring them up to standard is unknown.

Swimming and Diving) ; The big loser here was Fawkner Park, basically eventually rejected on environmental grounds. One wonders just how far such a plan would get today!

Weightlifting and Wresting : Alphabetically neighbours, they were also both proposed for the Melbourne Town Hall (Wrestling also at West Melbourne) before switched to the Exhibition where they were held on the same location.  There is no apparent reason given for the switch away from the Melbourne Town Hall - it was probably because the number of civil functions hosted by the Council may have precluded its use for actual events.

Optional sports :

There were identical to those offered at the 1952 Helsinki Games - whether this was a deliberate decision by the Invitation Committee to boost the bid remains unknown. Given all except Canoeing were single team events which with reserves required up to 15 players, the cost to competing nations probably far exceeded any kudos in gaining a medal, but who are we to argue with National Pride!

(Questions were asked in the Press prior to the 1952 Games when the A.O.F. quoted a cost of £1,000 to send each athlete to Helsinki, one estimate suggesting ot would cost £12,000 to send a rowing eight,  when for the same amount, 12 individuals could compete in at least 12 events.  Hockey, basketball and water polo were obviously in the same category, probably even more so. Several critics suggested that if the sports themselves could raise the money to send their team, well and good, but they should not assume the A.O.F. would pick up the bill - Australia in fact had never won a single water polo match at the Games prior to Melbourne..  

Basketball : Although still a relatively minor sport in Australia, basketball was growing steadily with an influx of European migrants. The original plans for the Showgrounds included basketball. The sport had no permanent indoor venue in Melbourne, but it was noted at the time of the Great Debate over the Main Stadium that there were five courts available at the Exhibition, although these had to be vacated when trade shows were held.  The Exhibition remained the choice until the W’s Weightlifting and Wrestling were re-located from Melbourne Town Hall.  In June, 1953, the Glaciarium was nominated for both basketball and gymnastics, but this decision appears to have been revoked in mid-1956 and a temporary court established in an annex at the Exhibition.

Canoeing : Given Rowing was a compulsory, it comes ass something of a surprise that canoeing (and kayaking) were optional.  There was some thought early on that they may have been held on Albert Park Lake as the minimum depth required was less for the one or two-man crews, but it was probably common sense to include them with Rowing and use the same facilities at Ballarat.

Football and Hockey : At the time the successful Games bid was announced, both Football and Soccer were proposed for “local grounds”, but this may have been a political ploy to promote the re-development of Olympic Park as both sports were already being played there, albeit with sub-standard facilities (although having said that, either of both probably have been played of League grounds in necessary).  When it became known that the M.C.G. would be available, semi-finals and the final of the Football and the final of Hockey were switched to the Main Stadium with preliminaries on the two new arenas at Olympic Park

Water Polo : Obviously linked to swimming and Diving above