Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey
Playgrounds : Princes Park
After the rejection of the Showgrounds as a major site for the location of the Games, the potential construction of the main stadium in Carlton came with a surprise announcement by Cr. William Brens, chairman of the Melbourne City Council's Parks and Gardens Committee (and Lord Mayor, 1952-
It was also suggested that a Council playing area near the Zoo could be used as a training area. The Carlton ground had previously held a crowd of just under 63,000 when it was used as the Victorian Football League during the Second World War with the Melbourne Cricket Ground occupied by the military.
The revelations came after the Melbourne Cricket Ground Trustees finally announced after months of dithering that they would not make their venue available because of concerns that the surface could be irreparably damaged by levelling operations required bring the facility up to Olympic standard.
It was said the surface of the ground at that stage fell away by over seven feet following the natural slope from the north-
Several other sites were briefly mentioned, but Carlton was confirmed as the potential site at the special meeting of the Prime Minister Robert Menzies, other Commonwealth and State representatives, members of the City Council, and the Olympic Organising Committee (including the Chairman, Wilfred Kent Hughes) held in Melbourne on 19 March, 1952.
It was suggested that the Committee's vote was eight to two in favour, the two dissidents the Victorian Premier, John McDonald and the State Labour Minister, Mr. Harvey, who both retained a preference for the original Showgrounds site.
It was revealed around a month later that while much re-
Leading the push for the development were Mr. William ("Big Bill") Barry, the M.L.A. for the seat of Melbourne and also a Melbourne City Councillor, and Kenneth Luke, president of both the V.F.L. and Carlton Football Club and prominent in the Olympic Organising Committee.
(Barry was also demanding that the Olympic Village should be constructed in a northern part of Carlton as part of a slum-
The V.F.L. also threw its not inconsiderable weight behind the plan, believing it may be able to switch its administrative headquarters and play finals at Princes Park and become independent of its reliance on the M.C.G. and in turn, the Melbourne Cricket Club; it gave Carlton nominal permission to play at Coburg while construction was in progress, after a proposal that they play at the M.C.G. on alternate Saturdays while Melbourne were away was strenuously opposed by Richmond who claimed that their gates next-
Princes Park was officially confirmed as the centre for the main stadium on 19 March -
(Other schemes were submitted by the Royal Agricultural Society, who controlled the Showgrounds, the Olympic Park trustees, the Exhibition trustees and the St. Kilda and South Melbourne Football Clubs).
The cost of upgrading Princes Park was eventually put at £547,000, half to be provided by the Federal Government, the balance split equally between the State Government and Melbourne City Council.
One of the major advantages of the Princes Park location was the availability of the University to accommodate athletes (later rejected as unviable and disruptive to academic life during a period where many examinations were held) and the use of grounds at the University, Princes Park and Royal Park for training. It was also suggested that a section of Royal Park in Flemington Road, Parkville, known as Camp Pell, a Second World War army base being used a migrant hostel might be demolished and either the Olympic Pool or cycling stadium erected there.
The design for the Stadium was an open competition, the award in October to 44-
In the first week of December, Mr Ernest A. Watts, one of Melbourne's leading builders, was awarded the contract to build the "£1 million" main stadium at Carlton. The target date for completion was December, 1955 with construction to commence about the middle of 1954. Watts was appointed on a fixed fee based on the estimate of cost "which would be available as soon as plans were developed far enough".
Storm clouds were building, however -
Cain was duly elected, and immediately on taking office in January, Cain reiterated that the State Government "will not provide a penny more than £312,500", the figure agreed as the State Government's contribution in March, 1952. Arthur Coles, chairman of the Olympic Control Committee's response : "Make up your minds, otherwise Chicago is ready to step in and take the Games from us".
Figures quoted by Cain showed that the estimated cost of the new main stadium in Princes Park was 200% more than the amount estimated in March of the previous year. A few days later, Cain announced that he had also rejected the proposal that an Olympic village "to cost thousands of pounds" be erected at Heidelberg to house athletes, instead the work was unnecessary as the Chairman of the Organising Committee, Wilfred Kent Hughes had arranged that the 3,000 athletes be housed in the University of Melbourne with lecture rooms be available for meetings..
Despite their political differences, Cain approached the Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies asking for a conference to re-
Cain also insisted all work on the Carlton site cease immediately and expressed his annoyance that erection of a security fence around the site was continued the previous day. He refused to comment on the possibility of the Melbourne Cricket Ground becoming the main stadium if the Carlton project failed through a lack of finance.
He suggested that in 1952, Kent Hughes had submitted "checked" figures stating that the Carlton site would cost £547,000, the swimming pool £200,000, the cycling stadium £120,000, and contingencies £80,000 (with no mention of the Olympic Village, apparently because it was assumed that any costs would be covered by the accommodation reverting to public housing). The then Premier Mr John McDonald and the Prime Minister agreed to raise the estimate to £1,250,000 to cover rising costs -
By March, 1953, The Age was reporting that little hope was being held that the 1956 Games would be held in Melbourne.
Cain was still refusing to condone Heidelberg as the site for a Village, the University was now considered woefully inadequate and the last-
Menzies said: "We are not prepared to give the Olympic Games priority over the defence effort of this country. The Federal Government greatly values having the Olympics in Australia, and would regard as foolish anything which prevented the Games being held, but in a time of international tension, the Albert Park barracks are part of the defence effort."
After two days of negotiation, it was agreed that to allow construction of the Village, the Federal Government would bring forward £2 million of its 1957 housing grant as an interest-
The development of Princes Park, however, was "dead in the water".
A crucial conference on 2 February drew together the Prime Minister, the Premier, the Leader of the Federal Opposition, Arthur Calwell (all three members of the 12 Trustees of the M.C.G.) and most of the senior Olympic representative with it being noted prior that an engineer from the Public Works Department had already drawn up plans for re-
The following day, the switch to the M.C.G. was formally announced after approval was given by the secretary of the M.C.G.; extensive plans for upgrading to Olympic standards outlined and for the O.O.C. to have exclusive use of the ground and all facilities, as well as exclusive rights to radio, television, press, cinema and photographs during the Games.
There were suggestions -
Charges by the builder, E .A. Watts were said to be separate to Heath's claims; his company had in fact built outer stands at the M.C.G. in the late 1930's.
Arthur Coles stated he was not in a position to give guarantees as to the compensation as the Premier had relieved the Organising Committee of responsibility for the builder and architect by declaring the M.C.C. "would do its own work".
Above : Frank Heath’s architectural model of the proposed stadium
Below : An artist’s impression showing the main features of the stadium from the same aspect.
Bottom : Artist’s impression of the proposed entrance with the Olympic Tower in the background. This was part of a Pathe Films newsreel distributed world-
The ground as it actually looked in 1950’ The northern stand which was initially mooted for demolition is left, the Heatley Stand bottom right
|Manningham Reserve, Parkville|
|And Others ...|
|Manningham Reserve, Parkville|
|And Others ...|