Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

(Perhaps better later known from HSV-7 World Of Sport days as "the House of Stoush").

The 42-year-old stadium in Dudley Street was originally nominated as the site for the boxing events, but it was totally destroyed by fire in the early morning of 24 January, 1955.

Mr. Dick Lean, manager of the John Wren-controlled Stadiums Limited announced immediately plans to re-build, claiming the new facility would be ready for the Olympics and designed to accommodate up to 15,000 in air-conditioned comfort and with sports other than boxing as well as concerts and theatrical productions.

(Reports suggested that since it opened in 1913, upwards of 30,000 fights, main and preliminary, had been staged at the Stadium with its weekly programmes suspended only twice — during the First World War, and for a while during the 1930-32 depression period.

There were originally thoughts that the gymnastics and possibly wrestling might be held at the Melbourne Town Hall, but there were concerns at the space available and prior to the preliminary programme being released, they were rescheduled for the Exhibition Buildings, but after the provision of additional dressing room facilities financed by the Organising Committee, the Stadium was also awarded the gymnastic events.

The Stadium re-opened on 12 October, 1956, an estimated 12,000 lining up for entrance, but with 4,000 having to be turned away.

The Stadium’s capacity was approximately 7,000 for boxing (compared to 10,000 in the original).  For gymnastics, requiring more floor space for competitors, around 5,000 after the ring and portable ring-side seating was removed, although other sources suggested that around 4,000 tickets were consistently sold for the latter events.

There were ten weight divisions in the boxing tournament, each conducted (pardon the pun) on a "knock-out" basis between November 23 to December 1, after which the portable facilities were removed and the gymnastic events, seven for women and eight for men, conducted between December 3 and 7.

Each country was allowed to enter a team of eight gymnasts, but in contrast to the previous Olympics not more than six of them were allowed to participate in all exercises. Nations with incomplete teams, could enter one to three gymnasts for the individual competition.

There also no provision for national or Olympic flags on the exterior of the building; instead they were draped from the roof structure - described as unconventional, but according to reports adding considerable colour to a building which at best could be described as “utilitarian”.

Much of Dick Lean’s activities were assumed by his son Dick junior around 1960 and he progressively moved the venue away from boxing into successful promotions of major local and overseas musical acts which increased the use of the venue significantly and saw it renamed as Festival Hall.

Perhaps the major achievement came in 1964 when Lean junior booked the Beatles to play the venue in 1964.

It was undoubtedly the only covered site in Melbourne that could have accommodated the “Fab Four” and Festival Hall remains the largest enclosed live performance venue in Melbourne. Current publicity places the capacity at 1,740 (recent works at the sidney Myer Music Bowl on the lawns extending from the seating and stage, and the construction of a fence and gates has reduced the total capacity to a little over 12,000, but, of course, subject to the vagaries of Melbourne’s weather!,


Playgrounds : West Melbourne Stadium

Above : West Melbourne Stadium (“The House of Stoush”) showing the portable ring and seats (to the right).  These were removed after the boxing tournament ended and the expanded space used for gymnastics during the last week of the Games.

Below : After the hasty conversion for Gymnastics, this image showing national flags hanging from the rood=f structure.

The Stadium, circa 1960

The Swedish Women’s team in the Portable Apparatus event

Ticket for Boxing at the West Melbourne Stadium, 29 November. As with many of the event tickets, the clock face indicated the commencement of the session’s events.