Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

Given the Junction Oval in St. Kilda was along with Princes Park in Carlton regarded as one of Melbourne's two leading sporting arenas other than the M.C.G. in terms of capacity and convenience of public transport, it seems rather odd that it never appears to have been seriously considered as a likely site for hosting Games events in 1956, although the football club did make an application prior to Princes Park being selected.

(It is a matter of history that neither of the-then struggling St. Kilda and Carlton were part of the breakaway group of six Victorian Football Association football clubs that formed the Victorian Football League in 1897.

St. Kilda were later invited to join the group purely on the location of their ground; Carlton likewise, but only after they could prove they had long-term tenure of Princes Park from the Melbourne City Council).

The suburb, perhaps best-known for its links to arts and the theatre, was to have minor recompense.

Fencing, whilst an age-old sport - in various forms of a military and non-aggressive nature - had always been an integral part of both the ancient and Modern Olympics, but from the Australian viewpoint was one of the newest sports to be included in 1956.  

The Australian Amateur Fencing Federation was not formed until 1949, the number of competitors in Australia was limited and the distance between the capital cities made training of officials difficult ; few Australians in fact had previous experience of a major fencing competition and the O.O.C. admitted it had little idea what the demand for spectator accommodation would be.

As a result, it was reluctant to consider expenditure on a new facility and considered several rooms provided by local councils at their municipal halls - eventually, St. Kilda Town Hall was selected over several others, the major advantage being that there were two adjacent ballrooms, each capable of holding four pistes (the strip 14 metres long and between 1.5 and 2 metres wide on which the fencers competed), along with space for temporary dressing and bathing accommodation and with special lighting.

(The Town Hall of 1956 was built as the municipal offices and public hall for the City of St Kilda in 1890, replacing earlier buildings that dated back to the early 1850's, but like many of the municipal halls envisaged during Melbourne’s “Boom” period of the late 1880’s and prior to the economic depression of the early 1890's, the original grand design was never quite completed).

As it emerged, the Town Hall proved to be (with perhaps the anticipated exception of the Swimming Centre) the one site where seating accommodation proved to be totally inadequate with at times, as many as 400 people having to be refused admittance after standing in a queue for over an hour.   Seats were not booked and admission was by ticket at the door.

141 men from 20 countries and 23 women from 11 competed over 12 days, although some nations did not enter in the team events because of the high cost of transport to Melbourne.

The withdrawal at the eleventh hour of Egypt, Holland and Switzerland reduced the field in fencing as in other events. For the first time in the history of the Games the electric foil was introduced, removing much of the intense pressure previously placed in judges to determine whether a “touch” had been made

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Playgrounds : St. Kilda Town Hall


A bout at St. Kilda Town Hall - the main ballroom organ in the left background while judges monitor the contest alongside the piste, the stretch of matting which constituted the area of combat

THE ROSE SERIES P. 13488   

TOWN HALL, ST. KILDA, MELBOURNE,

WHERE OLYMPIC FENCING EVENTS WILL BE HELD


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