Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

Heidelberg : Hungary vs Russia

#top

There were two controversies at the Village after Russian tanks and troops invaded Budapest in Hungary around a fortnight before the Opening Ceremony after uprisings against the pro-Soviet Government

After being evacuated from the conflict and after an arduous journey via Czechoslovakia, 91 members of the Hungarian team arrived at Essendon Airport a week later than scheduled and were greeted by some 3,000 Hungarian-Australians that beseeched them to seek asylum in Australia


The Flag Controversy

Even before their arrival, there had been controversy over the "Hungarian" flag being flown at the Village which featured the hammer-and-sickle symbolising Communism.  The flag had already raised the ire of Hungarian team officials who had moved in ahead of the team, and they decided to express their sympathy for the uprising of their countrymen

On the morning of 12 November (the day prior to the bulk of the team's arrival), about 30 Hungarians shouting "Long live free Hungary" tore down the Hungarian Communist flag flying outside the Village, ripped it to shreds and raised a Free Hungary flag featuring the coat-of-arms and with a black mourning band stitched across it

As a political protest, the incident attracted some criticism, and in fact, proved pointless as Australian officials just a few minutes later to change the flag following a request cabled from Darwin by the Hungarian team leader Gyula Hegyi the previous day  The Hungarians later apologised to Australian officials … "we did not stop to think"   A later ASIO report revealed that two drivers with the Hungarian team were responsible.

Despite the interrupted preparation and grave concerns over the safety of loved ones back home, the relatively small Hungarian team ended up winning nine gold medals in Melbourne, included that for water polo after an infamous incident the previous night in the preliminary final against Russia saw a Hungarian player king-hit behind play, the incident graphically captured by television cameras and pool-side photographers and causing a near-riot which had to be broken up by police planted by Olympic officials fearful of such an incident.

Blood In The Water

After several days of the international press labelling the Melbourne Olympics “The Friendly Games”, the incident in the water polo match was immediately labelled “Blood In The Water”, and in retrospect, it was fortunate it scenes incident took place on 6 December, just two days before the Closing Ceremony.

With tensions between the two teams on a knife-edge, the 41 male Hungarian athletes moved into the U.S. quarters at the Olympic Village after the Closing Ceremony until the Russian team departed.  The seven women remained in their own quarters, but both groups were heavily guarded by Commonwealth Security agents and soldiers and the Hungarians were advised to move around the Village in pairs and not stay outside quarters after 10.00 p.m.

A Hungarian athlete was quoted as saying "It is not that we are frightened by the Russians - you can say they are frightened of us - but we will be very glad when the Gruzia leaves Melbourne to-morrow", adding that until the Soviet ship left, they would not take any risks.  (The Soviet team were the only contingent to arrive by sea - after the Hungarian situation flared up and prior to the Games, there were concerns that the Russians may have been recalled as the Gruzia made no contact with local officials for several days.

(The “Cold War” was at its peak, and although it has never been proven, there are reports that Prime Minister Menzies rather naively “forbade” the C.I.A. from coming to Australia to try and get Eastern Bloc athletes to defect in order to achieve a propaganda victory.  Memorably, one man speaking Latvian approached the Latvian basketball players, trying (and failing) to convince them to defect while they were admiring the Myer Christmas window.


THE CITY WITHIN A VILLAGE

Within the Village itself were kitchens and dining rooms providing a wide range of ethnic foods; sauna baths with hot space (at 14 square feet person) for 20 men and seven women; an international restaurant with two dining rooms (one for competing teams and other for the public); recreation rooms and a cinema (the latter constructed by Heidelberg City Council; an Interpreter's Centre; Government Tourist Bureau; airlines Booking Office; Lost Property and Baggage office (60 by 30 feet); a Medical Centre and hospital (41 rooms, including X-ray, chiropody, physiotherapy and heat treatment), Dental Centre (4 rooms); laundry and dry cleaners (3 rooms); a tailor offering repairs and alterations; four men or women's hairdressers, a boot maker, a photographer for athletes and teams; eight religious "retreats"; a workshop and garden centre many public telephones with trunk call capability , and kiosks offering free drinks

The centre within the Village included eleven shops selling souvenir shops, groceries, a milk bar, confectionery, photographic supplies, stationers, books and  newspapers, a post office agency, and a greengrocers  Since the dining rooms provided unlimited fruit free of charge, the latter was converted to sell suit-lengths of Australian woollen cloth   The shopping strip remains today, now in Moresby Road

There was also a press room of 1,200 square feet with the access from Southern Road, this appears to have been on the corner of today’s Midway Road at the rear of the shopping centre, but the likely site is now vacant

Although not part of the Olympic construction, there was also a bank providing 240 safe deposits for individuals and teams, accessible 24 hours per day


ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND

Land of either side of the Darebin from around Separation Street in Northcote north to Plenty Road was compulsorily acquired by the Housing Commission under Cain's Labor Government just after the proposed railway was announced

It remains a matter of historical conjecture as to which was "the chicken" or "the egg" – Cain claimed the takeover was to protect against land developers inflating prices, but the reality was that that was never a sod of earth ever turned on the supposed railway (plans officially abandoned in 1961) and it can be equally argued that the unlikely rail link was simply a cover to allowing the Housing Commission to acquire the land   

There was considerably debate at the time as to the legality of the Housing Commission's acquisition – the Commission was created to ensure housing for returned soldiers, but the area involved amounted to a little over 3,000 acres of which only a small proportion was ever developed as public housing



The entrance today, now Alamein Road