In Melbourne, Australia, above the clutter of Flinders Street Railroad Station where 10 years ago many American soldiers met the Australian girls they married, today a 30-foot neon sign flashes warning of another invasion in 1956. "Stop," the sign asks, "are you an Olympic host? Look," the sign pleads, "20,000 beds are still needed."
For six years before this flashing reminder was put up, Olympic officials and devotees inside and outside Australia had been boiling with doubts whether anyone in Melbourne really wanted to play host to the 1956 Games. This summer, a mile and a half from the center of Melbourne the girders and tiers of three stadiums are rising. On the north edge of town boom cranes are swinging the prefabricated slabs of a 780-unit Olympic village into place. The doubts finally are being answered by the sweet clatter of construction as Melbourne gets ready.
Melbourne was first proposed for the job of Olympic host by some of its sports-minded civic leaders at the 1949 meeting of the International Olympic Committee. Australia had sent competitors at least 7,000 miles to every modern Olympiad in North America and Europe, Melbourne's supporters pointed out. Largely because of this fair argument, the international committeemen—most of them, anyway—were glad to pass the Olympic torch to Melbourne. The Aussies soon found that the big Olympic affair can be a harrowing experience for the host.
In five years Melbourne was forced to change the site of the main stadium five times, finally settling on the 80,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground, despite the protests of some cricket fathers that the sacred turf should not be torn up for track and field doings. The rowing site shifted from Lake Wendouree to Lake Learmonth and back to Wendouree and back again to Learmonth. The swimming pool site was changed three times and, despairing of this vacillation, the head of Melbourne's Olympic control committee, Arthur Coles, resigned. The International Cycling Union approved a 250-meter track, then insisted on a 333-meter track. The boxing arena burned down. Quarantine officers announced that no mounts for equestrian events could enter Australia without an impracticable 6-month quarantine, so these events were broken off the agenda and consigned to Stockholm, Sweden. In the face of Australia's housing shortage, the state of Victoria balked at the idea of wasting materials on a village for the athletes. The federal government refused to turn over military barracks since there would be no place to put the displaced military and civil servants. There were insinuations by the Victoria state government that the federal government were spoilers, and counter insinuations by the federals, and though politics never played the worst part, at times the city, state and federal governments were like Balkan states in a period of unrest.
July 24, 1955
Melbourne's harrowing times, actually, were not much worse than other Olympic hosts experienced, but Melbourne without doubt broke all records for getting off to a bad early start in a distinctive Australian way. As the grade school books say, Australia is a far and different land, where birds laugh, fish walk on water, and outsized frogs bark like motorcycles. The Australian people are part English, part Irish and very American. As Australia's present Interior Minister Wilfred Kent Hughes puts it—and he was educated in England, competed in the 1920 Games, married a New Jersey lady, served a hitch as a Japanese war prisoner and has suffered most of the past six years as Chairman of Melbourne's Olympic Organizing Committee: "We are the loving daughter of the Queen, married to Uncle Sam. We speak the Queen's English, the President's English and the 'Fair Dinkum' English." But in a pinch it is blunt, straight-from-the-shoulder Fair Dinkum that prevails, and an Australian pounces with equal vigor on politicians, Davis Cup players and himself.
HOWLS FROM DOWN UNDER
When Melbourne got the Games, the first howls came, Fair Dinkum, from local critics. Thinking of what Americans and Continental tourists would expect, the Melbourne Daily Sun fired away: "A luxury hotel according to present Australian definition is one which gives the same level of service as a 60-year-old coffee palace in some minor European city." Only 500 of Melbourne's 8,000 top hotel rooms have connecting baths, and the harshest critics believed (judging Americans in part by American movies) no American would put up with darting down a hotel corridor swaddled in a towel. Helsinki, the 1952 host, has far less accommodations, but that point was seldom raised in all the clamor.
The Daily Telegraph of the rival city of Sydney said about Melbourne: "The horror of Sunday in Melbourne—an awesome study in suspended animation. Life does not stand still in Melbourne, it falls down in a torpor." Melbourne has no paid entertainment on Sunday. Bars close all Sunday and early on week nights. Indeed, compared to Melbourne, present-day Boston and Philadelphia are as wide open as Sodom and Gomorrah. The desperation of a Texas American in Melbourne might be such, the Daily Telegraph further speculated, that a waiter who removed a bottle at the hour when Melbourne bars turn into hollow pumpkins might well lose an arm.
At the peak of the flagrant knocking, the Australian lieutenant general, William Bridgeford, was busy as commander of the Commonwealth Forces in Korea. Jumping into the job of executive director of Melbourne's Olympics after Korea, the General, who is something of a Fair Dinkum talker himself, blasted back in defense of Melbourne: "A lot of bloody nonsense. Anybody who comes to Melbourne will have such a good time, he won't know whether it's Sunday or Monday." The General was mindful that in Melbourne, where there is a range of aquatic sports and more golf and tennis than in any American city of equal size, Americans manage to have a good time outside of bars. The General may also have had in mind that, though bars close, the law allows hotel guests to buy and drink anything at any hour.
The local knocking subsided, but not before leaving the outside world with the exaggerated impression that Melbourne was wallowing like a teak raft. Much of the foreign reaction was quite uncharitable. Australia's stringent horse quarantine could have been explained by almost any equestrian (it is easy to segregate horses, but not the insect vectors that might ruin Australia's livestock economy), but all the equestrian world got from Colonel Harry Llewellyn, leader of England's riders, was the bitter announcement that English horsemen might switch to ping-pong. Americans clucked at the reluctance of Australian cricketers to tear up their turf, though surely those who clucked would have had the same trouble persuading the New York Yankees to tear up all the sod in their outfield. Armand Massard, president of France's Olympic Committee, announced that he had always considered Australia a poor choice "thousands of miles from everywhere." Los Angeles boomed out, "We're an emergency landing field if Melbourne has trouble." There was always some American city circling like a dingo, eager to snatch the Games if Melbourne faltered.
THE CHANGING FLAME
If everyone had stopped barking, Melbourne would still have had trouble, and so may many cities in the future if the Games continue to depart from the simple idea of good will conceived by the French Baron de Coubertin. Many of the English, French, Americans and Australians at the first modern Olympiad in Greece in 1896 came on their own, and some competed in events they had never tried before. The first gold medal, in fact, was won by a Harvard student who played hooky to try the hop-step-and-jump. If the Greek hosts had added a seal barking contest at the last moment, it is doubtful whether anyone would have been rude enough to object. Though held in a fine new stadium, this first modern Games retained some of the flavor of a small, impromptu party—no one, including the hosts, worried too much about who was invited, who came or what happened.
Much taken by the Olympic idea which stresses individual performance rather than country or old school tie, almost the whole world now joins in. An Olympiad has now become a gargantuan affair, and though very much has been written and chanted against the trend toward national rivalry, very little has been said about another unfortunate departure from the original ideas. The Games are becoming an unlovely labor as Olympic devotees incline toward the false theory that the bigger and better the show, the brighter the Olympic flame will burn. Some flames—the almost insatiable ones of Hollywood, for instance—must burn brighter and brighter and some hosts like the silver-plated princes of the Cote d'Azur perhaps must throw bigger affairs to avoid becoming social dodos. It was not meant to be, but the staging of the Olympics is becoming in itself a competition between cities of the world, with the emphasis on pleasing the tourist. Cities with a smart eye for tourist cash bid years in advance for the Games. The old idea of the individual performer has become a little lost. If the pressure continues, though many cities like Melbourne might wish the honor, only a few—the big booster cities of the U.S. and the big tourist cities—will be able to put on the show. For a few million dollars Los Angeles did a fine job as host in 1932, setting up an Olympic village of two-room cabins for 1,700 athletes. Hitler had one of Los Angeles' small 10-foot-by-24-foot cabins put up at the 1936 Olympics to serve as shoddy contrast to the far superior quarters built by the Nazi hosts. No one today is quite as heavy-handed as Hitler, but they are heavy-handed. At the 1949 meeting where Melbourne won the 1956 Games, the city of Detroit might have had a chance, since it had been asking since 1936. However, five other American cities also applied, and Detroit's chances were killed by overhustle. In seeming desperation this year, Detroit bid for the 1960 Games, offering to pay the travel costs of all athletes. Rome won out. The Gamesstill belong to the competitors but the cities are getting their elbows on the table.
During the past year, while many outsiders were still betting Melbourne would lose the Games, Melbourne's progress was steady, until now it compares well with that of earlier hosts, including the go-get-'em city of Los Angeles, which was assigned the 1932 Games eight years in advance and did not finish its village for 1,700 athletes until just before the Games. In Melbourne 500 units for 6,000 athletes and officials are already under construction, and all will be finished five months in advance—and surrounded by a fence to keep out house-hungry Australian squatters until after the Games. New stands for the main stadium are 30% complete and when finished will give a spectator capacity of 110,000—the same that Hitler's stadium held and more than any other. The minor stadiums for swimming, hockey and soccer are roughly one-third finished. Including all the small details which a proper Olympic host must look to these days—seven-foot beds for American basketballers, steam baths for Scandinavians, and 10 menus to suit the whole world's odd tastes, these Games will cost over $11,000,000.
This April, Avery Brundage, the International Olympic President who pursues his Olympic business with the austere zeal of a Cotton Mather, flew down to inspect Melbourne's progress. He was not completely pleased and on departing said so at some length. "Mr. Brundage," Australia's Prime Minister Robert Menzies observes, "is not noted for undue silences." Australia's Olympic leaders listened to Brundage and said little, feeling that his parting blast was perhaps deserved and surely good for jolting anyone who might still be dozing. This June in Paris Brundage said, "At last they are awake to their great responsibility." At the same time, half a world away, surveying Melbourne's Olympic construction in a clot of Australian and foreign journalists, the Executive Director of the Games, General William Bridgeford, was saying much the same in his Fair Dinkum way. "The corner is turned," barked the General above the rattle of work. "We can look the world straight in the bloody eye. Now if you gentlemen are satisfied, let's go have a drink of gin."
A RETURN TO THE OLD IDEA
Over 17,000 foreigners will be coming to the Melbourne Games. Like previous hosts, to supplement its hotels, Melbourne will provide 30,000 beds in private homes. Whether this will be the biggest and best Games yet is best left to the speculation of those who feel Olympiads, like lawn parties, should be compared. It is being held in one of the two big hearts of the most sports-minded country in the world, and will no doubt derive some special richness from that fact. European countries will undoubtedly send smaller teams—for example, France, which usually fields about 280 will probably send around 100. At Melbourne for the first time Australia and Asia will be able to field large teams with decent economy, and in view of that, the statement of French Olympic leader Massard that Australia is "thousands of miles from everywhere" seems to be an odd and snobbish perversion of the original idea.
Australia's overseas airline, Qantas, has devised a safe way to fly the Olympic flame from Greece to Australia in a miner's lamp. At Cairns, on the north Australian coast, runners will bring it the last 1,750 miles to Melbourne. To fit in a miner's lamp, it will have to be a very small flame, which may be disappointing to some with circus-type minds. However the original idea was not how large the flame, but how far it could go. When it reaches Melbourne it will finally have gone all the way around the world.
PORT PHILLIP BAY
THE OLYMPIC SITES
1 ROAD CYCLING, PENTATHLON
2 OLYMPIC VILLAGE
3 WRESTLING, WEIGHT LIFTING
4 TO ROWING AND CANOEING, 75 MILES
6 TRACK AND FIELD
7 SWIMMING, SOCCER, FIELD HOCKEY, CYCLING
8 GYMNASTICS, BASKETBALL