Carey and the 1956 Melbourne Olympics

The postponement of the Olympic Games in Tokyo this year symbolises the global pause of major events because of COVID-19. The Olympic runner with torch aloft, adopted by Carey as the School crest in 1923, denotes courage and perseverance. As we look forward to the next Olympic Games, we can also look back to 1956 when Olympic fever engulfed the School.

As 1956 was to be the first time the Olympic Games had been staged in the southern hemisphere and in Melbourne, it is hardly surprising that students at Carey keenly looked forward to the prospect. They enjoyed ringside seats during the Australian gymnastics team’s preparations which took place in Carey’s state-of-the art gymnasium. Opened in 1955, it cost £15,000. Gymnastics flourished as a new school sport and ‘eager enthusiasts’ regularly besieged the gym.

During 1956, many students collected Olympic Games souvenirs, and some school classes completed projects with an Olympic theme. Grade 3, for example, tracked the progress of the torch relay from Cairns to Melbourne on a hand painted map. ‘As we do this, we try to find pictures or something of importance about the towns on the map, and we are also learning quite a lot about Australia as well as Olympics.’ Members of the school scout group worked at the Olympic Village in Heidelberg. When several countries boycotted the Games in protest at the Soviet Union’s invasion that year of Hungary, older students grappled with global politics.

When the Olympic flame arrived in Melbourne on 22 November, the day of the opening ceremony, Carey student Peter Whitehead (OCG 1956) and former student David Jenkin participated in the torch relay that propelled the flame to the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Headmaster Stuart Hickman allowed students time off to attend some athletics events at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. These were the games of Australian athletic stars of the likes of Betty Cuthbert (who won three gold medals), Shirley Strickland (one gold medal), John Landy (one bronze medal), the women’s 4 x 100-metre relay team which won gold, and the men’s 4 x 400-metre relay team which won silver. Their efforts inspired student athletes, just as the Australian Olympic swimmers’ performances did: Murray Rose won three gold medals and Dawn Fraser won two.

Shortly before the Games commenced, world renowned athletic coach Franz Stampfl visited Carey and spoke to staff and students about training for athletics. At the Combined Athletics at Olympic Park in October, Carey came fifth. Tony Gramlick and Chris Thomas were the only first place-getters. At the Combined Swimming Sports in Term 1, 1957, Carey gained second place, the highest position ever reached in swimming up until that point, and much credit was given to Chris Thomas as the only first-place-getter. 

Helen Penrose
Historian, HistorySmiths

Feature image: Carey's Gym Team, Carey Chronicle, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, December 1955