- William F. Cook, MVO, Captain, RAN (Rtd)
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Swan II, HMAS Warramunga I, HMAS Sprightly
- September 2000 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The recent controversy about the use of foreign marching bands at the Opening Ceremony (accent on the first syllable!) of the Sydney Games took me back in time to the opening day of the Games in Melbourne on 22 November 1956. As the Commander (a.k.a. X.O.) of HMAS Melbourne – which ship, of course, had to be there – I received a complimentary ticket to that historic event.
My overriding memory was the spectacular display by the massed RAN bands – no fireworks, no dancing girls with their fancy trick steps, just our musicians in their No. 1’s putting on a very professional act.
With the kind assistance of Ms Elizabeth Stevens of the Victoria Chapter, and Mr Derek Berry of the “Cerberus” Museum, we are able to reproduce, as best we can, a photograph of the “star turn”, complemented by an abridged version of an introduction by Mr (as he then was) R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia and President of the Games, to the Official Report of the Organizing Committee XVI Olympiad
A GREEN AND PLEASANT MEMORY
In the minds of the many thousands who saw the Melbourne Olympic Games of 1956 there still lives a green and pleasant memory. In the course of my own life I have seen many magnificent sights. I have seen nothing more stirring than the Opening and Closing Days at the Main Stadium.
There can be no doubt that from first to last the Games were a great success. In the early days, before the site for the track events had been settled, there were unhappy disputes and differences. But these were all resolved, and in the long run an organisation of remarkable efficiency came into being. Looking back on it all, I believe that three things in particular made a lasting impression.
The first was the actual detailed organisation of the events; the day to day timetables; the phenomenal punctuality and despatch.
This kind of thing seemed easy to the uninitiated. It was, in fact, the result of tremendous preliminary work and rehearsal and administrative discipline. In the result it meant that the interest of the spectators was constantly keyed up, that there were no delays or irritations, and that the dramatic balance of the programme was undisturbed.
We in Australia are commonly (and sometimes rightly) regarded as rather casual people. I am sure that very few people expected that the events would, technically, be run at least as well as they have ever been run in the long Olympic history. When it was all over, we were proud, and every visitor who spoke to me was delighted.
The second memorable aspect was of the Games as a spectacle. Few had perhaps realised that the green sward, the blue sky, the orange-coloured tracks, the gay colours of the contestants, the swift movement of the runners, the high curved soaring of the javelins, would all combine into a picture which was artistically exciting. This aspect of these great athletic contests is one worth mentioning. It is sometimes forgotten that from the point of view of the onlooker the athlete practises not only a skill but an art. What is happening in the arena appeals as much to the eye as to the pulse and the spirit of partisanship. Those days at the Main Stadium are indeed among the highlights of memory!
The third aspect was one which I mention with particular pleasure because I had not dared to expect it. On more than one occasion in modem times, international athletic contests have provoked ill-will and jealousies and bitter national resentments. Such cases have, of course, been by no means the rule, but even as exceptions they have been sufficiently advertised to induce in many minds a feeling that we might at Melbourne see some awkward manifestations of national prejudice or of resentment in defeat. It is therefore splendid to be able to record that no ill-will appeared. Winners from many countries (some of them politically hostile to each other) were applauded with equal enthusiasm. Gallant losers were, in our racial tradition, applauded even more vigorously.
At the Opening Ceremony, when all the teams marched behind their national flags and wore their ceremonial and distinctive clothing, the vast crowd gave an unforgettable and warm reception to all. The fact that this team or that team represented a nation quite recently at war with us made no difference. There was indeed among over a hundred thousand people, without preliminary organisation, without any suggestions or directors, a spontaneity of mind and of welcome that I have never seen equalled.