1956 Olympic Swimming and Diving Stadium, Melbourne 1956 -
Olympic Games to Melbourne
In 1949 Melbourne won the right to stage the 16th Modern Olympic Games. The Games were to be held in November 1956. They would be the first to be held in the Southern Hemisphere, the first held outside Europe and the USA, and the first Olympic Games to be televised.
In 1952 the Melbourne Olympic Games Committee decided that there would be architectural competitions for the main stadium and the Swimming & Diving Stadium.
Architects Kevin Borland, Peter McIntyre, John and Phyllis Murphy and their engineer Bill Irwin, submitted the winning entry for the Swimming Stadium. Robin Boyd, a member of the judging panel, called the design “the best in the world”.
The former Olympic Swimming & Diving Stadium is of historical significance as the first enclosed swimming & diving stadium used in the Olympic Games and is the only major stadium structure remaining from the 1956 Olympic Games.
It played host for the diving, water polo, modern pentathlon and swimming over 9 extraordinary days in 1956. This medal tally heralded the arrival of Australia as a major force in Olympic swimming.
It is of architectural significance as an early and influential landmark in the development of Structuralist architecture in Australia in the 1950s.
The main structure consisted of lattice girders sloping outwards at 42.5 degrees to the horizontal connected to tubular trusses at the top and pinned at their bases, with vertical tension rods connected to the top of the lattice girders. The lattice girders formed the sides of the structure and supported the seating.
The structure of the building was a superb example of ‘form follows function’ and was probably the world’s first post-tensioned steel building as well as being a very early use of high-tensile steel for the building’s structure.
After some controversy the site of the Diving & Swimming Stadium was decided on 28 May 1953. The chosen site was near the Swan Street Bridge on the bank of the Yarra River.
Construction was completed on 4 September 1956 and the Olympic Games opened on 22 November. The first event in the pool was on 27 November 1956.
In the swimming events Australia won all of the freestyle races for both men and women,
collecting eight individual gold, four silver and two bronze medals, making Australia the top swimming nation at the Games. Jon Hendricks and Dawn Fraser set new world records in their events and Murray Rose became the first male swimmer to win two freestyle events since Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) in 1924.
The most dramatic event that took place was the ‘Blood in the Water’ incident during the water polo semi-final match between Hungary and the Soviet Union. On 4 November the Soviet Union had invaded Hungary to put down the revolt against the Communist Hungarian government and by 10 November the revolt was brutally crushed.
The tension arising from this event lead to the water polo match between the two national teams becoming a bloodbath with players attacking each other until the referees halted the match. Hungary was declared the winner and went on to win the gold medal.
- EHIM: Engineering Heritage International Marker (from 2012)