Engineering the 1956 Olympic Games: putting Melbourne on the world stage

Catherine Garrett

Sixty years on from the Melbourne Olympics, the Swimming and Diving Stadium where Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose catapulted into the sporting world record books will be recognised for its heritage significance.

Melbourne’s iconic 1956 Olympic Swimming and Diving Stadium at Olympic Park has received an Engineering Heritage International Marker.   

Engineering Heritage Victoria Chair David LeLievre said the Stadium was the first of its kind in the world.

“This Stadium was the first enclosed swimming and diving venue used in any Olympics and one of the only post-tensioned steel frame structures built at the time.

“The 1956 Games were also the first to be televised, so setting up broadcast options within the venue added further engineering challenges to the mix,” Mr LeLievre said.   

The Stadium was an iconic image used to promote the Games and symbolised the emergence of modernism in 1950s Australia.

It was also the centre of some the 1956 Games’ most memorable moments.

In the swimming Australia won all of the freestyle races for both men and women. Jon Hendricks and Dawn Fraser set new world records and Murray Rose became the first male swimmer to win two freestyle races since 1924.   

The most dramatic event that took place inside the Stadium was the ‘Blood in the Water’ incident during the water polo semi-final match between Hungary and the Soviet Union.

On November 4th the Soviet Union had invaded Hungary to put down the revolt against the Communist Hungarian government and a few days later the revolt was crushed. Tensions were high in the pool as a result and players attacked each other to the point where referees halted the match. Hungary was leading at the time and declared the winner – then went on to win gold.  

Now known as the Holden Centre, the Stadium has been restored to reflect key elements of the original design and houses Collingwood Football Club’s  headquarters.

“Engineers Australia is proud to be awarding the 1956 Olympic Swimming and Diving Stadium an Engineering Heritage International Marker for the advanced engineering concepts used to bring this complex architectural design to life,” Mr LeLievre said.