Colourful graphic image of athlete's legs and feet in the starting blocks of a race.
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The Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games

This collection presents highlights from Australian Commonwealth Games held in Sydney in 1938, Perth in 1962, Brisbane in 1982 and Melbourne in 2006.

It was first published to coincide with the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Queensland.

First proposed in 1891, the 1930 British Empire Games held in Ontario, Canada was the first of what later become known as the Commonwealth Games. Interrupted by war, the games have been held every four years since.

The next Commonwealth Games in Australia are scheduled to be held in Victoria in 2026.

1938 Opening Ceremony
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This newsreel features footage of the opening ceremony of the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney. These were the third Empire Games and the first to be held in the southern hemisphere.

They were timed to coincide with 150 years since British settlement in Australia and 40,000 spectators watched the opening ceremony at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Fifteen countries participated, including Fiji and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for the first time. There were 464 athletes competing in seven events: athletics, boxing, cycling, lawn bowls, rowing, swimming, diving and wrestling.

Australia was the most successful nation, winning 25 gold, 19 silver and 22 bronze medals. Australian Decima Norman was the outstanding athlete with five gold medals. Her success was remembered over 40 years later when she was selected as the first carrier of the Queen's Baton for the 1982 Games.

1962 Opening Ceremony and swimming finals
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In this clip the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, opens the games on 22 November and athletes march onto the field. We also see the finals of two swimming events that were held at the Beatty Park Aquatic Centre.

The men's 110 yard freestyle final was won by Canadian Dick Pound, and the women's final by Australian Dawn Fraser in world record time. Fraser went on to win four gold medals.

The Perry Lakes Stadium had a 5,000 seat grandstand with open-air seating for a further 25,000. The open-air seating proved a challenge for the more than 40,000 spectators that watched the Opening Ceremony when temperatures climbed to over 40C. While soldiers ferried water to performers, scores of spectators had to be treated for heat-related conditions.

1982 Opening Ceremony
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The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, opens the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane on 30 September 1982. Reporter John Wiseman covers the opening ceremony for Ten Eyewitness News.

The starting of the ceremony was signalled with a kookaburra's call, followed by the familiar Australian cry of 'cooee'. Six-and-a-half thousand schoolchildren ran into position to create the Australian flag, the Games logo and a map of Australia (minus Tasmania because it 'didn't fit'). The giant winking kangaroo named Matilda was emblematic of 'The Friendly Games'.

Once Matilda completed her lap, her pouch opened and children dressed as joey kangaroos ran out towards small trampolines.

Olympian Raelene Boyle was the final runner in the Queen's Baton Relay. She handed the Queen's message to the Duke of Edinburgh. The Queen herself arrived in Brisbane during the Games and presented some of the medals, including the gold medal to Australian swimmer Tracey Wickham. She also closed the Games.

Matilda was relocated after the games to Wet'n'Wild, a water park on the Gold Coast. In 2011 she moved to a petrol station at Kybong, in the Gympie Region of Queensland.

2006: The Perfect finale
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This Nine Network news story from the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne reports on the women's 4 x 100 metres relay team smashing its own world record by more than a second. The team set the previous world record at the Athens Olympics two years before.

In her enthusiasm Libby Lenton almost earned the team a disqualification by exiting the pool before all swimmers had completed the race. The Australian women’s team outshone the men with Libby Lenton winning five gold medals and Leisel Jones winning four. The men's team won gold in the 4 x 100 metres medley relay on the final night of competition.

Australian television broadcasters excel at sports coverage and this is a good example. The story captures the intense competition and excitement at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre and effectively brings it home to the television viewing audience. This segment is an engaging small story that wraps up the end of swimming competition at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

1938 Athletics competition
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This newsreel features highlights from the athletics competition at the 1938 Empire Games: the men's and women's 100 yards sprint finals, high jump and broad (long) jump.

English sprinter Cyril Holmes wins the men's 100 yards in 9.7 seconds with John Mumford from Australia second and compatriot Ted Best third. Decima Norman wins the women's 100 yards final with a time of 11.1 seconds, only one-tenth of a second behind the then world record. Decima had to run the heats, semis and final of the 100 yards all on the same day!

In the high jump, eventual gold medal winner Edwin Thacker from South Africa demonstrates the 'western roll' technique with a leap of 1.96 metres. Australian high jumper Doug Shetliffe, shown here failing in his attempt, took home the bronze. His compatriot, Robert Heffernan, won the silver. The 'western roll' replaced the 'scissor kick' but was in turn replaced by the 'Fonsbury Flop' style from the late 1960s as the standard high jump technique.

The broad jump (long jump) was Australian Decima Norman's least-favoured event. Decima's fourth attempt equalled the Australian record and with the gold medal secured she leapt a personal best of just over 19 feet (5.80 metres), smashing the Empire record. Decima won five gold medals at the 1938 games, which remains the most successful Australian athletics performance at a single games.

1962 Closing Ceremony
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This is colour home movie footage of the closing ceremony of the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, held in Perth on 1 December 1962. The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, opened and closed the games at the Perry Lakes Stadium (now demolished).

The closing ceremony turned into a moving farewell with the athletes marching out arm in arm and an enthusiastic spontaneous version of 'Waltzing Matilda' was sung, led by Welsh boxer Rocky James.

The London Daily Telegraph wrote, 'The VIIth Commonwealth Games have proved that it is possible for an area as basically devoid of sports interest as Perth to stage the second most important sports meeting in the world - and stage it successfully. Perth has shown that these Games will continue for years to come.'

1982 Marathon: Deek's golden day
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This clip from the short documentary Marathon (1983) features highlights from Robert de Castella's running of the marathon at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.

'Deek' was the favourite to win the marathon in Brisbane. The marathon at the Commonwealth Games frequently includes the best runners in the world, since the world's best often come from Commonwealth countries such as Tanzania and Kenya. But de Castella was the current world champion and expectations were high.

After only five minutes into the race, Tanzanians Gidamis Shahanga and Juma Ikangaa were already 50 metres ahead of the other runners. After 20 kilometres, the gap had widened to several hundred metres. Ikangaa then took the lead from his compatriot, with de Castella in the main pack some 250 metres behind. He passed Shahanga at the 38 kilometre mark, and with only a few kilometres left in the race he drew level with the clearly surprised Ikangaa.

The two runners then swapped the lead several times in one of the most memorable battles in marathon history.  De Castella finally won by 80 metres in a time of 2:09:18, 12 seconds ahead of Ikangaa. Mike Gratton of England finished in third place. It was an extraordinary victory.

Double gold at the 2006 Games
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This news segment from the Nine Network highlights some of the achievements of Australian female athletes at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Australia prides itself on its sporting prowess, which is often seen as the domain of male athletes and sportspeople. But often it's the women who bring home the medals.

This segment offers a wonderful contrast of the talented diversity of our medal-winning female athletes. The commentary and interviews bring home to the television audience the excitement of the synchronised diving combination of Briony 'Bree' Cole and Sharleen Stratton and the sheer power of Deborah Lovely winning in the women's 75 kg weightlifting.

The clip is a good example of how Australian television has always excelled at sports coverage. The short interviews with athletes, sometimes immediately after their victory, capture their spontaneous reaction to winning. The coverage also humanises the athletes and shows us a glimpse of the person behind the sporting-star persona.

1938 swimming finals
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Australia has always been proud of its swimming champions. However, in this clip of highlights from the 1938 Empire Games it is Canadian Bob Pirie who takes the gold in the men's 110 yards freestyle from Australians Terry Collard and William Fleming.

In the women's 110 yards, Western Australian Evelyn de Lacy wins from compatriot Dorothy Green with Canadian Dorothy Lyon third.

The swimming events were held at the outdoor North Sydney Olympic Pool in Milsons Point, between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Park, which had opened in 1936.

Margaret Whitlam (1916-2014), wife of future Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, competed in these British Empire Games, finishing 6th in the final of the 220 yards breaststroke.

1962 Games Village
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The 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games introduced a new feature: a purpose-built village for the athletes, as seen in the newsreel excerpt.

In previous Commonwealth Games, competitors had been housed in hotels or billeted in private homes but the Western Australian State Housing Commission decided to use the need for accommodation to develop a modern housing development. In 1959, the council set aside 65 acres of land in City Beach. The area is now a Perth suburb, but in the early 1960s it was still mostly bushland. 

The houses themselves were not luxurious; most didn't have a television and there were no telephones. Boy scouts and girl guides worked as runners taking messages.

According to the newsreel, the Games hosted 1200 visiting athletes from 35 countries, representing 660 million people. The housing project cost was estimated at £1 million.

Australian swimmers sweep the medals, 1982
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This clip of the women's 100 metres backstroke final is from the Film Australia documentary All That Glitters (Nick Torrens, 1982).

A very excited Norman May calls the race for the ABC. It's won by Australian swimmer Lisa Forrest with her compatriots Georgina Parkes and Audrey Moore taking second and third place, respectively; a clean sweep for Australia.

Forrest also won gold in the women's 200 metre backstroke. Two years earlier, at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Forrest had finished in seventh place and felt she had let her country down. While competition at the Commonwealth Games is not as strong as the Olympics, her gold medal victories in Brisbane were vindication of a kind.

2006 Games Uniforms
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This Ten news story showcases the newly revealed uniforms for athletes at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. It features short interviews with sprinters Lauren Hewitt and Matt Shirvington.

Sports uniforms are about more than just looking good. They are designed to enhance an athlete's performance and considerable sports science is involved in their design. The makers of the Australian 2006 Commonwealth Games uniforms used infra-red cameras to identify the warmest parts of athletes' bodies so they could add improved ventilation and temperature control.

The sprint suits seen here were designed to increase the natural movement of the athlete, with special bands that contracted and expanded with important muscle groups; the designers claimed that less energy was lost as a result.

Flying high at the 1938 Empire Games
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The men's pole vault, broad jump (long jump) and women's high jump feature in this silent clip of highlights from the 1938 British Empire Games.

Andries du Plessis from South Africa won gold by clearing the bar at 4.11 metres, well short of the world record at the time (4.5 metres) with Les Fletcher from Australia placing second.

Harold Brown from Canada took gold in the men's broad jump. 'Broad jump' now refers to a standing jump rather than a jump with a running start.

At the end of the clip we see a female high jumper. While the men used the 'western roll' technique, she is using the earlier 'scissor kick' style. Dorothy Odam from England won gold with a leap of 1.6 metres.

Australian gold at the 1962 Games
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This newsreel shows highlights of boxing, fencing, weightlifting and swimming competitions where Australia won gold at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games.

Australian boxer Tony Madigan defeats Ghana’s Jogo Miles to win gold. He is one of just five Australians to win an Olympic boxing medal and the most successful boxer in Commonwealth Games history. He competed in boxing at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics and lost to Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) at the 1960 Olympics.

Fencer Ivan Lund wins gold in the Épée. He also competed in four Olympic Games.

Arthur Shannos, a transport driver from Newcastle, becomes the first Australian heavyweight to win a weightlifting gold medal. English weightlifter David Prowse didn't win a medal at these games but went on to portray Darth Vader in the Star Wars movie franchise.

Swimming legend Murray Rose won four gold medals at these games. He also went on to become a six-time Olympic medallist (four gold, one silver, one bronze). Rose was a strict vegetarian during his swimming career and was nicknamed the 'Seaweed Streak'.

Aboriginal protests at the 1982 Games
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A Ten Eyewitness news report about protests by Indigenous Australians on 30 September 1982, at the start of the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.

Despite the Queensland Premier's ban on street marches, protests were held before and during the Games. As seen in this clip, 39 protesters were arrested at a demonstration during the opening ceremony. As the police moved in demonstrators chanted, 'the whole world is watching'. The protests were significant in placing the issue of land rights on the national and international stage.

In 2012 activists gathered in central Brisbane to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Commonwealth Games demonstrations.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Jana Pittman qualifies, 2006
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Jana Pittman qualifies for the final of the 400-metre hurdle at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, as seen in this Nine Network news clip.

Australian hurdlers Jana Pittman and Tamsyn Lewis had a very public feud after the Australian athletics trials for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. When the Australian public and media mostly seemed to side with Lewis, Pittman was worried that the home crowd would turn against her. She was visibly relieved when they cheered as she lined up for the semi-final. Pittman won gold in the final proving to herself and Australia that she was our number one 400-metre women's hurdler.

This segment includes brief interviews with Pittman's coach and a representative from Athletics Australia which effectively provides context to the Pittman controversy. The precise moment when Pittman realises the crowd is on her side, and she can put aside her fears, is wonderfully captured with her spontaneous smile. But we also get a glimpse of Pittman's reluctance to talk to the media as she leaves the track. This short segment is an intriguing and well conceived vignette that captures her complex persona.

Australia's first Golden Girl, 1938
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This silent clip illustrates Decima Norman's unusual running style. Though unorthodox, it was clearly effective!

Clara ‘Decima’ Norman’s five gold medals at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney remains the most successful Australian athletics performance at a single games.

'Dashing Dess' won gold in the women's long jump, 220 yard and 100 yard sprints, and two team relays. Her success was remembered over 40 years later when she was selected as the first carrier of the Queen's Baton for the 1982 Commonwealth Games.

Decima had to run the heats, semis and final of the 100 yards all on the same day! She won the final with a time of 11.1 seconds, only one-tenth of a second behind the world record. Her 19 feet 0¼ inches (5.80 metre leap) in the broad jump (long jump) smashed the Empire record.

1962 Games Site tour
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This newsreel item from 1961 shows Prime Minister Robert Menzies touring the construction site for the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth, Western Australia. 

The 1958 announcement of Perth as host of the games became a springboard for significant development in sport and recreation facilities including the first purpose-built athletes' village built for a Commonwealth Games.

Constructed specifically for the Games, the Beatty Park Aquatic Centre hosted the swimming and diving events and is still in use as a community pool and gym.

The Lake Monger Velodrome at Mt Hawthorn was the first venue to be completed. Now the Litis Stadium, it is mostly used for soccer games.

Men's 400 metres victory, 2006
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John Steffensen won the race and won over the crowd, according to this Nine Network news report from the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Steffensen was ranked 17th in the world and 9th in the Commonwealth as he lined up for the 400 metres men's final against a world-class field. He had run a personal best at the national championships a month prior to the Games and was faster again in the semi-final. But he needed to beat his own time once more in the final if he stood any chance of a podium finish.

Fortunately for Steffensen he hit top form at just the right moment. In front of a packed stadium, he pulled away from the other runners to cross the finish line in under 45 seconds, achieving a personal best. He won another gold medal for Australia in the Men's 4 x 400 metre relay team.

Always a character, Steffensen celebrated his win in customary eccentric style and the camera does well to keep up with his unqiue victory dance. Australian television broadcasters excel at sports coverage and this is a good example. In 90 seconds it efficiently and effectively covers Steffensen's journey to a gold medal and presents it to the viewing audience.

In the track-side interview Steffensen shows a more reflective side to his otherwise extroverted behaviour. It is a lovely addition to the story, as is seeing the reaction of fans outside of the stadium and that of his father at the track and his sister at home. The segment is so well conceived and edited it's hard not to become caught up in Steffensen's achievement.