Opening Ceremony, Perry Lakes Stadium

1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Perth

The 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games were held in Perth from 22 November. They only lasted ten days, but those ten days had a dramatic effect on the city, the far reaching consequences of which are still being felt to some degree today.

Perth was little more than a quiet, generally forgotten backwater of half a million people until the announcement was made in 1958 that its bid to hold the Games was announced. That announcement brought the whole place alive. Perth had no world standard sporting venues at that time; here was an opportunity to build the best in the world at that time, and the city grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

A few years earlier, a master plan for the future development of the city had been tabled in Parliament. When news of Perth's selection of the 1962 Games was announced, city councellors, town planners and architects went through the master plan with glee, identifying what suggestions could be inplemented immediately.

Though the Kwinana Freeway, Narrows Bridge and associated intertange and the foreshore reclamation of Mounts Bay were already on the drawing board, there was a mad scamble to make them a reality in time for the Games.

As people still predominantly travelled the world by ship, the Port of Fremantle would be the main entry point for people visiting the Games from outside the state. Before the Games, the clearance of visitors through Customs took place in old sheds, built more to handle freight than people. A new passenger terminal had to be built. Also at that time, air travel was gaining in popularity at an unprecendented rate and plans to build a new International and Domestic Terminal were brought forward, so that it would be ready for the Games. Perth Airport, which had officially changed its status and name from Guildford Aerodrome in September 1952, was landscaped with grass trees and pools featuring black swans, and had numerous viewing balconies where the locals could view arriving passengers as the crossed the tarmac.

Perth Airport, 1962

Eager to mark their mark on the world scene, Perth decided to create a state-of-the-art village to house the visiting atheletes - something no other host city of the Games had done.

The people of Perth worked tirelessly to get the venues finished on time, and by the time of the Opening Ceremony everyone in the place knew somebody who had worked on something for the Games. In my case, it was my father who made many of the aluminium windows and doors for Perry Lakes Stadium and Beattie Park Aquatic Centre. I was chosen by my school as one of its representatives in the gathering of school children who marched at the opening ceremony.

Hotel ships in Fremantle Harbour, 1962

The Fremantle Passenger Terminal was constructed and opened in time for the Games. The Port of Fremantle played another important role during the Games, hosting a number of passenger ships which were used to provide accommodation for visitors to Perth during the Games. The port reprised this role during the summer of 1986-87, when Fremantle hosted the America's Cup defence.

In 1961-62, the forthcoming Games in Perth were extensively promoted, nationally and internationally. A brochure noted that permanent legacies of the Games in Perth would be three of the finest sporting venues in the Southern Hemisphere - the Perry Lakes stadium, the Beatty Park aquatic centre and the Canning all-weather rowing course.  The Games attracted one of the largest audiences to witness the Games to date, and well surpassed the previous ticket sales record.

The Venues:

The hosting of the 1962 Commonwealth Games fostered a growing sense of civic confidence. Building upon a burgeoning economy and significant metropolitan growth, it inspired a vision of Perth as a progressive, modern city of international significance. A number of architectural projects were undertaken to provide facilities for the games, some of which - Beatty Park Aquatic Centre for example - remain icons in Perth's suburban landscape.

Perry Lakes Stadium

Perry Lakes Stadium
The now demolished Perry Lakes Stadium in Underwood Avenue, Floreat, was a multi-purpose stadium adjacent to Perry Lakes in Floreat, built and funded by the State Government and the City of Perth in 1962 for the Games. The venue had a 5,000-seat grandstand with open air perimeter seating for a further 25,000.
  • More Information

  • Beatty Park Aquatic Centre

    Beatty Park Aquatic Centre
    Built specifically for the Games, Beatty Park comprises the first Olympic size swimming pool, diving pool and spectator gallery (accommodating 15,000-seat) built in Western Australia for international competition. It is the most intact and important relics from those landmark games. Like most of the other venues, Beatty Park was a wonderful example late 20th century modernist architecture.
    • More Information

    • Entrance to the Stan Lazaridis and Vas Kalogeracos tunnel at the former Lake Monger Velodrome. The remnants of the banked cycle track can be seen behind the tunnel entrance.

      Lake Monger Velodrome
      The Lake Monger Velodrome at Mt Hawthorn was the first Games venue to be completed - in 1959. It was purpose built as a velodrome for the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. It was popularly known as the Velodrome. It is now primarily used for soccer. In 1998 the stadium was renovated and renamed the E & D Litis Stadium after Floreat Athena sponsors Evangelos and Despo Litis. The outdoor cycling track was removed during the renovations. The newly built Perth SpeedDome in Midvale replaced the Lake Monger Velodrome in November 1989. It is Western Australia's only indoor velodrome.

      Other purpose built facilities included the boxing stadium, also at Perry Lakes. Existing facilities utilised for Games competition included South Perth Civic Centre for weightlifting, Victoria Park Drill Hall for fencing, Royal King s Park Tennis Club for wrestling, Dalkeith Bowling Club for bowls, and King s Park for cycling.

      Typical house of the Games Village, City Beach

      The Games Village
      A Games village for accommodating visiting competitors and officials was built at City Beach, on land donated by the City of Perth, valued at £200,000. This facility included almost 150 houses and a village centre. The Commonwealth Government made a £865,000 loan for building it, and also donated £160,000 towards the cost of the Games.93 The houses were offered for sale through the Rural and Industries Bank on completion of the Games.
      • More Information

      • The Politics
        The official history of the Perth Games notes that keen rivalry had existed between Adelaide and the city to stage the 1962 Commonwealth Games. Perhaps surprisingly, given its lack of infrastructure, Perth won the competition to become Australia's candidate for the Games and the votes of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games Association at its meeting during the Cardiff Games in 1958. Four years of 'from scratch' building to deliver facilities to match world standards followed before the Games commenced on 22 November 1962.

        The Opening Ceremony

        The Games
        The Opening Ceremony for the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games took place in scorching 40 degree Celsius heat on the hottest November day in Perth for over 20 years. More than three hundred people in the crowd of 53,000 who attended the ceremony at Perry Lakes Stadium, were treated for heart attacks and heat exhaustion.

        In the whole previous 65 years, only 10 days with temperatures of 100 degree plus had been recorded in Perth in November . Australian soldiers were pressed into action, ferrying water to competing athletes. As a result, the VII Commonwealth Games are remembered for its "heat, dust and glory".

        Thirty-five countries sent a total of 863 athletes and 178 officials to Perth. Jersey was amongst the medal winners for the first time, whilst British Honduras, Dominica, Papua New Guinea and St Lucia all made their inaugural Games appearances. Aden also competed by special invitation. Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya competed for the last time before taking part in 1966 under the Malaysian flag.

        Nine sports were featured at the Perth Games - athletics, boxing, cycling, fencing, lawn bowls, rowing, swimming and diving, weightlifting and wrestling.

        Running The Marathon

        Australia finished at the top of the medal table in Perth. Swimmers Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose, amongst others, excelled in the pool; both Fraser and Rose won four gold medals. Australians won 12 gold medals in athletics and gold in all track cycling events. Betty Cuthbert won gold in the womens 4 x 110 yards relay in what was the last of three Commonwealth Games in which she represented Australia. The only sport in which Australia failed to win a medal was lawn bowls.

        James Coote of the London Daily Telegraph said of the Games: '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.'

        Personalities of The Games
        Commentators consistently proclaim that the Perth Games embodied the spirit of inter-Commonwealth friendliness. The closing ceremony in particular turned into a moving farewell  as the athletes marched out, arm in arm  and an unscheduled, but enthusiastic version of Waltzing Matilda was led by Welsh boxer, Rocky James.

        The man who later played Darth Vader in the Star Wars series of films, Dave Prowse, competed for England at the 1962 Games in weightlifting. Although Prowse had been British champion four times he was unable to complete his lift after four tries and did not win a medal. As Prowse did not voice the Darth Vader character in the films, and his was not the face used when Vader s mask was removed, it was clear it was his physique which earned him the Star Wars role - he was two metres tall.

Sales: Ph 0409 006 472 - Email | Editorial: Ph 0412 879 698 - Email | Content © 2016 Australia For Everyone