McIntyre’s Olympic Legacy

Fifty-six years on, there’s not so many Melbournians who can claim to have seen their city’s momentous Olympic Games.

Consider then Peter McIntyre, whose entry won the competition for the Olympic Pool design. Not only did Peter’s successful tender earn him the right to oversee the 2002 renovation and extension 50 years after his original blueprint, he’s still Practice Director of McIntyre Partnership at 84 years of age!

“Luckily I am still working and will keep doing so as long as clients employ me,” said McIntyre recently.

Basketball fans and concert goers may recall the building’s 1980’s/1990’s incarnation as the Melbourne Sports & Entertainment Centre, but it’s fair to say few of the many thousands of motorists who pass through the busy Swan Street Bridge/Batman Avenue intersection really appreciate the significance of the ‘Westpac Centre’, beyond Collingwood Football Club’s occupancy. Nor the ingenuity required to erect the unusual V-shaped building.

“The most challenging aspect of the construction was to convince the authorities the building would stand up! It was the first time in the world that post tension high tensile steel was being used in such a way,” said McIntyre.

The Olympic Pool was a public project that naturally had a huge impact on McIntyre’s career.  Overnight his very small office became a much larger one.  McIntyre’s inspiration was essentially the competition requiring the most economic building.

“The way we reduced the amount of steel was to use the principle of counter balancing of forces. In other words, the accrual loads on the building were counteracted by applying the weight of the seats on both sides of the main span,” explained McIntyre, whose work on this and countless other projects has received many plaudits over the years.

The preopening night of the Olympic Pool was a cherished memory for McIntyre. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra gave a concert of Handel’s Water Music on a floating platform in the middle of the pool – ‘a surreal feeling watching it’ remembers Peter (as surreal as Meatloaf last year?  I think not!).

Come the much anticipated Olympic swimming competition and the heroes for Australia were Dawn Fraser, Lorraine Crapp and Murray Rose. All up the Aussies won eight gold, four silver and two bronze in the pool.

Whilst the venue remains a historically significant site for Australian sporting achievement, internationally the pool is best known for one of the Olympic Games’ most infamous moments.

Although Melbourne deserved the ‘friendly Games’ moniker, the water polo competition provided the exception. Amid the backdrop of the Hungarian Revolution, the USSR and Hungary played out their political differences in a spiteful encounter that required police to shepherd away angry spectators near the end. Hungary enjoyed the last laugh, winning the Semi-Final 4-0 before taking the gold. In recent years the ‘bloodiest game in Olympic history’ has been the basis for two feature movies ‘Children of Glory’ and ‘Freedom’s Fury’.

Sure, the Westpac Centre in name represents the corporatisation of sport, and for devout anti-Magpies, the facility is perhaps a source of revulsion. Meanwhile, others bemoan the anomalous silhouette it casts on Melbourne’s modern skyline.

It’s a good thing then the old Olympic Pool is Victorian Heritage listed, being the last stadium structure remaining intact from Melbourne’s Olympic Games. Such a connection to the feats of Dawn, Lorraine and Murray deserve preservation, as does Peter McIntyre’s unique vision.

The Olympic Pool under construction c1955; Peter McIntyre (on the right)

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Dave Nadel says

    Thank you for this, Jeff. The Olympic Pool/Westpac Centre probably deserves a full book to tell its history and probably written by a writer who is comfortable with architecture, sports history and popular music.

    I got to two days of the Olympics at the MCG (as a nine year old) but unfortunately I don’t think I even saw the swimming on TV – nobody I knew owned a television set before 1958. A few years later I watched our high school compete in the Northern Suburbs High schools “A” Division Swimming Sports. I can’t remember whether our school (Heidelberg High) won that year. We certainly won more often than not during my years there (although it was not due to my efforts.)

    Years later, in its basketball days it was also used for concerts. It had the accoustics of a swimming pool and I remember actually deciding to miss acts that I would like to have seen because I knew I wouldn’t hear them properly from the cheap seat at the Sports and ‘entertainment’ centre.

    I like it in its current incarnation but perhaps that’s because I barrack for Collingwood. However I agree with you Jeff, whatever it is called it is important that it stays part of our skyline because of its important role in Melbourne’s sporting heritage.

  2. Dave Nadel says

    The point about our school sports that I didn’t make clear was that we, like most government and private scools in the sixties, were holding interschool sports in a world class swimming facility.

  3. Alovesupreme says

    We’re the same age, but I was a boy from the bush, so my memories of 1956 were pretty nuch restricted to radio broadcasts and newspapers. I do remember my family listening to some of the swimming events, Murray Rose v George Breen (USA) in the 1500 metres freestyle is a particular memory, as is the call by the incomparable Noel Bailey (3AR) of the epic duel when Vladimir Kuts downed Gordon Pirie in the 10,000 metres, on the first afternoon of competition, while they were keeping an eye on the high jump, where Chilla Porter had to settle for silver against Charlie Dumas (USA) in the twilight at ther “G”.
    We were at school on the day of the opening ceremony, but lessons were interrupted for the broadcast.

    I did see something fleeting on television, the hop step and jump (as the triple jump was then known). Alberto Ferrara da Silva from Brazil captured our imagination, so much so that we tried to subsequently emulate him. I should add that this moving picture experience was in the window of the local electrical goods shop (Ball & Croft) – and it’s true youngsters, people gathered four and five deep on the foot-path to watch through the window. It was months later before I saw television in a private home, and much longer before any of my neighbouingr relatives had acquired the device (instrument was Sandy Stone’s term, iirc), and years later before my family succumbed.

    I was surprised Dave that you didn’t reference the use of the Olympic Pool (emptied) as a meeting point after demonstrations, as I’m sure you would have had that experience. I’m struggling to recall specific events which I attended, but I’m guessing some May Day marches may have finished up there, and the “Pool” was also used for union mass meetings.

    Thank you Jeff for this very relevant reminder of the building, and the lovely tribute to Peter McIntyre. I certainly agree about the importance of the structure in our sporting and architectural history.

    I was thinking while reading Patrick O’Keefe’s account of the cycling champs, of the wonderful nights I enjoyed, years after the Olympics, at the (open-air) Velodrome which was close to where AAMI Stadium is now located. It’s amazing to think about how dramatically that precinct has altered since the time of the construction of the Tennis Centre (late 1980s).

    Note, I’ve deliberately looked nothing up prior tosubmitting this post, so there are bound to be errors (as well as my characteristic typos), but I wanted to just offer an authentic version of memories of 1956.

  4. Pamela Sherpa says

    Interesting to read about this old Olympic venue Jeff. I was too young to remember the Olympics in 56 but remember my parents recalling the thrilling high jump final at the G. As the light faded spectators remained glued to their seats watching Porter and Dumas battle it out.

  5. Jeff Dowsing says

    Thanks Dave and Alovesupreme, and for your memories.

    One of my day job responsibilities actually entails collating the history of the precinct, which has been more a privelege than ‘work’. I have more extensive online write-ups on the AAMI Park site, Melbourne Park, Olympic Park and Westpac Centre if anyone is interested.

    I have to say it’s been a challenge, because unlike the MCG which has always had dedicated people on the job, and has been a stadium serving the same purposes for 150 years, the venues on both sides of Swan Street have been through dozens of changes. And as sports and sporting bodies have come and gone, so too has their records, images etc.

    So if anyone on this site has anything they might want to contribute, please let me know! Even if it’s about various events you attended, basic stuff we don’t necessarily have record of.

  6. Great stuff, Jeff. And the responses from Dave N and John Coltrane really fleshed things out. Jeff – your ‘left field’ sport histories are becoming a real Almanac highlight for me. Where do I find the more extensive write ups you mentioned? Many thanks.

Leave a Comment