Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries & Historical Sites

1956 Olympic Games Torch

State Library of Victoria - Joy of Museums - 1956 Olympic Games Torch

1956 Olympic Games Torch

This 1956 Olympic Games Torch was used in Olympic Flame Relay ceremony in Melbourne Australia. The design was, with the exception of the engraved city name and year, identical to the design used for the 1948 London Games. The touch was made of diecast aluminium and weighed about 3 pounds (1.8 kg).

The Australian city of Melbourne was the host city for the 1956 Summer Olympic Games, the first Olympic Games held in the southern hemisphere. Officially known as the Games of the XVI Olympiad, Equestrian events could not be held in Australia due to quarantine regulations. Stockholm was selected as the site for the equestrian competition.

Unfortunately, there were several boycotts of this first ever Olympics outside of Europe and North America. Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon did not take part in response to the Suez Crisis. Also close to this time, the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian Revolution, and the Soviet presence at the Games led to the withdrawal of the Netherlands, Cambodia, Spain and Switzerland. Finally, the People’s Republic of China chose to boycott the event because the Republic of China had been allowed to compete.

1956 Summer Olympics (Melbourne) boycotting countries (blue)

1956 Melbourne Olympics boycotting countries in blue

The Olympic Flame was relayed to Melbourne after being lit at Olympia, Greece as follows:

  • Greek runners took the flame from Olympia to Athens’ airport.
  • The flame was transferred to a miner’s lamp, to be flown by Qantas plane to Darwin, Australia.
  • A Royal Australian Air Force jet bomber flew it to Cairns, Queensland.
  • The flame was relayed by runners down the east coast of Australia to Melbourne.

When the Olympic Flame was being carried to Sydney, Australian students from the University of Sydney, organised to carry a fake Olympic Flame which fooled the mayor of Sydney.  This incident became known as “1956 Olympic Flame Hoax” and was planned to protest against the Olympic Flame. One reason for this protest was that the torch relay was invented by the Nazis for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

The fake torch was made of a wooden chair leg painted silver, on top of which was a plum pudding can. A pair of underpants was put inside the can, soaked in kerosene and set on fire. When the fake torch-bearer returned to university for an exam, he was given a standing ovation by fellow students.

Despite and probably because of, the international tensions, boycotts and controversies, the Melbourne Games introduced a tradition for the closing ceremony. Instead of marching as teams, behind their national flags, the athletes were allowed to mingle with one another as they paraded into the arena for the last ceremony. A new Olympic tradition that has been followed ever since.

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  Soviet Union 37 29 32 98
2 United States 32 25 17 74
3  Australia 13 8 14 35

Medal table for the top 3 Countries in the 1956 Summer Olympics

Among the many historical objects in the State Library of Victoria, the following are some of the highlights:

1956 Olympic Games Torch

  • Title:               1956 Olympic Games Torch
  • Year:               1956
  • Medium:        Diecast aluminium
  • Weight:          3 pounds (1.8 kg).
  • Museum:        State Library of Victoria

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“Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.”
– Australian Proverb

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Photo Credits: 1) GM