Philip Barker

Perth’s expression of interest in staging the 2026 Commonwealth Games is certain to stir the memories of Louise Martin, who has just finished presiding over the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast.

Back in 1962 she was a teenage swimmer, still known as Louise Campbell when she travelled to Perth in Western Australia to compete in the seventh edition of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games.

Today it is possible to fly direct to Perth from Europe in around 18 hours. But 56 years ago,the journey from Europe was an epic voyage. Scotland’s team travelled from Edinburgh by train to London. After an overnight stay it was on to Paris, Cairo, Karachi and then, finally, Perth.

"It was the first time I’d ever been on a plane," said Martin. 

"We’d even travelled in our uniform."

The city had been decorated for the occasion. The streets had giant black swans, the emblem of Western Australia. The Games were in the words of Mayor Sir Harry Howard "a community exercise in which Perth could feel proud about itself".’ There was no Queen’s Baton Relay but Sir Harry received a message borne by Adelaide Harriers with a greeting from their Mayor.

By the time the Scottish team arrived at the Athletes’ Village on the beach front, they had been travelling for an exhausting three days. At the previous Games in Cardiff in 1958, the competitors had been put up in a Royal Air Force base. This time the complex was been specially constructed. Even so the entire Games came in at around £405.000.

Gold Coast 2018 had its own Village and the main dining room for the athletes ran 24 hours a day with a bewildering array of food on offer. Fifty-six years ago, arrangements were slightly different.

"They had set times for breakfast lunch and dinner," said Martin. "They still had African and Asian dishes, but they certainly did not have the abundance of food and the variety that they do today."

Back then, autographs were the thing to collect.In a pre-digital age, "selfies" were unheard of.

"We did signatures, we didn’t even have pins like they have now," said Martin. "’We still had fun, don’t get me wrong."

Prince Phillip attended the Opening Ceremony of the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth ©Getty Images
Prince Phillip attended the Opening Ceremony of the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth ©Getty Images

The Opening Ceremony was staged at Perry Lakes Stadium, only recently demolished. It took place under glorious blue skies but in the blistering heat of early afternoon in late November. In fact it was so hot that over 300 members of the crowd were treated for heat-related problems. The television film shows people being led from the arena. Even one of the volunteer banner carriers fainted, a young cadet bearing the name plate of the Bahamas.

The intense heat only abated when the "Fremantle Doctor", the famed Western Australian breeze swept in off the Indian Ocean as Prince Philip made his entrance in a maroon open top Rolls Royce. He stood to greet the crowds as his limousine made a circuit of the arena. He was greeted by Sir Arthur Porritt , at the time leader of the Commonwealth Games Federation. The Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies also took his place in the stand.

The Prince inspected a guard of honour and the Games flag was trooped in by members of the the Royal Australian Navy. Some criticised the ceremony as too militaristic.

There was a fly past from three Royal Australian Air Force Vulcan Bombers with an escort.

In those days athletes were firmly discouraged from carrying cameras. In 2018 everyone is encouraged to post their images on social media.

The Scottish team of 35 were led in by a soldier wearing a kilt. Martin marched in the centre of a tiny contingent one of only four women.

"This is extra special the only time we can compete in a multi sport games in your own right to do that for your family is extra special," said Martin. "We had had a practice. We were all in step.

The Scottish uniforms made no concessions to the temperature. The men in blue blazers and white slacks, the women in light blue jackets with white skirts.

"We were bussed in and given bottles of water," said Martin. "We were all marched, even though we were competing the next day. It was something we never considered. We never thought of that. It was the highlight of my career, who wouldn’t want to march in an Opening Ceremony."

A report at the time noted how the gusts "played havoc with the hats worn by the marchers."

Amongst the victims was England’s Linda Ludgrove, who lost hers at the very instant she passed the Royal box. In those days the uniforms for men and women were often of different colours. England’s men wore dark blue and the women were in pink.

At least the Scottish headgear held firm. "We had these flower pot hats that were stuck so firmly on our heads," joke Martin. "We could not afford another one."

The Australian team had been last into the arena . As in 2018, they wore green blazers as they entered. The team "appeared in splendid condition, looking immaculate in green blazers," said the Melbourne Age newspaper. The look came only after some last minute tailoring adjustments.

There were 35 teams competing in 1962, almost exactly half the number of nations and territories present in the Gold Coast. included some that are no longer part of the Commonwealth such as Hong Kong. Sarawak is now part of Malaysia and others are known by different names. Tanganyika are now Tanzania and Southern Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe.

They all heard Prince Philip read a message from the Queen.

"I am sure that no quarter will be asked or given. I am equally sure however that the personal friendships that will be made in Perth in the next two weeks will serve to strengthen and sustain the links which bind our family of nations together. Elizabeth R’’

Ivan Lund, a fencer from Australia, took the oath on behalf of all athletes.

Since 1998, the ceremonies have always been an evening affair and often this means a late finish.

"Why can’t we start at four o’clock in the afternoon and finish at eight," asked Martin. "I have my sympathies.. I think we have to sit down and find a solution that is not finishing at 11 so that they can all go. I firmly believe that for an athlete, an Opening Ceremony says, ‘’I am here. I am ready’’. It gives them an anticipation of what is to come. You know all these people are there willing you on."

In 1962, competition included fencing and rowing, sports which were not on the programme in 2018. Some things don’t change, the swimmers were in action early and the pool was in the open air just as it is in 2018. The swimmers did not have nearly as much appreciation of the dangers posed by the fierce sun .

Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser was the undoubted star of Perth 1962 ©Getty Images
Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser was the undoubted star of Perth 1962 ©Getty Images

"We had our first pool session, we got out of the pool and put the towels down," said Martin

"A coach from one of the other teams came up and asked what do you think you are doing? Please get out of the sun you will burn. After that, we were all warned to stay out of the sun."

Although comfortable Martin recalled the Village had "a corrugated iron fence round us with a guard and the gate was only wide enough for one person at a time. Females were a gated community, no men were allowed at all, we didn’t think anything about it because that was just the way things happened then".

The Scottish living quarters were next door to Australia and their swimming superstar Dawn Fraser, who had dominated sprint races at each previous Olympic and Commonwealth Games since 1956.

"She was my idol," said Martin. "Everybody looked up to her. One day she was was getting a bit fed up. We were all watching she comes out and the Australians come out with a mattress. They threw the mattress over the barbed wire, and she’s up and over."

I saw her again a week ago and asked, Do you remember when……?’’

Fraser was probably not the only one to escape the confines, although Martin admitted, "We were sheltered in a bubble and we didn’t get out to the beach."

Fraser went on to win retain her 110 yards freestyle title and inspire the Australian relay to gold. England’s Olympic champion Anita Lonsbrough won two individual gold medals. Martin reached the final of the 110y backstroke won by Ludgrove, who came away with two gold medals from the Games. 

The events were televised by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, transmitting in black and white of course. An experimental Telstar satellite had been launched that summer but it took time for the even the television coverage to reach home.

"Louise Campbell of Scotland has the perfect style," intoned the announcer on Pathe News' in some rare colour film footage of the Games.

These newsreels were dispatched to Europe in film cannisters and would only be seen by audiences days later .

"Somebody told my mum and dad and they went to the cinema to see me swim," said Martin. "When you think about that now, it seems ridiculous.’’

Amongst others who probably had to do something rather similar were future International Olympic Committee member and World Anti-Doping Agency President Richard Pound, winner of a gold medal for Canada in the 110y freestyle.

Every event at Gold Coast 2018 was televised by a dedicated host broadcast unit and spectators were even able to watch the action on tiny hand held devices and mobile smart phones.

Even a conventional device would have been welcome in 1962.

"We didn’t have a telephone, we didn’t communicate we couldn’t," said Louise Martin . "There would be one phone call home per week and that would have to be pre-booked."

For the rest of the time, Boy Scout acted as messengers. They were the volunteers of their day.

"They were still as happy and fun and genuine as they are now," Martin said. "That hasn’t changed at all. it is just the number of volunteers. It was just nice and friendly.’"

As competition came to an end, the Closing Ceremony was more informal. Back in 1956 a young Chinese- Australian called John Ian Wing suggested the teams come in without distinction of nationality at the Closing Ceremony for the Olympic Games in Melbourne. The Perth organisers took a similar approach to the chagrin of Sir Arthur, one of Martin’s predecessors as leader of the CGF, who branded the whole thing "a shambles".

He was outraged that they crowded onto the track and impeded the exit of Prince Philip and the Guard of Honour.

"I didn’t mind them coming in straggly but marching the wrong way and conducting the band was overdoing it," said Sir Arthur.

Louise Martin made it to the Closing Ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast Coast - unlike Perth 1962 when she missed it because she fell asleep ©Getty Images
Louise Martin made it to the Closing Ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast Coast - unlike Perth 1962 when she missed it because she fell asleep ©Getty Images

Martin and her team-mates were not party to the mayhem because they missed the bus to the Stadium. "we had been finishing doing something or other," she said. "We were not told what time the Closing Ceremony was we weren’t told what time we were leaving. There was no hype in those days.

"So we four girls had gone back to the Village to get ready put the television, and fell asleep!’’.

By the time they woke, it was too late so they watched on television.

There were no such problems for Martin this time as she accompanied Prince Edward in the Royal Box.

This time though, organisers were criticised because they the athletes entered the Stadium before the television broadcast began. There was no "shambles" at the finale because most of the competitors had already made their way from the Stadium.