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One of the greatest honours as a member of any Commonwealth Games team is to be asked to carry the Australian flag and lead the team into the stadium at the opening ceremony. This prestigious honour has been bestowed on an extraordinary athlete at every Games since the very first in 1930 in Hamilton Canada.
By David Tarbotton
Ahead of the announcement of the Australian flag bearer for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games on Monday evening, we spoke to two previous flag bearers, athletes Jane Saville from 2006 and Pam Ryan 1970. They both had vivid memories of the honour.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever believe such a huge honour would be bestowed on me,” recalled Saville.
“It was like a fairy tale. As an athlete, you focus on performing in the competition and really don’t think about those things. It’s like a cherry on top and to have the honour to carry it in your home Commonwealth Games was an incredible experience.”
As we will do in 2018, Saville was informed of the honour at a presentation at the Melbourne Town Hall where most of the Australian Commonwealth Games team were present.
Adding to the honour was the location – steeped in the history of Australian sport.
“Would you believe, it was only the second time I had been to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the first was to prepare for the parade and with oath reader Adam Pine (swimmer). It was incredible, to walk out carrying the flag at the Holy Grail of Australian Sport, the MCG (and that’s coming from a New South Welshwoman) into a full Australian crowd cheering loudly! I remember thinking don’t slip down the ramp (we had to walk down a long ramp) and being nervous about walking too slow that the team would overtake me. I was also happy because my sister Nat, was in the team and marching in the parade.”
At the Games, Saville went on to defend her 20km walk title, her third consecutive gold at her fourth Games.
Despite the occasion being over 48 years ago, Pam Ryan could recall every detail of the honour.
“My memory is clear and has stayed with me over the many years since the Games in Edinburgh in 1970.”
In past years, athletes were informed very differently to current day.
“The manager, Arthur Tunstall, came to me at dinner one night and said he wished to speak to me after dinner at headquarters as this was a very serious matter. I was shaking by the time I went across to headquarters. I could not think of anything I had done wrong.
“At the meeting he told me I had been selected to carry the flag. I was to be at headquarters at 6.00 am next morning in full Australian uniform and to not tell a soul. This was not so easy as we were in a room of six girls. The women’s manager Maz McQuiston was awake for a meeting and must have known why I was also awake. It was formally announced with lots of photos by the press.”
Her priority was the logistics of keeping it a secret, so it took a while to sink-in for the modest Australian.
“I began to realise that this was a really big honour. I was to lead the whole Australian team onto the ground. There seemed to be far more people worthier than me to carry the flag.
“On the big day the Australian team assembled and wished me well in the lead. Everyone took the march seriously. All in step and in straight lines. There were no cameras, mascots etc. As we came to the Duke of Edinburgh’s position I raised the flag, the men removed the hats and put them on their chests and I lowered the flag to horizontal and with eyes right marched past the Duke. What an honour! I was so lucky to have such a thing happen to me. However, there was an awkward moment for Ryan.
“The 1970s mini-skirts were not quite the idea dress wear when you had to raise your hands above your head as you waved the flag. There was a bit of embarrassment as I did so.”
Ryan closed her three-Games Commonwealth career in Edinburgh by winning her third consecutive 80/100m hurdles title. It was also her sixth gold medal in an extraordinary career which also included titles in the long jump and 4x110y/100m relays.
The honour roll of Australian’s who have carried the Australian flag at the opening ceremony:
1930 Henry ‘Bobby’ Pearce – rowing
1934 Noel Ryan – swimming
1938 Edgar ‘Dunc’ Gray – cycling
1950 Mervyn Wood – rowing
1954 Richard Garrard – wrestling
1958 Ivan Lund – fencing
1962 Tony Madigan – boxing
1966 David Dickson – swimming
1970 Pam Kilborn/Ryan – athletics
1974 Michael Wenden – swimming
1978 Remo and Salvatore Sansonetti – cycling
1982 Rick Mitchell – athletics
1986 Michael Turtur – cycling
1990 Lisa Curry-Kenny – swimming
1994 Ian Hale – shooting
1998 Kieren Perkins – swimming
2002 Damian Brown – weightlifting
2006 Jane Saville – athletics
2010 Sharelle McMahon – netball
2014 Anna Meares – cycling