Brisbane 1982: patriotism, moments and Matilda


By David Tarbotton 

On the scoreboard, the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games, held 35-years-ago, were successful for Australia. We just topped the medal tally and hosted an equal record number of nations and sports, 46 and 10 respectively. We also nudged up the record number of athletes and officials participating.

But these Games will be best remembered for many historic and memorable moments which stirred a wave of patriotism and emotion that swept Brisbane and Australia for nine days. Then there was of course the much loved 13-metre winking kangaroo – Matilda.

The dream of hosting a Games started with the Brisbane Lord Mayor Clem Jones after he attended the Perth 1962 Games. In 1969 cycling Australia’s President Norm Gailey, promoted Brisbane as a good option, which re-ignited Jones’ dream and until he retired in 1975 he kept the idea alive heading committees and studies. Eventually it came down to a dual between Campbelltown (in NSW) and Brisbane to receive the Australian nomination, but under pressure, Campbelltown dropped out. Brisbane were now up against Birmingham, who ahead of the vote in July 1976, withdrew, leaving Brisbane to be announced unopposed as the host of the XII Commonwealth Games.

Twelve months out from the Games, a boycott was being rumoured by African, Caribbean and Asian countries due to a South African rugby tour of New Zealand. With the Moscow 1980 Olympics Games being effected by boycotts, the threat for Brisbane was real. A crisis meeting in May 1982 in London resolved that there would be no boycott.

A breakthrough for the Games was the funding cooperation between the three levels of government, Brisbane city, Queensland State and the Australian federal government, ensuring a very successful and well supported Games.

There were 10 sports, with archery making its debut and gymnastics dropping out. Also, two exhibition sports were conducted, an AFL exhibition game between Richmond and Carlton at the Gabba and a table tennis match between Australia and Hong Kong.

A number of new venues were developed, including the building of the 58,000-seat QEII stadium at Nathan. The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games will use the same shooting venue, Belmont Shooting Range as used in 1982. The outdoor Chandler Velodrome used in 1982 for cycling, now neighbours the new indoor Anna Meares Velodrome to be used next year.

The Games were opened by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, reading the Queens message which had been transported from London to Australia by Decima Norman, the five-gold medal winning hero of the Sydney 1938 Commonwealth Games. Ahead of winning two gold medals at the Brisbane Games, Tracey Wickham, read the oath. Competing at her fourth Commonwealth Games, Raelene Boyle was the final baton bearer and would later cap her career winning gold in the 400m, following a similar scenario had occurred at the Sydney Olympics, when Cathy Freeman lit the flame and later at the Games topped off her career winning the 400m.

Everywhere there was competition, in the stadium, at the shooting range, in the pool, and on the roads; the host nation’s competitiveness and spirt were evident. There was Robert De Castella’s spine-tingling win in the marathon which had started at 6.00am due to potential mid-day heat, Wickham and Boyle’s gold medal winning swansongs in the pool and on the track.

Australia’s shooters dominated the competition winning 14 medals including seven gold and prompting the team general manager Jim Barry to say, “Our chaps must be shooting at the opposition and not the targets”. Making his Commonwealth Games debut at these Games was Phillip Adams who would go on to become the greatest Australian athlete in Commonwealth Games history. In Brisbane he won two gold, a silver and a bronze in the pistol disciplines and during a glittering career would compete in five Games and win 18 medals including seven gold.

Battling illness, cyclist Kendrick Tucker defended his 1000m time trial. Australia’s men’s 4000m team pursuit line up of Kevin Nichols, Michael Grenda and Michael Turtur defeated New Zealand by nearly three minutes.

An intense Canadian-Australian dual in the pool was not so friendly and boiled over a few times and was inflamed by a number of disqualifications in the relays as athletes were caught by new touch-pad technology. There was a humorous-side when the English posting a sign offering free relay change-over lessons for the Canadians and Aussies.

In addition to Wickham’s triumphs, Lisa Forrest won the backstroke double and Lisa Curry the individual medley double and a third gold in the 100m butterfly. For the Aussie men, Neil Brooks claim the 100m freestyle and swam on two gold medal winning relays.

There was a remarkable piece of history when the ‘Donnet diving dynasty’ continued at the Games. Teenager Jenny Donnet won Australia’s first women’s medal at the Games when she claimed gold in the springboard event; coached by her mother Barbara McAulay who had won the Vancouver 1954 Commonwealth Games tower diving event.  Barbara’s Aunt, Irene Donnet had won the springboard gold medal at the Sydney 1938 Commonwealth Games. Jenny’s sister, Barbi Donnet continues the dynasty at the Gold Coast Games as the competition manager for diving.

Lawn Bowls had been contested at every Games except 1966, with Australia claiming four silvers and one bronze. That elusive inaugural gold was won at the Moorooka Bowls club, when the men’s fours team of Don Percy, Bert Sharp, Robbie Dobbins and Keith Poole took the Commonwealth Games title.

Australia won three gold medals in weightlifting. Former basketballer, Nick Voukelatos the first medal awarded at the Games claiming the 52kg class. Egyptian-born Robert Kabbas outlined the opposition in the 90kg division and Port Lincolin tuna-fisherman Dean Lukin the super-heavyweights (110kg plus). In the boxing competition North Queensland Aborigine Doug Sam progressed to the final, winning a silver medal in the middleweight division.

After nine days of intense competition, it would soon be time to reflect and remember. The curtain was brought down on the display of Commonwealth sporting prowess as the closing ceremony rolled into the QEII stadium. A few words from Queen Elizabeth and a wink from Matilda sent the best athletes of the Commonwealth on their way, with new friendships and cherished memories to last a lifetime.





Become part of our Commonwealth Games Australia family and get all the latest news our team members!