In the third installment of our Greater Together series highlighting duos from our Commonwealth Games Australia history, Ian Hanson caught up with lifelong friends and team mates Tony Strahan and Peter Doak, who have been inseparable for over 60 years even representing Australia at the Perth 1962 Games together.
Two of Victoria’s legendary freestyle swimmers, Commonwealth Games golden boys Tony Strahan and Peter Doak, first met as schoolmates at Geelong College in the 1950s, Tony just 15-years-old, and Peter 17, and the duo have been inseparable and been like blood brothers ever since.
Sharing extraordinary experiences together from their early days swimming in Geelong’s Eastern Beach Baths through to magical gold medal moments at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth. Even after a lifetime of friendship, they continue to share the fruits of an amazing life together.
Tony, now 74, and Peter, 76, are still swimming, still surfing and still playing golf together, they even socialise with each others’ families as they prepare to enjoy a post COVID-19 Christmas together at their beloved Torquay Surf Club on Victoria’s Surf Coast.
The two proud Geelong boys are as much a part of the swimming and surf lifesaving culture of greater Geelong as the Great Ocean Road, Bells Beach and the Lorne Pier To Pub.
On the anniversary of the closing ceremony of the Perth 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, their story takes our Greater Together series to a whole new level and it’s appropriate that we wind up what’s been the toughest year on record for so many of us with this extraordinary story of mateship, gold medal memories and so many great times cracking waves from out the back at Torquay and slogging it out on Torquay Golf Club.
Peter Doak and Tony Strahan at the Eastern Beach baths in Geelong in 1958. (Supplied)
Inseparable through thick and thin, the great mates’ gold medal memories came flooding back as they recall their amazing lives together, and share their remarkable Commonwealth Games performances from Perth in 1962.
They wore the Australian blazer and tracksuit with pride in the closing ceremony at the Perry Lakes Stadium to cap what was a perfect week for the boys from Victoria who both finished the Games as relay gold medallists in world record times.
Tony, the younger of the pair, joined Olympic gold medallists Murray Rose and Bob Windle and Olympic bronze medallist Allan Wood in what many referred to as a “dream team” 4 x 220-yard foursome on the second night of the Games, but recalls the incredible atmosphere in front of a raucous home crowd at Perth’s cauldron-like Beatty Park Pool.
“The atmosphere for the Games at Beatty Park was amazing. It was a real amphitheatre… it was great… and having the experience of marching in the opening ceremony (which not many swimmers get to experience) was fantastic,” Strahan said.
“Fortunately for us we did and that was a great experience… and something we’ll never forget.
“The 4 x 200m freestyle relay was two days after the opening ceremony and it was very, very warm from my memory… we swam late in the afternoon.
“The excitement was starting to build because the day before our girls had won the 4 x 100m freestyle relay with Dawn Fraser, Lyn Bell, Robyn Thorn and Ruth Everuss and they also broke the world record.
“But we had a magnificent team… Murray Rose was our lead off swimmer.
“At the time Murray was attending the University of Southern California (USC) and doing some film work, but he came back [to Australia] for the Games and led off in a time of 2:02.2.
“I went in next and clocked 2:03.3 which was around my best, followed by Alan Wood in 2:04.2 and then Bobby Windle was the anchor in 2:03.8 and we set a new world record of 8:13.4 and beat the Canadians by almost 30 seconds.”
The men’s 4 x 220-yard freestyle relay team – Bob Windle, Murray Rose, Allan Wood and Tony Strahan. (CGA Archive)
It was the great start from Murray Rose, which Tony recalls as being the catalyst for the outstanding performance of the team.
“Murray gave us a great start and it certainly provided a lot of confidence, particularly me going in second, and we increased our lead after each leg progressed,” Strahan said.
“When Bob Windle dived in we had a 10-12 metre lead which was a tremendous thrill… there was no way anyone could catch us.
“Then to be presented with our gold medals by the Duke of Edinburgh, wow, the first time to be presented with a gold medal and in a world record time and with those boys and by the Duke in front of a packed Australian crowd. It sure was a big thrill,” Strahan said.
So with his little mate all chuffed with his gold in world record time, Peter had the pressure on to try and match Tony. And the boys in the 4 x 110-yard freestyle relay delivered in spades.
“The 4 x 100m freestyle was my first event and again Murray led off in 56.2 followed by Peter Phelps in 56.4, I was the third swimmer splitting 55.8 and David Dickson brought us home in 55.6 – and it was also a world record time of 3:43.9,” Doak said.
“I remember it was like all relays… you are trying not to muck up or break on your change over, but it was a strong team, we had actually broken the world record, with that same team at the trials in Melbourne and we did it again in Perth in what was a great experience… and of course I couldn’t let Tony have all the glory for the Victorians.
“I was in the individual 110-yard also and actually set a new Games record in the heats but unfortunately in the final I missed the start a bit and ended up fourth… but what a great experience just the same.”
The men’s 4 x 110-yard freestyle relay team – Peter Doak, Peter Phelps, David Dickson, Murray Rose. (CGA Archive)
The men’s 110-year event was actually won by Canada’s Dick Pound, who of course went on to become a prominent international sports lawyer and the first president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and vice-president of the International Olympic Committee.
Scotland’s Bobby McGregor won silver with Australia’s David Dickson taking the bronze ahead of Doak.
McGregor and Dickson would repeat as silver and bronze medallist again four years later at the Kingston 1966 British and Empire Commonwealth Games in Jamaica, this time defeated by Australian swimming icon Michael Wenden, who would go on to win Olympic gold in Mexico in 1968.
At the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games, Doak would combine with WA’s John Ryan, Dickson and Windle to win bronze in the 4 x 100m freestyle behind a US team that would include the legendary Don Schollander, with Germany third. It was the first time the event was held at an Olympic Games.
But the great thing about Tony Strahan and Peter Doak is their ability to share their experience and both agree the opportunity to tell their story has given them as much joy as they experienced back in Perth in 1962.
“We were just talking about some of our great memories and the opportunity we had to go and train in Townsville with our coach Bill Atkinson in 1958 or 1959 in the school holidays,” Doak said.
“We had heard so much about the 1956 Olympic team training there.
“Having the opportunity of seeing what Townsville was like and apart from training in their Olympic pool we had the chance of visiting Magnetic Island and Palm Island on a couple of days off we had.
“And then in 1962, these two young guys from Geelong had progressed onto the big stage themselves with the opportunity of being on the Australian team.
“We were the best friends then as well and we had climbed up the ladder and we were spurring each other on as well and we started training together and were in the same club relay teams together and ended up in the same Australian Team together and encouraging each other all along the way.
In a remarkable set of lifelong parallels, Tony Strahan and Peter Doak both:
- Went to Geelong College
- Swam together in the Geelong College School Swimming team
- Trained together at Eastern Beach, which was a salt water pool (because they didn’t have an Olympic pool at that time in Geelong).
- Were members of the Geelong Western Swimming Club (which had been formed in 1882)
- Graduated with the Hemingway-Robinson correspondence course in accounting
- Started working at a chartered accountants office
- Were members of the Victorian State Swimming Teams – winning eams national titles together
- Were in the Australian Commonwealth Games Team in Perth in 1962 – both winning gold medals and both in teams that set new world records
- Members of Victorian Surf Life Saving Teams – winning Victoria’s first ever National Inter-State Championship at Coolangatta in 1966 – beating Queensland by two points
- Won Australian Masters swimming titles
- Competed in Brisbane in the World Masters in 1994 in swimming and surf lifesaving
- Members of the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club
- Qualified accountants and registered tax agents
- Have had two sons
- Received Order of Australia recognition
- Live in Torquay and;
- Are Members of Torquay Golf Club, where they have both had a hole in one!
Peter believes it is a case of “if one does it then the other one has to do it”.
“As we share the fruits of a life spent together after meeting as teenagers and now some 66 years later we are still seeing each other down at Torquay,” Strahan said.
“We will hopefully continue to torture ourselves around the golf course… trying to keep ourselves fit by doing a bit of swimming… a few days a week… and crack a wave when there’s a wave on.”
A story of Games glory and of a lifelong mateship personified and an inspiration for all Australians. Truly Greater Together.
“It’s keeping us alive at the moment… that’s for sure,” says Peter.