Ooh, who's enjoying watching the 2012 London Olympics? We are lapping it up on Planet Baby. The pixies are discovering sports they'd never dreamed of and fantasising of becoming Australian Olympians. Pretty par for the course in many Australian households, I guess. But this time our interest has extra depth. My grandfather (Dad's father) was a member of the Australian team at the 1948 London Olympics!
He was the coxswain of the rowing four. Unfortunately, he died of an accident before I was born so I never had the pleasure of meeting him. My grandmother kept all his Olympic memorabilia tucked away, probably for safekeeping from the clutches of little grandchildren. Anyway, when growing up, I had little idea about his story. It was only when my grandmother died in 2001 that I really started to learn about Tom and his Olympic tale. I want to share it with you as it's a delightful story from another, gentler age.
For some background, imagine this. Tom was born in 1906. He and my grandmother raised their two young sons (my Dad and his older brother) through those really tough years of the Great Depression. During this time, he became Australia's most recognised and successful coxswain (click here for an explanation of the term). Then in 1942, Tom joined the Royal Australian Airforce and was posted to New Guinea to fight the Japanese. I posted about it here.
He'd only been home a couple of years when the 1948 London Olympics rolled around. By this stage, he was 42 and my aunt was 4 months old. Amazingly, I think, he had returned to his beloved coxing after the war's end. And he was still the best in the country. The Australian coxed four was comprised of youngsters with an average age of 22. But they wanted Tom to be their cox, although he was 20 years their senior!
Here's my handsome grandfather at the aerodrome before leaving for London
It must have been such a thrilling time for my Dad and his family. Tom was only Tasmania's 3rd Olympian.
Here's Tom departing. That's my Dad on the left in his school uniform.
It took 3 days to fly to London with stopovers all the way. Then the rowers headed to the famous Henley Regatta site for the competition.
Here's the crew in camp. Tom's the one at the front with the cap. I'm not sure why Tasmania is missing from the Australian map on their tops!
Unfortunately, half the crew fell ill so they could only muster 2nd place in their heat. That meant they could enter the repechage - an extra chance to make the final. But they finished 2nd in that as well. Their campaign was over. Here are Tom's participation medallion from the IOC and his Australian Olympic identity bracelet. Here are the results for the coxed four.
And here's the official Australian report on the campaign. I love the courteous style of writing and the good sportsmanlike conclusion.
Ooh, how I wish I could have talked to Tom about all he saw and what he felt like, being an Olympian.
The 1948 London Olympics ran in a time of austerity as the nation slowly recovered from the privations of WWII and its effect on the economy. You can even see that in the quality of his Australian team blazer. Made of worsted wool in Melbourne, it wasn't fully lined as material was still scarce.
Both breasts were stiffened with hessian!
And then, once the Games were over, Tom and the rest of the Australian Olympic team sailed back to Australia on the TSS Strathaird. And who else was aboard? None other than Sir Donald Bradman's 1948 cricket team, dubbed 'The Invincibles' (they were the first Test match side to play an entire tour of England without losing a match)! Being a cricket tragic, it thrills me to think of Tom playing quoits on the ship deck with Sir Don during that wonderful lazy month ☺.
When I saw the Australian team marching into the stadium at the Opening Ceremony wearing their green blazers, my heart swelled with pride as I glanced at Tom's blazer - so similar, save for the gold stripes. Seeing the pixies' eyes light up whenever we mention their great-grandfather has been so touching. There is another aspect of this story. To date, he has not been inducted into the Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame, despite my Dad's best efforts. In his final days, I promised Dad I would try to carry out his wish.
Here's me with his blazer. There's Tom being farewelled before his journey.
Our local newspaper, The Mercury, interviewed me last week about it and published this article here if you're interested (please note it was one of Dad's last wishes, not his dying wish). Fingers crossed that Tom will finally assume his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. So there you so, sweet Planetarians - a little stroll down memory lane back to the *other* London Olympics. Now, time to scoot back to the telly to see how Team Australia is going today! I'd love to hear if any of you have had Olympians in your families or known any. Do share!