Philip Barker ©ITG

Ever since an F111 swooped over Sydney’s Olympic stadium at the end of the 2000 Games to capture the Flame in its afterburn, the Australians have made no secret of their wish for the Games to return to the land of the Southern Cross.

It is 125 years since the first Olympic Games were revived in Athens, but only three times have they taken place in the Southern Hemisphere.

The last time they were held in Australia was 21 years ago, but now Brisbane has emerged as an Olympic frontrunner for 2032. The city and the Australian Olympic Committee have been invited to participate in what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has described as "targeted dialogue" with the Future Host Commission.

Many consider that this has conferred "preferred" status on Brisbane after a glowing report in the IOC’s own feasibility study.

IOC President Thomas Bach said: "We decided to seize an opportunity to take to the next stage our discussions about returning 32 years later. In this way, we are also acknowledging the strength of the Australian team and other athletes from across the continent of Oceania at the Olympic Games over the past decades."

The move comes after the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018 were highly acclaimed.

A previous but unsuccessful bid by Brisbane came in the wake of a similarly successful Commonwealth Games in 1982.

They inspired Lord Mayor Roy Harvey to launch a bid for the 1992 Olympics.

A promotional film for the city at that time proclaimed, "Shine on Brisbane make each day with a smile!"

Although Harvey lost the Mayoral election in 1985 to the charismatic Sallyanne Atkinson, the bid actually gained impetus. Atkinson was memorably described by the distinguished Australian journalist Harry Gordon as bringing "a blend of beguiling charm and hard-edged hucksterism."

Such qualities would be needed in what was to be a highly competitive and intense contest, with Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belgrade, Birmingham and Paris also in the running. Delhi had been interested but soon dropped out.

The "Sallyanne Factor" soon won new friends for Brisbane.

"The Olympic Games have only been in the Southern Hemisphere once," she pointed out. "It needs to keep this whole spirit of universality going. It really needs to come back to the Southern Hemisphere. This whole spirit of universality to Oceania hasn’t had a fair go and we are here to address that balance."

Atkinson led a delegation to the 1985 IOC session in East Berlin where media magnate Rupert Murdoch flew in fresh Australian seafood for a reception given to IOC members.

"He offered to put on a magnificent party for us, which lifted our bid out of the ordinary into the spectacular. A lot of the bid is about style and panache," said Atkinson, who presented IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch with some gum leaves, which she described as "a small piece of Australia."

Brisbane’s bid budget of AUD5 million (£2.8 million/$3.9 million/€3.2 million) was much smaller than that of rivals Barcelona and Paris but when IOC members visited Queensland they were taken for a helicopter flight above facilities originally built for the 1982 Commonwealth Games.

Bid representatives told them: "When we in Brisbane hosted the 1982 Commonwealth Games we established our credentials in terms of world class sports organisation and it was on the basis of that performance and our keenness as a nation to bring the Olympic Movement back to the Southern Hemisphere, that this bid was born."

Brisbane is in pole position to stage the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games ©Getty Images
Brisbane is in pole position to stage the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games ©Getty Images

Facilities already built included the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, expected to hold athletics. The Chandler sports complex was to hold swimming, weightlifting and cycling. Another indoor arena in Boondall was proposed for gymnastics, basketball and volleyball. They also flew across Moreton Bay earmarked for sailing.

Brisbane’s bid team included John Coates, then a young lawyer who was a leading official in the sport of rowing. He was to play a key role in all subsequent Australian bids. Brisbane emphasized its position as a "zone of peace".

In October 1986, the whole Olympic cavalcade headed for the IOC session at the Palais de Beaulieu in Lausanne. In the election, Barcelona swept to victory ahead of Paris but Brisbane finished third. Atkinson said: "We didn’t get gold, but we put our city and our country on the map."

Coates later described Brisbane’s bid as "very much on a learning curve." He admitted that the later bids including Sydney 2000 had been helped by experiences gained from Brisbane’s efforts.

Melbourne had been the first Australian city to express interest in the Olympics 125 years ago.

As news filtered back from Athens of the exploits of Australia’s first Olympic champion Edwin Flack, who won both the 800 and 1500 metres in 1896, the Melbourne Argus newspaper suggested that one day the Olympics "might offer themselves to the gaze of Melbourne."

When leading sports official Richard Coombes became an IOC member in the early 20th century, he was said to have tried to persuade IOC President Baron Pierre de Coubertin to consider holding Olympics under the Southern Cross.

John Coates, now an IOC vice-president, played a role in Brisbane's unsuccessful bid for the 1992 Olympics ©Getty Images
John Coates, now an IOC vice-president, played a role in Brisbane's unsuccessful bid for the 1992 Olympics ©Getty Images

In those early days, the choice of host city was often by "Gentleman’s Agreement" amongst the IOC members. Even so, the entreaties by Coombes seemed to fall on deaf ears.

In 1938, Sydney successfully hosted the British Empire Games - now the Commonwealth Games - but war soon came.

In June 1946, Edgar Tanner convened a meeting of the Victorian Olympic Council. The following day’s Melbourne’s Sporting Globe included a report by Jim Blake which said simply: "Last night the Victorian Olympic Council decided to apply to hold the Olympic Games in Australia with Melbourne as the venue."

The motion that "we apply for the Games" had been proposed by Ron Aitken, an executive at the Carlton and United breweries and an enthusiastic athletics official.

He was keen to develop a venue for amateur sport.

Tanner wrote to Olympic chancellor Otto Mayer in Lausanne seeking advice on the procedure for bidding.

The Australian Olympic Federation threw its weight behind a bid by Melbourne.

"We must make Australians Olympic minded and Amateur sport minded," said Lord Mayor Sir Raymond Connelly. "Few people realise the magnitude of these Games and they are inclined to think that Test cricket is the biggest thing in sport."

Melbourne had produced a lavish volume to promote the city. Most copies were bound in suede but a few special editions had lambswool covers. When a copy was auctioned years later, it fetched AUD1,763 (£975/$1,360/€1,125).

Melbourne became the first location in the Southern Hemisphere to host the Olympics in 1956 ©Getty Images
Melbourne became the first location in the Southern Hemisphere to host the Olympics in 1956 ©Getty Images

A high-powered delegation also attended the London 1948 Olympics. Food rationing was in force in Britain, but they arranged for food and wine to be shipped to London for a banquet at which IOC members were to be present.

The host city election was held at the 1949 IOC session in Rome. Buenos Aires, Detroit, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Chicago and Minneapolis were also in contention.

Melbourne’s delegation included Sir Frank Beaurepaire, a former Lord Mayor.

He had been a swimmer, winning silver and bronze medals at the London 1908 Olympics and four further medals at the Antwerp 1920 and Paris 1924 Games.

The Australians were last to make their presentation which included a promotional film entitled Olympic Invitation. Made at Herschell’s Studios in Melbourne, it was narrated by Australian radio personality Terry Dear. 

When the voting was announced Melbourne had beaten Buenos Aires by a single vote, but the road to 1956 did not prove easy.

Strict quarantine laws made it impossible for it to stage the equestrian events which were relocated to Stockholm.

There were also delays in construction and on a visit to Melbourne, then-IOC President Avery Brundage administered what he unrepentantly described as "a mild atomic explosion."

Even so, the Games were opened on time by Prince Philip in November 1956.

The Suez crisis and repression of the Hungarian uprising had made for a tense year but the official report noted: "All the rumblings of distant wars, all the clash and clamour of world-away systems and schemes faded, forgotten like a scare in the night, before the splendour of this daybreak of an Olympiad."

Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies wrote of "a green and pleasant memory", and chief organiser Wilfrid Kent-Hughes was later knighted.

Brisbane Cricket Ground, commonly known as the Gabba, is one of the city's best-known sporting arenas ©Getty Images
Brisbane Cricket Ground, commonly known as the Gabba, is one of the city's best-known sporting arenas ©Getty Images

As the Games closed, the lyrics of Waltzing Matilda were adjusted to "Goodbye Olympians". The final verse included the words:

"Come to Australia, back to Australia,
Mist on the hills and the sun breaking through,
With the sliprails down and the billy boiling merrily,
Wide open arms will be waiting for you."

A generation later, Sydney began work on a bid for the 1988 Games. This was a year which marked 200 years since the "First Fleet" of British ships had arrived in Botany Bay.

It had the support of IOC member David McKenzie, a fencer who had taken part in the 1956 Games, but when IOC President Lord Killanin visited Australia in 1977, he was told that Sydney’s bid "seems to be having problems."

Victoria's Minister for Sport and Recreation Brian Dixon suggested that Melbourne should step into the ring.

A feasibility study was launched and when Sydney faltered, the Australian Olympic Federation threw its weight behind Melbourne.

It soon emerged that the only other realistic contenders were the Japanese city Nagoya, and South Korean capital Seoul, considered the outsider.

McKenzie said: "I came to the conclusion that there was a very strong likelihood that sufficient votes would be obtainable in the IOC to ensure that the Games came to Melbourne."

Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser demanded a feasibility study, led by future premier John Howard.

Then in early 1980 came the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Fraser was in favour of boycotting the Moscow Olympics in protest.

There was a bitter debate, replicated in other Western countries, but Australia eventually sent an Olympic team of 125 to Moscow. Joint flagbearers Denise Robertson-Boyd and Max Metzker paraded with the Olympic flag rather than the Southern Cross.

After Moscow, McKenzie continued to promote Melbourne 1988 at international sporting gatherings under the banner "Return the Games to the Athlete".

Queensland's Gold Coast put on the Commonwealth Games in 2018 ©Getty Images
Queensland's Gold Coast put on the Commonwealth Games in 2018 ©Getty Images

Australia’s presence in Moscow would have made them strong contenders, but it had also antagonised an already sceptical Prime Minister. As the candidacy was about to be officially presented, it was announced that there would be no Government backing.

Shortly before the IOC vote, McKenzie died in Honolulu in mysterious circumstances aged only 45.

In a two-horse race, Seoul was chosen as host of the Games of the 24th Olympiad. By the time they took place, Australia had decided to bid again.

Atlanta, Athens, Belgrade, Manchester and Toronto were amongst the bidding cities for 1996.

Before the Australian candidate city was selected, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney contested a domestic run-off. IOC members Kevan Gosper and Phil Coles backed Sydney, a choice endorsed by Coates and Olympic swimming gold medallist John Devitt, but Melbourne was chosen to carry the bid.

In the Melbourne Age, Peter McFarlane insisted "Melbourne is better prepared than any other Australian city for the greatest show on earth," but Coles remained pessimistic.

"We knew it was a mistake. Toronto and Atlanta held parties. They knew Melbourne wouldn’t get up."

Melbourne’s lobbying team included former Governor General Sir Ninian Stephen and Ron Walker, destined later to bring the 2006 Commonwealth Games to Melbourne.

Gosper wrote, "I had no doubt that Melbourne could organise fantastic Games. My worry was always that the members would not vote to go back to the same place in a small country." His concerns proved well founded.

The final decision was to be taken in 1990 when the IOC gathered in Tokyo.

Delegates celebrate Sydney being awarded the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics. For the 2032 Games, Brisbane will not be embroiled in the same kind of bid race ©Getty Images
Delegates celebrate Sydney being awarded the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics. For the 2032 Games, Brisbane will not be embroiled in the same kind of bid race ©Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was part of the presentation team. Greg Norman joined IOC members for a round of golf. Michelle Ford and a 17-year-old Cathy Freeman represented the athletes. Gosper told the IOC that "half the world should not be living in shadow."

Their efforts were in vain. When Samaranch pulled open the golden envelope, it was to announce that Atlanta had won. Melbourne placed only fourth.

Australia very soon announced an intention to bid again, but this time the Australian Olympic Committee voted unanimously for Sydney to carry its hopes and a bid logo invoked the sails of the Sydney Opera House.

"If we go with Sydney, it will be all guns blazing. It won’t be a half-hearted attempt," said Coates.

He drew up a dossier for the new bid leader Rod McGeoch, a partner in a Sydney law firm.

The Bid Committee would also use a more controversial dossier which included personal profiles and preferences of the voting IOC members.

Whereas Melbourne 1996 had missed out the invaluable opportunity to lobby for votes at the Seoul Olympics, Sydney would have the chance to present its case amongst the movers and shakers in 1992 at the Winter Games in Albertville and then in Barcelona.

Sydney’s opposition came from Beijing, Berlin, Istanbul and Manchester.

Most realised that Beijing represented the main threat to Sydney’s aspirations but the repression of student protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989 was still fresh in the memory.

"We often discussed the Beijing bid in our strategy meetings," McGeoch wrote later in his memoirs.

"We wanted a public relations campaign to air and debate some of these issues, but not one sourced back to the Sydney bid."

He revealed that lobbyists in London were planning to publish a book entitled The So-Called Suitable Candidate. The project was eventually shelved partly because open criticism of rival bids did not play well with IOC voters.

Sydney 2000 is widely regarded as one of the most successful Games ©Getty Images
Sydney 2000 is widely regarded as one of the most successful Games ©Getty Images

In September 1993, Sydney’s team headed to Monaco for the decisive vote.

Said McGeoch: "I knew exactly what we should do that week, take over the town!"

Legendary Australian cricketer Sir Donald Bradman sent signed memorabilia in support of the bid. The delegation group included two Prime Ministers, as incumbent Paul Keating was joined by Gough Whitlam.

Eleven-year-old schoolgirl Tanya Blencowe told the IOC members, "Sydney is a friendly city where it doesn’t matter where you come from."

By the time the result was announced, it was 4.27am in Sydney but 50,000 had gathered in Circular Quay . IOC President Samaranch pulled open the envelope to reveal that Sydney had won.

The victory margin was only two votes in the fourth round of voting.

When the bidding team returned home, they were given a ticker-tape parade. 

Seven years later, when the rings adorned Sydney Harbour bridge, Samaranch would proclaim the 2000 Games as "the best ever".

That memory has no doubt helped fuel the enthusiasm for Brisbane 2032.