Philip Barker

The FIFA World Cup is due to begin on Sunday (November 20) when Qatar play Ecuador to launch the latest major global sporting event to take place in November.

But, 60 years ago this week, the focus was on the another major event in Perth in Western Australia.

Never before had the Commonwealth Games started quite so late in the year yet they were held as the Australian summer began.

The Games also represented an important chapter in the history of the host nation because for the first time Australia's roll of honour included two indigenous athletes.

The first champion was high jumper Percy Hobson, who won the gold medal in the high jump.

The official Australian Commonwealth Games report made no mention of the indigenous heritage of some team members ©Commonwealth Games Australia
The official Australian Commonwealth Games report made no mention of the indigenous heritage of some team members ©Commonwealth Games Australia

One of ten children, Hobson had been captivated by the 1956 Olympics, held in Melbourne when he was still only a teenager.

He soon began competing in his home town of Bourke in New South Wales.

During one meeting, Hobson was noticed by coach Doug McBain, who took him under his wing.

McBain lived in Sydney, so he was only able to meet his protege "face to face" on rare occasions

Nonetheless, he wrote on a regular basis with coaching advice but even so the "distance learning" soon reaped dividends.

Hobson trained with very makeshift equipment, his first high jump stands had bamboo crossbars but these proved too flimsy.

His cousin Frankie fashioned equipment in a local metal workshop and this was then installed in his back garden to enable practice to continue.

As an amateur, Percy was only able to train after working hours.

He then joined an athletics club which was 420 kilometres away.

Later as he sought a higher standard of competition he joined Eastern Suburbs, which required a round trip of 1,600km to attend training or competition.

This was possible only at weekends.

"Percy Hobson is too short,"  declared Franz Stampfl, the great Austrian coach who had prepared the Australian team for 1956 Olympics.

Hobson set about proving him wrong.

A fundraising campaign, which might nowadays be described as "crowd funding", helped pay for Hobson's travel to competitions.

The Western Herald newspaper in Bourke enthusiastically reported his exploits and spearheaded initiatives to help raise the money.

Hobson worked at Tancred’s meatworks where an understanding boss allowed him to take time off to attend athletics meetings.

Even so, he still encountered discrimination, perhaps most famously when he was excluded from a team trip which visited Indonesia.

By 1962, though, Hobson was a force to be reckoned with and cleared 2.01 metres to win the state championships.

He was called up for the Australian team to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Perth and the townsfolk in Bourke staged a special party by way of a send off.

Meanwhile three boxers of indigenous origin were selected for the first time.

Lightweight Adrian Blair, flyweight Eddie Barney and bantamweight Jeff Dynevor bantamweight were included in a team of 10 boxers.

Barney had come close to qualifying for the 1960 Olympics in Rome and came from a sporting family, the son of cricketer Eddie Gilbert, said by Sir Donald Bradman to be the fastest bowler he had ever faced. 

They all came from Kingaroy, a peanut growing district near Cherbourg in Queensland.

"The trio are full of pride at winning their Australian blazers," the Australian Women’s Weekly paper said in an article.

The overall Australian team was led by boxing officials Edgar Tanner, styled team "Commandant" and Arthur Tunstall as assistant general manager.

Newsreel pictures showed clear blue skies and the streets of Perth decorated with mobile decorations, including giant black swans, the emblem of WestermAustralia, as visitors began to arrive.

Runners from the Adelaide Harriers also arrived after an epic Relay across the country.

They carried a message from the civic authorities of Melbourne and Adelaide for Perth Mayor Sir Harry Howard, who also headed the Organising Committee.

Prince Philip, then President of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), arrived in an open top limousine to open the Games at the Perry Lakes Stadium.

The day of the high jump competition proved to be scorching hot.

After an exhausting competition, Hobson produced a Games record 6 feet 11 inches (2.10m) to claim gold in the high jump, two centimetres ahead of his Australian team-mate Chilla Porter. 

 Anton Norris of Barbados won the bronze medal.

"In winning a gold medal, Percy brought credit to himself and the town of Bourke he represents," the local newspaper said.

"It didn’t sink in straight away, you know, I was just emotional,"  Hobson reflected many years later.

"I didn’t cry or anything, I just really felt good."

When Hobson returned home, a civic reception was held to celebrate his achievement.

The three boxers had varying fortunes.

They trained at Her Majesty's Australian Ship Leeuwin, a naval training base at Fremantle.

"The conduct of the boxers under my charge was at all times excellent,never have I had a team of such good character as this Australian team," boxing Section manager George Dickenson wrote in the official Australian report.

Barney lost in his first flyweight contest on points and Blair was " a little unlucky" to be defeated in his second round lightweight bout.

Dynevor went all the way to the final, where he defeated Ghana’s Sammy Abbey in the bantamweights.

"I was there, in Perth, with him, when he won the gold medal and, oh, my heart went bang," team-mate Barney said

Dynevor was one of only two Australian boxers to win gold at the Games along with flag bearer Tony Madigan, who retained the light heavyweight title.

Dynevor had been born at Thargomindah in Western Queensland but had been forcibly relocated with the rest of his family to Cherbourg.

In all Australia, won 38 gold medals at the Games, four of them won by legendary swimmer Dawn Fraser.

Amongst other successful competitors in the pool were future International Olympic Committee vice-president Richard Pound, winner of the 110 yards freestyle gold for Canada.

Scottish swimmer Louise Campbell did not win a medal but was also destined for an important role in sport as CGF President. She is better known by her married name, Dame Louise Martin.

When the curtain came down on the Games, Sir Arthur Porritt, one of Martin’s predecessors as head of the CGF, complained about the exuberant entry of the athletes.

"I didn’t mind them coming in straggly but marching the wrong way and conducting the band was overdoing it," he said.

Martin was not among the culprits, as some members of the Scottish team missed the Ceremony altogether.

"So we four girls had gone back to the Village to get ready put the television on, and fell asleep!"’ Martin recalled for insidethegames many years later.

Cathy Freeman displayed the Aboriginal flag after her victories at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in the 200m and 400m but was rebuked by team official Arthur Tunstall for so doing ©Getty Images
Cathy Freeman displayed the Aboriginal flag after her victories at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in the 200m and 400m but was rebuked by team official Arthur Tunstall for so doing ©Getty Images

The Games were a success but there was no acknowledgement of the indigenous heritage of Hobson or Dynevor in the official report produced by the Australian Commonwealth Games Association.

Just how far there was still to go in Australian society was shown at the Brisbane Games in 1982 when daily demonstrations were staged by Aboriginal protesters against the hardline policies of then Queensland State Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

In 1994 Arthur Tunstall, by then Chef de Mission of the Australian team, rebuked Cathy Freeman for carrying the Aboriginal flag on her lap of honour after winning the 200 and 400 metres

It was in marked contrast to when Australia staged the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast.

Yugambeh elders were invited to join The Queen for the launch of the Baton Relay at Buckingham Palace and Gold Coast 2018 organisers ensured there was a prominent place for indigenous culture and community throughout the build up to the Games and at the official ceremonies.

The achievements of the first indigenous champions have also been acknowledged 60 years on.

Dynevor was chosen to carry the Olympic Torch when it visited South Burnett in Queensland and the Queen’s Baton as it made its way to the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. 

He died in 2008.

There were many tributes paid to Hobson when he died aged 79 earlier this year and now his achievement is recorded on the Bourke Water Tower.

It was painted by John Murray an artist from  Lightning Ridge, almost 300 kilometres away from Bourke.

"It gives hope to the community. It makes everybody  aware of his incredible story," Murray said.

"It's become a great monument to a great man who did so much for his community. He deserves that recognition."