The 1956 Olympics, held in Melbourne, was the first time Australia had its shot at showing the world our sporting and spectator prowess on our homefield. The National Library holds the Herald and Weekly Times photographic archive from these games. From the images of the spectators in action, it’s clear we won gold in this category.  

I should’ve begun this blog with the warning that I’ve never been much of sporting spectator. I’m the kind of person who needs to ask at half-time who’s winning, and the roar of a stadium-worth of people makes me panic. But I am a people-watcher and have been a photography enthusiast since the day my grandfather first put a disposable camera in my hands. 

With all that in mind, scroll on for a photography-induced lesson (as best as I can understand it) in how to watch a sports game.

Buy a ticket

Young men helping eachother climb a wall with signs reading 'Sections E', while other people stand around or walk past
Bruce Howard, Spectators following others clambering to get a view of the Opening Ceremony, Olympic Games, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Victoria, 22 November 1956, nla.obj-147838365

On 22 November 1956, 103,000 people attended the opening ceremony of the Olympics at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. A few extra deviants found creative ways around buying a ticket. It might have made for some great images, but it’s not recommended. 

Show up in style

Group of men and women leaning on and standing behind railing as they smile and clap. They are wearing national dress from Europe
Five women and two men in European ethnic costumes, Olympic Games, Melbourne, 29 November 1956, nla.obj-148941520 

Whether showing off your nationality or the team you’re supporting, the key to standing out in a crowd is what you wear. Of course, a huge smile will also take you far in this category.

Man and woman sitting in the stands of a sports arena wearing nice clothes andsunhats
Fashionably-dressed man and woman wearing sunhats looking at an athletics programme, Olympic Games, Melbourne, 24 November 1956, nla.obj-148937324 

Smashing! This couple have got it right. Nigel Thornberry approves. 

Prepare for the elements

Rain or shine, Aussies love to show up to a sporting game (apparently). Melbourne, with all four-seasons of its glorious weather is the place to quickly learn how to be ready for anything.

Three woman and a small girl sitting in the stands of a sports stadium wearing coats, drinking tea and holding umbrellas
Three women and a girl drinking tea while sheltering under umbrellas, Olympic Games, Melbourne, 8 December 1956, nla.obj-148939222  

Of course, a DIY approach is also a choice… 

Man in the crowded stands of a sports arena wearing shirt and tie and cardboard visor that sits around his eyes and extends forward from his forehead, tied around the back of his head
Balding spectator with paper sun visor, Olympic Games, Melbourne, 24 November 1956, nla.obj-148937427

 A newsworthy match?

Woman sitting in the stands of a sports arena in a nice floral dress, holding up binoculars and wearing a large sunhat made out of newspapers
Woman spectator with binoculars and an elaborate sunhat made of newspaper, Olympic Games, Melbourne, 22 November 1956, nla.obj-148961728  

Bring a snack-pack

As far as I can tell, the best part of watching a sporting match is the snacks – on and off the field. At the 1956 Olympics, the BYO picnic appeared to be all the rage and made for a perfect outing with friends or family.

A hot beverage seemed to be the drink of choice in 1956.

Two women sitting amongst other spectators sharing lunch and pouring a drink from a thermos
Spectators eating lunch and pouring drinks from a thermos, Olympic Games, Melbourne, 22 November 1956, nla.obj-148960422  

A sports fan in the making. 

Family of three sitting in the crowded stands of a sports stadium while various events take place on the track and field. The parents seem to be enjoying a warm beverage while looking at their baby who lies in a stroller.
Family having a picnic in the stands, with a baby in one basket, and picnic paraphernalia in the other, Olympic Games, Melbourne, 28 November 1956, nla.obj-148938429 

Start watching

There are multiple options when it comes to actually viewing the match. Before screens ruled the stadium, binoculars were an obvious choice to catch the finer details of the game. But how do you know which kind to bring? 

You can go with the submarine inspired periscopes. 

Woman in crowd standing outside sports arena using periscopes to see above the crowd and over the fence
Crowd, some with periscopes, trying to see over the fence, Olympic Games, Melbourne, 22 November 1956, nla.obj-148960626  

 Or perhaps take a page out of a surgeon’s notebook. 

Man sitting in stands of sports stadium in suit and sunhat using binocular glasses
Male spectator wearing binocular glasses, Olympic Games, Melbourne, 26 November 1956, nla.obj-148937822 

Cameras at the ready

Whether you’re a fan of the game, or tagging along for the first time, you’ll want to capture the occasion. And if you lose interest in whatever sport you’re watching, you can always turn your lens to the crowd. 

Two women leaning over railing in front of stands in sports arena using old cameras to capture the sports taking place
Bruce Howard, Two young women photograph the events taking place in the stadium, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Victoria, 23 November 1956, nla.obj-147846616 

If you’re a stadium-stand local, a hero on the field, or just learning how to show good sportsmanship (like me), the National Library’s Grit & Gold: Tales from a Sporting Nation exhibition is for you.