Stadium 1956 in West Melbourne
Melbourne Stadium ( later Festival Hall )
in West Melbourne
This is where my fights were mostly done (being renovated for the
Festival Hall in Melbourne
was the place to be seen and the venue of many a sell out sports or
entertainment events for decades.
Probably best known for
staging professional wrestling and boxing matches, many a riot started at The
Hall, and some even spilled into the street and parking lot.
Festival Hall was built by
John Wren in 1915. Rebuilt in 1956 after
being burnt down the year before, it was the Olympic Games venue for gymnastics
and wrestling. In the 1950s and 1960s it
became an entertainment centre, with famous appearances including Bill Haley,
Frank Sinatra and the Beatles.
By the 1990s it had been
overtaken by more spectacular venues, but the Wren family remained in ownership.
Hugh Donald Macintosh
ushered in a new era in Australian Boxing when he leased a Chinese market garden
site at Rushcutters Bay on the corner of New South Head Road and Neild Avenue.
Here he built the Sydney Stadium to promote a world title fight between Tommy
Burns and Bill Squires on 24th August 1908. Burns won this first major
competition (although there were a few earlier exhibition matches) by a knockout
in the 13th Round. The early big fights proved to extremely popular and
26th December 1908,
Tommy Burns accepted an offer of 6,000 pounds to defend his heavy weight title
against Jack Johnson - the first Black American to try for a world title in the
class - at Sydney Stadium. This fight provoked a huge amount of interest in
Sydney for a number of reasons: there was an increasing interest in all things
American in Australia due in part to the visit of the United States Great White
Fleet to Australia, the novelty of Johnson being Black and a prevailing fear in
some quarters that if Burns were defeated it might signal a weakness in what was
seen as the Anglo-Saxon Race. This interest encouraged a huge crowd to
pay to watch the fight.
According to the Australian
Encyclopaedia, Johnson was to receive 1,500 pounds but when he saw the full
house on the night of the fight he demanded more money. Macintosh forced Johnson
to enter the ring a gunpoint. The fight was stopped by police in round 14 when
Burns was knocked out, though the referee awarded the fight on points to
The Stadium was roofed in
1911 and in 1912 was acquired by the sportsman Reginald "Snowy" Baker
(1884-1953) and his brother Harald. In 1914, Stadiums Pty. Ltd. was formed with
Baker, Richard Lean and the Melbourne based financier and gambler John Wren
(1871-1953) as the chief shareholders.
World War restrictions
closed the Stadium in 1916, and it reopened at the end of the War. Boxing
matches continued to be held at the Stadium until the 1970s, although by the
1950s it was also being used for music and stage productions and for over half a
century was an important part of Sydney's popular culture.
The Stadium was demolished
in 1973 to make way for the overhead section of the Eastern Suburbs Railway. Its
former site is marked by a plaque.
Paul Convy - March
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