Commonwealth Games - 1938 Sydney

Sydney in 1938

The 1938 Commonwealth Games, or British Empire Games as it was known then, took place in Sydney. This was 150 years after Europeans started living in Australia.

The Games were held from the 5th to the 12th of February. There were 466 athletes from fifteen countries competing in eight sports.

A large crowd lined the streets of Sydney on January 26th to see the Games athletes and the 150th anniversary parade. A week later a crowd of 40,000 packed into the Sydney Cricket Ground to see the opening ceremony of the 3rd British Empire Games.

There were about 7 million people living in Australia in the 1930’s. About one million of them were living in Sydney.

Most Australians were either born in Britain or had British ancestors or relatives. But by the late 1930’s, some Europeans who did not speak English started to immigrate (move) to Australia. Many of these immigrants were Jews.

The early 1930’s were very hard for Australians. Jobs were hard to find. Many people (about a third of people) could not get jobs. Many families had to leave their homes because they could not pay the rent. They would then have to live in shanties – roughly built shelters made from planks of wood and other scrap materials. They needed the Government to help them stay alive.

Attending sports events, the theatres, cinemas and going to the beach helped many people forget their problems. American movie stars such as Shirley Temple, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers became household names. These stars also became the fashion trend setters for many Australians.

The beach culture grew as more people were able to take public transportations to the beach. Bathing costumes became more daring; however they are still very modest by today’s standards.

Australian Sporting Heroes in 1938

Sir Donald Bradman became Australia’s sporting hero during the 1930s-40s for his extraordinary batting talent. In 52 test appearances, Bradman scored 6996 runs at an average of 99.94. Bradman could have ended his career with an average of over 100 runs had he managed to score four or more runs in his last test in 1948. Unfortunately he was bowled out for a second ball duck by Eric Hollies. No batsman in history has come close to reaching Bradman’s average.

Bradman was born on 27 August 1908 in Cootamundra, News South Wales. He made his test debut in 1928 against England in Brisbane, where he scored 18 and 1. He captained Australia from 1936 to 1948 and retired from first class cricket in 1949. Bradman has been honoured with many awards, amongst them a knighthood for services to cricket (1949), a Companion of the Order of Australia (1979), and Wisden’s best cricketer of the 20th century (2000). Sir Donald Bradman died in 5 February 2001, aged 92.

Preparing For The Games

The Games Village (a place for athletes to stay during the game) was located at the old Sydney Showground. Competitions were held at the following venues:

  • Track and Field events - Sydney Cricket Ground
  • Swimming and Diving - North Sydney Olympic Pool
  • Track cycling - Henson Park
  • Road race- Centennial Park
  • Rowing - Nepean River at Penrith
  • Boxing and Wrestling - Rushcutters Bay Stadium
  • Lawn Bowls - Waverley Club

The 1938 Commonwealth Games

Medal Tally Of The Top 10 Performing Countries

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Australia 24 19 22 65
2 England 15 14 10 39
3 Canada 13 16 15 44
4 South Africa 10 10 6 26
5 New Zealand 5 7 12 24
6 Wales 2 1 0 3
7 Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) 1 0 0 1
8 Scotland 0 2 3 5
9 British Guiana (now Guyana) 0 1 0 1
10 Rhodesia (Zimbabwe and Zambia) 0 0 2 2

Australia's Medal Tally Breakdown

Sport Gold Silver Bronze Total
Athletics 6 11 12 29
Boxing 1 1 2 4
Cycling 2 2 0 4
Diving 3 1 1 5
Lawn Bowls 0 1 2 3
Rowing 2 1 0 3
Swimming 4 2 5 11
Wrestling 6 0 0 6
Total 24 19 22 65

The hero of the 1938 British Empire Games was Western Australia’s track and field athlete Decima Norman. Born on 9th September 1909 in Tammin, Western Australia, Decima became Australia’s first female athletic star. She won five gold medals. They were in the 100 yards (about 90 metres), 200 yards (about 180 metres) , long jump, 440 (400 metres) and 660 yards (600 metres) medley relay. In 1982, Decima was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire for her services in sports; she passed away (died) on 29 August 1983.

Other stars of the 1938 British Empire Games were:

  • John Loaring, of Canada, won gold medals in the 440 yards (400 metres) hurdle, 4 x 110 (100 metres) and 4 x 440 (400 metres) yards relay.
  • Cyril Holmes, of England, won two gold medals. They were in the 110 (100 metres) and 220 yards (200 metres) sprint.
  • Robert Pirie, of Canada, won five medals for swimming. He won two gold medals and three silver medals. His gold medals were won in the 100 yards (90 metres) and 440 yards (400 metres) freestyle.
References & Sources

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