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Troubles on the other side of the world


Monument to Hungarian Patriots

The monument to Hungarian patriots seems to make reference to things that happened a long time ago in a place far away. In reality it is partly there because of events which happened only a generation and several suburbs away.

In 1956 Melbourne was hosting the Olympic Games. A number of teams came to Melbourne early to acclimatise. This included the Hungarian Water Polo Team – then reigning Olympic Champions – who arrived to the news that Soviet tanks had rumbled into Budapest to stamp out attempts to create a democracy. Tensions were high and numbers of Hungarian competitors swore they would not return to a Russian-dominated Hungary. This was all a bit strange and confronting for Melburnians. Ever since the days of the gold rush people had the basic understanding that you leave you guns and knives and old enmities from other times and places at the door. True, there had always been a few troubles from the old countries which raised their head. There was the attempt to reproduce the Irish troubles in early Melbourne but the results were almost comical rather than disruptive. From time to time a new arrival would lob a fire bomb into the club of a rival ethnic group, but after a while things usually settled down as people realised that here was a chance to make a break from the centuries-old resentments and feuds.

But here was Melbourne in 1956 with distant troubles brought to its doorstep and with the possibility of disrupting the Olympic Games. This came to a head when Hungary and Russia competed in the semi-finals of the water polo. Competed is perhaps not the correct word. The current charter of the pool where both teams trained (only several hundred metres away from the monument) claims to provide “a safe swimming experience for all abilities”. The Hungary-Russia water polo match was not a safe swimming environment. There was warfare in the pool from beginning to end. When a Hungarian competitor was king hit towards the end and the crowd looked as though they could riot, officials ended the match prematurely.

With tension mounting about what could happen at the closing ceremony with countries marching under their own flags, it took the lateral thinking of an Australian schoolboy to provide a solution. He suggested that athletes should all mix and march together without country groupings – a practice which has been followed to this day.

The monument to Hungarian patriots was erected soon after those Olympic Games. It refers not just to the 1956 uprising but various patriotic uprisings over the centuries. Most people walk past thinking it refers to events far away in another time. However I occasionally sit there and ponder the blood in the pool not far away, and one Australian school child who, rather than chanting slogans and taking sides was able to look at things in a different way.

BL

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Other articles in the series Seven Monuments of Melbourne:

Seven Monuments of Melbourne - overview

No.1 – A Monument to Sydney-Melbourne Rivalry
No.2 – Two Yarra Bookends
No.3 - An Antarctic Monument
No.4 – Troubles on the other side of the world
No.5 - A Plaque but no Statue
No.6 - Two Pillars of Melbourne
No.7 - Two Horse Troughs

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