As Brisbane prepares to host the 2032 Olympic Games – we reflect on how the Queensland capital hosted the 1982 Commonwealth Games, 40 years on. Widely reported as Brisbane’s ‘coming of age’ – the river city hosted the Commonwealth Games from September 30 to October 9, 1982. It was the nation’s second time hosting the Games, and the country’s twelfth appearance at a Commonwealth Games.
Queensland would go on to host another Commonwealth Games in 2018 on the Gold Coast – but the Brisbane event was a different, simpler time.
Here’s a look at the venues, the sporting highlights, and the local politicians who were pivotal in making it happen.
The Sporting Highlights
Arguably the most memorable moment from the 1982 Commonwealth Games was Robert de Castella’s marathon miracle. A more thickset runner, “Deeks” was nevertheless the favourite to win. A record crowd lined the streets of Brisbane city before dawn, to witness “Deeks” surge past Tanzanian Juma Ikangaa in a nail-biting contest that saw the two swap the lead several times – before the Canberran crossed the finish line first in 2:12:06 – and 100 per cent humidity.
Swimming queen Tracey Wickham had a golden Games – she was awarded her 400m freestyle gold medal from the late Queen. The swimmer also touched in first place for the 800m freestyle, and took the athletes oath.
The Sleeman centre in Chandler was purpose-built to host events for the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games, and remains an important training and competition facility. Several other iconic Brisbane venues also played a part.
Brisbane City Council spent a grand total of $100 million on upgrading venues and the city.
The Sleeman Sports Complex: Purpose-built by 1982, the facility houses the Brisbane Aquatic Centre – where Australian swimmers and divers dominated the Commonwealth Games, winning 34 swimming medals, including 13 gold, and five diving medals, including two golds.
The current generation of Queensland swimming and diving talent continue to train at the facility, which also hosts weightlifting, cycling and gymnastics.
Notably, the Geoff Henke Olympic Winter Training Centre at the complex was an important resource for Australia’s winter Olympians to prepare for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
A water ramp facility constructed in 2020 provides a year-long training facility for Australia’s elite aerials and mogul skiers. Australian mogul superstar Jakara Anthony won gold in Beijing – the first Australian Winter Olympics gold medal since 2010.
QEII Stadium: This stadium takes on new significance following the passing of its namesake, Her Majesity Queen Elizabeth II. The late Queen attended the opening and closing ceremonies here – which was also the site of track and field events including archery and athletics. Some of the 5000 volunteers who gave their time to oversee and run the event – earning it a reputation as the “friendly games” – were kept busy here, raking pits and marshalling crowds. Today, the stadium remains in use as the home of the Queensland Academy of Sport, and also acts as a venue for concerts and large-scale events.
The Athletes Village: The Griffith University campus was less scholarly and more athletic for a brief stint in 1982. The athletes village was located at the campus in nearby Nathan – as 1583 athletes and 571 officials from 45 countries were welcomed to Queensland.
The Moorooka Bowls Club: This south-side bowls club hosted the sport of the same name during the 1982 Games. It has fallen into a state of disrepair, amid claims the LNP Brisbane City Council has neglected it. There is a local campaign to revive it.
The Gabba: While it wasn’t an official Games contest, Brisbane’s iconic AFL stadium hosted an exhibition match that saw Richmond defeat Carlton.
The City and beyond: The 1982 Commonwealth Games prompted a pre Expo 88 surge of infrastructure upgrades and modernisation. The city mall was built and the Botanical Gardens were modernised. ‘Matilda the winking kangaroo’ was unveiled – the motorised mascot can now be found outside a service station near Gympie, north of Brisbane.
The 1982 Commonwealth Games were known as a ‘council’s games’, and the years preceding and during the Games had the pivotal influence of a string of Labor Lord Mayors.
Clem Jones (1961-1975) – the namesake of the tunnel thoroughfare, Clem Jones had the idea of Brisbane hosting the Commonwealth Games, after visiting the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games (as it was known then), held in Perth.
Bryan Walsh (1976) – went to the Montreal Olympic Games – and came back with the Commonwealth Games for Brisbane.
Frank Sleeman (1976-1982) – had the complex role of negotiating with state and federal governments on preparations, before retiring ahead of the Games.
Roy Harvey (1982-1985) – attended the opening and closing ceremonies and carried out the Lord Mayor duties during the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games.