Thursday, 15 September 2016

The 1931 Australian Figure Skating Championships

The Sydney Glaciarium. Photo courtesy the State Library of New South Wales.

In order to understand the significance of the 1931 Australian Figure Skating Championships, let's start with a quick Australian figure skating history lesson! Early in the history of the country's development of the sport, each city 'down under' played by their own rules. There were rivalling Glaciariums (ice rinks) in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, each with their own skaters, coaches, judges and competitions. Skaters from Victoria and New South Wales even had completely different systems for their bronze, silver and gold tests.

The National Ice Skating Association of Australia had been established in 1911 by Claude Langley and Barney Allen. Melbourne embraced it; Sydney opposed it vehemently and continued to do things their own way for a good twenty years. A year before Australia became a member of the ISU, Langley set to work revamping the NISAA's structure and radio pioneer and skating instructor Charles Maclurcan, a former champion at the original NISAA's national competition in 1914, took on the role of the newly united organization's presidency. Maclurcan played a major role in bringing together the rivalling factions and skating clubs from Victoria and New South Wales and organizing the first official Australian Figure Skating Championships, held at the Sydney Glaciarium in late August 1931.

Judges and officials at the 1931 Australian Championships. Standing (left to right): R.E. Jefferies, Jack Gordon, Frank Mercovich, Robert Croll; Seated (left to right): Ramsay Salmon, Charles Maclurcan, Fannie Salmon, Cyril MacGillicuddy

I found a delightfully detailed account of this long forgotten moment in Australian figure skating history in the Wednesday, September 2, 1931 of "The Referee": "The opening event of the meeting was the waltzing championship, and in this Miss P. Turner and Mr. R.E. Jackson (Victoria) gave a splendid exhibition to earn the judge's decision. Another Victorian pair, Miss W. Thackeray and Dr. C.F. MacGillicuddy, were second, while the third place was shared by Miss E. Salmonow and Mr. J.G. Gordon (Victoria) and Miss K. Kennedy and Mr. H. Moore (N.S.W.). Victoria was again in the fore in the pair championship. The winners, Miss A. Maxwell and Mr. R.E. Jackson were brilliant, their exhibition being the finest ever seen on the Sydney rink. N.S.W. was well represented in this event by Miss M. Greenland and Mr. S. Croll, who gained second place. Their performance was very good. Miss Thackeray and Dr. MacGillicuddy filled third place for Victoria. The men's championship devolved into a tussle between the two Victoria entrants, Mr. J.G. Gordon and Mr. J.F. Mercovich, the former winning by a narrow margin. The event was conducted in two sections - figures and free skating. Mercovich led on the figures, which were taken first, but Gordon took the honors with the free skating, at the same time securing a winning points margin. Had Mercovich's free skating been of a reasonably good standard, he would have won well. Third place was filled by S. Croll (N.S.W.). The remaining event on the programme devolved into a figure-skating competition for ladies, N.S.W. scoring its only success, per medium of Miss M. Reid. Miss Thackeray (Victoria) was second, and Mrs. J. Benn (N.S.W.) third."

I can't say I appreciated the description of the competition 'devolving' into a figure skating competition for women, but it was 1931 and as we know, pervasive attitudes about women skating alone without a man at her side to rescue her still existed in certain parts of the world. It is interesting to note that many of the participants also acted as judges and officials in disciplines they were not participating in, a testament to the small, close-knit skating community in Australia at the time. It was a wonderful surprise to stumble upon this little nugget of coverage of this rare milestone of figure skating down under and I look forward to sharing more Aussie skating history in the months to come!

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