In many ways, hosting the Olympics in 1956 was Melbourne’s international awakening and would not have been possible without Essendon Airport.

At the time that preparations were being made for the Olympics, Essendon had a modest international arrivals hall. It was decided to fast-track a new igloo terminal building which was being constructed for Ansett-ANA and turn it into a purpose built gateway for athletes arriving for the Games. To help with the increased air traffic, a new control tower at Essendon Airport, still used today, was also commissioned in time for the Olympics.

The Olympic Terminal was officially opened at 6.10 am on 31 October 1956 when 72 Romanian athletes and one official arrived. From then until the Games began at the MCG later in November 1956, the terminal was a hive of activity, often attracting hundreds of local spectators to watch athletes arrive in their official uniforms.

Between 1 November and 21 November 1956 there were 262 extra aircraft movements to Melbourne and Sydney airports involving international traffic. This included a total of 10,729 passengers, 4,276 athletes and officials and 600 international journalists, photographers and broadcasters. At Essendon Airport, 72 international flights carrying 4,308 passengers were cleared.

The then Minister for Civil Aviation Senator Paltridge, said that it was clear that without air transport the 16th Olympiad would not have been held in Australia. He went on to say that Air Traffic Controllers, including those based at Essendon, had borne the greatest ‘heat of the day’. “In their highly responsible task these officers have performed magnificently,” he said.

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