Anita & Steph's Olympic Trip Sydney 2000

What can we say about the Sydney Olympics that hasn’t already been said?  Amazing, brilliantly organised etc, etc. We saw our own Denise Lewis win gold.......were stunned by the courage of the women in the modern pentathlon......but, for us, the opportunity to meet the women we had written about in ‘A Proper Spectacle’ was the real highlight.

The lovely Pat Norton (see the section on Berlin 1936), along with her friend Joyce, took wonderful care of us in her house in Wyong. This was particularly welcome as we’d endured some rather unpleasant experiences, but a visit to Pat’s was just the tonic we needed. She’d carefully mapped out an exploration of our surroundings with military precision. This ensured we always made our bus connections. How we laughed!  We also ate by the beach the best fish and chips I’ve ever had in my life. Typically, Pat had kept the extent of her swimming achievements under wraps. One look at her scrap book revealed the extent of her celebrity status during the 1930s. 

We also met the elf like Bonnie Mealing (pictured left with her chaperone) and what a character she was, too. It was hard to imagine this tiny figure had fought her way to Olympic silver in 1932. Meeting Bonnie and Pat was, for us, like meeting celebrities. There were times during the writing of ‘A Proper Spectacle’ when I felt I was living in the 1920s and 30s and all the figures I so revered were people they had met and knew quite well. Women like Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie were people they swam with....I couldn’t believe it, really. The emotional roller coaster we seemed destined to sit on during our time in Australia kept us on board.

The next story I want to tell is about ‘Steph’s’  Edith. For those who haven’t read our book, Edith Payne, as Edith Robinson, ran for Australia in the 100 and 800 metres in the Amsterdam Games of 1928. We ‘found’ Edith about 2 years ago and Steph embarked upon a friendly correspondence that went beyond her Olympic memories.  Though Edith told us about her Olympic trip, she also told us about her house, how she feared burglars and how she shopped on her motorised scooter.

She also proudly told us that her granddaughter had put her name down to carry the Olympic flame when it got to Sydney. We told our contact and friend at SOCOG, Travis Cranley, about Edith, and he decided to go and interview her. The article appeared, and Edith found herself becoming more and more of a celebrity!  She said in her letter to Steph that, after all these years, she’d been re-discovered and was going to make the most of it. And so she did.

She excitedly told Steph that she had been invited to attend the Opening Ceremony as an honoured guest and that our book had given her such a lift when she had got home from a stay in hospital. 

She enclosed a pair of green and yellow Sydney Olympic socks for Steph. I couldn’t imagine this 94 year old lady being so kind as to go out and buy my friend a pair of special socks and then post them all the way to England. I felt very proud of the relationship Steph had made with Edith, and was touched at how she looked forward to Edie’s letters.

At the end of August, whilst in Perth, we saw the opening of the Olympic village and who was it who cut the ribbon? There she was – “our Edith”.  Steph raced out to buy a postcard to tell Edie that she’d seen it and how she was looking forward to meeting her. In Sydney, Steph rang her from the Olympic Park on our first trip and asked if she was watching. ‘Of course I am’ said Edie and we arranged to meet her at a dinner at Parliament House which we’d all, including Pat and Bonnie, been invited to attend. The dinner was during the final week before we were to come home. We arrived and looked around for Edie only to be told that she’d been taken ill and was in hospital.  Steph was devastated. We spoke to Edie’s granddaughter, Metty, who told us that Edith had taken our book with her to hospital and how important it had been to Edie. We both cried that night.

The following day we left to come home in the knowledge that we would never get to meet Edie. It felt really hard. Travis phoned us the following week to say that Edie had died. Steph mumbled ‘She said she would.’

I’ve thought a lot about our time in Sydney since we got back and don’t think I could ever be eloquent enough to find the right words. We shared some wonderful moments - meeting ‘Nipper’ Norton and Bonnie Mealing - but saying good bye is hard. We might see Bonnie and Pat again, who knows?  But we’ll never see Edie. Good-bye, Edie, good fortune on the next stage of your journey.

Anita (October 31st 2000)