From a desert, from the driest continent, from this land at the opposite end of the globe ...

... as remote as could be in the hockey world ...

... came one of the world’s oldest winter sports trophies.

A cool tradition, a dream of champions, and a story we owe it to our children to tell.

Legends of Australian Ice.

[ ICE HOCKEY ] The God's Crossing

Australia's Elimination from the 1964 Games

Australia was most unsuccessful from the competitive point of view and it will be some time before an Australian team goes overseas again. However Federation has its eye on the Grenoble Olympics in 1968 and with luck it could be represented at the World's Championships which Canada hopes to get for Calgary, Alberta in 1967. Russ Carson, secretary-treasurer, Australian Ice Hockey Federation and manager of three Australian teams. 1965. [6]

We are still recovering from the situation we placed ourselves in for the 1963 Olympic Elimination series against Japan. Wonderful help from the Australian Olympic Federation in 1965 assisted considerably, but we are still faced with a certain obligation." Russ Carson, 1966. [7]

Omiwatari, Lake Suwa. [Image courtesy T. Hanazato, 2008] [5]

I HAVE HEARD IT SAID that a goddess named Yasakatome-no-mikoto and a god, Takeminakata-no-mikoto, once lived together in the Upper Shrine near Lake Suwa at Nagano on the island of Honchu. When Yasakatome moved to the Lower Shrine alone after a quarrel, Takeminakata missed her greatly, but found that Lake Suwa was too large to cross. Then, when Lake Suwa was frozen over, he took the chance and walked over the ice to her shrine, Shimo Suwa. Today his footsteps are said to be Omiwatari, "a bridge crossing the lake", the sign assuring safety on the ice. When Omiwatari came, the people would step onto Lake Suwa.

I don't know for certain, but I do like to think of Ryozo Hiranuma and his colleagues observing the ancient wisdom in the days just before they stepped onto the frozen surface of Lake Suwa to play ice hockey in 1915, which was the first time it was played anywhere in Japan. It was Ryozo Hiranuma who imported Japan's first ice hockey equipment and his love for sport was such he later became foundation president of the All Japan Athletic Federation, the Japan Amateur Sports Association, and many others. Hockey had arrived in the land of the rising sun just one decade after the sport was first played further south in Australia, which also happened to be the first time it was played anywhere in the southern hemisphere.

Ryozo Hiranuma (1879 - 1959), elected mayor of Yokohama-city in 1951 he was in office until his death. Dedicated to spreading and promoting sport throughout his life, he was awarded the Order of Culture in 1955. [Image courtesy Supotsu Seikatsu 60ne]

Yet, as legend has it, Lake Suwa was to freeze over 8 more times before the first organised ice hockey game was played on the archipelago. It was a contest in 1923 between the undergraduate and preparatory faculties of Hokkaido University. The first interscholastic game between Keio University and Tokyo University was played at Suwa Shrine the following year when the National Student Ice Federation was also formed, and the four universities held their first championship the year after that. [6]

So it was on the strength of its varsity tournaments that Japan joined the international federation (IIHF) in 1930, 8 years in advance of Australia. Teams competed in the All Japan Championships from that time on, and in Olympic ice hockey from 1936, 24 years in advance of Australia. They did not win a game at the Olympics, or even a goal, but they were competitive losing to both Britain and Sweden in Group D, 3-0 and 2-0. While it was true two decades were to elapse before they returned to the World's in 1957, Japan finished 8th there under the guidance of head coach, Masami Tanabu (1934 - ). [1]

Members of the Japanese ice hockey team take a break during their match against Great Britain at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. [Allsport Hulton/Archive]

Tanabu had played with Iwakura Tomakomai after graduating from Rikkyo University. He was well known to the Australians or rather, he should have been, according to the teachings of Sun Tzu, because he was their nemesis, having coached Japan to 3 victories over Australia at the 1960 Olympics and the 1962 World's. Tanabu went on to coach the Seibu Railway hockey team in the professional Japan Ice Hockey League in the late 1960s, a precursor of the Seibu Prince Rabbits of Asia League Ice Hockey. He also coached the national team at the 1964 and 1972 Winter Olympics. It was an international coaching career spanning 15 years of such significance to cause his opponents to ponder the possibility of ancestral samurai.

In 1963, the IIHF and olympic organisers had allocated just one place for an Asia-Oceanic representative at the 1964 Winter Games, which was also to be the World and European championships. However there were two Asia-Oceanic competitors in those years, and so the honour to represent the region would be determined by an armored fight to the death which, in the bushido code of the host country, should also be fittingly honourable.

Tanabu's national team had easily defeated Australia in both their consolation round matches at the 1960 Olympics, 13-2 and 11-3. They repeated it two years later, inflicting another 13-2 loss on the hapless Australia, to finish first in B-Pool at the 1962 World's. Knowing that was the same as knowing the likely outcome of the Asia-Oceanic qualification round for the 1964 Winter Olympic ice hockey. No other nation competing among the dozen teams beneath the top-5 was experiencing the same scale of defeat. The others ranked 6 to 16 were Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Norway, Japan, Romania, Austria, Yugoslavia, Italy and Hungary. East played West in Germany in the other elimination series won by West Germany.

Australia was at least in with a chance but these were big losses, without solace. Their record by 1963 was not internationally competitive in 9 of their 11 Olympic or World Championship games, and debate over the trade-off between Australian selection standards and participation was alive and well. There were those in the local Olympic movement blunt enough to suggest local ice hockey organisers take a good look at themselves and ask "whether they believed they were in a world class, or world ranking". [2] It was de rigueur for winter sports this far south.

When Ken Kennedy's olympic speed skating results were cabled back home from Germany in 1936, some Olympic officials went public to call him a failure. The Australian champion and record holder, Jimmy Brown, was no better. He told a newspaper Kennedy, "shouldn't have been sent to the Olympic Games." [3] Brown's comment forced the state association to publish a rebuttal, correctly pointing out Kennedy did well enough to break the British record for both the 500m and 1500m events "with faster times than the Canadians". [4] They quoted the London Times for good measure, where Kennedy achieved a "creditable time" in the 500m. It was 4 seconds slower than the Norwegian who won olympic gold. Kennedy and Brown were both proteges of Jim Kendall, and both were masters of self-promotion, even when they were only sniping at each other.

Ice hockey organisers here knew their teams were not world class, but they thought the way to become more competitive was to engage the higher standard of competition overseas. Alas, it was only a single ingredient of a larger recipe. It was costly enough for most players to take time off work, let alone pay their own way to the other side of the planet each year. Successful hockey nations had created a higher standard both at home, and in their neighbouring region. Japan was among those worthy of study back then, much like South Korea is today. There is no doubt this is more difficult for organisers, and nowhere near as much fun as international tours in national team blazers among the world's elite. But both working in concert are essential to international competitiveness.

Although Australia had dramatically improved its game at home during the 1950s, it was certainly not sustainable, and it needed to be, to achieve its goal of world competitiveness. Most of the on-strategy gains in the sport here occurred by chance rather than design, and credit was mainly due to the wave of New Australians playing it or, to be more specific, to those coaching it. Back home these players had trained more often in more advanced development leagues, then matured in competition of a higher standard than any ever made available locally to Australians. Their play here further raised the bar, but not a lot, and not sustainably.

Our national team was not drawn from a viable national league competition back then. Most came instead from a single state with a population under 3 million. Nor was there an equivalent national junior development program providing a self-sustaining system of replenishment comparable to the world class hockey nations. Nor did Australia engage in higher competition in the Asia region between appearances at international tournaments. The vacuum created here by our reluctance to build and regularly participate in quality regional competition, was easily Australia's biggest drawback to world competitiveness compared to Europe and North America, and it still is.

On the ice, the country was reliant on the experience of coach Bud McEachern and, off the ice, it was Bunny Aherne, the secretary of the British Ice Hockey Association and the IIHF president at the time. Aherne's Australian counterpart, Russ Carson, regularly sought his advice and financial assistance because he was both influential in the IIHF, and experienced in the management of Britain's olympic and European ice hockey teams during the 1930s. McEachern had played pro hockey in Canada, then England between 1947 and 1951. He successfully coached Norway at the 1951 World's, defeating the United States and Britain to finish fourth overall. He took them to their first ever Games in Group A of the 1952 Winter Olympics at home, and then Australia got him.

A single win over Denmark 6-2 and a loss by only 2 goals to Netherlands in 1962, begged the question. Had Australia improved over the intervening 20 months? They had won their first international but, equally importantly, the pattern of defeat by 10 goals or more had twice been broken. At the Australian Club Championships on October 8th 1963, the national association announced it had decided to send a team to the qualification round the next month in Japan. The squad was announced after the Nationals game won by Victoria's Hakoah IHC. Bud McEachern was appointed again after missing the previous World's, Russ Carson was manager for the third and final time, and Syd Hudson was his assistant manager and the team trainer.

Olympic Qualification Team, 1963. Bud McEachern (Coach), Russ Carson (Manager) and Syd Hudson (Asst Manager and Trainer) Forwards: Russell Jones (C), Phil Hall (AC), Noel Derrick (AC), Harry Coles, Anthony Martyr, John Thomas, John Miller, Edward Mustar, Ken Pawsey, Tim Spencer. Goalies: Peter Cavanagh, John Stuart. Defence: John Nicholas, Charles Grandy, Elgin Luke, Ken Wellman, John Purcell. Among the players were 12 Victorians and another who had moved to a Queensland, and 5 New South Welshmen. Also in the image are Bobby Hirahi and other representatives of the Japan Skating Association. Image courtesy Ice Hockey Australia.

The average age of the team was 31; half were over the age of 34; and 2 were 38. McEachern's on- and off-ice training regime commenced October 12th and continued for 5 weeks until the day before departure. NSW players traveled to Melbourne each weekend at their own expense, remaining for the whole of an intensive final week. On their arrival in Tokyo on November 21st, they were welcomed by the Japanese Skating Union (JSU) and, after formal introductions and a press conference, they retired to the Takawani Prince hotel.

The first match at Shinagawa Skate Center on Saturday 23rd commenced at 4 pm. Brilliant goalkeeping by Cavanagh apparently kept play comparatively even in the first, but Tanabu's squad ran out easy winners, 17-1, and likewise in the second match on Monday night, although it was more of a spectacle, 17-6. Attendance at the games was decidedly poor. The JSU largely attributed the disappointing turn-out to a Japanese National Weekend and President Kennedy's assassination on the 22nd. In Carson's opinion they had been treated fairly by the JSU, but the poor gate did little to reduce the tourists' debt.

Australia was also defeated in three subsequent exhibition games, first against an all-Tokyo team, 1-12; then at Tomakomai by an All-Hakaido team, 1-12; and finally at Osaka on the 29th by a Fujishama Bank team, 8-3. The highlight of the tour for the Australians came at the end of the Osaka game when they, "lined-up and threw their sticks to the large appreciative audience and received a thunderous ovation for their sportsmanship". For Carson, this was the best and most enjoyable of his three international tours.

The 1964 Winter Olympics began 2 months later at Innsbruck in Austria with the qualifying round placing teams into their final and consolation round-robin pools. Japan lost in the first round to Czechoslavakia, 17-2, then played for a place in Group B, 9th to 16th, along with the other 7 teams who also lost their first round games. They finished 3rd of 8 in this group, and 11th overall in the world, defeating Norway, Romania, Poland, Hungary, and drawing with Austria. They were defeated only by Yugoslavia 6-4, and Italy 8-6. The ice hockey world was slowly changing. The USSR was by then considered the best team in the world, possibly the equal of some of the NHL teams. But Sweden and Canada still challenged them, winning the 1961 and 1962 World Championships, respectively.

Since then, the nation with the national sport of sumo wresting has been a regular participant in the ice hockey world championships, including 7 years at the highest level from the late-1990s as the participant on behalf of Asia. This protection vanished in 2004 and Japan has not since been promoted from Division I, where they are presently a mid-ranking national. Yet, even that is not the whole story. Today, 21,000 Japanese from a population of over 127 million play hockey, which is about the same as Australia, per capita. But there are 239 rinks around the country, more than in Slovakia, Denmark, or even Belarus. That is about one rink per 530,000 people or roughly twice the scale of provision in Australia, per capita.

The boom in hockey in Asia in just the last 5 years — a fact confirmed recently by the IIHF — creates brave, new opportunities for Australia. Canada is thought to be booming with 44% growth but Hong Kong, for example, has increased its registered hockey players by almost 800 percent (up to 1631 players). Japan women are now ranked 8th in the world and the men are 21st, approaching their form of half a century ago. The nation is steadily raising its world competitiveness and, if this continues, it will soon be competing with some of the smaller hockey nations once again.

Russ Carson, Australia's first international team manager, dreamed of a triumphant return to the world stage at the 1967 World Championships, then the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble. But it was not to be. Similarly, Canada had hoped to host the 1967 Worlds at Calgary, Alberta, but they were held in Austria. A whole decade went by before Australia returned to the ice hockey world championships at Grenoble in 1974, and never again to the Winter Olympics.

Video (slideshow above). Glebe vs St George at Prince Alfred Park in Sydney on 16 July 1964, gives some idea of the standard of play and equipment in use over 50 years ago in the 1964 NSW premiership season. The 1963 tourists appearing in the video are Johnny Miller and Canadian ex-pats Charlie Grandy, Elgin Luke and Phil Hall, all from St George Saints. Johnny Stuart in net for Glebe Lions was the tourists back-up goalie. St George went on to win their eighth Chalwin Trophy and their first Australian Club Championship.


[1] Tanabu is a native of Hachinohe, Aomori and graduate of Rikkyo University, who later became a politician of the Democratic Party of Japan. He was elected to the House of Councillors in the Diet (national legislature) for the first time in 2004. His daughter, Masayo, was elected to the House of Representatives the year prior.

[2] "Australia and the Olympic Games". Gordon, Harry (1994). pp. 411-416, University of Queensland. ISBN 0-7022-2627-0.

[3] Truth Sydney NSW 23 Feb 1936 p9 Ice Hockey Stir

[4] Truth Sydney NSW 8 Mar 1936 p8 Kennedy's Class. Broke British Record at Olympiad

[5] Japan Ice Hockey Federation history Online

[6] Australian Ice Hockey Carnival program, 1965

[7] Ice Hockey Guide, VIHA, 30 July 1966, pp 5-6.

[8] Manager's Report, Olympic Elimination Series 1963, signed by R W Carson, Australian Ice Hockey Federation.

Hang With Us

Sign Up to Our Newsletter!