A tribute to the life of Walter Brown and kayak partner Dennis Green who became Australia's first ever Canoeing medallists at the 1956 Olympic Games.
Australian Canoeing, family and friends recently farewelled a champion, when Australia’s first ever Olympic Kayak medallist Walter Brown passed away. Brown was known as a “fierce competitor” on the water, a “dedicated family man with a tireless work ethic off it”.
Walter Brown created Australian history at the 1956 Olympics, combining with Dennis Green to win a Bronze medal in the gruelling K2 10,000m, the pair becoming not only the first Australians, but also the first non-Europeans to win an Olympic medal in the sport.
Walter Brown, or “Wal” too many, was born in 1925 and his story to Olympic hero is an intriguing one.
Wal was a young talented athlete but his life got off to a tough start, he was kicked out of school at a young age in the 1930s as no one was aware of dyslexia at the time, from their he spent most of his time at the Bonnie Doon Golf Club, hunting the fairways for golf balls which he would then sell. It was at this golf course that he met a man called Ron Siddons who introduced him to the Maroubra Surf Club, and his path to Olympic glory began.
Wal excelled at swimming and paddling, winning several Australian titles, and it was at the Maroubra Surf Club that he met Dennis Green. Both men were outstanding surf ski paddlers, a conversation between them and Forbes Carlisle convinced them to try their luck at flat water canoeing and aim to compete at the 1956 Olympics.
It was something the pair had already discussed, first realising they had the potential at an international level in 1953, after watching Trevor Gallard and Les Lazarus win at the Australian Kayak titles that year.
“It made us realise that Australian paddlers were amongst the strongest paddlers in the world at the time, which was a great motivation”, Green said.
Brown and Green would build their own kayaks, with Wal utilising his prior knowledge building surf skis, along with information the Swedish team provided them with.
Brown would sit in the back with Green in the front, “Wally was an enormous competitor and was so powerful, he would just keep powering us along”.
The pair only had one another to push themselves in training as they had no competitors. Green said “We competed in a trial race that year and were 1200m clear of our next opponent”. “In training we would work together, training tirelessly, doing mostly time trials over and over again”.
What made this piece of Australian history even more remarkable was that leading into the K2 10,000m event at the Olympics, Brown and Green had never seen or raced in a proper competition before.
As the paddlers moved to the starting lanes, Green turned around and said “Oi Wally we’ve got to beat somebody”. The pair could not anticipate what was about to eventuate, and before they knew it they were out in front with one lap remaining, “the top three were clearly out in front and we knew that if we didn't do anything stupid we would win a medal”.
A lack of experience costed them with the powerful Hungarian team taking out the final ahead the Germans. “We were unaware that we had to return to our original lane for the finish, and we just could not turn our kayaks as quickly as the Hungarians or the Germans”, said Green.
It was a fantastic performance by the duo who won the Bronze medal. When they crossed the line Green described it as a “feeling of pure elation”, “we somehow found a way of winning a medal”. It was the only Olympic Games that Walter Brown competed at, retiring from the sport at the conclusion of the event to dedicate time to supporting his young family. Brown’s success put canoeing in Australia on the map and paved the way for future champions like Clint Robinson and current Olympic champion Ken Wallace.
Our condolences go out to the Brown family and friends.