He was a man who looked at the best and worst of humanity during an iconic moment in history.
Australia’s oldest surviving Olympian, Basil Dickinson, died at age 98 in a Kingswood retirement village on October 7.
Mr Dickinson was a long-time Mountains resident but moved to the retirement village last year after his wife Elizabeth (Bettie Mack) died.
Only competing in one Olympics, he was one of the world’s best but “37 days on a crammed passenger boat to get to Europe and another four days on the train put him at a total disadvantage”, his biographer, Larry Writer, said.
The 21-year-old triple jumper was one of 33 Australian athletes to compete at the 1936 Berlin Games, later dubbed the “Nazi Games”. Those Olympics were famous for two people —Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and black American Jesse Owens who laid bare the lie of Aryan supremacy by winning four gold medals.
“Basil was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the German people but behind it all was a sinister atmosphere,” Mr Writer said. “All the German officials were wearing swastika armbands and the 80,000 people in the stands gave the Nazi salute.”
Mr Dickinson and his teammate Jack Metcalfe were rated as good chances at those Olympics. Jack Metcalfe had broken the triple jump world record in 1935, with Mr Dickinson also close to the world mark that year. Metcalfe collected the bronze medal while Dickinson, suffering from a heel injury, finished 16th.
Mr Dickinson went on to win bronze medals in the long jump and triple jump at the 1938 Empire Games (later Commonwealth Games) in Sydney but it was the end to his Olympic dream as war broke out a year after.
“He wasn’t surprised when we ended up at war,” Mr Writer said.
“He had seen into the heart of the Nazi machine... he looked Adolf Hitler in the eye.”
After the Olympics Mr Dickinson served in World War II but before the Games he fought another battle — to save the famous Blue Gum Forest in the Grose Valley near Blackheath.
“Everybody who knew Basil would agree that he was a gentleman in the best sense, upright and fine looking, modest and self assured to the end,” said former State Member for Blue Mountains, Bob Debus. “Like everyone who knew him I liked him immensely, an iconic figure in Springwood.”
Mr Debus said the former Olympian was “a link to another age”.
“When he told his boss that he had been selected to represent his country in the triple jump, he was immediately sacked! He and a friend somehow paid their way to travel by ship and train to Berlin, no thought of a coach or support staff, and there to compete against Jesse Owens, one of the greatest athletes of the century. Basil corresponded with Jesse Owens for the rest of Owens’ difficult life,” Mr Debus said.
Mr Writer will dedicate his book on the 1936 Olympic Games to Basil Dickinson and will be at his funeral service at Leura Memorial Gardens Crematorium next Monday.