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What's in a name ... meet Margaret Messenger

What's in a name ... meet Margaret Messenger

What's in a name ... meet Margaret Messenger

Monday 8 May 2023

If you’ve been to Margaret Messenger Reserve (next to Glenelg Oval) and wondered who it was named after - this is her and her story.

The real-life Margaret Messenger is a long-time Glenelg resident and Olympic Games gold medallist.

It was because of Margaret’s performance in the pool at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics – in the 4 x 100m relay race with teammate Dawn Fraser – which led to this reserve being named in her honour.

“Dawn and I were in the team together and were the best of friends – and are still best friends,” Margaret said.

Margaret Messenger Reserve was unveiled officially on 31 October 2004. Almost 20 years later, it’s something that Margaret and her family – including 12 grandchildren – are still very proud of.

“I’m sure they are very proud of the fact that their grandmother has a park named after her.

And it is fun for me when people visit here and it comes up in conversation – they say to me, ‘there’s a park named after you’,” Margaret said with a laugh.

“It used to be the women’s croquet club and when (council) decided to turn it into a reserve, somebody put my name forward and they decided to name it after me.

“It was a long time after the Olympics, so it was a bit of a shock that they even remembered who I was but I was extraordinarily honoured and I felt quite proud of the fact that my sporting record was being recognised in Glenelg.”

In the coming 12-18 months, the reserve will be undergoing a much-needed makeover, as part of the Glenelg Oval Masterplan.

The basketball court will be reconfigured and upgraded, fitness equipment will be installed, new trees will be planted and there’ll be better access and connection to Glenelg Oval. A playground will be built in the north-east corner of the oval, which will flow into Margaret Messenger Reserve.

One thing that won’t change is the reserve’s name, which Margaret is happy about.

“I was told about the plans for the reserve and I thought it was lovely … the reserve has been neglected in the last few years and it is nice to think that (council) is not forgetting about it and that gives me an enormous amount of pleasure,” she said.

“It will continue our family’s connection in Glenelg through another generation and I feel very happy about it.”

Margaret’s personal connection to Glenelg goes back many decades and she still lives, and swims, locally to this day.

She was barely a teenager when she was first spotted swimming at Glenelg beach by instructor Spencer Major – which eventually led to her becoming an Olympic athlete when she was 18.

“It happened by chance...I honestly don’t think I knew much about the Olympic Games when I grew up,” she said.

“And it was quite serendipitous that I started swimming and Spencer saw me down the beach and said to me, ‘I could make you a swimmer’.”

Margaret’s late husband Jack Messenger was also active in the local community as a councillor and then residents’ group spokesperson.

But the family’s ties to Glenelg and the Holdfast Bay area date back to the early 1900s, if not earlier.

“My mother’s father was a very prominent businessman in Glenelg and he developed the Glenelg Shopping Centre, at the corner of Colley Terrace and Jetty Road – when his father bought it in 1905, it was a very tiny restaurant,” Margaret said.

“My grandfather also built the Strand Theatre, the Seaview Theatre and had an open-air theatre behind Moseley Square.

“My great-grandfather had an open-air theatre on the beach and bought the land which is now the Glenelg Golf Links.”

Margaret’s Olympic glory was spotlighted during the torch relay ahead of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games when she ran the leg of the relay through Glenelg.

“That was very exciting and all my family were there including my grandchildren, who wore t-shirts which had written on them ‘My Nanny is an Olympic torch runner’,” she said.

“We just love it here, it’s been our life.”

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