Ivan Gaal was selected to represent Australia at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
This was an era when athletes in non-high profile sports, such as canoeing were expected to pay their own way.
Having escaped his native Hungary after the Soviet invasion in 1956, economic circumstances saw him unable to fund his fare back to Europe.
Heartbreakingly he had to pass up the opportunity to participate.
Ivan harboured niggardly ‘I could have been a contender’ thoughts for decades.
However, he got on with his new life in Australia and found solace and compensation by directing his energy into artistic endeavours, moreover photography and film making.
He went on to produce and direct dozens of acclaimed short films, collaborating with the likes of Max Gillies.
Adrian Martin, Associate Professor of Film and Television Studies at Monash University wrote a Career Retrospective on Ivan’s oeuvre in Metro magazine.
The following are a few of the good professor’s thoughts on Ivan’s work.
‘ Invisible yet prolific’
‘ A poet of image and sound’
‘ An overlooked career’
‘Australian cinema culture is poorer for not having sufficiently recognized his unique contribution’.
Ivan’s first love was Sport. And he had to wait over four decades before ‘the jilted lover’ received a belated consolation prize in the way of being selected as a torchbearer in Melbourne for the 2004 Athens Olympics. This, in turn, was the catalyst to dragging out and dusting off the old canoe and participating in the 2005 World Masters Championship. The rigorous training and preparation paid dividends as he went on to win a gold medal in the double Canadian Canoe Class.
It took him 45 years to redeem a cruel twist of fate-and right a wrong in his eyes.
His competitive spirit was awakened and further rekindled when at 70, he took up bowls.
He was never going to settle for being just another social bowler.
Ivan threw himself into the task with the gusto befitting a former elite athlete.
He spent countless hours on the green mastering his stance and delivery
‘Houdini’, his nickname on account of his shared Hungarian background with the legendary escapologist, took to bowls with the same flair which saw him switch from Greco Roman Wrestling-
he was a junior Budapest champion to canoeing in the 1950s.
The old wrestler knew a thing or two about the importance of stance, balance and grip. And he looks like a natural on the mat.
He’s managed to chalk up some impressive results in a few short years, participating in 3 premierships at Princes Park and winning the club’s Pairs last season to boot.
One of our skips regularly pulls him up for ‘not taking enough grass.’
(a bowls term for delivering a narrow bowl.)
Ironically during the early 1970s, the arty film crowd used to rib him about not smoking enough grass!
Not surprisingly the old Olympian wants to be appreciated and noticed on the green. And his theatrical streak gets regular airings.
“ These new bowls just aren’t turning on this green today. I should have used my purple Dreamlines instead.”
He’s prone to changing his bowls like an opera diva changes her costumes in between acts. ‘Houdini’ has a touch of the Prima Dona about him alright.
At a crucial point during a Tournament match, I overheard a Premier League opponent nervously address his teammates with Ivan about to deliver his bowl, “ With this bloke on the mat….anything could happen.” Ivan ‘Houdini’ Gaal is making his mark in the Third Age with a Third Sport.
And selectors and opponents are paying attention.
Whereas film making and wrestling have taken a back seat these days.
At 76 he’s still active in photography and bowls. He was selected as a finalist in The National Photographic Portrait Prize at The National Portrait Gallery in 2013, and he’s managed to get himself shortlisted for the 2015 prize as well.
Those long ago ‘I could have been a contender’ sentiments have been replaced with a drive and determination which show up blokes half his age. His zest and lust for life are palpable.
On those days when things aren’t going to plan, he tends to get easily frustrated.
I invariably try to cheer him up with, “ It’s Not All Rubbish.”
The title of one of his films which was nominated for a 1989 Australian Television Award.
ACMI in Federation Square currently has available many of his films for ‘on demand’ viewing. And his bowling skills can be checked out at Princes Park Bowls Club on any given weekend.