Old Bill’s young guns Olympic honour
“Old” Bill Northam made history at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics winning Australia’s first-ever sailing gold medal but almost fifty years on the “young guns” in his famous crew Peter “Pod” O’Donnell and James “Dick” Sargeant have been honoured for their part in the victory.
Northam was 59 years old when he became an Olympic champion and after the famous win a sculpture of their boat “Barrenjoey” was placed in Lake Northam in Victoria Park, Broadway, not far from Sydney University. The original plaque only mentioned the skipper with the inscription “William H. Northam and crew”.
Today that changed, with a new plaque unveiled bearing all three names of the crew who won the gold medal in the 5.5 metre class in Tokyo.
The President of the NSW Olympic Council, Helen Brownlee, approached the City of Sydney requesting the plaque be updated because she felt “winning gold was a team thing and all three members of the crew deserved recognition”.
Dick Sargeant, the only living member of the crew, unveiled the new plaque today in front of family and friends.
Sargeant told how he and O’Donnell referred to their skipper as “Old Bill” and he called them his “young guns”.
Northam was the oldest Australian ever to have won an Olympic gold medal – he was 59 and a grandfather of five at the time. He took up the sport at age 46 after he moved to Pittwater in Sydney’s north. Before that he excelled in a variety of sports including football, motor racing and walking.
As a sailor he was known to heckle his opponents before and during races and his gamesmanship was a big talking point at the Olympics.
Sir James Hardy, who roomed with Bill Northam at the 64 Games, attended today’s ceremony and recounted stories of Northam’s mental toughness and how he psyched out his rivals.
Hardy, from the famous wine family, also told how he was asked by Northam to order 72 cases of wine and spirits for the 1964 sailing team and how he was hounded by ‘Old Bill” when the shipment was delayed on the dock.