Since it is the start of spring, and the spring racing carnival is getting underway, I thought we should take a look at the history of Randwick Racecourse.
Randwick Racecourse is older than you might think. A race track was first laid out there using convict labor in the 1830s. It was called the Sandy Course when it first opened, as the topography was completely sandy. Racing began in the autumn of 1833 and lasted until 1838.
After that racing went out to Homebush but returned to Randwick twenty years later in 1858. By this stage the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) had been formed to regulate horse racing and oversee meets. The first race meeting was held on 29–31 May 1860, with a first-day crowd of over 6,000. The course was still pretty sandy and in the middle of nowhere – as watercolours and photographs from the 1860s and 1870s show.
Randwick racecourse began to draw huge crowds after the trams were extended to Alison Road, bringing bettors from distant suburbs. It was the first extension of the Sydney tramway system outside the city boundary. Opened in time for the Spring Carnival in 1880, by 1900 the system was so popular that a dedicated tramway loop station was built to serve the racecourse alone. At their peak the trams carried a record 117,480 passengers in 664 tram cars on one day in 1934.
Much of the colour of the race day meetings has been provided, not only by the action on the track, but by the spectators and the on-course bookmakers. ‘Banjo’ Patterson was a racing enthusiast. He wrote a weekly racing column for the Sydney Mail , and published at least one verse, ‘The Oracle’ (1917), on the Randwick races.
Randwick Racecourse has been used for many special events, such as the landing in Sydney by Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm in their aircraft the Southern Cross in 1928, following their trans-Pacific flight from the USA. It has hosted concerts, social outings and religious gatherings, including the Billy Graham crusades, and the visit of Pope John Paul II, in 1995, when he beatified Mary McKillop.
It was also a military site during the world wars.
Speaking of wars, that reminds me that I should remind you all that History Week starts this coming weekend. It runs from 5-13 September and there are many events, exhibitions and talks exploring the theme War, Nationalism and Identity. You can find out about all the event at their website here.
So get out there and celebrate history in all its guises.