Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey
Something of a misnomer, the so-
In 1891, Messrs Byrne and Callahan, two private investors, purchased 30 acres of land on the west side of St Georges Road in Northcote (between today's Gadd and Wootton Streets) to establish a pony racing track five furlongs in circumference (later extended) and including a grandstand capable of seating 500 people.
The original name was the Croxton Racecourse (appropriate, as it was close to the Croxton Park Hotel where racing had been second only to Flemington some twenty years earlier), but the initial venture floundered in the depression years of the early 1890’s and the course closed in October of the same year.
According to the rules of the National Pony and Galloway Committee and Club of England, a pony was a horse, mare, gelding, colt, or filly aged three years or over and whose height was fourteen hands or less; alternatively, a galloway was an equine with the same characteristics with the maximum height extended to fifteen hands in England, but in Victoria to 14.2 hands.
The “Fitzroy” racecourse initially operated in partnership with the Prahran Pony and Galloway Association which was owned by the same interests and in turn raced at Sherwood Park in what is now Warrigal Road, Burwood.
A small meeting on Monday, 23 October, 1893 saw Fitzroy make history when a device that eventually has become an integral part of modern-
The device proved so successful that by December, all pony races at the course were being started by what was then the ""Excelsior" starting machine and a similar device was used for the 1894 Melbourne Cup.
Fitzroy was at first successful and drew in crowds from near and far, but by the turn of the century, local residents of the rapidly filling area were raising objections that it was attracting the lower elements of society and that dust raised from the sand and cinder track was proving a nuisance, especially as the club raced on Mondays which was typically the housewife's washing day.
In 1919, the Victorian Trotting and Racing Association under the auspices of Ben Nathan and John Wren purchased the racecourse as its critics continued to plot its demise. Wren installed professional stewards and was largely credited with “cleaning up” pony racing both at the Fitzroy track and another under his control in Bridge-
The course is known to have closed down the first half of 1925 when the track was re-
In 1929, the Victorian Government as part of its drive to eliminate “proprietary” tracks in the hands of private owners introduced legislation to close the racecourse on the grounds that its track of just over six furlongs was too small and pony racing was detrimental to the accepted thoroughbred industry.
There was a lifeline available -
Courses For Horses -
Above : 1909 MMBW map of the Fitzroy Racecourse (double click to enlarge)
The grounds were closed to racing from 31 July, 1931, and although occasionally used for charity carnivals, athletics and junior football matches, the land remained largely vacant until 1941 when an investor outlaid around £30,000 for re-
Initial reports suggested some 200 blocks may be available, but Northcote Council insisted that additional streets were required to subdivide the 30-
The first section of 45 lots was released for sale at auction in February, 1942, every block sold at a total return of £13,720, just under £305 per site.
Details of the later sales do not seem to have been published. but if the first day's sale average is extended, the remaining 142 potentially might have brought another £43,294 and a total of £57,014, by any stretch of the imagination a handsome return to the unknown investor during the darkening days of the Second World War.
In reporting the first sale of the famous old site, the Sporting Globe's Merv. Williams (better known as Mumblin' Merv during his later days with Channel 7's World of Sport) added :=
"It will come as a kick in the pants to the Japs to learn that Australians fell over themselves to spend thousands of pounds buying building sites after what they have threatened to do to our cities"
Despite the optimism, most of the houses were not completed until the early 1950’s due to a severe shortage of building materials after the end of war. The last residence is believed to have been completed in 1955.
Right : Finish of the Croxton Handicap, 23 September, 1929.
The stands and all other facilities were along the southern (Gadd Street) side, the entrance in the south-
This is the only known image of the Fitzroy course.