Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

Ex-CDA comments, suggestions, criticisms

Something of a misnomer, the so-called "Fitzroy" course was actually in Northcote and over a kilometre from the border with North Fitzroy

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.

It re-opened in February of 1892 under the control of the Fitzroy Pony, Galloway and Trotting Club and became known as the Fitzroy Racecourse, even although it was some distance from that suburb  At the time St  Georges Road was considered very much part of the back-blocks of Northcote and many patrons had a considerable walk from the North Fitzroy tram terminus at the Merri Creek or from Middle Northcote station (now Northcote, the original Northcote station was at what is now Merri to the south).

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-day racing was seen for the first time with a starting barrier accredited to Mr. J. H. Scott, manager of the Burwood course was used to replace the old "flag" starts.  

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-road, Richmond. It was probably also a wise move with the electric tram to East and West Preston under construction, its opening the following year undoubtedly boosting attendances and providing the partners with a massive boost in potential property values..

The course is known to have closed down the first half of 1925 when the track was re-cindered and re-graded at a cost of around £1,000 with a sewerage system at £700 also in the make-over,  Fitzroy re-opened on Monday, 22 June of that year, the Sporting Globe in its next edition bemoaning the fact that only four favourites had been successful - from some 14 races!

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 - the Act provided for trotting meetings to continue at the Ascot course opposite the Showgrounds, but this required the construction of a new track and Fitzroy, like Richmond, was allowed to continue for another year until the works at Ascot  were completed, but with a dramatic reduction in the number of pony and trotting meetings, the Government decided Fitzroy was not required.

Courses For Horses - Fitzroy

#top Fitzroy

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-development as a housing estate.   

Initial reports suggested some 200 blocks may be available, but Northcote Council insisted that additional streets were required to subdivide the 30-acre site and today's Bradley and Bird Streets were added.  There were earlier suggestions that the names of racehorses be used, but local opposition, seemingly designed to break the traditional link to racing, saw the Northcote Council adopt alternative names, that a of a recent mayor (Allan Bird) and City Engineer (V. J. Bradley).

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-eastern corner of St. George’s Road, but the photo with spectators lining the inside section indicate a cheaper  “flat” section in the centre of the track.

This is the only known image of the Fitzroy course.