Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey
Something of a misnomer, the so-
Its 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 and which remained the major sporting ground in Northcote).
In 1891, Messrs Byrne and Callaghan, two private investors, purchased 20 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 first meeting was held on Friday, 16 October, a couple of Melbourne papers incorrectly suggesting it was intended to revive racing “at the old Croxton Park”, but the club faced immediate problems when three other clubs -
"Last Friday the newly constructed Croxton Park racecourse was opened, when a programme of seven mixed events was gone through very successfully. Tbe course, which as easily reached by train or 'bus, is about a quarter of an hour's walk from the North Fitzroy tram terminus, and within ten minutes walk from that of the Northcote tram sheds. The course, which was fenced round with pickets, and also has a rail similar to that on Flemington and Caulfield, is a trifle over five furlongs round, and perfectly level. Tbe turns are somewhat sharp, but still the Lilliputs get there all tbe same. If the judge's box were shifted more to the left of its present position and placed at the turn, there would be a straight run of about a furlong and a half, whereas there is considerably less than half that distance now. The grand-
Regardless of the threat (which seems to have fizzled out without any real action being taken). the Croxton Park Racing Club continued with an ambitious program of racing virtually every week -
Despite the economic conditions, most of the meetings throughout 1891 and the first half of 1892 appear to have attracted good crowds and been well-
Reports suggest Webb himself was planning to start the races, ad duty he had performed several times on the Richmond course. The first meeting under the new management was held on Friday, 24 June, but reports suggest that both the quality of animal and the level of crowds were declining, and early in Early in November, 1892, advertisements under the name of P. Callaghan (listed as a land agent at 548 Rathdown-
The offer, made during perhaps the most severe economic depression in Melbourne's history fell of deaf ears, and a few weeks later, alternate advertisements by auctioneers, John Vale and Son of Collins-
There is no evidence to suggest that the property actually sold -
In January, 1893, it was announced that the Scott brothers, founders of the Sherwood Park course in Burwood and instigators of the Victorian Pony and Galloway Club had taken over the management of Croxton Park and re-
It was suggested that the stand would be shifted from its existing position 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.
It was from this point that the racecourse became known as “Fitzroy” under the management of Fred.Mack and his "comrade in arms", John H. Scott and 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.
The racing dwindled during the first few years of the twentieth century, the course primarily used by the Melbourne Trotting and Brunswick Coursing clubs in 1905, and in October, 1906, Mr. Samuel Spry, the owner of the freehold of the Fitzroy pony racecourse was forced to issue a statement that Fitzroy had not ceased to exist and had been used for some time as a training ground for horses and ponies with considerable improvements made in the previous twelve months. He reiterated that the course complied with sub-
"Very shortly" was rather longer than normal -
Fitzroy/Croxton was due to re-
Despite the optimistic announcements, works on improvements on the course saw the re-
Wren by this time had lodged an application with the Victoria Racing Club to have his Richmond, Ascot and Fitzroy courses registered under recently changed regulations for turf control in Victoria, but the V.R.C. after several meetings and an extensive interview with Wren failed to reach a decision on his application.
Racing was conducted at the course on a more or less monthly basis, interspersed during winter months with Victorian Junior Football Association matches during winter, the competition including several "seconds" teams from League and Association clubs. (Later notices suggested that so many clubs had applied for use of the Richmond and Fitzroy courses that Wren suggested free use of the grounds would be granted provided the competition clubs sorted out a schedule of matches for Saturday and Wednesday afternoons.
Despite his earlier connections with his illegal totalizator operations in Collingwood, Wren when conducting his courses introduced new standards for racing with stipendiary stewards in control of all meetings, and after evidence was taken suggesting a prominent horse which had been heavily backed by the public had "run dead" at Fitzroy in 1908, one bookmaker was disqualified for life and two others "warned off" Wren's courses.
In June, 1919 announcement that the Richmond, Ascot and Fitzroy racecourses had been sold by John Wren to the Victorian Trotting Association, the latter's new name to be the Victorian Trotting and Racing Association (in which Wren was a major player). Wren agreed to continue as manager for a nominal period prior to his departure for America and England.
In October, a young jockey Albert Sylvester "Nuts" Renny was killed instantaneously when his mount Wongaburra fell during the fourth race. Whether as a result of the incident is unclear, but the course closed for six months, racing resuming on 15 May, 1920 with a rare Saturday meeting of 12 races.
The course (and the value of the property) undoubtedly received a boost with the opening of the Fitzroy-
The two previous options for public transport (other than cabs) were Croxton station on the Preston-
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 -
The grounds were closed to racing from 31 July, 1931, and although occasionally used for charity carnivals, athletics, lacrosse 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 :=
“Another Long Fitzroy Programme
“IT is many years since a crowd was seen at the old Fitzroy racecourse anything as large as that which gathered there last Saturday afternoon: and what a different setting it was to the days when bookies called the odds! There was lots of shouting, but it came from an auctioneer and many hundreds of buyers who bawled each other out in their eagerness to buy lumps of the old course.
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. Every one of the 45 blocks offered was sold and the amount realised was £13,720. There are still 124 lots to be offered”.
Despite Merv’s optimism, most of the houses were not completed until the early 1950’s due to a severe shortage of building materials during and after the end of war, the shortages for a considerable time placing Melbourne’s ability to host the 1956 Olympics in some doubt. The last residence on the old course is believed to have been completed in 1955.
Courses For Horses -
Above : 1909 MMBW map of the Fitzroy Racecourse (double click to enlarge)
Aerial view of Fitzroy Racecourse, confirming the entrances, horse stalls and stand in the south-