Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

Ex-CDA comments, suggestions, criticisms

Lost Racecourses : Sherwood Park (Burwood)


This long-forgotten course in Burwood was operated by the Prahran Pony and Galloway Club and appears to have been the first to specialise in pony meetings, much to the chagrin of the Victorian Racing Club

The club under the name of the secretary T. S. Young advertised their first meeting for 9 December, 1890, and in the days following the first notification of the propose meeting, the V R C  posted its own advertisements warning that the meeting had not been advertise in the official Racing Calendar and that horses running at Sherwood Park would be "DISQUALIFIED for EVER"

True to its word, the V R C  followed up its threat by later listing 15 "horses" (in reality, ponies that could not compete with thoroughbreds at registered meetings anyway), and further warned that jockeys and trainers attending the meetings after 31 December "will be dealt with by the V R C  committee".

Although the club was under the secretaryship, the main promoters of the course appear to be the Scott family - one Charles Scott listed in directories as caretaker of the course, and two others, H. E.  and J. B. Scott also listed in Boundary Road  [1]

John B  Scott in 1893 was credited with being one of the first inventors of a starting barrier to replace the old "flag" starts where horses and riders simply lined up more-or-less behind a line drawn across the track and took their chances when the starter dropped his flag and shouted "Go"

Scott's Excelsior Starting Machine ultimately became the starting device of choice for most of the pony tracks - Sherwood Park, Richmond, Oakleigh Park and Fitzroy adopting the system, although the design was never seriously considered for the major thoroughbred courses where the width of the track was probably double or more of that at the pony courses

Despite the threats from the V R C , the club continue with fortnightly meetings, Young adding a non-too-subtle addendum to his ads, "pony owners should uphold their right of running wherever they please"

A compromise of sorts was reached in October, 1891 with formation of the Victorian Pony and Galloway Association by three of the "pony" clubs - Sherwood Park, Oakleigh, and Richmond. This left the Croxton Park Racing Club nominally in opposition with the group, but immediately following what appears to have been the last meeting at Sherwood Park, the Richmond Racing Club took over Croxton and established the Fitzroy Pony and Galloway Club, the course itself from that point on known as “Fitzroy”.

Just what the Scott's family relationships were are uncertain, but they had a close link with the "Fitzroy" track in Northcote under the secretaryship of Fred Mack, the Excelsior barrier having a second trial there in October, 1893 when The Sporting Judge's column "With The Ponies" described Scott as Mack's "comrade in arms". Mack since early in 1892 was also shown as the secretary for the Sherwood Park races, the Prahran Pony and Galloway Club seemingly having disbanded.

Scott was also renowned as a great supporter of coursing or dog racing - one anecdotal report suggesting three opening meeting at Sherwood comprised three 16-dog stakes, each run in knock-out heats and then finals; the principal stake was predictably the Sherwood Cup.

The last meeting was held at Sherwood Park on 25 April, 1895, The Argus noting is was the first for several months, but there is no obvious reason for the closure, except perhaps the venues distance from Melbourne, the popular weekly meetings at Richmond and the Galloway Club’s takeover of Croxton/Richmond..

The exact location of the course is unknown.

Early advertisements for meetings suggest Sherwood Park was "five minutes walk" from Ashburton Station - “five minutes” could, of course, be for those competing at modern-day Olympic standard or up to 15 minutes for those of more advanced age - Sands and McDougall directories up until 1897 place the course in Boundary Road, but with no cross-streets to identify the approximate location.  Boundary Road no longer exists under that name, and to confuse the issue further, directories from 1898 have two different Boundary Roads - North, today's Warrigal Road; and South, now the eastern end of Highbury Road  The directories by then had a cross-section of streets, but Sherwood Park had disappeared

The relative proximity of the station (a special train was run for most meetings) strongly suggests that the course was in Warrigal Road.  One early reference to Sherwood Park suggests it was "in Sherwood", but sadly there are no local history references to Sherwood in either form  (Camberwell was originally known by the older English name of Norwood, rather fashionably revived on occasions today).

The property was advertised for sale on 11 November, 1895 by Gemmell, Tuckett and Co , 359 Collins-street, Melbourne's largest auctioneers of the time, the notice shedding the only light on the course itself:

"BURWOOD - All that piece of land containing about 80 acres, known as the SHERWOOD PARK RACECOURSE, having a frontage of about a quarter of a mile to the Boundary road by a depth of half a mile, portion of which is properly laid out as a RACECOURSE and TRAINING-GROUND and the balance let as MARKET-GARDENS

The property is about eight miles from Melbourne, within a few minutes of the Ashburton and Hartwell railway stations which have a daily service of ten trains  It is thoroughly improved and the buildings include grandstand &c  The soil is admirable for market gardening and the Yan Yean water is laid across the frontage"

Anyone with a modicum of sense will take real estate advertisements with the proverbial “grain of salt”, but if 80 acres was accurate, then Sherwood Park and its market gardens was considerably larger than either Richmond or Fitzroy - the latter put at a fraction over 20 acres when the site was originally purchased and confirmed by Northcote Council records when assessed for rates in 1900.

(The reference to Hartwell Station may be confusing at first sight - this is now Burwood, immediately north of Ashburton  The station now known as Hartwell was “Hartwell Hill”.  Common sense prevailed with the stations renamed in 1909)

{1}  Scott's involvement with Sherwood was confirmed in a 1938 Sporting Globe interview with a veteran trainer, J. Stainton of Oakleigh who was mentioned as one of the first to race at the course some 50 years earlier   The interview also confirmed the V R C  ban, but gave no clue as to exactly where the track was - simply "the old course lies hidden beneath a cluster of houses".