Let Loose The Dogs of War
Although now rarely used for anything other than cricket or football (and the latter dwindling), Preston Park paid a central role in many of the celebrations of civic achievements in earlier times.
The first major celebration was the declaration of Preston as a Town by the Governor, Lord Stradbroke on Wednesday, 24 May, 1922. The crowd was estimated at 7,000, of which The Argus suggested some 4,000 were school children.
That proclamation of Preston becoming a Town coincided with Empire Day, a half-holiday and the crowd inflated as a result - just 5,000 were at the Park on the afternoon of 11 July, 1926 (again a Wednesday) when the declaration of Preston as a City was performed by His Excellency, the Governor, Lord Somers
The celebrations included a children's sports carnival at the Park, but were relatively subdued compared to the week between 7 and 13 September, 1935 was set aside for Preston's Jubilee celebrations - "Jubilee" in this case being the 50th anniversary of the original Shire of Jika opting to change the name to Preston - and it produced undoubtedly the most frantic week in the history of Preston Park.
Let Loose the Dogs of War
Undoubtedly over the years a few umpires in winter months have been called "dogs", but the term was more appropriate when the Park hosted a greyhound coursing meeting as part of the celebrations.
The evening was conducted by the Maribyrnong Coursing Club - unfortunately nothing remains as to exactly how the meeting was conducted (true "coursing" involves two dogs matched against each other in the pursuit of a hare), but there were nine events held, seemingly all over the same distance, with the winning dish-lickers recording times between 17¼ and 18½ seconds for the flat races and 20 seconds for a hurdle event.
Most of the races appear to have been sponsored by local businesses; the crowd was put at around 1,000 (the meeting does not appear to have advertised), and should it come up in general conversation, the last greyhound race ever to be run at Preston
A British Bulldog aircraft bombs the unsuspecting crown at Preston Park
Park was a Consolation Stakes won by R. B. Parson's Glenainsley (Andico - Moonlight Rose) by a length in a time of 18 seconds for the unspecified distance.
The Jubilee also featured a Military Tattoo at the Park the following evening, arranged by the 57/60th (Merri Regiment), a voluntary force drawn from the Preston and Northcote districts.
While it was suggested that the underlying principle of a tattoo was to give a demonstration of the country's military capability, it was noted "the park oval was a stage setting and conditions were nothing like they would be in a time of war", but that didn't stop around 5,000 spectators arriving to watch trick motor-cycling (including one where a pillion passenger changed the wheel of his side-car while the bike continued on two wheels, always handy in a time of war), massed bands, a 12-pound naval field gun courtesy of the Naval Reserve from Port Melbourne, a bridging display, a naval hornpipe and various marching drills.
The was also a recreation of a trench raid made by the 7th Battalion at Messines in March, 1918, complete with machine guns, barbed wire entanglements and a bombardment of "minniewerfers" 1, but :
"Probably the most spectacular event of the evening was s display of bombing by three Bristol Bulldog 'planes from Point Cook. The ground was set in darkness and a Very light gave the signal for the attack. Swooping over the ground, the 'planes in turn "bombed" a cook-house and the shooting was remarkable accurate. Soon a direct hit was made and the cook-house went up in flames. In the meantime, the 'planes were counter-attacked by machine guns. A display of formation flying was then given, after which the 'planes zoomed away to their base".
The Preston Leader did not publish casualty lists for the evening!
The Friday was devoted to children's sports at the Park, the Education Department granting a half-holiday to all Preston schools for the occasion and some 6,000 children either participated in the sporting events (won by South Preston) or marching, enjoyed the free rides on the merry-go-round and ocean wave, devoured their free bag of lollies and perhaps gazed in wonderment at the free souvenir ruler distributed at the schools during the morning.
It was noted that rain fell late in the day and wet conditions impacted the almost-obligatory Athletic Sports Carnival, the highlight of which was the concluding laps of a 160 mile road race which had taken riders through Healesville, Alexandra, Yea, the Plenty Ranges and Whittlesea. The carnival proved a flop financially, organisers insuring against 10 points or rain falling in the morning, nine points were recorded.
The Park also hosted a fireworks display on the previous Saturday night, and a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon the following day featuring several bands and an address by the Prime Minister, Mr. Joseph Lyons.
Although it received little coverage in the Leader, Gower Park (now Blake Park) was used for a gymkhana on the Wednesday, photos of some of the jumping events appearing in The Argus.
(Gower Park was acquired by Council around 1930, originally intended to be the home of the Jika Cricket Association, who rejected the offer because of its remoteness and uneven surface. The trotting track arrived by sleight of hand - two men got the go-ahead from Council to lay "a running track" around the park and it wasn't until some months later that the Council realised the "runners" were of the four-legged trotting variety)!
If the activities at the Park weren't enough for Joe Citizen, the week also featured (mostly at the Town Hall) two civic receptions, two card nights, three concerts, a returned soldiers re-union dinner, a football club reunion Smoke Night, two Back-To-Schools (South Preston and Tyler Streets) a Military Ball, a Jubilee Ball under the patronage of the Governor General, a guided tour of the City, and the crowning of the Queen of Preston.
Special Church services were held on both on the Sundays.
Funds from all the functions went a Technical School Fund set up by the Council, although it wasn't until 1937 that plans for a school in Frank Street (the western side of today's St. George's Road) were announced.
The Council eventually donated the land for the school (and later for the girl's technical school in Cramer Street.
Whether it then carried today's title of H. P. Zwar Park is uncertain, reports on Jika matches in the early 1930's simply call it the Cramer Street Park.
A Week in the Park, September, 1935
2.30 p.m. Children's Originality Procession
3.30 p.m. Novelty Sports. Admission 6d or Preston Jubilee button.
3.00 p.m. Pleasant Sunday Afternoon. Hon. J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister, speaker. Musical selections.
8.00 p.m. Boxing and Wrestling Tournament. Admission, 1/-, children 3d.
8.00 p.m. Speed coursing, Admission, 1/-, children 6d.
MONSTER GYMKHANA, Gower Park, commencing 11.15 a.m. £50 in prizes. Monster Drag Hunt, spectacular display by mounted police, musical chairs, etc.
8.00 pm. Boy Scout display, Preston Park, admission free.
8.00 p.m. Carnival in Preston Park, admission free.
2.00 p.m. Children's Sports, (free merry-go-round, etc). Admission free.
Sports program in Preston Park, numerous trophies. Admission 6d.
8.00 p.m. Scottish dancing, Cramer Street Park, Admission free.