PLACES: Rosebery Racecourse/ Eastlakes

Then and now: Major-General Plant inspecting the 1st Australian Returned Stores Depot at Rosebery Racecourse in 1945. The location of this photograph is approximately halfway along where Mascot Drive runs today. Archival image courtesy of Australian War Memorial (116120)

Did you know that the northern section of Eastlakes used to be a racecourse? It’s hard to believe now, but if you have ever wondered about the naming of Racecourse Place, now you know why.

Rosebery Park Racecourse relocated here in 1906 and was well-known for its mid-week pony races.  Pony races involved full-sized thoroughbreds and mixed-bred racehorses that were of a slightly smaller breed. The course was just one of several pony tracks in Sydney. Others included Ascot (which was resumed during the expansion of Sydney Airport) and Victoria Park, which is now also home to a number of apartments.

Aerial View of Rosebery Racecourse, c.1945. As you can see from the photographs, the grandstands backed onto Gardeners Road. Courtesy of Adastra/AAM
Rosebery Park Racecourse as it appeared in the 1934 Gregory’s Street Directory and today on Goggle Maps.

When Rosebery Park first opened on this site it had space for 1800 spectators . The grandstand held a 1000 and a further 800 people could be accommodated in the paddock. A bar and oyster stand completed the entertainment.

Complimentary Ticket to Rosebery. City of Botany Bay Archives, 1933

In May 1928, Rosebery made the headlines when the bottom middle section of its wooden grandstand collapsed. According to the Sydney Morning Herald “Hundreds of men, mad with fear, fought to reach the safety of the ground, heedless of the agonised cries of the women they were trampling underfoot. Some of the panic-stricken racegoers were seen to scramble over a young woman who had fallen, and who was protecting her infant with her own body. Another man explained at the hospital that in the wild stampede a man stood on his face.’’

Look carefully at this photograph and you will see a number of racegoers trying to escape the commotion by climbing down the side of the grandstand. Thomas John Hanrahan, then aged 68, was not as lucky. He was caught up in the centre of the accident and suffered a fractured arm and several other injuries. He was taken to hospital and never left, dying two weeks later.

Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 7th May, 1928

After the accident the owners of Rosebery injected some £100,000 back into the course by building a new grandstand and remodelling the track. According to The Referee the new Rosebery was ‘something to be marvelled at’.

War, however, continually impacted the racecourse. Despite its popularity for racing, Rosebery, like many racecourses across Sydney, was used by the military during both world wars. Racecourses were perfect sites for temporary training camps as they provided well-drained open spaces, as well as useful facilities such as electricity and toilets.

1st Light Horse Regiment at Rosebery.Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial (P01208.020)

The first military group to use Rosebery Racecourse was the 1st Light Horse Regiment of the 1st Light Horse Brigade. The Regiment trained here from late August to mid-October 1914. During this time recruits lived in tents dotted across the racecourse. Some brought their own horses with them. Others used stockhorses, thoroughbreds or even wild horses that had been donated or purchased by the government.

After the departure of the1st Light Horse, Rosebery was used by a handful of other Light Horse Regiments, infantry training and by the Citizen Forces.

During World War II Rosebery Racecourse was again used by the military. In October 1939, just a month and a half into the war, a training camp was established here for volunteers who had no previous military training. The first 300 recruits were housed in a grandstand that also doubled as a mess hall.

New recruits, lining up at Rosebery’s totalisator windows, 1939. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria (H99.201/480)

Initially the army and race meets coexisted. This changed in July 1940 when the racecourse was exclusively taken over by the military, and became Headquarters of the 8th Division of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). The ill-fated 8th Division went on to serve in Malaya. After retreating to Singapore, many were captured by the Japanese and spent the remainder of the war as prisoners of war.

After World War II, Rosebery Racecourse was briefly used as a returned stores depot.

Major-General Plant inspecting the 1st Australian Returned Stores Depot at Rosebery Racecourse in 1945. The street at the top of this photograph is Maloney Street. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial (116120)
1st Australian Returned Stores Depot at Rosebery Racecourse in 1945. This photograph was taken looking south, near what is know known as Light Horse Reserve. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial (116120)

 

Billboard for Eastlakes development, c.1960s
City of Botany Bay Library

When the military left in 1946 the course was predominantly used as a training ground for racehorses. Official race meetings never resumed but over 200 horses trained there each week.

In 1961 everything changed when the Sydney Turf Club sold Rosebery Racecourse to property developers, Parkes Developments Pty Ltd. Over the next 10 years the old racecourse was replaced with a shopping centre, over 65 red brick apartments as well as a handful of public housing developments – including a complex designed by Harry Seidler.

In 1968 the cost of new apartments in Eastlakes started at $9000, and could be repaid at just $9.95 a week. Today the suburb reportedly has one of the highest concentration of walk up apartments in Australia and units sell for around $560,000.

The Lakes Shopping Centre during the early 1960s before all of the red brick apartments in Eastlakes were completed.
City of Botany Bay Library.

According to one ex-resident, these apartments have been home to a wide variety of migrants who have since moved on – South Americans in the 1970s, Turkish in the 1980s followed by the Bangladeshis in later years. If you have anything to add to the history of Eastlakes we would love to hear from you.

Rosebery Racecourse may be gone, but the fact the 1st Light Horse Brigade trained there was remembered this October through the rededication of the Light Horse Memorial. Among the wreaths laid, was one of hay, movingly, for the horses.

Samantha Sinnayah, Curator

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