Canterbury Velodrome

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Drawn from research by Don Edworthy

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Canterbury Velodrome, 1928-1934. Image number 100406.
Courtesy Peter Nixon

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Canterbury Velodrome was constructed in Charles Street, Canterbury as a result of leading Australian cyclists competing in the United States returning home and enthusiastically praising the small, highly banked board tracks used for top cycling in centres such as New York, Boston and Newark. The cyclists reported these tracks as not only providing a thrilling spectacle but also creating a greater interest in cycling. They were unanimous that a similar track should be erected in Sydney.

Greatest fame for Canterbury in the realm of cycling

These reports resulted in what was perhaps the greatest fame for Canterbury in the realm of cycling - the board track erected near Canterbury Station. A site was obtained south of the railway line at the west most end of Charles Street and in November 1928, construction of Canterbury Velodrome, an eight lap board track was commenced. It first opened for training on 15 December and was reported as being 'crowded with cyclists’. It was the only board track in Australia and pitch of 40 degrees was the steepest.

The grand opening followed a week later. Canterbury Velodrome commenced originally with professional riders only events. Noted riders were paid appearance and prize money and were registered members with The League of Wheelmen. Amateurs first appeared in events on Canterbury Velodrome in December 1930. The amateurs who rode were members of the Cycling Unions.

Though the spectator accommodation was still incomplete at the velodrome’s inaugural meeting, every seat and vantage point was occupied and several hundred spectators failed to gain admittance. This was in spite of a capacity of 12,000 people.

The 'well varied' programme included handicaps, match race and motor-paced events for both amateur and professional riders. These races certainly made cycling more thrilling, especially for the blood thirsty when a 'few' falls occurred. Those who 'hit the boards' were certain of at least a week's occupation - removing a myriad of small splinters, one by one. Later design improvements in 1935 - 1936 gave relief from some of these arduous operations.

Spills on the board track

Several spills at Canterbury Velodrome were reported in the newspapers of the time including Crazy capers of cyclist’s machine reported in the Labor Daily of 27 July 1936:

And Motor cycle falls on woman spectator reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 15 February 1932

The Board track

The track at Canterbury Velodrome was originally pitched at 40 degrees with the close fitting boards running in the direction of the race. In 1934 the track was rebuilt and re-pitched to 55 degrees. It was reconstructed with 100,000 lineal feet of two by one inch selected Oregon timber with open joints for drainage. With this reconstruction of the track, many of the severe early injuries of splinters, both large and small were almost completely eliminated. This was achieved by the fixing of the new boards at right angles to the direction of travel.

The 1934 reconstruction of the track also gave the opportunity to correct the short coming of the old track - it being 5 yards short of the correct 220 yards in length. This shortcoming brought into question the recorded times of races and distance records achieved at the track. Rex Ley a former rider, club organiser and builder of timber bicycle wheel rims was contracted in 1934 to do the track rebuild.

Canterbury Velodrome - the home of three local amateur clubs

The velodrome was used by three local amateur clubs, the Canterbury-Earlwood A.B.C. (formed 1929), Hurlstone Park and Lakemba for the inter-club mid-week and other carnivals. These were promoted by the former to raise funds to liquidate the track debt and build one of their own design. The new track the 'best' in Australia with no splinters in the banking, permitted 'riders to circle at full speed in a natural manner' which was both 'thrilling and spectacular'.

Fund raising events

Four 'pro-am' carnivals were devoted to raising funds for Canterbury Hospital for a new block for the 'much needed' X-Ray, patho¬logical and out-patients accommodation [Sydney Morning Herald 17, 31 October, 23 November, 17, 24 December 1928].

The Riders (men)

In Canterbury Velodrome’s short 10 year life, all the who’s who of cycling raced on this track – local, interstate and international riders appeared. Among the professionals such great Australian international riders included: Cecil Walker, Harris Horder (killed in WWII over New Guinea), George Dempsey, Hubert Opperman (Oppy - reputed to be Australia’s best rider), Fatty Lamb and Grant Pye.

Among the professional international champions from overseas were world champion Sydney Cozens (English champion); Clement Germaine (France); Matt Engel and Oscar Rutt (Germany); Bransk Andersen (Denmark). Among the great professional Australian local (Australian) riders included: Jimmy Beer; Len Rogers; Grant Pye; brothers Jack and Len Standen; Bob Carswell (Riverina) and Keith Oliver.

In the amateur ranks, again to name just a few, were Olympic champion Duncan Gray, Jack Fitzgerald, Horrie Pethybridge (whose brother Tommy was lost with Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith in the Bay of Bengal), A. J. Parsons, Stan Parsons, Ken Ross and Stan G. Steen.

The Riders (women)

Edna Sayers from Earlwood was the first woman to appear on the track. The event was a match race held in November 1932 that was easily won by Edna Sayers. At the same meeting a champion from Victoria, Elsa Barbour established a half mile track record.

About this time Edna Sayers was in the process of contributing to the establishment of a women’s autonomous cycling organisation which took several years to come to fruition. Without a women’s cycling organisation women could not appear on tracks or road events at established men’s meetings. Thus, there was no venue to record records and achievements were not fully recognised.

Track managers

The first track manager at Canterbury Velodrome was Frank Corry employed from 1928. Mr Corry was a former world cycling champion racing in the USA and Europe. He brought an international expertise to the industry and was instrumental in the construction of the high pitch track at Canterbury Velodrome. This track was constructed at 40 degrees to international standards. This allowed our riders to experience overseas track conditions here at home.

Bob Spears, a former international multiple cycle champion from Dubbo, was employed as track manager at Canterbury Velodrome from 1933. At one time he was the world’s fastest sprinter and the only rider to hold the Grand de Prix for three consecutive times.

Variety of attractions at Canterbury Velodrome

Ernie Tagg, an experienced cyclist of those days, preserved some three penny programmes of the velodrome meetings during the seasons, 1933 - 1935. In addition to recording the names of many of the great names in cycling, these programmes show a wide variety of handicaps and scratch races up to ten miles, match, pursuit and team races, even up to seventy kilometres.

These programmes reveal that to add further attractions to the meetings, vaudeville items were included, for example wrestling and boxing contests involving local 'pugs' such as Curly Maher, Campsie; Spider Crouch, Canterbury; Battling Billy Blackwell, Earlwood; wrestler Norman Scott, Lakemba; the Hilo Trio; Miss Irvine's trembling wonders; Pat Reno's performing dogs; trick cycling by the well-known Bill Stevens, manufacturer of Stevens' cycles; Billy Martin and his ukulele and the North Sydney Mouth Organ Band.

Motorcyles on Canterbury Velodrome

Motorcycles appeared on the Canterbury Velodrome track individually when a cyclist was attempting to establish or break a motor paced distance record on the track. They also appeared on the track when two or perhaps three cyclists were competing in a motor paced group event.

In early 1929 some motorcycle racers were invited to test the Canterbury Velodrome track for consideration to holding motorcycle racing events. This concept proved impossible due to the structural inadequacies of the track to support the impacts of numerous heavier loads. The following was reported in A History of Australian speedway by Jim Shepherd:

Financial difficulties

The velodrome experienced financial difficulties during the early depres¬sion years and this explains reasons for the inclusion of vaudeville acts. Eventually, in April, 1936, it was forced to close down. It was later dismantled and most of the wood was used in the construction of the Sports Arena in Surry Hills. The following article titled Velodrome to be Transformed was reported in the Telegraph 10 November 1937:

According to the Referee 28 October 1937, the last official meeting at Canterbury Velodrome was a charity carnival. This carnival was most likely held on Sunday 24 October 1937. A prominent hardware company now straddles part of the old site the rest was lost to the redirection of the Cooks River when the canal was formed.

References

  1. Change and Challenge: a history of the Municipality of Canterbury, NSW by F A Larcombe. [Campsie, NSW] Canterbury Municipal Council, 1979.
  2. A History of Australian speedway by Jim Shepherd.
  3. Labor daily. 8 December, 1930, 27 July 1936.
  4. Referee. 28 October, 1937.
  5. Telegraph 10 November 1937.
  6. Sydney Morning Herald 17, 31 October, 23 November, 17, 24 December 1928 viewed in Larcombe, F A. Change and challenge: a history of the Municipality of Canterbury, NSW [Campsie, NSW] Canterbury Municipal Council, 1979
  7. Sydney Morning Herald 15 February 1932.
  8. Velodrome programmes loaned by E Tagg, especially 23, 24 February 1934, viewed in Larcombe, F A. Change and challenge: a history of the Municipality of Canterbury, NSW [Campsie, NSW] Canterbury Municipal Council, 1979.

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