Homebush Racecourse

The Homebush Racecourse was the subject of the Historical Society newsletter in January/February 2019.  This is an excerpt of the essay by Cathy Jones:

The Racecourse for Sydney was located at Hyde Park from 1810 to 1826, Grose Farm (Sydney University) from 1826 to 1840 and Homebush from 1841 to 1859.  In 1860, the racecourse moved to Randwick, which is its current location (Bethel, 1930).  There is much contention about the actual location of the Homebush Racecourse, but according to historical accounts, maps and research by local historian Dave Patrick (who has provided considerable assistance in the preparation of this article), the course was located between Saleyards Creek and Boundary Creek on undulating ground sloping up to Parramatta Road at Homebush.

Town & Country Journal 1895
Town & Country Journal 1895

The course was located on land owned by William Charles Wentworth (the “Homebush Estate”).  Based on historic maps, the racecourse was located near Parramatta Road Homebush and opposite John Fleming’s grant and located behind the Wentworth Hotel (which is roughly opposite the location of Sydney Markets on Parramatta Road today).  However, the full course including paddocks would have extended into areas which are located in the current area of Sydney Olympic Park.

Prior to 1825, Wentworth established a private racetrack near Parramatta Road.  Like his father, William Charles Wentworth (one of the three Blue Mountains explorers) had an interest in horsebreeding and turf racing that continued after D’Arcy Wentworth’s death in 1827.  In the same year, William Wentworth was elected steward of the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) and its president in 1832.  In 1840, the Australian Race Company was brought into existence and Homebush was selected as the site for the new racecourse (Bethel 1930: 7). The racecourse was expanded with facilities such as a stand, enclosures, stables and training grounds.

The first race meeting was held on March 16 and 18, 1841 attracting a crowd of 8000 people.  An account of the first day of racing at Homebush stated:

“The day was beautiful in the extreme, and at an early hour parties on foot, on horseback, and in vehicles of every-description, thronged the various thoroughfares, leading to the scene of operations. At about 12 o’clock, the vast concourse, computed, at from eight to ten thousand persons, took up their stations in the vicinity of the grand stand, which presented a most lively and interesting scene. Sydney, Parramatta, Liverpool, Windsor, and the surrounding country, all sent their quota to the field – the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the ugly and the beautiful, were here all intent on spending a happy day, and we trust few were disappointed. The arrangements made by the stewards were deserving of the utmost praise, and contributed to that unanimity, good feeling, and order which prevailed, throughout; police on foot and horseback, paraded the course the whole day. So numerous was the turn out of the elite of Australian society, that it would be invidious to particularise only a few. The band of the 28th regiment, and a band from Sydney contributed not a little to keep up the attraction of the proceedings, which from commencement to end, went off to the heart’s content of the most sanguine admirer of the turf.”

Early parish map showing land included in the Homebush Estate (D Wentworth) NSW Department of Lands
Early parish map showing land included in the Homebush Estate (D Wentworth) NSW Department of Lands

A special ferry was established for race days along the Sydney to Parramatta route. The services were advertised as: ‘THE STEAM PACK RAPID….will start from the Commercial Wharf at Ten O’Clock precisely on each day of the Races – land Passengers at the Course and return with them to Sydney each night. FARES – four shillings each.’ The river transport depended on the tides for Homebush Bay, which were fringed with mangroves along the shore and mud flats around the Powell Creek entrance prevented a wharf or jetty being built. At low tide ferry boats had to stop at a distance from the shore and racegoers had to wade through a stretch of mud to get to the racecourse.

The article in The Sun in 1930 questioned why the racecourse moved from Homebush to Randwick and stated:

“What led to the transfer of racing operations to Randwick was the in ability of the turf club to obtain conditions that would enable them to have definite control of the ground. They had no spending power to erect buildings and effect necessary improvements. The land was privately owned, and those concerned evidently were not imbued with ideas favourable to the perpetuation of racing at Homebush. It is said of it that as a natural course it was far superior to the Randwick land, known then as the Sand Track. It also had the advantage of being within easy distance of the new railway line, which was opened in 1855. On May 30 and June 1, 1859, the A.J.C. held its last race meeting at Homebush and started racing at Randwick on May 29, 30, and 31, 1860”.

Although the AJC moved operations to Randwick in 1860, the Homebush course continued holding major races until the 1870’s.  A new course was constructed in the mid 1860’s overlapping the old course. This new course had Boundary Creek directly down it’s centre. The creek was bridged with an earthern viaduct 200 yards long and 20 wide allowing the horses to race around the rim of the creek valley. The arches of the viaduct were later blocked to form a dam during the abattoir era.