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Thread: Footscray Speedway on the Dudley Flats and some Gath history

  1. #1
    Senior Member Horse Of The Year Adaptor will become famous soon enough
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    Footscray Speedway on the Dudley Flats and some Gath history

    There was a training/trialing track on the Dudley Flats, between Dynon Rd and Footscray Rd from around 1914 through to the 1950s.

    in 1930, these were the instructions for getting there:
    Footscray Speedway is situated close to the swing Bridge over the Saltwater River, on the Melbourne side. It is reached by the main road from North Melbourne railway station to Footscray (Dynon Road), turning off to the left before crossing the river at Footscray and turning away from the river again on reaching the swing bridge.

    In 1947...at the time of the opening of night trotting at The Showgrounds, trial results published show:
    Trotting Trials At Footscray
    Under the auspices of the Melbourne and District Driving Club, public trotting trials were held at
    the old Footscray trotting track yesterday afternoon. Most successful driver was J. Bar-
    ron, who piloted New Main, and the veteran mare Esme Derby, to vic-
    tory.
    Among drivers competing were: Tom Allen, George and Albert Gath, Roy Shadbolt, Sif Fahey.

    As late as 1950, the track was fenced, and leased by the TCB., with pressure being applied by The Melbourne City Council and Footscray Council to lessees to improve the maintenance of their properties.

    Any information about this track would be appreciated.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Horse Of The Year Showgrounds will become famous soon enough
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    News to me Noel, and I grew up in the area. The swing bridge over the Maribyrnong River was replaced by the Dynon Bridge in the 1950's. Swing Bridge Motors, GMH dealer, was a landmark on the corner of Dynon Rd and Sims Street for many decades. Going by the description the track had to be off Sims Street somewhere between Dynon Road and the rail bridge that crosses the river tongue south and enters the tunnel under Bunbury Street. The only land with acreage to host a trotting track is along the river between these bridges. Now, it is all freight terminals and container storage.

    The trotting track would only have been short lived. The whole Dudley Flats area was redeveloped during the 50's for rail and road freight. The illegal slums that gave the Flats their infamy were mainly at the West Melbourne end (according to my Dad). The standard gauge rail, from April 1962, used the Bunbury Street tunnel exclusively and the construction of Swanson Dock changed the entire area.

    Further upstream, at the end of Doncaster Street Ascot Vale, Steadman's trotting track served trainers until the 80's when it was transformed into a golf course. I don't know what year it opened but it was in use from my earliest memories in the late 50's. It was never used for trials, though. Clarrie Allen, Tom's brother, and Albert "Darky" Gath and many others used the track. In those days the Showgrounds used to close for training around 9:30 and was never open on Sundays.

    Sorry I can't shed more light on the Dudley Flats track Noel.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Horse Of The Year Adaptor will become famous soon enough
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    Footscray Sppedway.

    I spoke with BRIAN GATH at the Bendigo trots tonight, and asked if he remembered the Footscray track just short of the Maribrynong River between Dynon and Footscray Roads on what were known as the Dudley Flats.

    He does..."That was the track that was in the swamp". It was made of ashes...like charcoal.
    His father George was stabled at Kensington at that time, and they trialled there regularly. Others used that track to train regularly on it.

    Brian says he drove his first trial winner there. A horse called Village KIng. And Brian at the time was 10 !

  4. #4
    Senior Member Horse Of The Year Showgrounds will become famous soon enough
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    Yeah Noel, just a little (!) Before my time. The Flats were the eastern part of what we knew as Coode Island, the Yarra to the south actually being the man made Coode Canal and much of the swamp being part of the Yarra's original course. The Flats was full of shanties and humpies; these days it's gone upmarket and is known as Docklands!

  5. #5
    Senior Member Horse Of The Year Adaptor will become famous soon enough
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    Quote Originally Posted by Showgrounds View Post
    Yeah Noel, just a little (!) Before my time. The Flats were the eastern part of what we knew as Coode Island, the Yarra to the south actually being the man made Coode Canal and much of the swamp being part of the Yarra's original course. The Flats was full of shanties and humpies; these days it's gone upmarket and is known as Docklands!
    A friend told me about a 2018 book " Blue Lake,. Finding Dudley Flats and the West Melbourne Swamp", by David Sornig
    It's a factual narrative about the 8km square zone that housed tips, bone-yards, marsh-lands derelict railway lines, and the people who lived in humpies of scavenged materials through the depression into as late as 1957.
    It closely examines the lives of people who lived there, in one case for over 40 years, and another who lived in the carcass of a beached vessel, a lighter.

    It's a really good read. There were several copies in our local libraries.

    On page 311, there is a mention of the continued use of the area by trotting trainers:
    In June 1950, a conference was held between the Melbourne City Council, Victorian Railways, Lands Department and Trotting Control Board (which had a stake in the area as the operator of a nearby trotting track ) to try and stem the illegal dumping of rubbish along Footscray Road.
    People were still living around these tips and scavenging materials from them.

    The -re-development of the area into a container shipping and transport hub didn't commence until 1958.

  6. #6
    Super Moderator Stallion Messenger will become famous soon enough Messenger's Avatar
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    Brian Gath was born in 1944 and would have driven his first trial winner at Kensington in 1954. I am thinking Trevor was born in the 50's not the 40's
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Horse Of The Year Showgrounds will become famous soon enough
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    Quote Originally Posted by Messenger View Post
    Brian Gath was born in 1944 and would have driven his first trial winner at Kensington in 1954. I am thinking Trevor was born in the 50's not the 40's
    Give that man a cigar!

  8. #8
    Junior Member Weanling PremiumEdition will become famous soon enough
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    Hi All, just on that track at Coode Canal, that was a yes, and also there was a training track in Kensington, which was situated between the City Abbatoirs and the Army Depot bordered by Hobsons Rd and Bayswater Rd, I lived in Bayswater Rd opp the track and on sunday mornings it was as busy as Bourke St Melb. now I am going back to around 1954 or 1955, I dont know if Trials were held there but it was a a popular training track used by George Gath when he was stabled in Kensington, others who I can remember were and some of the horses I recall were, George Gath (Bingen Redmond), Jack Bryant (Prince Regent), Arthur Gath (Medorina, which was a crack 2yo and was put down on the Showground track), Tom Taylor, (Wandas Son & Barmah Chief) Les Turner used the track there were many other who I just can recall, also Jimmy Dillon used the track breaking horses in. I am led to believe that the track was self made by a group of trainers and the MCC jumped on them and it was closed and used for sheep grazing for the Master Butchers from the next door Abbatoirs. Hope that shines some light on the conversation.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Horse Of The Year Adaptor will become famous soon enough
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    Quote Originally Posted by PremiumEdition View Post
    Hi All, just on that track at Coode Canal, that was a yes, and also there was a training track in Kensington, which was situated between the City Abbatoirs and the Army Depot bordered by Hobsons Rd and Bayswater Rd, I lived in Bayswater Rd opp the track and on sunday mornings it was as busy as Bourke St Melb. now I am going back to around 1954 or 1955, I dont know if Trials were held there but it was a a popular training track used by George Gath when he was stabled in Kensington, others who I can remember were and some of the horses I recall were, George Gath (Bingen Redmond), Jack Bryant (Prince Regent), Arthur Gath (Medorina, which was a crack 2yo and was put down on the Showground track), Tom Taylor, (Wandas Son & Barmah Chief) Les Turner used the track there were many other who I just can recall, also Jimmy Dillon used the track breaking horses in. I am led to believe that the track was self made by a group of trainers and the MCC jumped on them and it was closed and used for sheep grazing for the Master Butchers from the next door Abbatoirs. Hope that shines some light on the conversation.
    That's great information Bob. Thanks so much for adding to what has been posted. The information about George Gath lines up with what Brian told me.
    Thanks so much.

  10. #10
    Junior Member Weanling PremiumEdition will become famous soon enough
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    Good Onya Noel no probs, you may be able to settle a "friendly debate" between a couple of mates and I, I followed Brian Gath as a young man and I have been told I am wrong that Brians first Melb winner was a trotter named Corop McElwin, and further back to that one of his first drives if not the first was a trotter named Our Noble at Healesville on Cup Day 1959, in a race won by the great trotting mate Jenny, driven by Wally Townsend. If you can get some info from Brian on that it would be greatly appreciated. Regards Bob

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