Olympia Speedway/Coral Sea Park – Maroubra, NSW

Traffic moves quite slowly in South Head Cemetery, both vehicular and otherwise. Nobody’s in that much of a hurry; even the post-hip, ridiculously overpriced motivational sportswear-clad joggers slow down to take in the breathtaking vistas the graveyard offers.

Only most of the time, there’s no breath to take.

The Victorian era saw a boom in ‘the art of death’ – society as a whole had an endless fascination with death, and paid particular attention to the manner in which deceased were committed to the void. This carried over into the early 20th century, and the ornate tombstones and mausoleums of this era are a far cry from today’s dour marble efficiency.

Bloody Sunday drivers...

Bloody Sunday drivers…

Look at this. It’s kind of like the headstone equivalent of one of those racing car beds, isn’t it?

Immediately eye-catching, the final resting place of Reginald “Phil” Garlick ensures its fair share of stares. A prodigious racer, Garlick’s love of motorsport is forever tied to him in the afterlife. At the time of writing, it’s getting nigh on close to 90 years since his death aged just 39 years at…Maroubra Speedway?! What the…?

Pretty sure you can still get speed at Maroubra if you know where to look. Image courtesy James Cockington

Pretty sure you can still get speed at Maroubra if you know where to look. Image courtesy James Cockington

maproubra

This…this couldn’t be! Where would such a racetrack even be? Superfast hoony driving and Maroubra…it just doesn’t make any sense!

SMH, Wednesday, Sept 16 1925

SMH, Wednesday, Sept 16 1925

Actually it makes perfect sense, and this one’s pretty common knowledge. The Olympia Speedway drew an estimated 70,000 petrolheads to its grand opening in 1925, blowing the attendance of that year’s VFL Grand Final away.

Guys, maybe you should be handing out the helmets BEFORE the race...

Guys, maybe you should be handing out the helmets BEFORE the race… Image courtesy SpeedwayAndRoadraceHistory.com

The Olympia became notorious for the dangerously steep incline of its concrete saucer, reaching 48 degrees in one stretch. Suddenly, helmets like Phil’s up there don’t really sound like they’ll cut the mustard, do they?

Flag girls dressed very differently in the 1920s...Olympia Speedway, late 1925. Image courtesy State Library NSW/Sam Hood

Flag girls dressed very differently in the 1920s…Olympia Speedway, late 1925. Image courtesy State Library NSW/Sam Hood

And how’s that bloodthirsty crowd! 70,000 ghouls who couldn’t get their violent thrills at the VFL filled the Olympia’s seats hoping to see one of those poor bastards lose control and wipe out. Talk about a fascination with death…

In time, the Olympia gave its audience what it wanted:

Brisbane Courier, Friday, July 30 1926

Brisbane Courier, Friday, July 30 1926

Brisbane Worker, Wed, Feb 23 1927

Brisbane Worker, Wednesday, Feb 23 1927

Adelaide Mail, Saturday, Nov 24 1934

Adelaide Mail, Saturday, Nov 24 1934

Melbourne Argus, Thursday, July 2 1936

Melbourne Argus, Thursday, July 2 1936

SMH, Tuesday, Feb 1 1927

SMH, Tuesday, Feb 1 1927

And I thought Maroubra was a tough suburb these days!

The Olympia was actually shut down twice: 1927 saw the end of its days as a professionally promoted speedway due to a combination of anemic finances and negative attention surrounding the mounting death toll, and then again in the late 1930s after a series of fitful re-openings throughout that decade. By the time the light went red for good, the track was in serious disrepair. Yeah, a real HEALTH HAZARD. Could be DANGEROUS. LIVES AT RISK.

Another factor in play was the advent of public housing. The Housing Commission was snapping up as much ‘wasted’ land as it could and filling it with bland, efficient brick housing for war vets and refugees. By 1948, Maroubra was unrecognisable, a sea of brown roofs and 50km speed limits, strictly adhered to by residents at all times.

I can see why they call it Coral Sea Park!

I can see why they call it Coral Sea Park!

Coral Sea Park doesn’t look like much now, but this is pretty much our ground zero today. This was the centre of the speedway track back in the day, and the edges of the park are almost as steep as they were back when Phil and the boys were tearing it up.

Take a sherpa...

Take a sherpa…

It’s almost lazy, the way no effort was made to do anything but grass things over and slap a speed limit on the roads. But it does give us a great insight into just how dangerous it was to race around the Olympia. Look at the angles!

Watch your step...

Watch your step…

Image courtesy VintageSpeedway.com

Image courtesy VintageSpeedways.com

It’s said that the tablet laid on the speedway’s opening day is still buried beneath Coral Sea Park somewhere, and that any efforts made to find it have stopped short of the finish line. In 1925, this infield area was a swampy wasteland, known and feared for an abundance of snakes. But they’re gone now, so c’mon, find the damn tablet.

It’s also said that between its lives as the track’s infield and Coral Sea Park, this portion of land was a tip, and it closed in the 1960s after a boy was found dead inside a fridge. Will the killing never end, Maroubra?! I couldn’t find any hard evidence of this, but if you know more, or you were that boy, get in touch.

IN MY DAY...

IN MY DAY…

Just before we go, there’s one last interesting remnant of what was once Australia’s “killer track”: on the western side of Anzac Parade, there sits Heffron Park and the neighbouring Des Renford Leisure Centre (folks of my generation probably remember man of leisure Des Renford best from that Martin/Molloy skit. IN MY DAY…). This park too sees a sharp incline as you head east toward where the speedway would have been.

An upside to building a racetrack in the middle of a bunch of sandhills was that it was easy to get a saucer in place for the kind of angles necessary for DA THRILLZ. A downside is that tightass locals could sit their tight asses down on said sandhills – like this one – with a perfect view of the action without paying for the privilege, and that’s just what they did. And the Olympia went into voluntary liquidation, you say?

Thanks to my pal Viv for her help with the modern day photos. Get a dose of her wordier, but no less illustrative work over at TaylorHermione.co!

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3 responses

  1. Was Phil any relation to Brad Garlick (Ford dealer)? I really enjoy your blog man.

  2. Great post, Michael. I am fascinated with the Olympia Speedway, I visited Coral Sea Park a few years ago and collected some old scraps of concrete that are most likely from the original speedway. I have an old facsimile copy of the first Wheels car magazine from 1953. In it there is a large article on the old speedway in the 50s with photos of the rotting concrete bowl and buildings. I will see if I can scan it and send it to you. Another old circuit of interest is the old Mt Druitt circuit at Whalan Reserve.

  3. Is the speedway the reason that Fitzgerald Ave is ridiculously wide near the Anzac Pde intersection? https://goo.gl/maps/3FDhX

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