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.
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…?
This…this couldn’t be! Where would such a racetrack even be? Superfast hoony driving and Maroubra…it just doesn’t make any sense!
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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. Gorge!
Beverly Hills Squash Courts/Leisuredome Gym – Beverly Hills, NSW
Nestled in amongst the melting pot of businesses at Beverly Hills, the Leisuredome Gym has become a local institution since it opened in 1985.
The Leisuredome prides itself on being “one of the very few real gyms Sydney has to offer”, and I’d believe it. The exterior is unpretentious, lacking all the condescending trappings of the modern influx of gyms. What’s interesting is that the gym’s opening times – 6am-9:30pm Mon-Thur, 6am-9pm Fri, 9am-2pm Sat and 4pm-7pm Sun – seem to be frowned upon by a world of gym junkies spoiled by the new 24 hour centres. I can’t help but wonder if the more specific hours would translate into a more focused workout? But I digress…
The Pleasure Dome also prides itself on being able to “transform” bodies (presumably only for those who found enough keys), but it’s not just the beefcakes who underwent a transformation here…
If you go around the back (and why would you?) you’ll find a dirty little secret beyond Thunderdome:
That’s right, sometime before 1985, Beverly Hills’ squash courts felt the burn and pumped iron, turning from zero to hero in just six weeks or its money back. Meanwhile, anyone in need of a game of squash (I’m…almost certain they’re still out there) had to rack off to Roselands.
Can I just say, is there a more 70s sport than squash? It’s hard to know exactly when this squash court was built (but if you do, get in touch), but it’s safe to say it was around for the 1970s, an age when fashion at times took lessons from the squash scene, and squash itself was a fitness fad not unlike planking or zumba. Would this particular court have been a major player on the Sydney circuit? Were tournaments held here? Did hoop dreams live and die at this very location? It’s easy to imagine any number of marriages driven to the brink over a spirited game of doubles squash. Perhaps there are still bitter exes in the neighbourhood who still seethe when they spot the Leisuredome logo that disguised the secret location of their heartbreak…until now.
When the large, mysterious building next door was built, the sign was hidden from the world, and wasted away into its deplorable current state. To have a sign here at all suggests that once upon a time, this wall faced the world and attracted squash fans passing via either King Georges Road or the East Hills train line.
The ‘dome may have been flexing here for 30 years, but it may soon have some competition. Someone’s finally decided to put Large Mysterious Building to use, and I don’t think the location is a coincidence…
Taree City Bowling Club/Taffy’s Buffet & Pizza – Taree, NSW
Beneath the relentlessly harsh Taree sun, Taffy’s Buffet & Pizza bakes both inside and out. Across the spacious grounds, the scruffy, receding grass is beginning to brown as another long, hot summer approaches.
As the prominent ‘For Sale’ sign says, the ground covered by Taffy’s is huge – too huge for just a pizza buffet. At the same time, the building seems a little…ornate for such a place, doesn’t it?
As I approached, I was sure the place was abandoned, long since closed. Despite all the signs to the contrary, the wide open spaces and peculiar, yet familiar architectural style weren’t immediately inviting to potential all-you-can-eaters.
But I wasn’t hungry.
The gates weren’t closed, so I strolled right on in. The garden was enormous, and contained a number of exotic features that seemed to have beamed in from another dimension. From this stagnant fountain…
…to this baked path leading down to…
…this sterile Flower Power gazebo, there was an air of pretension about the setup. Did Taffy expect enamoured couples to wind up their evenings strolling through her garden after a buffet pizza dinner, culminating in a romantic rendezvous in the gazebo? And then years later reminisce about that unforgettable evening in Taffy’s gazebo?
And I don’t even know what this is meant to represent. If there’s an opposite to the Pearly Gates, it would look like this.
But it was from that…whatever it is that the true nature of Taffy’s became evident; the dark secret Taffy was trying so hard to divert our attention from with her strange assortment of ornaments. Yes, this was looking very familiar indeed…
From 1954 to the early 2000s, this site served as Taree City Bowling Club, providing the Manning’s elderly with a place to form rinks and chuck balls around. Whatever keeps them off the streets, I guess.
We can laugh now, but once upon a time lawn bowls were considered an important sport, with opinions ranging from “whatever keeps them off the streets” to this hyperbolic article from 1952. Methinks Mr. Dent was trying just a bit too hard to justify his title.
And excuse me for sounding cynical, but does anyone really believe that lawn bowls is a game free from “sullen anger and distrust”? When I hear those words, white-suited old folks targeting jacks is the first image that comes to mind.
For having gone to such lengths to sculpt the front garden into something atmospheric, it was surprising that no such care had been extended to the former bowls greens. A 1990 heritage study of the then-active club recommended that future tenants “maintain greens, lawns and gardens”. Whoops.
Overgrown and neglected, only the bare bones remain of what would once have been a vibrant, active sporting field.
Think of all the whistles that would have been wet by this over the years.
Back at Taffy’s, all the bowls club hallmarks started to become apparent. The handrails for frail skippers was evidence enough, but I know my readers – always demanding more.
The placement of this tasteless statue seemed a bit too…deliberate. Let’s go in for the closer look I know you’re gagging to get!
“THIS CLUB WAS OFFICIALLY OPENED BY NORMAN NOSS, PRESIDENT OF NEW SOUTH WALES BOWLING ASSOCIATION ON 3RD JULY 1954”
I’ve gotta congratulate Norman Noss; he’d gone from vice-president in 1948 to president in just six years. Big deal, I hear you say, but cut the man some slack – that competition would be cutthroat, full of sullen anger and distrust. And if you think being president of NSW Bowling Association was a cushy job, all smokos and club openings, think again:
If I were police, I’d be looking closely at Tom Shakespeare and Bill Kay’s movements leading up to that car trip. Wouldn’t it have been convenient had both the president and senior vice-president not survived that crash?
Before we leave Taffy’s, I’d just like to take a moment to direct the limelight away from the bigwigs of the bowls world and highlight someone to whom the Taree City Bowling Club meant everything. It’s only short, so have a read of the story of Bert Kroon, avid bowler and Tareean (Tareek? Tareealist?), and then stop and think about the Bert Kroons out there right now who rely on this rapidly dwindling sport.
Certainly the most freakish element of my visit was the discovery I made out the back. Where the club backs onto the uh…scenic and aptly named Browns Creek, someone had decided to position this Westpac rescue helicopter.
Why? How did this happen? Who insisted upon it? Was it Taffy, or did Taffy just slap her own name on the tail when she took over? Who went to the effort of sticking the dummy behind the controls? Why is it so small?
Once again, a Past/Lives entry has left us with more questions than answers…
Past/Lives Flashback #8: Sydney Olympic Park – Homebush, NSW
Original article: NSW State Abattoirs/Sydney Olympic Park – Homebush, NSW
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I last visited this place. The blood-soaked history of Sydney Olympic Park is perhaps the most heavily researched article on Past/Lives, yet all that knowledge is quick to fall away when you’re actually standing on site, inhabiting the space where it all went down. The post-Easter Show cleanup only serves to strip back the gaudy decorations designed to distract from the past, leaving today’s visitors with one of two visions: the glorious Olympics, or the violent abattoirs.
Apart from the hubbub surrounding the Easter Show, change visits the Olympic zone about as often as I do (read: not much). The stadium seems to have settled on ANZ as its name for the time being, just as the arena’s heart still belongs to Allphones. During my refresher course on the ins and outs of the Olympic era of the site’s history, I laughed when I learned the arena’s actual name is the ‘Sydney Super Dome’. For the first time ever, Allphones sounds comparatively low-key.
So since change is such a stranger here, it’s going to be more beneficial to take a look at some of the landmarks around the Olympic site that betray its brutal past. We didn’t touch on too many last time, with the Abattoir Heritage Precinct being the natural focus. First up is Olympic Park station, the last stop of the train line which delivers thousands of Easter Show-goers to the park each year…
…just as it delivered hundreds of thousands of animals to their deaths each year for decades, some as recently as 25 years ago. Granted, it isn’t the exact same station (although if it was, abattoir workers would have enjoyed the most stylish station in Sydney), but its location is approximate to the original. A complete train line (with stations opening from 1915) served the abattoir and the nearby brickworks, with country trains deviating from the existing rail network at Lidcombe and Flemington to deposit country animals to the abattoir. Employees could catch their own trains from a small platform at the end of Pippita Street, Lidcombe.
As the abattoir declined, the need for employees did so as well, and in 1984 the abattoir line was closed, with the facility itself closing in 1988. The entire Homebush Salesyard Loop, on which the Olympic Park line is based, was closed in 1991. In 1996, the Pippita Street station became the last of the abattoir stations to be demolished, and interestingly, the street itself was absorbed into the huge Dairy Farmers site nearby (now, why do you think that’s there?). The brand-spanking-new Olympic Park loop line opened in 1998, with most of the Homebush Salesyard Loop repurposed to be a part of it.
Now, since that was a little…dry, let’s get wet.
The Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre was the first part of Olympic Park to be constructed following the closure of the abattoir, unless you count Bicentennial Park, which opened in 1988. The Aquatic Centre opened in 1994, with the rest of the park completed by 1996. As such, the Aquatic Centre is the ‘middle child’ of the Olympic Park, with a design sensibility halfway between Bicentennial Park and the stadiums that followed. It’s a strange beast, and one made even stranger by my near-absolute certainty that when it first opened, its entrance was in fact this:
Sometime in 1995, I attended a birthday party at the exciting new Aquatic Centre, which was rumoured on the playground to have a whirlpool and slides. I don’t remember any slides, but I do have a distinct memory of our posse leaving behind a rubber WWF wrestler toy, tossed high up in those bushes on the left in a fit of excitement…while we were hanging around the entrance. Does the Iron Sheik still reside in those bushes today, subsisting on a diet of ants, rainwater and the occasional small bird? Nearly 20 years later, I still wasn’t game enough to climb up and find out. But I did go in for a closer look…
The appearance of those bolt marks, where the original entry sign was probably attached, seems to validate my memory of this being the main entrance. The doors underneath now serve as an emergency exit. If anyone can shed some light on this mystery, drop a line in the comments below. My theory is that when the Aquatic Centre opened, the entrance was here because it faced away from the abattoir site (and at the time, a huge construction site), but when the rest of the park was completed, the entrance was moved around to the opposite end of the facility, a spot which pretty much faces the Abattoir Heritage Precinct (and everything else, in keeping with the Olympic spirit of inclusion and togetherness). Today’s entrance looks a lot more ‘Olympic’ anyway, so it was probably a change for the best. Still…
Our last stop is just down the road from the Aquatic Centre. Back in the 70s and 80s, Swire (then Woodmasons Cold Storage) would have been one of the places to store the freshly processed animal carcasses on ice before being shipped to the nearby butcheries and markets. For a cold storage facility (and for Dairy Farmers), this was the perfect location…when the abattoir was there. How it’s still able to do business is a stone cold mystery, but I guess that’s why they’re no longer Woodmasons.
See you next time, when we’ll attempt to go for a drive…
OK Restaurant/Master Kwon’s Pro Tae Kwon Do Academy – Enfield, NSW
The owners of Enfield’s OK Chinese Restaurant mustn’t have had much self confidence. C’mon guys, you could wine and dine there…surely it was better than just OK?
In a place like Enfield, where the competition ranges from good to great, being merely okay didn’t help the restaurant stay afloat. These days, all that remain are the neon signs which, in years gone by, would unintentionally act as the OK’s own private lighthouse, warning off hungry passers-by with the promise of an average eating experience.
There’s a silver lining, however: the businesses occupying OK’s space today have all learned the most important lesson of the OK saga. We have Mr. Viscontini Fine Italian Food, Master Kwon’s Pro Tae Kwon Do Academy and Big Clean cleaning supplies, all of which sound unusually empowered and boastful. If not for the OK’s sacrifice, we might today be looking at Viscontini Not Bad Italian Food, Master Kwon’s Intermediate Tae Kwon Do Academy and the Moderate Clean Supplies outlet.