Local History – Maroubra Speedway
In 1923 a syndicate of businessmen was formed to build the Olympia Motor Speedway at Maroubra. A lease on 33 hectares of sand hills and marshland situated on the corner of Anzac Parade and Fitzgerald Avenue was secured from the NSW Government. Construction began in 1925 on a huge concrete bowl at an eventual cost of 70,000 pounds. The Speedway opened on December 5, 1925 with a crowd of 75,000 people in attendance.
The Speedway track was 1.3 kilometres (0.8 miles) long, it had one large bend and two small ones, and at one point the banking was at angle of 37 degrees. The fastest cars did lap times of around 33 seconds, with an average speed of 100 miles per hour. The Speedway was surrounded by sand hills, which allowed spectators a good view of the action without having to pay the gate fee.
By January 1926 the Speedway had claimed its first victims. Leo Salmon and Albert Vaughan were killed when they sped up the bank and overshot the top. In April 1926 the Speedway went up for auction and was sold to James S Taylor for the equivalent of 21,700 dollars (James S Taylor owned and operated The Broadway Store, on The Broadway at Junee). During the period of ownership by Taylor, Herbert J Madden managed the speedway. It reopened with night racing in November 1926 and drew crowds of 18,000 to 20,000 every second Saturday night. Attendance began to fall when the Sydney Speedway reopened, as this venue was more accessible using public transport.
Norman “Wizard” Smith took a Chrysler to Maroubra Speedway on December 22, 1926 to take on the existing 24-hour record. Smith averaged speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. All through the night local residents complained of the noise of Smith racing around the track. Although frequently having to change tyres because of the abrasive concrete surface, he still broke the existing 24-hour record with more than an hour to spare. Wizard Smith averaged 65 miles per hour for the first 14 hours, and 61.1 miles per hour for the whole 24 hours. The car covered 1000 miles in just under 16 hours, and 1468 miles over the 24 hours. Mechanics C. Trollope and E. Pode, and assistant driver Otto James, assisted Smith.
Maroubra eventually became known as the ‘killer track’, a reputation it never managed to shake despite other tracks having worse records. In 1926 Sydney Dutton was killed during practice, Phil Garlick was killed in January 1927 during a night meeting, and less than a month later Fred Barlow was killed. All three died at the same spot, overshooting the top of the track.
The Speedway was closed in 1928 and the lighting facilities sold off. In 1929 a group of motorcyclists reopened the track for motorcycle racing only. Lionel van Praag, a local resident, was active as an organiser and competitor.
The Depression and the number of unpaying spectators on Scotsman’s Hill eventually forced the track to close. The gates were locked in 1934.
In 1947 the lease was taken over by the NSW Housing Commission, the concrete bowl was demolished, and the Coral Sea Housing Estate was built. Building commenced in 1951 and was complete by 1961.
This month’s Local History article comes courtesy of Randwick City Council. To find out more about the history of Randwick please visit www.randwick.nsw.gov.au.