If I asked you what the Bathurst 1000, Werri Beach Bathing Pool, Marrickville Golf Club, the road linking Sutherland and Como and Mount Gibraltar outside of Bowral had in common what would you say?
All of these places owe some aspect of their existence to the efforts of one Eric Sydney Spooner. I won’t go over the details of his life here so have a look at the Australian Dictionary of Biography for the details.
Eric Spooner was voted into the NSW Parliament in 1932 and by 1933 he was the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Local Government. As well as encouraging municipal housing schemes, establishing the Sydney County Council to provide gas and electricity services and consolidating Newcastle local government boundaries the biggest contribution he made to NSW was his Unemployment Relief Scheme.
The Unemployment Relief Scheme was a system of employment creating capital works. Local councils could apply to the government for works to be completed. These works led to the construction of major infrastructure (Sutherland-Como road link); local tourist facilities (parking and picnic facilities and lookouts at Mount Gibraltar, Bowral) and community facilities (Werri Beach Bathing Pool).
These projects provided employment opportunities for those families that were hit hardest by the Great Depression. Sydney Living Museums have an excellent website about their exhibition Skint! Making do in the Great Depression. Spend some time reading it, really, it is worth it.
The economic conditions and a workforce associated with government run capital works programs led to makeshift camps being established. These ‘Struggletowns’ were shanties built from cardboard, corrugated iron and whatever else could be salvaged. This picture is from the Happy Valley Camp at La Perouse.
An interesting thing happened during this time. La Perouse and Salt Pan Creek (Padstow) were both areas that had existing Aboriginal Camps. It was to these areas that poor, unemployed and displaced Europeans began to gravitate. These areas showed a real unity between European and Aboriginal populations. At Happy Valley a mixed race school was established; in direct opposition to prevailing government policy at the time being that European and Aboriginal children should be educated separately.
But back to Mount Panorama. In 1935 the Mayor of Bathurst, Martin Griffin, applied to Spooner to support the construction of a tourist road through Bald Hills. Before it was even commenced the Light Car Club of Australia applied to Council to use the tourist road as a Motor Racing Circuit. The criteria for a race circuit were that it had: to be spectacular for spectators; a test of the technical features of the cars; and a test of the driver’s skills.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the Bathurst City Engineer at the time, Hughie Reid, was able to show how with some minor redesign of the track a racing circuit could be achieved. I say unsurprisingly because there is a theory that Mayor Griffin had always intended to have a race track built through Bathurst. A previous Mayor, Walter McPhillamy, donated a majority of the land for the track and associated facilities.
On 18 April 1938 the Australian Grand Prix was held at the newly constructed Mount Panorama track. 20,000 people attended leaving the town emptied of food, alcohol and accommodation.
Opened by Mayor Griffin and Minister Spooner there appeared to be no sign of any tension between the two. Now it is entirely likely that Mayor Griffin had always planned to have a tourist road and, totally coincidentally, the local community saw the potential for something more and lobbied the Council after the money had been promised.
I however choose to believe that Mayor Griffin knew that the final outcome was always going to be a race circuit. He gave a version of events to the State government that was more likely to be successful. And you know what that is bloody Australian. I can imagine Griffin and Spooner having a beer after the race. Griffin admitting his ruse and Spooner telling him he knew all along.
I do feel a little guilty about not having a lot a racing in this post so check out some memorable moments from Mount Panorama . If it happens to be your bag enjoy the race this weekend too.
Coming up next on Heritage Gest….
Brutalist Architecture or it’s a concrete jungle out there