Three Courses at Gundy
By Leonie Walker, Scone 1983
As there was an Inn at Gundy in the 1850s, and it was customary, in those days, for Inn Keepers from time-to-time to arrange race meetings on a course in the vicinity of their Inns, it is likely that racing at Gundy began as early as the late 1850s.
However, the first report of a race meeting which the writer has an advertisement announcing that the races would be held at Belvue (the early name for Gundy) on April 4, 1873, and that the races were organised by Duncan McPhee, then the licensee and owner of the Inn.
In those days Gundy was even smaller than it is now, as a report dated 26th April 1876, described the village as comprising a Public School, a Public House, an English Church, a Presbyterian Church and two or three dwellings. Both a race meeting and a ball were held at Gundy on St Patrick’s Day in 1877.
The Village had by 1879, when a newspaper correspondent described the small township as having: a Church of England, a Public School, a Presbyterian Church, a Hotel, a Post Office and a number of residences.
Races were held on 7th March 1888, when J. J. Minch, the proprietor of the Northern Miners Arms was the promoter. It is also likely that the race meetings were had been occasionally held in this period. 1972 – 1888, but this has not definitely been established.
After 1888, though the next report of the races on 17th March 1890, it seems that an organisation had grown to hold annual races. The first reference to a Gundy Jockey Club appears on an advertisement on 9th February 1891, and as the same person’s name is shown as Secretary of the club the name appearing in the report of the 1890 races, it is likely that this person, James Robertson, was active in the creation of the club.
It also appears that the annual race day was St. Patrick’s Day or close to it. From at least 1892 Gundy Jockey Club appears from its advertisements to have been registered with the AJC.
The Gundy Jockey Club held annual meetings at least from 1892. In 1894 the Secretary was Thomas Jones, and after 1895 James Bruce until about 1900.
The horse racing was divided into classes as they are in racing today, with the size of the fields averaging around six to eight runners in each race. Hack races, the Flying, Forced, Belltrees and Gundy Handicaps were all popular races of the day. The prizes for the races varied, depending upon its importance. For Open and Flying Handicaps £15 was the usual prize money – a large sum for those days.
The main event of the day was the Gundy Cup. The prize was always a Silver Cup, presented at the end of the day by a member of the race club, usually James Campbell, prior to his death in 1913, as he was a well-respected citizen and owned the property that the races were held on. The Cup was donated annually by the race committee. Before the turn of the century the prizemoney was paid in sovereigns or gold pieces.
As race meetings were only one-day events, jockeys and their horses could be banned from the races for the day. As you can imagine quite a lot of “tom-foolery”, fun and unorthodox incidents were experienced. On many occasions a jockey would find a “wet corn bag” soaked in water, which as slung over the horse’s back before it was “weighed”. When covered with a horse blanket and saddle, a large amount of weight was added to the horse and the animal got into a lighter class. The corn sack would then be removed just before the race and replaced after it was finished, to be then “weighed-out.”
Even in those days “stimulants” were used. Jack Johnston can remember a horse being taken behind a tree and a half-a-bottle of whisky poured down its throat, and in Jack’s words, “Boy did he fly.”
There are memories of “ring-ins”, or substitutions, similar to the “Fine Cotton affair,” which occurred frequently but without the media coverage of today. Quite a lot of name swapping occurred when Sydney horses were brought to Gundy under new names. They would then be re-registered in Sydney after three months.
Sometimes races were “rigged” before the race began; perhaps for a particular horse to win, either for money or prestige.
Incidents like these not only occurred before a race, but they happened on the racetrack as well. It may have seemed to the crowd that during a race a jockey managed to “fall off his mount”, but if the truth be known, it was another riders’ fault.
Recalls that one trick was to put your foot under the other jockey’s stirrup and hoist him over the other side of his horse. Another trick remembered by “Babe” was to wave your riding whip in front of another horse’s head, while racing. Not only was the whip in front, but occasionally the whip “accidently” found its mark on the other jockey’s back, arms and legs, which certainly acted as a deterrent.
As you can imagine, these incidents caused quite a stir amongst jockeys. All my informants heartily agree that rarely a race meeting passed without, as Jack Johnston said, “A coupla good fights.” They all vividly remember scenes of brawls between jockeys, “with skin and hair flying.”
Of course, none of this would be seen by the officials or the crowd, so jockeys could get away with almost anything, as long as it wasn’t too obvious.
The information Miss Walker obtained as to the lack of rigid control of events is corroborated by an indignant letter published in the “Maitland Mercury” on March 27, 1894, by J. W. Brodie, of Murrurundi Pastures Board – the ancestor of the Upper Hunter Pastures Protection Board.
He had entered horses in several races and claimed that in the hack race horses were allowed to start ahead of the starting post and that there were faults in the running of both the Gundy Handicap and the Publicans’ Welter and claimed that he would never again start a horse at Gundy. The then Secretary replied, claiming that all events were fairly run.
An incident recalled by Dick Singleton occurring in the 1930’s was when a win by a Maitland horse was disputed and the eventual outcome resulted in the horse losing. The owner had instructed that the horse be left behind if he didn’t win. So the committee were left stranded with an abandoned horse which they decided to auction.
I asked Dick Singleton if he remembered how much the horse went for. Dick replied, “Yes, I remember well, £25.” I was surprised and told him I thought his memory was exceptional, and went on to ask if he remembered who bought it, he chuckled and said, “Yes, I did”. He was not a racing man and gave the horse, “Big Boy,” to his father to train and his brother, “Babe,” to race.
The race club committee spent a great deal of time planning in those days. Advertising was carried out by the “Scone Advocate” and usually resulted on a good attendance.
According to Dick Singleton the women had their duties too. It was up to the ladies to provide a mid-day meal, which consisted of sandwiches and cake that were made in large quantities, and sold to families and groups from a tent. They organised the music and supper along with many other tasks. Without the help of these dedicated women the success of the racing days would not have been as successful.
The refreshment stand was supplied by Mr J. T. Aisbett, who owned a cordial factory in Main Street, Scone. It was Mr Aisbett, who owned the first lorry in Scone, which he carted refreshments to Gundy in. Along with the cordials and ice drinks (which were manufactured in the Scone factory), bottles of ginger beer and lemonade were sold for sixpence a bottle. Aisbett’s lorry was such a novelty that the children would pay him to ride on it.
Bookmakers of the day were Ernie Marks and Jim Murphy. Jim was a jockey and a trainer of two horses. Murphy’s horses were brown mares by the names of “Woods” and “Sunspeck.” Jack Stephens was the owner of “Santai” and he was also a “bookie’”
In the earlier days the “bookies” would stand in a circle, on a box, calling out the odds. Over the years they acquired booths and a much more organised betting system arose.
Ike Rossington, from Gundy, and Dave McKenzie, from Scone, were blacksmiths at the races, and even shod on the track.
The fancier jockeys were attired in coloured silks and riding boots, but most wore ordinary shirts while racing. All who rode were supposed to wear a skullcap. Jack Johnston described them as similar to that worn by the Pope, some wore proper jockey caps. Two sheds made from corrugated iron served as the jockey’s changing room and official’s room.
Some of the better known jockeys of the era were Roy Windred, Ernie and Frank McGoldrick, Roy McNamara, Archie and Wally Watts, Jim and Jack Wiseman and Albert and Hubert Jones.
Local horses that raced well at Gundy often went to Sydney where they ran at Randwick. A horse called Luana owned by H. Bell, of Bunnan, is evidence of this. Mrs Walter Singleton has a photo of Luana hanging, showing it winning at Randwick.
Frank Whyte, who owned and trained horses at Tooloogan Vale, called his horse Laing, after the new State Premier, Mr J. T. Laing. Frank called it Laing because, in his opinion, “It was no good as was the Premier.”
Most horses and their owners, jockeys or trainers, would star out for Gundy, perhaps a week before the due date of the race meeting, depending on the distance they had to travel. By allowing themselves plenty of time to get to their destination, the horses would arrive without undue stress.
Some horses were led to Gundy tied to the back of a sulky travelling at about five or six kilometres per hour. They would walk slowly and rst whenever the horses began to sweat. As they walked the horses were allowed to graze, and by doing so, were both fed and exercised en route to the meeting. While travelling they would camp in stockyards or on the roadside. Whenever they’d pass through a town or village they’d buy supplies which they carried behind in a wagonette.
“Babe” recalls this time with fondness. He and his father, Walter Singleton, would spend weeks on the road travelling the so-called “circuit” from race meeting to race meeting. Nearly every community both large and small had their own racecourse by the 1930s. The circuit might start at Gundy, then on to Moonan and Stewarts’s Brook and back to Scone.
It was mentioned while interviewing Mr Esmond Ellery that a young girl by the name of Riley was killed at the races (or so his parents told the tale to him). During my research at Scone Museum I discovered an old “Advocate” that told of her death. It states that although the accident did not actually occur at the races, it happened behind the Gundy Hotel.
Miss Louise Riley (17) was riding a racehorse by the name of Abbott, when she jumped off and in doing so sustained concussion and died two days later. The incident occurred only days prior to the Australia Day race meeting then called the Anniversary Day race meeting in 1906.
There is some discrepancy between my informants as to how the race venue changed from one place to another. So, I have sided with the majority and hope the following is correct.
All my informants agree that the first was behind the Linga Longa Hotel, before the turn of the century. During the late 1880’s the course changed to James Campbell’s property “Ardinhall”, approximately one kilometre south of Gundy.
The racetrack was similar to that of the Linga Longa course, it curved following the contours of the land and was approximately six furlongs in length.
An extract form the “Scone Advocate” dated Friday, 15th April 1898, is referring to Campbell’s property when stating that “the course is rather out of the way, but if a little money was spent I making the road to it safer for vehicular traffic, we believe the club (Race Club) would be better patronised.”
It wasn’t until one New Year’s Day race meeting, when the hot humid weather resulted in a storm, that anything was done to improve the road. On this particular day the rain came suddenly and in such torrents that a gully which had to be crossed to enter Campbell’s property became impassable.
As a result of this unreliable gully and bad access, the racecourse was changed to Mackay’s property, “Nabinabah”, north of Gundy, presently owned by Mr David Archibald. This change took place in the early 1920s after World War I. Races were held on Mackay’s for only a few years, for during this time repair work was done on the road and a small culvert or bridge was built from wood and stones over the gully; the remains of which can be seen today.
In 1913 James Campbell died and the property changed hands to the Green family and became known as Green’s Flat. The Gundy Cup continued on Green’s Flat for some years. The Moonan Road was moved away from the Hunter River to its present site, which meant that with the arrival of motor vehicles ”Nabinabah” was easily accessible and once again became the racing venue.
During the 1930s race meetings became spasmodic. As Scone grew White Park was developed into the central venue for racing. With the advent of the Australian Race Club and Australian Jockey Club, racing became regulated and the minor racetracks faded out of existence.
Those I interviewed all felt sure that the last meeting in Gundy would have been in 1941, during the Second World War, presumably as a War charity function. I could not find any definite record: although I checked the “Scone Advocates” of this period.
(Amanuensis comment: A photograph exists of Mr Jack Davidson at Gundy Races in 1946. See Gundy Races elsewhere on this site)
Racing at Gundy reached its peak during the late 1920s and would draw crowds of 300 – 400 people. The annual race meetings became fixtures, which gave Gundy a reputation of fine horses, and country that was good for breeding.
Prior to New Year’s Day, people arrived in droves, swelling the Gundy population to its extremes. On the day of the race meeting an almost continuous line of traffic headed for the Campbell’s property.
The wealthy travelled in automobiles; some were hired form Oswald Cumberland’s Hire Service, which in earlier days was owned by Pat McGruger. Families rode in sulkies,, buggies and wagonettes, other rode on horseback, and more still, walked. The event, combined with the excitement and buzz of activity, brought to Gundy an annual atmosphere, which is still felt when picnic race meetings are held in Australia today. In the heat of the day, usually a scorching summer heatwave, the excited crowd gathered, along with the smell of horses, crying children, and, of course, myriad bush flies.
My informants remember that most of the crowd stood on the hill to watch the races and had to put up with the blistering heat, for there were few trees on the hill to provide precious shade and there were even fewer on the flat.
A typical race meeting began at about 11:30am, and continued until late afternoon. About 8 to 10 races would be held during the day, with an hour between each race.
After the presentation of prizes, the crowd would disperse some going to stay with friends and relatives. Those who lived nearby would go home to excitably await the Gundy Ball, which was held in the Gundy Soldier’s Memorial Hall. Prior to World War I, the Balls were held in a “hall” in Mr Ellery’s words “a shearing shed with wooden poles down the centre that they danced around.”
The Longa Longa, previously the Northern Miners’ Hotel, which had two storeys, was always filled to capacity whenever a race meeting was held. The rest of the crowd who had too far to travel home or were only interested in getting their horses home safely, while there was still daylight, wouldn’t attend the ball. They were the minority and usually the Gundy Ball was attended.
In the course of obtaining information as to racing at Gundy I discovered information that the Gundy Rodeo and Sports held on New Year’s Day had a very long history. It may have originated in the Jubilee Sports which were held on 25th June 1887, to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee of that year, for athletic sports were held at Gundy on January 1st 1890, which is the date up to which my present researches go. Athletic Sports were held annually on January 1st.
I also noted that in May 1883 a match race was held between J. Pinkerton, the best runner in Gundy and J. Mould, the Scone champion. J. Mould won easily.
It seems also that cricket has a long history at Gundy. On 23rd April 1881, Scone defeated the Gundy cricketers – this is the earliest record of a cricket match I have yet located.
On the 21st May of the same year Gundy defeated Scone Schoolboys and on 15th October defeated Scone although the Scone side had only 10 players.
The Gundy team on this occasion was A. Hegarty, S. Street, J. Pinkerton, H. Clayton, J. Steinbeck, M. Moran, H. Hawkins, A. McColl, E. Oaks, S. McNamara and J. Campbell. On 7th November 1885, Rouchel defeated Gundy, but on 25th March 1888 the home side won over Moonan Brook.