Friday, December 17, 2010


When I was 9 or 10 my grandfather, or sometimes my uncle, would occasionally take me to a race meeting at Harold Park in Sydney. It is a vivid part of my childhood memories. It was an exciting and different place to play, and it was fun trying to “guess” which number would win the next race. On the 17th of December this year I again attended a race meeting at Harold Park, again trying to “guess” which number would win the next race. However this was to be the last ever meeting to be held at Harold Park as the site had a few weeks earlier been sold to developers. Sports writer Michael Hutak described the night as “one of the saddest in Sydney’s cultural history”. It is the end of an era.

On the 4th June 1902 a group of 33 harness racing enthusiasts met in J. McGrath’s saddle and harness making shop. Donations totaling nearly twenty pounds were taken and on October 10th the New South Wales Harness Racing Club was officially incorporated. On the 19th November the club held its first race meeting at the Harold Park site, then called Forrest Lodge, a track leased from the Metropolitan Rugby Union. This first event was made up of five races with total prize money of 99 sovereigns. Two more races were held before the venue was switched to a course belonging to Kensington Pony Club. In June 1904 race meetings were again switched back to Forrest Lodge, which had had a name change and was now known as Epping.

In 1911 the track was purchased from the Metropolitan Rugby Union. In 1929, because of confusion with having the same name as a Sydney suburb, the track was renamed Harold Park. This name was inspired by world famous race horse, Childe Harold. The stallion had been bred in Kentucky and had won races all over the world, including in Russia, before being imported into Australia from Glasgow, Scotland, in 1882.

In October 1941 the NSW State Parliament passed legislation which made night racing possible. This gave harness racing, and Harold Park, a tremendous boost. Friday night racing became a very popular pastime and in 1974 visiting international drivers described Harold Park as “the best lit trotting track in the world”.

Several Inter-Dominion races have been held at Harold Park. In 1960 a world record crowd of 50,346 gathered at Harold Park to see the final of the Inter-Dominion. The two favourites were Australia’s Apmat and New Zealand’s Caduceus. The crowd was so large that spectators pulled down ply walls on the side of the grandstand to get a view of the race. The race was won by the New Zealander but was only declared after a protest by the Australians was dismissed. Other famous winners of this event have been Hondo Grattan (1973), Koala King (1980) and Our Maestro (1988).

However the best-known event at Harold Park was probably the Miracle Mile. This race was instituted in 1967. It has attracted some of the most famous trotters in the world, among these Paleface Adios, Hondo Grattan, Caduceus and Smooth Satin. Paleface Adios contested this race every year from 1974 to 1980. The last time this event was run at Harold Park was in November 2008; after that the event was moved to the new racecourse at Menangle.

In October 2008 the members of the NSW Harness Racing Club voted to sell the Harold Park site for a minimum of $150 million. The Board of Directors eventually accepted an offer from property developers Mirvac, believed to be close to $200 million. The ten hectacre site will be redeveloped into a residential area; there will be 1200 new dwellings in buildings up to eight storeys high, the historic tram sheds will be converted to retail and commercial concerns and thirty five percent of the area will be turned into public recreational area. Trotting will relocate permanently to its new home at Menangle, near Campbelltown. The sale and proposed redevelopment have divided the local community and the trotting community. Trotting officials see the input of cash as a means to revitalize trotting in NSW.

The last meeting at Harold Park saw eighteen thousand fans turn-out. The historic last race of the night was won by Karlow Mick. The winning posts were sold as souvenirs and were purchased by Ray Hadley for $10,000, proceeds going to Lifeline. Other spectators invaded the track after the last race souveniring items from the site, including one group who walked out with a large section of the running rail. Such was the scramble for a piece of history that during the next morning officials had to close the place and post security guards as souvenir hunters turned up in utes. The final word again goes to Michael Hutak , “we haven’t just shut down a venue , we have buried the trots in Sydney forever”.

Monday, December 6, 2010


If you travel over the Blue Mountains from Sydney via the Bell Line of road, about 20 kilometres from Lithgow, you come across the Zig Zag Railway. Here you can not only see a steam train in operation, but you can take a ride as the train 'zig-zags' down the step decent. The train operates every day of the year, except Christmas Day.There are also special events, such as Thomas the Tank Engine Day in January, train trips in period costume and the Footplate experience, where you stoke up and drive the engine.

A group of enthusiasts in period costume await the great train ride.

The original Lithgow Zig Zag Railway was opened on October 18, 1869. It carried the railway line down from the Blue Mountains into the Lithgow Valley. At the time it attracted considerable media interest, being described as "one of the most impressive sights and grandest bits of engineering in the world" (Sydney Mail October 24, 1891). The railway has a gradient of 1 in 42 and drops a distance of over 200 metres from the Clarence tunnel to the bottom of the valley. It passes over three sandstone viaducts and through the 164 metre long tunnel.The line is constructed through rugged terrain and virtually follows the original Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson track through the mountains. During construction the surveyors sometimes had to be suspended from the cliff tops by ropes.There were also two very public blasts used to clear rocks from the intended track route. These blasts attracted considerable attention and the second one was triggered by the Countess of Belmore, the governor's wife.

One of the engines working the line.

However the steep gradient meant that steam engines had to work hard to climb back out of the valley and it became a bottleneck in the system. The track continued in operation until 1910 when it was by-passed by a series of 10 tunnels. From 1910 to 1974 the upper levels of the track were abandoned with only the Bottoms Road section used in the new railway route. During World War 11 the Glenbrook, Clarence and Zig Zag tunnels were used to store chemical weapons for the Royal Australian Airforce. This included mainly mustard gas and phosgenes which were stored as bombs or in cylinders. These were all disposed of after the war.

John Compeagnoni on top and Wayne Eagle at the window.

In 1975 a group of enthusiasts decided to restore the line as a tourist attraction. Because of the difficulty obtaining rolling stock from the NSW government it was decided to use a different gauge, 1,067mm wide track rather than the original 1,435mm. Engines were acquired from Queensland and South Australia. The railway now has two operational steam engines DD17 1049 and AC16 218. It also owns a number of non-operational engines and a large collection of rolling stock and carriages.

The train' s furnace.

The line has gradually been extended from Bottom Points to Top Points, from Top Points to the First Clarence Railway Station and from Clarence to Newnes Junction. It now covers a distance of 7.5 kilometres. In 2003 the Railway was used in the production of a Hollywood movie, Stealth. The area represented the mountainous area of North Korea. Train engines were repainted with Korean Chosongul characters.

Carriages awaiting the arrival of passengers and the engine.

The tunnel, 3,658 metres above sea level, was reopened in 1987 after being cleared out by volunteers. Volunteer train driver Wayne Eagle started work on the Zig Zag laying track in 1975. He met his wife working on the railway but says the most exciting thing (after meeting his wife) was driving through the tunnel for the first time. This was the first time it had been driven through since 1916.

The AC16 218.

Damien Garton is another volunteer who is still only a young man. Damien, a train enthusiast, came up from North Rocks, in Sydney, with a friend to have a look at the railway. He was interested in the mechanical side of trains. He has been working as a volunteer fireman and guard ever since. John Compeagnoni has seen it happening since the beginning. He became associated with the Zig Zag in 1972 and continues to work as a driver and engineer.

The signal box at Bottom Points.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


"Tide's turn" by Peter Collins (NSW)

Sculptures by the Sea is the world's largest outdoor art exhibition. It evolved from an idea conceived by David Handley as he "played" amongst the ruins and art works of an outdoor sculpture park near the town of Klatovy, Bohemia in the early 1990s. David's idea grew and he was able to gain the support of artists and local councillors to run a one day event which attracted nearly 25 thousand people. This first event was organised over a ten week period in 1997. It attracted nearly one hundred artists and was run on a budget of $11,000.

"What have they ever done for us" Sasha Reid (NSW)

This year, during the 14th Sculptures by the Sea exhibition, over 100 sculptures of all shapes and sizes were laid out along the walkway from Bondi to Bronte. Artists from all across Australia and from eleven other countries, exhibited their work and competed for prizes. The exhibition has become a popular community event is expected to attract nearly half a million visitors.

"Mirroring 1995" Keld Moseholm (Denmark)

The prize of $60 000 went to the 75 year old Danish artist, Keld Moseholm. Moseholm has been showing his work in exhibitions in Europe and the USA for over 20 years. His prize winning work, "Mirroring 1995" showed two rotund figures engaged in a tug-o-war through a mirror. The work stands more than a metre high and is cast in bronze on a granite plinth.

"The Adaptable Migrant" Suzie Bleach & Andy Townsend (NSW)

The $5 000 Allens Arthur Robinson's People's Choice award was given to artists Suzie Bleach and Andy Townsend for their joint work "The Adaptable Migrant". This was a life-size steel camel. The camel had various objects in its stomach which were used and fondly remembered by migrants to Australia. These included a singer sewing machine, a ukulele, and a number of books.

"Bureaucratic tank" Edward Horne (NSW)

Another favourite was the life size army tank made from disused office equipment. The tank was created by artist Edward Horne and called "Bureaucratic tank". The statement in the catalogue really sums up this piece: "Bureaucracy is like a military tank. It won't stop for humanitarian values. It leaves a path of paper wherever it goes."

"Globoids" Marcus Tatton (Tasmania)

The average cost for an artist to create, transport and instal their work at the exhibition is approximately $13 000. This obviously varies with materials used, size of the sculpture and the distance it has to be transported, as well as the number of hours the artist has to put into creating their work. Japanese sculptor, Zero Higashida, is reported to have spent about four months creating his work "Portrait of Mr A", which was inspired by playwright Edward Albee. Victorian sculptor, Andrew Rogers was one of the first to sell his work this year. His piece "From optimism to hope", consists of three large flowers made of 24 carat gold leaf, stainless steel and bronze. The work took Andrew approximately half a year to complete. It has now been purchased by Canberra Airport at a price of $160 000.

"Splash" Tomas Misura (NSW)

There has been some controversy surrounding this year's exhibition. Many of the sculptures showcased are sold and the practice in the past has been to split commissions on these sales 50/50. However with tougher economic times it has been more difficult for organizers of the event to attract sponsorship. David Handley this year announced that the split would be 75/25, in favour of the organizers. It was claimed that this announcement was left until the last moment so that artists still felt obliged to display their work. It is claimed that four artists did pull their work from the show and that next year as many as 20 artists may boycott the event.

One of the figures from "Weeping Weeds" Jennifer Orchard (NSW)

While there was also some criticism of the sculptures this year overall the event achieved its aims despite difficult weather impacting on crowds. It has certainly made art and sculpture topical. It has brought sculpture to many people who might never look at or think about this art form, and it has continued to promote art as a topic for discussion. The fact that it still draws huge crowds to the exhibition each year makes it a major tourist attraction for Sydney.

"Lumphead" Fredrik Raddum (Norway)