A century of Australian cycling history under threat

The Hurstville Velodrome in its current state.

The Hurstville Velodrome in its current state. (Image credit: Phill Bates)

Hurstville Velodrome has been the home track to a vast number of Australian cycling greats, however local council plans to reinvigorate the oval in the centre of the track along with neighbouring parklands, threatens the future viability of St. George Cycling Club.

Hurstville Council has undertaken a project organisation to look at expanding Hurstville Oval to accommodate more games of first class cricket and also extend the ground for Aussie rules football. The oval is the home of St. George District Cricket Club while athletics, rugby league and football also make use of the facilities.

Those plans ultimately include the demolition of the cycling track which according to Clouston Associates - the urban and landscape design company consulting on the proposed redevelopment - "limits new sport opportunities." So while games of Aussie rules would be able to be played, cycling would become a thing of the past.

It's an all too familiar story in Sydney which at one point had nine velodromes in the metropolitan area, including Hurstville.

One cyclist outraged at the planned demolition is Team Sky's CJ Sutton who told Cyclingnews: "I was born and raised at that track... You never forget where you start out. I remember as a kid watching Graeme Brown, Steve Wooldridge; all these guys raced there."

The council endorsed the draft plan for public exhibition on November 24 and with a meeting in May, a decision on the future of the oval will be finalised.

Literature on the council website states that St. George Cricket Club, Cricket New South Wales and the AFL, which is the national governing body of Aussie rules football, were all consulted regarding the plans.

It's a decision which has astounded St. George Cycling Club's President, Phill Bates.

"I would have thought we would have been considered a major stakeholder – not the AFL which hasn't used the facilities since 1964," he told Cyclingnews.

It's no secret that the AFL has been using aggressive tactics to muscle their way into Sydney areas which have been dominated by other sporting cultures, as part of their east coast expansion. Hurstville Council refused to respond directly to Cyclingnews when asked if financial incentives had been offered by the AFL in regards to the oval's redevelopment.

A club built on high-level success

The club, then known as Hurstville Bicycle Club, started competition at the oval in 1906 on grass. They later built a cinders track prior to the amalgamation of several small clubs into St. George Cycling Club in 1920. The club benefited from the membership of Dunc Gray, the Olympic champion, who also established his home and business just a kilometre away from the track.

St. George Cycling Club staged national titles at Hurstville in the 1950s and under the guidance of Charlie Manins as an administrator and legendary coach Joe Buckley, developed into a powerful and ultra-competitive club.

Since 1956, the club has had representation in every cycling team that has represented at Olympic or Commonwealth Games (28 in succession) and continues to develop outstanding talent on an annual basis. On some occasions 40 per cent of the national team were St. George members. The names have been great legends of Australian cycling including the late Dunc Gray, the late Warren Scarfe, Frank Brazier, Ian Chapman, Max Langshaw, Dick Paris, Gary Sutton, Kevin Nichols, Martin Vinnicombe, Shane Sutton, Brett Dutton, Graeme Brown, Steve Wooldridge, Julie Speight, Kathleen Shannon, Clayton Stevenson, Ben Kersten, Ian Christison, Ben Brooks, Ashlee Ankudinoff, Steve Griffiths, Kaarle McCulloch – all have stood on the podium at World, Olympic or Commonwealth Games.

"The dream to turn pro and race in Europe, all started from watching the greats on that track," says Sutton. "If you take that away you're just killing the sport."

A question of ownership

While Hurstville Council has plans to redevelop the entire oval, Bates is questioning whether it has the right to make significant alterations to the cycling track.

"As far as I'm concerned, the cycling club owns the velodrome," he told Cyclingnews. "The club paid for the track in 1934. The total cost was 546 pounds – an 80 pound deposit and then 28 pounds per year until it was paid off. We contributed half of the cost of the fencing and half of the cost of the lighting."

In the years since, Cyclingnews understands Hurstville Council has not contributed to the on-going costs of maintenance to the track. Bates says that St. George Cycling Club paid a quarter of the cost of the cricketer's pavilion; one third of the cost of the canteen facility and the total cost of the ambulance room.

"The Council has not spent one cent on the track this century and in fact, have done damage to the track when erecting site screens," said Bates.

Questioned by Cyclingnews regarding the costs allocated to the track, Hurstville Council did not comment on specifics, only saying that: "Council allocates approximately $252,000 on an annual basis to maintain Hurstville Oval which also incorporates neighbouring Timothy Reserve, the Booth Saunders Pavillion, amenities block and surrounding gardens."

Hurstville Council questions the safety of the track, and explained: "At the time that the draft Hurstville Oval Plan of Management was developed in May 2010, the condition of the cycling track was in disrepair," in correspondence with Cyclingnews.

This is something Bates disagrees with – "The track has been utilised non-stop."

The cycling club spends big money when it comes to the track's maintenance with some funding coming from sponsors and training fees. Most recently, the track has been completely repainted and the photo above shows it in its current state.

Maintenance over the past three years has been an expensive exercise, with around 1.3 kilometres of cracks filled as well as repairs to drains owned by the council.

"We have spent thousands of dollars on materials and the costs would have been astronomical without the efforts of our members," says Bates. "The paint alone has cost more than $10,000 and hundreds of hours of volunteer work.

"To my knowledge, the Council has not spent anything on the track since 1988 [when it was last resurfaced] – with all works and maintenance undertaken by the club. The only contribution that Council has made to the track, is digging up sections to rectify drainage problems that affected the grass for the cricketers."

When asked what would happen to the St. George Cycling Club should plans go ahead to demolish the track and whether any compensation would be offered, Hurstville Council told Cyclingnews that: "No decision has been made on the future use of the site therefore the question is irrelevant."

To contribute to St. George Cycling Club's campaign to save Hurstville Velodrome, sign the petition here.

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