Monday, August 24, 2009

Cycling, Henson Park, Marrickville and the 1938 Empire Games

Well here's a bit of hidden history.

My dad used to catch rabbits at Henson Park, but before that locals took a dicey dip in the fathomless and sometimes deadly depths of the ponds in Daley's Brickworks. Marrickville Council even has some pics.

As a kid growing up in Marrickville myself I did wonder about the very slightly banked tarred oval - some 800m long from memory - it seemed like it to a bookish sub-10 year old asked to run around it at school athletics carnivals, anyway. It was lit by rusty lamps on rusty lamposts and surrounded by an equally rusty old, low wire fence decorated with scattered advertising hoardings. There were coloured lines that seemed indecipherable at the time but must have represented the duckboard, the inner edge line, the sprinters line and so on. Inside the oval was a football field, the home of the Newtown Jets, formerly the Bluebags.

The velodrome itself was the home of Dulwich Hill club until they were offered a much better deal - the 45 degree banked concrete Camperdown track. In return they gave up the big old saucer at Henson Park, with the Rugby League club taking over completely an dinstalling massive lighting towers for night matches. I'm pretty sure that Marrickville Council stumped up some of the cash for that, but it was a poor deal for Newtown RLFC anyway as they were still booted out of the first grade comp.

Still, that's the stuff of Sydney's history.

In brief:
  • Henson Park was established in 1933 on the site of Daley’s brick pit
  • Thomas Daley operated the Standsure Brick Company from 1886 to 1914. The brickworks occupied 3.6 ha. When the brickworks closed the pits filled with rain and ground water, forming waterholes, of which “The Blue Hole” was the biggest
  • Marrickville Council purchased the site in 1923 as it was a serious danger to the braver local kids
  • Henson Park was officially opened in 1933 with a cricket match between a Marrickville Eleven team and a North Sydney District team, including Don Bradman
  • Henson Park was named after William Henson, Mayor of Marrickville in 1902, 1906 to 1908 and his son, Alfred Henson, who was an Alderman of Marrickville Council from 1922 to 1931
  • Henson Park hosted the cycling events and the closing Games ceremony of the 1938 British Empire Games, 40,000 people packing the ground (a record for the ground and likely to be the top attendance at any suburban ground in Sydney)
  • The Henson Park Hill is steep and huge. You can easily see how they packed the numbers in.

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