Oak Park Races: A Brief History
The Oak Park Amateur Picnic Race Club was formed in 1904 and was then known as the Lyndurst Amateur Race Club. The first President was J.H.S. Barnes, Secretary C. Maunsell and there were 36 original members. Races were held annually on the Wednesday and Thursday of the week in which the 24th May fell. Membership to the Club was two pound two shillings ($3.20).
From records, the originals now in the Oxley Library in Brisbane, Lyndhurst Picnic Races were first held on the 15th May 1885 with the main race being “The Einasleigh Cup” of one and a half miles. The nomination fee for this race was two pounds ($3.00) and the prize, a Silver Cup valued at twenty-five pounds ($38.00). Two further meetings were held in 1889 & 1895.
The Lyndhurst Races were the big social event in the district and many people traveled hundreds of miles to Lyndhurst for the festivities. Some of the properties represented in the early days of the Club were “Maryvale”, “Werrington”, “Mt. Sturgeon”, “Wandovale”, “Springfield”, “Oak Park”, “Spring Creek”, ‘Cashmere”, “Rosella Plains”, “Christmas Creek”, “Gregory Springs”, and “Chudleigh Park”. People arrived in buckboards and on horse back while all the camping gear was transported in buggies with up to eight horses in harness. J L Nimmo Esq., the uncle of the current Patron of the Club, was usually responsible for the Oak Park gear. In the early 1920’s motor vehicles replaced some of the buggies and in 1922 the late N.V. Collins drove his family to the Lyndhurst Races in his first car.
Lyndhurst to Oak Park
In 1929 The Oak Park Amateur Picnic Race shifted from Lyndhurst to the present site on the Copperfield River on Oak Park. With the transfer to Oak Park the club introduced new activities to coincide with the Races and in 1929-30, a Camp Draft was held near the Oak Park Spring Paddock. 1930 also saw a demonstration of Polo Crosse by Roger White from “Mt Sturgeon”.
Racehorses were the local Stations’ mustering horses that showed a lot of pace, but it is to be remembered, all these stations had been breeding thoroughbred horses for almost 40 years. Races started at 9am and there have been as many as 130 horses competing in 11-12 races a day. At night the people danced, and there were even Merry-go-rounds for the children.
Fred McLean: Catering Legend
When the club shifted to Oak Park, so did Fred McLean. His catering was of the highest standards and meals could be obtained at all hours of the day and night. He brought a huge dining marquee, a fantastic collection of silver table ornaments and all his cooking gear from Hughenden by truck; a long way in 1929. Later, his daughter May and son-in-law Charlie Crossland carried on his catering business until 1974.
For many years, the racehorses were brought directly to the track and placed in a Central Paddock for three weeks before being released for 10 days training. They were strictly grass fed, but due to falling numbers and droughts, plus the red tape of racing today, the horses are no longer padocked and are corn fed.
During 2007 the local area had a large amount of rain prior to the races, and the horse races had to be cancelled due to the wet condition of the track. This was the first time that the horse races were replaced by foot races and other novelty events.
Long Live Oak Park!
The Race Meetings have been held for over a hundred years and it is hoped that the traditions of the past will survive for many years to come.
The history of the Oak Park Races has been recorded in a book called “Racing Legend” written by Linley Lethbridge. It can be purchased at the Secretary’s Office during race week.