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Before Flemington, there was Docklands

26 Oct 2010

By Alison Kinkade

Melbourne celebrates 150 years of the Melbourne Cup this month and Flemington itself celebrated 170 years of racing last year, but it cannot lay claim to hosting the first official race in Melbourne – that honour goes to Docklands.

It may come as a surprise but the first official race meeting ever held in Melbourne was in fact held in our humble waterside suburb over two days on March 6 and 7, 1838.

Consultant historian for the Victoria Racing Club Dr Andrew Lemon says Docklands can claim the first race meetings, although there were only two.

In an article for the publication, The Story of the Melbourne Cup, Dr Lemon details the history of early Melbourne racing.

Dr Lemon describes the racecourse as being more or less where Southern Cross Station is, although he told Docklands News the exact location was unknown.

“Various guesses exist of exactly where the track was but certainly Batman’s Hill (long ago flattened out, at the corner of Spencer and Flinders) and the high ground near Spencer Street were used as vantage points,” he said.

While details of the first race are vague, some history has been preserved through the use of John Fawkner’s newspaper and Melbourne’s very first newspaper, the Melbourne Adviser which, coincidentally, started printing a day earlier on March 5.

According to Dr Lemon, the first meeting followed a formula used in Tasmania and, at a time when the major annual Hobart race was worth 100 sovereigns, Melbourne offered 25 and the race was won by John Batman’s mare, Mrs Dutagalla.

Dr Lemon’s article describes how Melbourne’s first race featured familiar elements to today, including betting, booths of people and alcohol – much to the disapproval of the paper who disliked “the policy of tempting people to intoxication”.

The racecourse in Docklands was short-lived and after 1839 the races left Batman’s Hill for Flemington, despite it being an ideal location.

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