Part One of a 3-part series
The first Bong Bong Picnic Race meeting was held 125 years ago and - apart from a gap of 30 years from 1930, and for six years from 1985 - the annual local event has been held since.
Four different sites were used for the Bong Bong racecourse.
The original Bong Bong Picnic Race Club was founded in 1886 and the first Picnic Race meeting was held on February 4, 1887, in the grounds of Throsby Park at Moss Vale.
A site near the Briars Inn became the racecourse in 1901 and a new venue was established at Burradoo in 1910. The last meeting of the original club was held there in 1930.
Thirty years later, a new Bong Bong Picnic Race Club was formed in 1959 with the intention of recreating the atmosphere of the earlier club meetings. Their first meeting was held at the Wyeera property on the Bowral-Kangaloon Road.
The revived event became so popular that by the 1980s Bong Bong was the largest picnic race meeting in the world. At a time when race crowds were declining, Bong Bong’s increased to reach almost 35,000 in 1985.
However, these large crowds caused major traffic congestion and unruly behaviour became a problem, so the picnic races were stopped. Then in 1992 the event was once again revived, but under strict crowd control with attendance limited to only members and their guests.
The early years on Throsby land at Moss Vale
The first Bong Bong Picnic Race Club was launched at a meeting in Moss Vale on May 3, 1886, attended by Messrs J. Lackey, J. Ponder, J. Cordeaux, P. Throsby and H. Graham. Mr Pat Throsby gave the club the right to choose from two sites on his estate for a racecourse. The area chosen was near Throsby Park house and much later was still known as Racecourse Paddock.
The inaugural picnic race meeting was reported as being very successful, with the winner of the first Bong Bong Cup being Mr H. Chisholm’s horse Don Antonio. Other races on the day included the Hack Race, the Wingecarribee Plate, the Ladies Bracelet, the Picnic Race, the Bachelors’ Bag and the Welter Handicap.
The day was proclaimed a district holiday and that night a ball was held in the Agricultural Society’s hall at Moss Vale.
Foundation members of the club were H. Acraman, who rode the winner of the first Cup; John Henry, Andrew and Frank Badgery of the pioneering family in the Exeter district, who held executive positions from time to time; E.M. Betts, a Goulburn lawyer; Chris Bennett, proprietor of the old Sydney newspaper The Evening News; M. Butler, R. Campbell, and Edward Carter, who had large properties at Canyonleigh.
Other foundation members included W.J. and P.C. Cordeaux, pioneers of the Wollondilly River area; Austin de Lauvet, whose sister was Mother Superior at the Dominican Convent in Moss Vale for many years; William McCourt, a member of the Legislative Council; the Nicholsons, founders of Newbury Farm near Sutton Forest; B.M. Osborne, who built Hopewood House at Bowral; Alec Osborne, who built Hamilton House, which became Tudor House School, Moss Vale; and H.M. Oxley, descendent of Surveyor-General Oxley.
The first president was Pat Throsby from 1886 to 1892, then Sir John Lackey from 1893 to 1903. The Hon H.E. Kater became president in 1904 and then held the position until the club disbanded in 1930.
THE SIXTH Bong Bong Picnic Race meeting was perhaps the most enjoyable yet held, reported the Berrima Free Press in 1892.
“Over a thousand visitors must have been present, the fair sex comprising quite half of this total. A continuous stream of vehicles rolled up to the course, each one depositing its freight of gaily dressed ladies. The Moss Vale band enlivened the proceedings during the two days.”
In 1899 the Mittagong Express reported that “at the annual re-union of the Picnic Race Club there were good attendances, notwithstanding that the weather was none too pleasant. The annual ball of the club was held in the Moss Vale Hall on Friday night . . . The hall was prettily decorated with ferns and Chinese lanterns and an excellent supper was served.”
About 150 local people and their visitors attended the ball.
In 1901 the racecourse was relocated to a large and pleasant grassy area between the Briars Inn and the Wingecarribee River, adjacent to the Moss Vale-Bowral Road, where the popular event remained until 1911.
Continued next week
This feature compiled by Philip Morton of the BDH&FH Society and Alan Chittick, a member of the Bong Bong Race Club.