The first soap box derby to be held locally took place in Bowral on January 27, 1947.
The Bowral-based Southern Mail reported that the innovation attracted a crowd of 800 people, being the culmination of months of preparation. It was conducted by Bowral Apex Club in aid of the fund to provide clubrooms for Bowral Boy Scouts, and held in conjunction with a carnival day, being preceded by a procession through the town.
In December 1946 it was advised in the newspaper that: the course for the soap-box derby was selected by an engineer who has had previous experience in such matters. For its suitability and safety aspects he selected Rose Street and approval has been obtained from Bowral Council to the closing of this street. The 400-yard course starts with a steep gradient for about 80 yards, then a long, less steep slope, followed by 30 yards of almost level road.
A number of business houses have expressed their intention to enter representatives in the derby, and some local youths are already busy making billycarts to the required specifications, which are: not exceeding 120 lbs weight, length 78 inches, width 42 inches, height 30 inches, wheels 16 inches. Mr Jack Rutledge, a member of the Apex Club, has obtained good prizes, including two bicycles, now on display in his window, for the three main events.
The putting together of the vehicles for the derby meant long hours for several men who made them in their spare time, no doubt to the joy of the boys who took them for test runs.
Every effort was made to protect the drivers and public from accident. A list of 12 rules were published, including that drivers had to wear boots or heavy shoes. Rules also encouraged fair competition: no ballast to be carried in the carts or on the driver's person and no mechanical aid to increase speed would be allowed. Officials reserved the right to disqualify any driver or cart whom or which they considered dangerous.
According to the Southern Mails report on January 31, 1947, the derby was well conducted and the safety measures, which included the marking of lanes on the road and the sandbagging of telephone posts and the bridge, thorough. Club members were jubilant when the whole of the 11 races passed off without accident.
The event was described as follows:
In one of the heats a competitor, who fortunately was leading at the time, developed a wobble in the steering of his vehicle just after leaving the steep portion of the hill and veered into the lanes on either side of him. He was able to regain control, however, before another competitor on the outside lane overtook him.
It was found during the running of the heats of the derby that the fastest times were recorded in the eastern lane, and as a consequence the competitors in the semi-finals and finals were handicapped. In one semi-final, two competitors flashed over the finishing line together and the judges were unable to separate them.
The races were preceded by a procession led by Bowral Scouts and Cubs with about 16 billycarts and model cars following. At the Rose Street bridge the Mayor (Ald W F Foley) judged the vehicles and made his awards.
At intervals between races, stalls did a thriving business and many of them had disposed of their wares in a couple of hours. Mr Ted Springett gave a skilful exhibition as a magician in one sideshow and had as his assistant Miss Margaret Arnull. Members of Apex maintained supplies to the soft drinks and ice cream stalls.
Boy Scouts acted as gatekeepers at the entrances to Rose Street. Ropes down the side of the street kept back the spectators, but on occasions a few of the crowd disregarded them and may have caused an accident, not only to themselves but to the drivers.
In noting results, the paper stated that the fastest time was 25 and 4/5 seconds, quite remarkable for billycarts, some of which were more like model cars. The final was won by Springett's Silver Streak, a streamlined model piloted by John Haylock. Second was Graham Robinson, driving a billycart of his own construction.
A soapbox/billycart derby was held annually until 1952, then briefly revived in the 1970s at both Bowral and Moss Vale.
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