Salty Creek Speedway
Hidden away in the quiet back streets of Edgeworth, are the remains of a major sporting venue which operated over three decades from the 1950s to the 1970s.This little known site is a piece of Lake Macquarie history which drew hundreds of visitors on race days, and was the venue for championship races and international events in it's heyday.
History of speedway racing in NSW
Since mass production of motorcycles began in the early 1900s, people have been racing the machines. The use of motorbikes increased greatly during World War 1, as these vehicles were an invaluable means of transport in the field. After the war the everyday use of the motorcycle grew, and the 1920s saw motorcycles become common place. Motorcycle enthusiast clubs became established, and formalised racing became a popular sport. Speedway racing (racing around a track) was the first form of competition to be organised in a professional manner. In 1928, the Auto Cycle Council of Australia was formed to represent the interests of motorcycle clubs and state associations at a national level.
Although world famous tracks such as the Sydney Showground and West Maitland in NSW opened during the 1920s, much racing was done on local amateur short circuit tracks which were often little more than bush paddocks or vacant blocks in suburban areas. This was the situation for a number of years and caused growing concerns about the safety of riders, spectators and the public.
This situation was to change in 1957 with the passing of amendments to the Metropolitan Traffic Act, and the Motor Traffic Act. Among other things, these amendments formalised the definition of what constituted a speedway, set rules for speedway meetings and introduced compulsory licensing conditions. Most existing tracks did not comply, and as a result many closed while others had to drastically upgrade their conditions over the 16 month implementation period.
The poor conditions and unsafe practices of race tracks locally is illustrated in the following article from the Newcastle Morning Herald of 18th September, 1950:
Four Cyclists Crash
"Four riders were involved in a spectacular crash at the Mayfield Motor-cycle Club's races on Saturday....The club held the meeting on vacant land at Frog Hollow, corner of Ingall and Crebert Streets, Mayfield, as part of the jubilee celebrations. The several thousand people who watched from boundary fences and cars on the roadway saw many riders skidding from machines on the loose dirt corners. The track was only small and cindered lightly in places."
In 1953 the Mayfield Club had negotiated a lease arrangement with the Catholic Church for use of a plot of land adjacent to Cockle Creek at Edgeworth as a short circuit race track. In return, the church would receive a proportion of the gate takings at meetings. This land was the former site of the Salty Creek Recreation Area which was a very popular picnic spot in the 1920s and 30s, and had seen a variety of uses over the years.
Land clearing and track building was carried out voluntarily by club members, using repurposed materials such as old railway sleepers and disused mine materials. They named the venue "The Pines" because the track area was defined by a row of pine trees on each side. A wooden safety fence was built around the track which was accessed via Penrose Street Edgeworth.
The track was nearing completion by 1958, and had been built to comply with the new regulations. Salty Creek was issued with NSW Speedway Licence Number Two, and the opening meeting was set down for March 9th 1958 with a full card of 52 events. Despite the fact that major races were not run at the track in the early days, it was quite successful and attracted reasonable spectator numbers throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s.
The venue was never truly commercially run and all maintenance work and upgrade was carried out by volunteers. This proved to be an arduous and unceasing task, not easily achieved by the small crew of workers - thus the condition of the track was not always ideal. The area was so damaged by storms in 1962 causing potholes and erosion, that police stopped an event in November of that year after accidents caused safety concerns.
Despite these problems, the track was the scene of major national races and the England vs Australia motorcycle test matches in 1972 and 1974.
Compact speedcars had been racing in Australia since the 1950s, and had been a minor feature of the race card at Salty Creek for many years. They gained in popularity in the early 1970s replacing bikes as a major drawcard to Salty Creek. In 1971 Salty Creek hosted the TQ (Three Quarter Midget) car championship. Track conditions suiting midget cars were very different to those which suited bikes, and the motorcycle racing fraternity became increasingly frustrated with having to share the facility.
It is not certain when the last race was run at Salty Creek or when the site infrastructure was demolished, though it seems that there were several contributing factors:
- By the mid 70s there had been a shift in the focus from circuit racing to motorcross, and many new tracks were established in the region. This took patrons away from the venue and reduced gate takings.
- The growing popularity of the Midget Car races meant that there were more frequent meetings and less time for the dwindling volunteer labour force to tend the track, leading to increasing disrepair.
- Land adjacent to the track was donated for the purpose of building a Retirement Village and construction work started on what was to become the Hawkins Masonic Village in 1972. This restricted access to the Salty Creek site and made it difficult to maintain visitor numbers
The site gradually closed and today there is little remaining to mark it's presence.
- Motorcycling Australia http://www.ma.org.au/index.php?id=116
- Speedway Australia https://www.speedwayaustralia.org/about/history
- Compact Speedcars Australia https://compactspeedcars.com.au/history/
- Salty Creek, Edgeworth NSW: hotbed of the Hunter by Jim Scaysbrook / IN Old Bike Australasia, issue 55
Images provided courtesy:
- Just Sidecars http://justsidecars.homestead.com/index.html
- Speedway and Road History http://www.speedwayandroadracehistory.com
- Crows Garage https://crowsgarage.com
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License