90 years of the ‘Ekka’
October 16, 1926 was the date for the very first speedway event at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds (aka the Ekka).
It was motor cycles only back then with 4-wheeled vehicles joining in ten years later. Apart from the odd historic event the granite hasn’t been sprayed in anger since the late ‘90s. The Vintage Speedcar Association of Qld (VSAQ) has kept the spirit alive and decided on a few events to commemorate the 90th anniversary. On the exact day of the first race, the club threw open the doors of their clubhouse to the public. A display of historic cars and three speedway motorcycles were positioned on the lawn out front of the clubhouse while much of the club’s memorabilia was on display inside. Many once-famous speedway steerers were mingling and sharing stories of the glory days. I gravitated towards the motorcycle side but, like the display, the content was much less than it was for the cars. Of note was a series of helmets in a clear case showing how they have changed over the years. It included a “Baker’s Skid Lid” which was made in the Brisbane suburb of Rosalie. A framed tribute presented to Keith Cox on his 70th birthday in 1993 included a snapshot of the man and his achievements, and I was particularly taken by two of these. Keith first rode speedway at the Ekka in 1946 and ended up winning on an old Rudge. He also achieved the lap record for the “Over 70s” age group event in 1993. Other photos of sliders were Jack White, Sandy McCrae, Dicky Smythe, Hughie Geddes, Morrie Bond, Andy Menzies, and Archy Neil. There was a shot of Frank Arthur who was as famous a rider as he was a promoter of the sport in the UK, US and Australia. There was also a framed tribute to Keith Gurtner who (along with John Titman) was a seven time Queensland Individual Speedway Champion. Notable speedway historian and author Tony Webb was present with many of his books for sale. I just had to have a copy of the story on the history of Pioneer Park speedway. The circuit was just over the river from where I grew up, but unfortunately I left for Brisbane for tertiary studies in the year it was opened (1974). Tony got together with the local Burdekin enthusiasts who built, rode and ran the meetings for all those years. Many good riders came from the area including some that Tony met while he was living in the UK and they furthered their careers in the mother country. The standout visionary in this part of the world was Brian Hodder and his dedicated mates. They built a track and so provided the catalyst for the locals to give speedway a go and if they were good at it, climb the ladder of success in Australia and internationally. What took me by surprise in the book was that motorcycling was a big thing in Home Hill and Ayr well before the track was built. I guess it was because I was living out on a farm that I didn’t get to see what was happening in town. We didn’t get newspapers so only the radio told us what was
The combination of the smell of methanol, the echo of the engines at wide open throttle, competitors slipping and sliding side by side with huge plumes of granite flying off the back wheels was infectious.
happening and I guess motorcycling was (as it is now) a less publicised sport. It appears that the Lower Burdekin Motor Cyclist and Sports Club was formed in early 1925. It was also recorded in the newspapers that a motorcycle speedway event was held at the Home Hill race course as early as the 10th October 1926. This pre-dates the first Ekka meeting by a few days co-incidentally. My first experience with Speedway was in fact at the Ekka grounds. When I first arrived in Brisbane I boarded with a family in Windsor. I didn’t have any wheels but I had a good set of legs. I discovered speedway was regularly held at the exhibition grounds so I walked there to check it out. The combination of the smell of methanol, the echo of the engines at wide open throttle, competitors slipping and sliding side by side with huge plumes granite flying off the back wheels was infectious. I walked the long road and returned many more times before the events ceased at this brilliant venue. The anniversary event was a great day and well done to the VSAQ for opening their doors for a great occasion. On the 26th October they also provided a display in front of Brisbane City Hall to further promote this milestone. It is a blessing that the club has not let us forget an exciting part of Brisbane’s history. For those who are interested in more information on Speedway in general, Tony Webb has been collating and printing books on the sport for many years. He is also the curator of the speedway section of the Queensland Motorsport Museum in Ipswich. Contact Tony through firstname.lastname@example.org
1950 era JAP in a Sydney-made Huck Finn frame.
ABOVE LEFT Framed photo compilation of speedway great Keith Gurtner. ABOVE Open day display in front of the VSAQ clubhouse.