THESE PLACES ARE NOT JUST A NETWORK OF PRIVATE ROADS AND MYSTERIOUS SHEDS IMPORTANT ONLY TO PETROLHEADS
FORD’S PROVING GROUND, NESTLED at the foot of the You Yangs ranges in the heart of country, is one of the most special and captivating places in the whole of this great land. For me it has the magic and excitement of Disneyland without the queues, the technology of Porton Down without the human testing, and the mystique of Area 51 without the abduction and probing. It is a national treasure that should be the source of pride not just for the Blue Oval but for the entire country.
Thanks to the incredible work that goes on in secret in the various sheds and on the test tracks, it appears the world-class facility’s future is bright. Unfortunately, good news stories of endurance through adversity are uncommon when it comes to our hallowed automotive halls. While the 56 year-old facility is still bustling day and night, just 100km away, Holden’s equivalent is ominously silent. An attempt to inject life into the Lang Lang proving ground lasted less than a year when Vietnamese manufacturer Vinfast bought the site from the departing lion and its fate, once again, is hanging in the balance.
Here is a place that has immense automotive significance and history, a place that could be argued is the birthplace of true Australian cars, but within months it could all be meadows and Metricon. Can you imagine Italy allowing the same fate to befall the Nardo Ring? Would the British wash their hands of Millbrook if it started to look a bit iffy? Of course not.
What most sane people realise is that these places are not just a network of private roads and mysterious sheds important only to petrolheads, they are the origins of patriotic greatness and culturally priceless. And yet, it is happening all over Australia.
Oran Park – twice the location for the Australian Grand Prix – gone, while the iconic Lakeside Park in Queensland could be crippled into obscurity by tightening noise restrictions. Last year, plans to tear up some sections of the former Adelaide Parklands street circuit were discussed, which would put a bullet in another Australian F1 and touring car icon. Owners of Melbourne’s
Sandown circuit have finally folded under the increasing weight of fat cheques raining down on them from even fatter property developers and, while the proceeds of the sale will benefit the owner’s Caulfield horse racing venue, none of the cash will be funneled into proper racing.
On the other side of town, Calder Park’s Thunderdome – the first NASCAR-sanctioned banked speedway facility built outside the USA – continues to crumble into disrepair. Its lights long flickered out as the suburbs encroach. Instead of the new neigbours celebrating an exciting motorsport venue on their doorstep, noise complaints threaten the remaining motorsport activities hosted at Calder and this motor monolith may too be swallowed up by cheap starter homes.
There is a glimmer of hope however. The proposal to trash Adelaide’s motorsport treasure was raised because the track acted as a ‘heat sink’ implying the well-being of Barbara’s withering gladioli on a warm day is more important than a 37-year-old symbol of Australian motorsport. Thankfully the council saw sense and not only prevented the destruction of the tarmac but is considering heritage listing it too.
Sandown’s grandstand was heritage listed in 2019 but the circuit was not and while it’s good to know a part of the historic venue will be preserved, it’s a pity a suburb of soulless townhouses is more important than the cultural value of the track itself.
There are those who would argue that cookie-cutter housing is economically more important than tracks and pits and a part of me would have to agree if it weren’t for a few awkward examples. The McDonalds in Clifton Hill, a rubbish incinerator in Sydney, and a WA Dolphin Discovery Centre built in 1995 are all considered precious enough to be protected with heritage listing. So please don’t try to tell me our automotive heroes don’t deserve the same preservation. In other parts of the world, culture takes the form of 500-year-old churches and thatched-roof pubs, but in Australia a huge chunk of ours is tarmac.