Today’s guest post by Vashti Farrer
Since its creation in 1888, Centennial Park has been the setting for many a different event, from film sets, to weddings, Olympic marathons, Paralympic races, Million Paws Walks, tree dedications, and even, a billycart derby.
The Sunday Sun for 23 March 1941, ran this headline:
Ginger Meggs To Run Huge Billycart Derby – Young and Old Competing
Ginger Meggs still appears in the Sunday comics, but in 1941, he was huge, an icon, the Bart Simpson of his day. Ginge was every boy’s hero, with his spiky red hair, long shorts, black waistcoat and rolled up shirtsleeves. He had a pet dog and a pet monkey, he was always broke and often in trouble, but he stood up to neighbourhood bullies, and he always had a billycart.
Ginger Meggs annual (taken from Wikipedia)
Ginge’s Derby was scheduled for May 10, 1941, to help raise money for the Kindergarten Union of NSW, which provided facilities for underprivileged children. There were two sections, one for Sponsored billycarts, which firms could enter for a fee of five guineas, and an Unsponsored Schoolboy section, for a limited number of participants and a five shilling entry fee (in today’s currency, more than $16). For this section, the cart could cost no more than two pounds, or as little as 1/-.
Only boys between the ages of 10 and 15 were eligible to enter, but, being a more sexist era, there was no mention of girls, so presumably they weren’t invited. First prize in the Sponsored section was a Grand Champion Cup and a Speedwell bicycle, second prize was a cup and a camera, and third, an open order for three guineas. All firms entering would receive special Ginger Meggs diplomas.
Mr J. C. Bancks, creator of Ginger Meggs, would present the Champion Cup to the winning boy, and as well as his bike, the boy’s mother would receive a costume (the coat and skirt variety). Miniature cups would go to the heat winners and the highlight of the day would be the Grand parade, with billycarts judged for ‘most original’, ‘most humorous’, and ‘most appropriately dressed driver’, to name some of the categories. Winners and their mechanics in these sections would receive three guineas each.
Entry forms had to be sent to the Kindergarten union at 58 Pitt Street, and for those who couldn’t afford to enter, special badges went on sale at Dymocks and railway bookstalls for 3d each, showing Ginge with his dog and monkey.
Entries must have been slow, however, perhaps because the 5/- entry fee was too much for the average boy in wartime, but whatever the reason, on Sunday April 27, the day after it was meant to close, entries for the Unsponsored section suddenly become free, thanks to several Sydney businessmen who stepped in at the last minute to pay for a limited number of boys who couldn’t otherwise afford the fee. As well, special transport facilities became available to take billycarts from the suburbs to Centennial Park and at the same time, the closing date was extended to April 30. Even then, late entries could still be lodged in person at the Kindergarten Union office in Pitt Street.
Then on Thursday, May 1, The Sun reported: “Ginge’s Derby brings Entry Rush – a last minute rush of entries in the Ginger Meggs Billycart Derby kept the staff of the Kindergarten Union office fully employed this morning.” Meanwhile, Mr J.C. Bancks was to appear at matinee performances at the Kings Theatre, Bondi, and at Clovelly on Saturday May 3, the weekend before the race.
Grand Drive, being flat, is hardly ideal for billycarts, so they probably started at the Paddington Gates and careered down Parkes Drive, but whatever the route, the Derby proved a great success. The Unsponsored Schoolboy Stakes was won by a lad named Noel Eddington and among the most original billycarts in the Sponsored section, was the ACI entry, a billycart in the shape of a Pyrex dish.
And how many turned up on the day?
According to The Sun – 30,000!
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About Vashti Farrer
Vashti Farrer – When the War Became is out now
Vashti writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults, many with a focus on particular events and times in Australian history, viewed by fictional characters, including Plagues and Federation (set the Rocks in 1900) and Archer’s Melbourne Cup of 1861.
Her most recent books, both published in 2012, are Sydney Harbour Bridge – about the Bridge’s construction and Sydney during the depression – and When The War Came – the fictional memoir of a girl living in Kings Cross during WW II.
Vashti has been coming to Centennial Park since she was a child and now brings her grandchildren. www.vashtifarrer.com
When the war came
By Vashti Farrer
The journal of a girl and her eccentric grandmother living in Kings Cross during World War II. Real insights into life at the time – the fear of possible invasion, the rations, restrictions and blackouts, the worry of fathers serving overseas, even the Ginger Meggs Billycart Derby in Centennial Park!
Vashti Farrer is an author well known for her books for young people and her wonderful historical fiction.
This account of the Second World War as viewed through a young Sydney girl’s eyes is an accurate, exciting and invaluable record for all youngsters who would like to know about this important period in Australian history.
Published by the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee Qld Inc – www.anzacday.org.au – $9.95 + GST