Since its opening in 1888 Centennial Park has been the venue for major events, film productions, hundreds of weddings, Olympic marathons and even…a billycart derby featuring a real Aussie celebrity!
The Sunday Sun for 23 March 1941, ran this headline: “Ginger Meggs To Run Huge Billycart Derby – Young and Old Competing”
But where was the billycart derby to be held?
Centennial Park, of course!
In 1941 Ginger Meggs was the “Bart Simpson” of his day. He 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 the character may have been fictitious, but the billycart derby was very real!
Ginge’s Derby was scheduled for 10 May 1941. The event was to help raise money for the Kindergarten Union of NSW, which provided facilities for underprivileged children.
There were two sections:
- ‘Sponsored’ billycarts: which firms could enter for a fee of five guineas;
- ‘Unsponsored Schoolboy’ billycarts: which boys between 10 and 15 years of age could enter for five shillings (there was no mention of girls being involved, probably just reflecting the gender stereotypes of the 1940s).
Mr J. C. Bancks, creator of Ginger Meggs, would present the Champion Cup and a new bike to the winning boy, and the boy’s mother would receive a prize too (read on to hear more about this!).
A Grand Parade was also to be held with billycarts judged for ‘most original’, ‘most humorous’, and ‘most appropriately dressed driver’, to name some of the categories.
Big billing, but…
Probably owing to the fact that the 5/- entry fee was too much for the average boy in wartime Australia, entry fees for the ‘Unsponsored’ section suddenly become free thanks to several Sydney businessmen who stepped in at the last minute to pay for a number of boys who couldn’t otherwise afford the fee. In addition, special transport facilities became available to take billycarts from the suburbs to Centennial Park.
The hype suddenly began to build and on 1 May 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.”
On 10 May 1941 an estimated 30,000 people came to Centennial Park to watch the Billycart Derby.
What is almost as incredible as the turnout is that actual film from the day exists. Take a look at this brilliant clip – and watch right to the end to hear what has to be one of the best ever ‘winners’ speeches by a billycart champion:
Well done young Noel Eddington!
And, as an interesting side story to this, the link between Centennial Parklands and KU Childcare Centres remains strong with a KU Childcare Centre operating out of Centennial Parklands to this day.
– Support for this post by Vashti Farrer