One of our online friends, Rob Bartholomaeus, sent me these excerpts from the program of the ‘S.A. Centenary Grand Prix’. I was going to add them to the article I wrote about the race quite a while ago, but they were too good to disappear without trace within an existing article, so here they are…
Then I started thinking about history and the recording, interpretation and restatement in relation thereto.
There was no ‘Australian Grand Prix’ held in 1936 or 1937.
The 32 lap, 240 mile ‘South Australian Centenary Grand Prix’ was held on 26 December 1936 and down the decades, no-one seems to know who started it, has been acknowledged as the 1937 AGP despite being held on 26 December 1936 and despite not being called the AGP at the time.
Graham Howard in his introduction to the seminal, defining, authoritative and entirely wonderful ‘The 50 Year History of The Australian Grand Prix’ (HAGP) describes the reporting of motor racing in the early days in Australia as being ‘casual to the point of useless’. He then cites as an example of the lack of precision in reporting the AGP ‘the wonderful way in which a race staged in 1936 as the South Australian Centenary Grand Prix could, within a few years, acquire not only Australian Grand Prix status, but rank as the AGP for 1937’.
There is some ‘competition’ globally as to which countries have ‘the longest continuous’ Grand Epreuve, the French have the oldest which was first held in 1906.The Italian commenced in 1921, Belgian in 1925, German GP in 1926 and the Australian in 1927- these races are the longest continuing GP’s. The US and Britain for example, don’t qualify in ‘the longest continuing’ as both had big gaps when the event was not held despite the races being first run in 1908 and 1926 respectively. I’ve given the Germans a free kick as they were ‘black-balled’ till 1950 post-war, you can take them off the list if you are not as generous in spirit as me in your ‘longest continuous’ definition!
As in Australia with the 1936 ‘South Australian Centenary Grand Prix’ and the 1928 ‘100 Miles Road Race’ at Phillip Island, both later appropriated as Australian Grands Prix, some of the events globally were not held as ‘The Whatever Grand Prix’ at the time they were conducted either. Rather they were adopted later as such, as part of the continuum of the countries premier road racing event in that year. The first American GP, at Savannah, Georgia was ‘The 1908 Grand Prize of The Automobile Club of America’ and the first British GP held at Brooklands was entitled ‘1 Royal Automobile Club Grand Prix’.
In recent times an Australian motoring historian, David Manson whilst trawling through some Sydney newspapers in the early 1980’s discovered that an Australian Grand Prix was held in Goulburn, 200Km from Sydney on 15 January 1927.
This 6 lap event was won by local racer Geoff Meredith in a Bugatti T30. 7 cars contested the races on an oval dirt layout, 1 mile and 75 yards long around the Goulburn Showgrounds. The contest comprised 2 heats and a final between the quickest pair.
Whether a six lapper lasting 6 minutes 14.8 seconds between 2 cars on an oval dirt course is a ‘Grand Prix’, even in the Australian context of the time, let alone the European one is debatable. The fact is, an event named, styled, promoted and run as the ‘Australian Grand Prix’ ‘for all powers racing cars’ was contested in Goulburn on 15 January 1927.
John Lackey has edited a stunning little book titled ‘A History of Australia’s First Grand Prix’ with contributions by a number of people including the highly respected John Medley, one of the authors of HAGP, it’s a must for any Australian enthusiasts library. One of the reasons the book is significant is Medley’s coverage of the event and it’s competitors but more so his perspective of the role motorcyclists and their clubs had in paving the way for car racing in Australia- they were the true racing pioneers Medley records. It’s not a perspective I’d read before. More about this race meeting another time.
To the point of David Manson’s hugely significant discovery the first AGP was acknowledged as being the ‘100 Miles Road Race’ held by the Victorian Light Car Club for cars of no more than 2 litres capacity, at Phillip Island on 31 March 1928. The race on a rectangular, 6.5 mile dirt road course near Cowes was later appropriated as the first AGP despite the name. The first AGP held under that name was also promoted by the Victorian Light Car Club at Phillip Island in 1929. The VLCC staged the event annually at the island until 1935.
As a result of the 1927 Goulburn event discovery, the HAGP published originally in 1986, was reprinted to add the 1927 AGP as it’s first chapter in 2015.
So, its a fact that the first Australian Grand Prix was held on 15 January 1927. Its a fact the ‘South Australian Centenary Grand Prix’, later appropriated as an Australian Grand Prix, I have no issue with that, was held on 26 December 1936. The event, won by Les Murphy’s MG P Type as matter of fact is the 1936 Australian Grand Prix not, without wanting to belabour the point, the 1937 Australian Grand Prix.
Adding the 1927 GP to the new edition of HAGP updated and corrected history, which, as we can all see from the very late discovery of the Goulburn event is a living, breathing thing. Why not also have altered the date of the Australian Grand Prix of 1937 and call it what it factually was and is- ‘The 1936 Australian Grand Prix’. HAGP is ‘The Bible’ on these things, an opportunity was lost, sadly.
Its all about history, it’s recording, interpretation and restatement, which I think is about where I came in. Sorry to be a pedant, but it’s just plain wrong and always has been. That the 26 December 1936 SA Centenary GP is ‘generally accepted’ as the 1937 AGP does not make it right let alone factually correct.
I know such a change wouldn’t contribute to world peace, it doesn’t really matter, but just sayin’…
Rob Bartholomaeus Collection
‘The 50 Year History of The AGP’ by G Howard and Ors, ‘The 1927 Australian Grand Prix’ Editor John Lackey, ‘A History of Australian Grand Prix 1928-1939’ by John Blanden
Tailpiece: Geoff Meredith aboard his Bugatti T30 at Goulburn during his victorious AGP meeting in 1927…