Architecture · Attachment to place · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Local History · Local newspapers · Newspapers · Oran Park · Place making · sense of place · Settler colonialism

New horizons open up for the new community of Oran Park and the finishing line for the former Oran Park Raceway

Oran Park Raceway was doomed in 2008 to be part of history when it was covered with houses in a new suburb with the same name. It was also the name of a former pastoral property that was part of the story of the settler society within the Cowpastures. The locality is the site of hope and loss for both locals and new arrivals.

The suburb of Oran Park is on Sydney’s south-western urban fringe just east of the history and picturesque village of Cobbitty and the relatively new suburb Harrington Park is to the south.

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Oran Park Raceway was a glorious thing

The Oran Park Motor Racing Circuit was located in the south-western and western part of the original Oran Park pastoral estate. The main grand prix circuit was 2.6 km long with a mixture of slow, technical and fast sweeping corners as well as changes in elevation around the track.

The main circuit was broken into two parts: the south circuit, which was the original track  built in 1962 by the Singer Car Club and consisted of the main straight, pit lane garages and a constant radius 180 turn at the end.

The north circuit was added in 1973  and  was an 800 metre figure-8.  Apart from the main racing circuit there were a number of subsidiary activities and they have included a two dirt circuits, two four wheel training venues, a skid pan and a go-kart circuit.

Oran Park Raceway 1997 CIPP
Oran Park Raceway was a popular motor sport venue in the Sydney area. This image is from 1997 showing open-wheelers racing at the circuit. (Camden Images)

The racing circuit has been used for a variety of motorsport including club motorkhanas, touring cars, sports sedans, production cars, open-wheelers, motocross and truck racing. In 2008 a number of organisations used the circuit for driver training including advanced driving, defensive driving, high performance and off-road driving.

The track hosted its first Australian Touring Car Championship in 1971, which was a battle between racing legends Bob Jane and Allan Moffat. The December 2008 V8 Supercar event was the 38th time a championship was held at the track. Sadly for some the track will go the way of other suburban raceways of the past. It turned into just be a passing memory when it closed in 2010.

The Daily Telegraph noted that a number of other Sydney tracks that have been silenced. They have included Amaroo Park, Warwick Farm, Mt Druitt, Sydney Showground, Liverpool and Westmead speedways. The public relations spokesman for Oran Park, Fred Tsioras, has said that there have been a few notable drivers who have raced at the circuit including Kevin Bartlett, Fred Gibson, Ian Luff, Alan Moffat, Peter Brock, Mark Weber and others.

Innovations that were introduced at the Oran Park Raceway included night racing, truck racing and NASCAR racing. Tsioras claims that the track was a crowd favourite because they could see the entire circuit.

Oran Park Raceway Control Tower

An integral part of the Oran Park Raceway was the control tower. It had the offices for the Clerk of the Course, timekeepers, VIP suite, the press box and general administration.

Oran Park Raceway 1997 CIPP
Control Tower Oran Park Raceway 1997 (Camden Historical Society)

In the early days the facilities at the circuit were pretty basic, and this included the control tower. The circuit was a glorified paddock and race organisers held mainly basic club events. The track surface was pretty rough and there was a make-do attitude amongst racing enthusiasts.

The control facilities in the early days at the track was very rudimentary. The first control tower used in 1962 by the members of the Singer Car Club, who established the track, was a double decker bus. Race officials and time keepers sat out in the open air under a canvas awning on the top of the bus at club race meetings.

A new control tower, built around 1980, was funded by the Rothmans tobacco company. The Rothmans company was a major sponsor of motor sports in Australia at the time. Tobacco sponsorship of motor sports was seen as an efficient marketing strategy to reach boys and young men.

Tobacco & cigarette advertisements were banned on TV and radio in September 1976. While other tobacco advertising was banned from all locally produced print media — this left only cinema, billboard and sponsorship  advertising as the only forms of direct tobacco advertising was banned inv December 1989.

Motor sport projected an image of style, excitement, thrills and spills that drew men and boys to the sport. Motor sport has been symbolized by bravery, strength, competitiveness and masculinity. This imagery in still portrayed in motor sport like Formula One racing.

The influence for the design of the tower, according to Will Hagan, was the El Caballo Blanco Complex at Narellan, which opened in the 1979 and was a major tourist attraction. The control tower, like El Caballo Blanco, was constructed in a Spanish Mission architectural style (or Hollywood Spanish Mission) like the Paramount cinema in Elizabeth Street (1933) or Cooks Garage in Argyle Street (1935) Camden.

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Cooks Service Station and Garage at the corner of Argyle and Elizabeth Streets Camden in the mid-1930s. This establishment was an expression of Camden’s Interwar modernism. (Camden Images)

The Spanish Mission building style emerged during in the Inter-war period (1919-1939). It was characterised by terracotta roof tiles, a front loggia, rendering of brickwork and shaped parapets.

The Spanish Mission building style was inspired by the American west coast influences, and the relationship between the automobile, rampant consumerism and the romance  promoted by the motion pictures from Hollywood.

The Spanish Mission building style, according to Ian Kirk and Megan Martin from their survey of interwar service stations, was popular with service stations in the late 1920s and early 1930s, particularly in the Sydney area. In their survey they discovered more than 120 original service stations surviving in New South Wales from the interwar years.

Some examples of Interwar garages included the Broadway Garage and Service Station in Bellevue Hill, the former Seymour’s Service Station in Roseville, Malcolm Motors in King Street, Newtown and the Pyrmont Bridge Service Station in Pyrmont. Kirk and Martin have maintained that unlike the United States, early service stations in Australia were privately owned and did not have to be designed according to an oil company’s in-house style.

Motor sports became popular in the Interwar period and was associated with glamour and excitement of the cars of the period. The Interwar period (1918-1939) is an interesting period in the history of Australia. It was a time which contrasted the imperial loyalties of the British Empire with the rampant consumerism and industrialisation of American culture and influence.

The Interwar period was one in which country towns and the city were increasingly dominated by motor vehicles. It was a time when the fast and new, the exotic and sensual came to shape the style of a new age of modernism, and competed with the traditional and conservative, the old and slow, and changes to social and cultural traditions.

There were many brands of motor car competing for the attention of consumers, and the aspirations and desires of a new generation were wrapped up in youth, glamour, fantasy and fun.

This was reflected in the growth of elegant and glamorous car showrooms and the appearance of service stations and garages to serve the increasing number of motor car owners.

In Camden this period modernism generated Cooks Garage at the corner of Argyle and Elizabeth Street not far away from the new slick and exciting movie palace, the Paramount Movie Theatre. In central Camden the Dunk commercial building at 58-60 Argyle Street was a shiny new car showroom displaying Chevrolet motor cars from the USA. Advertisement boasted that the cars were:

Beautiful new Chevrolet is completely new. New arresting beauty of style; new riding comfort and seating; …with more comfort.

The buyer had the choice of car models from commercial roadster to sports roader, tourer, coupe and sedan which sold for the value price of £345.

In New South Wales the number of motor vehicles increased from around 22,000 in 1920 to over 200,000 in 1938.  There was an increasing interest in motor sports in the Sydney area by enthusiasts of all kinds.

 Dreams and development on the raceway site

In 1983 the Oran Park Raceway track was owned by Bill Cleary, and he stated to the Macarthur Advertiser that his family had owned the property for 38 years.  In 1976 he put together a proposal to create a sports and recreation centre for the area of the raceway. The proposal was raised again in 1981 and was to include a themed entertainment park, an equestrian centre, dude ranch, motel, health and fitness centre, model farm and cycling, hiking and bridle trials. But it all came to nothing.

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An aerial view of the former Oran Park Raceway in 2008 showing the track and its surrounds. Now all covered by housing. (P Mylrea/Camden Images)

The current track was purchased in the mid-1980s by Leppington Pastoral Company (owned by the Perich family) and in 2004 was rezoned for housing.  It was estimated at the time that there would be 21,000 houses. Tony Perich stated in 2007 to the Sydney Morning Herald that he planned to build almost one-fifth of the 11,500 dwellings in Oran Park and Turner Road in a joint-venture with Landcom. A spokesman for Mr Perich’s company, Greenfields Development Corporation, stated that the first houses would be on the larger lots.

Oran Park 2008 planned housing development

In 2008 Oran Park is part of the  South West Growth Centre area which is responsibility of the New South Wales Government’s Growth Centres Commission, which was eventually planned to accommodate 295,000 people by 2031. The Oran Park and Turner Road Development were expected in 2008 to house 33,000 people.

In an area east of the raceway it is planned that there will be the development of an aged care facility for elderly and retired citizens with work starting in 2011. The project will consist of independent living villas and apartments, assisted living units, a day care centre and a high and low care aged facility with a dementia unit.

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Oran Park display homes near the town centre in 2012. (OPTC)

In 2008 the raceway made way for 8000 homes to house 35,000 people complete with town centre, commercial precinct and entertainment facilities. It was planned to include primary schools, two high schools, a court, police station and a community centre. The suburb, Raceway Hill, was planned to have streets named after the old track.

The colonial history of Oran Park

In the colonial days of early New South Wales Oran Park was originally  made up of two principal land grants, one of 2,000 acres, Harrington Park,  granted to William Campbell in 1815 and another to George Molle in 1817, Netherbyes, of 1600 acres which ran between South Creek and the Northern Road. According to John Wrigley the name Oran Park appears on the pre-1827 map as part of Harrington Park,  Campbell’s grant. Campbell arrived on the brig, Harrington, in 1803 as a master.

The New South Wales State Heritage Register states that the Oran Park portion was sub-divided from the Harrrington Park estate in 1829 and acquired by Henry William Johnston in 1852.  The Oran Park estate is representative of the layout of a country manor estate with views afforded to and from the manor over the landscape and to the important access points of the estate. These were representative of the design philosophies of the time.

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The image clearly shows the hilltop locality of Oran Park House typical of gentry estate houses across the Cowpastures. This landscape drew on the influence of the philosophy of Scot JC Loudon and Englishman Capability Brown (early 20thc, Camden Images)

Oran Park House was located in  a picturesque Arcadian pastoral scene by using the best of European farming practices and produced an English-style landscape of a park, pleasure grounds and gardens. The house was located in a ‘sublime landscape’ with the integration of aspect, orientation and design, drawing on influences of Scotsman JC Loudon, Englishman Capability Brown and Sydney nurseryman Thomas Shepherd.

Oran Park House

The two-storey Georgian-style house was built in c.1857 and is described as having a roof with of a simple colonial hipped form, windows with shutters, an added portico and a bridge to the two-storey original servants wing at the rear. There is detailed cedar joinery and panelling on the interior. The house is located on a knoll creating an imposing composition set amongst landscaped grounds with a panoramic view of the surrounding area.

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Oran Park House in 1995 in a photograph taken by John Kooyman (Camden Images)

According to the NSW State Heritage Register the house is an example of the Summit Model of homestead sited on a hilltop with the homestead complex.  The present entrance to Oran Park is on an axis with the house’s southern façade, with a carriage loop with mature plantings in front of the house.

Oran Park house was acquired by Thomas  Barker (of Maryland and Orielton) who sold it to Campbelltown grazier Edward Lomas Moore (of Badgally) in 1871. The property was leased by and then subsequently owned by Atwill George Kendrick who had a clearing sale on the site in 1900. The house had alterations possibly under the direction of Leslie Wilkinson (professor of architecture, University of Sydney) in the 1930s.

The Moore family sold the Oran Park House and land to B Robbins and a Mr Smith operated a golf course with trotting facilities. It was sold in 1945 for £28,000, and in 1963, 361 acres was purchased by ER Smith and J Hyland, farmers. The homestead and stables were sold in 1969 by John and Peggy Cole and purchased by the Dawson-Damers, members of the English aristocracy. The Dawson-Damers undertook restoration guided by architect Richard Mann. John ‘DD’ Dawson-Damer was an Old Etonian and car collector.

John Dawson-Damer was a prominent motor racing identity and was killed in an accident while driving his Lotus 63 at a race meeting at Goodwood, West Sussex in 2000. Dawson-Damer was the managing director of Austral Engineering Supplies Pty Ltd, and was involved with the International Automobile Federation and the Historic Sports Racing Car Association of New South Wales. Ashley Dawson-Damer, his wife and socialite, was a member of the council of governors of the Opera Australia Capital Fund and a board member of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation.

After her husband’s death she sold the house, with its historic gardens and 107 hectares of pasture, in 2006 for $19 million to Valad Property Group.  The State Heritage Register describes the house and surrounding estate an outstanding example of mid-nineteenth century cultural landscape with a largely intact homestead complex and gardens set within an intact rural setting.

Oran Park House renamed Catherine Park House

Oran Park was renamed Catherine Park House in 2013 by the developers of the new housing release Harrington Estates Pty Ltd (Mac Chronicle 10 Oct 2013). The name changed was agreed by Camden Council and celebrated Catherine Molle, the wife of George Molle.

In 1815 Molle was allocated a grant of 550 acres which he called Catherine Fields after his wife Catherine Molle on the northern bank of South Creek opposite his grant of Netherbyres.

In 1816 George Molle  was granted Netherbyres, of 1,600 acres (647.5 hectares) which ran between South Creek and the Northern Road on the south bank of South Creek. In 1817 he was granted Molles Maine of 1550 acres east of the Great South Road.

George Molle was baptized in Mains, Berwickshire, Scotland on the 6th March 1773. George joined the Scots Brigade (94th Regiment) as an ensign and served in Gibraltar, The Cape of  Good Hope, India, Egypt and Spain. He was promoted to Colonel and served at Gibraltar before transferring as the Colonel of the 46th Regiment of Foot when ordered to serve in the Colony of New South Wales.

On the 20th March 1814 he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Colony, second in command to Governor Macquarie.

George and his wife played an active part in the public life of the colony of New South Wales, patron of the Female Orphan School and a member of the committee for the Civilization, Care and Education of Aborigines.

The suburb of Catherine Park was planned in 2013 to contain 3100 with 9500 residents. (Mac Chronicle 15 Oct 2013)

Oran Park in recent times

In early 2018 the developer Greensfields and Landcom report in their newsletter that construction of  the new Camden Council Library building is progressing well. A new off-dog leash area was under construction in the new release areas around the new high school. It is the second area developed in the land release.

Oran Park Public School 2014 [2] (OPPS)
Oran Park Public School at the opening in 2014 (OPPS)
The newsletter detailed the road construction for Dick Johnson Drive, one of the many roads named after motor racing greats. The street will connect with The Northern Road in 2019. Works area progressing on the latest release areas around Oran Park Public School and on earthworks associated with Peter Brock Drive. The school opened in 2014 with new staff and students adjacent to Oran Park Podium shopping centre.  The shopping centre was opened by New South Wales Premier Mike Baird in late 2014 with 28 specialty shops.

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Oran Park Town Centre which has been used as the land sales office since the first land release in 2013 (OPTC)

New parkland was opened in a recent release area in 2018  and new traffic lights were operational at Peter Brock Drive and Central Avenue.

A new free monthly 20pp A4 newspaper, the Oran Park Gazette,  has appeared in the suburb in 2015. It is published by the Flynnko Group based at Glenmore Park. The Gazette started with a circulation of 3500 and is part of a stable of five mastheads which are distributed across the Western Sydney region.

Camden Council transferred is administrative function to the new office building in 2016. An open day inviting resident to inspect the new facilities was a huge success.

The Macarthur Chronicle has developed a time lapse to illustrate some of the changes at Oran Park.
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