The original site of the Ballina racecourse being an area of 85 acres and 2 roods was notified in the New South Wales Government Gazette of 24th November 1888 and additional land added on July 9th 1895. From this date until the first recorded minutes of the Ballina Turf Club Committee on 27th October 1900 little is known about the use of the land.
The Ballina Racecourse was built in a very low lying area using sand excavated when the Canal was dug in the 1890's. All the filling was done with horse and dray carrying one yard of fill at a time. It is reported that the original track was built on a base of oyster shells, after being left by the aborigines, and which had built up over many years along the banks of North Creek. Our earliest photograph, reproduced below, shows the crowd at a Ballina race meeting in 1893.
Buildings were constructed on the northern side of the track because it was the only high land in the area. They consisted of a wooden grandstand, publican's booth, and stables for about 20 horses, pan type toilets and a large judge's box. Stables were only used on race day and there were no resident trainers in the area and as no wireless existed there was only betting on Ballina races. No telephones and no electricity.
In the early thirties it was decided to move the buildings to the southern side of the course to remove the need to cross the course proper in two places which had resulted in the track being badly cut up by wheeled vehicles. To accomplish this move about 1 acre of mangrove swamp had to be filled in using horses and drays and shoveling by hand. To fund this work, the Club had to borrow a considerable amount of money and it was only shortly after this work was completed that the depression of the 30's came and racing went into the doldrums. Fortune, however, seemed to shine on the Club as set out in the Publication "A History of the Ballina Racecourse 100 Years 1895-1995" by C.J. Skimmings:
'There seemed no way out of the financial mess until the buildings, which were well insured , caught fire and were totally destroyed. The insurance money was sufficient to clear the debt at the bank."
The first race meeting was held on Boxing Day 26th December 1900 with a 6 event program starting at 12 noon with a break between 12.45 pm and 2.30 pm for luncheon to be taken. There were 3 races over 6 furlongs, 2 over a mile and one over a mile and a quarter.
In these early days it appears as if a number of Clubs, Ballina Turf Club, Ballina and War Memorial Race Club, Ballina Diggers Race Club, and Ballina Jockey Club all used the Ballina Racecourse for their meetings.
Historically, Boxing Day has been an important day for the Club as it was the date of the first meetings and one of the few dates to be used consistently for racing down the years.
The most important event was the Ballina Cup and the event was first run on Boxing Day 1914. The winner was a horse called Poor Tom carrying the weight of 7 stone 11 pounds (49.5kg) with Hailshot second and Woodburn third. The time for the 1 mile and 80 yards was 1.51.25. The value of the prize money is not recorded. There is no record of a Cup in 1915, presumably because of the war, but was held again in 1916, 1917, and 1918. The prize money in 1917 was a dizzy $190.
Very few records have been kept since the demise of the Ballina Turf Club and the formation of the Ballina & District War Memorial Fund Racing Committee on 30th September 1944. Its first meeting was held on 26th September 1944. Further race meetings followed on 31 March and 2 April (presumably these were Easter Dates).
On 17th January, the Club resolved to affiliate with the Northern Rivers Racing Association and the Ballina Racecourse continued to be used by this Club until 1950. On the 27th September, a resolution was passed that a primary Club be formed and this led to the establishment on 6th November 1950 of the Ballina Jockey Club as a Primary Race Club affiliated with the Australian Jockey Club.
At the first meeting amenities were provided from a temporary shelter consisting of tarpaulins supported by tea-tree paper-bark poles and patrons, even at this early stage of the Club's development, required improvements to be made. Following the establishment of Ballina Jockey Club the track was upgraded and a wooden running rail erected along with a new winning post. An administration block comprising the totalizator, a manually operated totalizator board, steward's room, jockey's room, and caretaker's living quarters followed.
A timber grandstand was constructed on the site of the current public grandstand and contained tea rooms for patrons. At the end of the day sandwiches would be purchased by the Club and taken to the administration building where owners and trainers would be entertained. This custom continues today after the completion of every race. Behind the tea room was a wooden publican's bar and adjacent to it an oyster bar with wooden benches where people sat at a bar table. The oyster bar became famous and was a gourmet delight for patrons.
Day stalls were built as a permanent structure to house horses engaged on race day roughly on the site they occupy today. The track had a wonderful wet weather reputation. It had a porous foundation and drainage was good. It has been known to have taken 12 inches of rain on one New Year's Eve and yet held up enough for racing on New Year's Day. Tidal flooding occurred each year in late December when seasonal high tides occurred and at times it was necessary to delay the commencement of the first race until the tide had receded from the course.
On course stable accommodation has always been a key to the Ballina Racecourse. Even during the early days of the new racing club it was always an important consideration to provide stables that could be rented by trainers using the track. As a result of this foresight Ballina has become one of the biggest bases in the Northern Rivers Racing Association for horses stabled at or near a racecourse.
During the past thirty years most of these structures have been demolished to make way for the amenities you see today. The track has been rebuilt, and a grass training track and a sand track established. All tracks are fenced with continuous aluminium running rails attached to steel posts. A new grandstand, member's area, more stables and day stalls have been built and the Club has plans to improve existing facilities and continue to expand for the benefit of its members and all stakeholders.
Tickets are now on sale online for this years Ballina Cup - Thursday 8th September. It's THE event of the year for Ballina, get in now and grab the early bird prices!