Australia’s premier racecourse
Flemington is Australia’s best-known and oldest continuing metropolitan racecourse. It is the most significant racing site in the country and in 2006, was placed on the National Heritage List.
The first racemeeting was held on the rough river flats beside the Maribyrnong River in March 1840 when the town of Melbourne was barely five years old. This was just two years after Melbourne's first racemeeting, near present-day Southern Cross railway station.
Provenance of the land and the name
Flemington was first known as the Melbourne Racecourse. The original approach road from Melbourne crossed Moonee Ponds Creek at Mt Alexander Road and passed through a property owned by James Watson. He named the property Flemington after his wife Elizabeth's hometown – Flemington in Morayshire, Scotland. He built the Flemington Hotel there in 1848 and a small township grew up around it. The course was not therefore, as long thought, named after early settler Robert Fleming, whose home was in Brunswick. The name Flemington was commonly used for the racecourse by the late 1850s.
At the time of the first racemeeting in 1840 the land was acquired from the Lang brothers and regarded by the government as Crown Land. Furthermore, the site was technically governed by New South Wales (the Port Phillip District only became the separate colony of Victoria in 1851). It was the Governor of New South Wales who formally ordered that a site of 352 acres be considered as a public racecourse in 1848, and he appointed six men as trustees of the racecourse area. In 1871, the government passed a Victoria Racing Club Act which made the club the trustees of the racecourse.
Launch of the Victoria Racing Club
The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) evolved from two earlier rival clubs, the Victoria Turf Club (1852) and Victoria Jockey Club (1857), who disbanded to create the new club in 1864. They had previously run their own separate racemeetings at the racecourse. Before the Victoria Turf Club began, self-appointed committees of interested horse owners had organised the annual races.
Flemington became a marvel under the early administration of the VRC. First secretary Robert C. Bagot and his successor Henry Byron Moore improved all facets of the racecourse – for horses, trainers and the public – to make Flemington a premier sporting and recreation centre.
From 1864 until the end of 2001, the VRC acted as the principal authority responsible for the conduct of racing in Victoria (Racing Victoria Ltd now fulfils that role). In August 2006, the VRC was incorporated to become Victoria Racing Club Limited. The Club is governed by a Board of Directors, elected by the Members of the Club.
Currently, the Club employees 184 staff, aside from its sizeable event-based workforce contingent, in order to run 23 racemeetings per season including the world-renowned Melbourne Cup Carnival.
Autumn origins of Flemington racing
The first Melbourne races were run annually in the autumn.
In 1854, the Victoria Turf Club (VTC) decided to run a spring meeting as well, when the countryside was at its best and the weather the most dramatic. The VTC conceived the idea of the Melbourne Cup, a handicap race over two miles with a rich prize. This was first run in November 1861 and attracted top inter-colonial horses, including the winner, Archer, from New South Wales.
The newly formed Victoria Racing Club (VRC) took over the race in time for its fourth running, in 1864, and has run it at Flemington every spring since that time.
Melbourne Cup becomes ‘the race that stops a nation’
Melbourne's great wealth and growth from the gold rush era of the 1850s to the land boom of the 1880s made the city the most dynamic in Australia. The Melbourne Cup rose to fame as a social and fashion event as well as the national sporting highlight of the year.
By the 1880s Flemington was attracting crowds estimated at 100,000 for Cup Day. Melbourne Cup Day on the first Tuesday in November has been a public holiday for the city since 1875, and is celebrated as a special day around the country.
The VRC has constantly improved standards of comfort and accommodation at Flemington, with $26.2 million spent on improvements in the years 2000-2004, in addition to the $45 million grandstand completed in 2000.