BY TANYA WILLIAMS
Proudly swinging from handbags and belt loops the VRC membership medal, now card, is a coveted symbol and tangible evidence of inclusion and dedication to Australia's most prestigious race club. We take a look at the heritage of the medallions.
When the Victoria Racing Club was founded on 9 March 1864, the ledger recorded a total of 32 founding members. Back then a list of subscribers’ names and a ticket was all that was required to keep track of members, but with growing race day attendances and an increasing list of members (more than 300 in that first year) it was essential to provide proof of membership so that bearers could be easily afforded their rights, including admission to the course and members’ areas and pass the scrutiny of the attendants. An identifying badge was what was required.
It’s unclear when the first VRC membership medallions were cast, though there is reference to the idea in the Committee minutes of October 1886. These were certainly issued by the time Merriwee won both the Victoria Derby and Melbourne Cup in 1899. The 1899/1900 edition, a modest shield design. The 1889/1900 edition, a modest shield design, does indeed display the required identifying information of who, what and when. The front features the VRC monogram and racing season dates, bordered by beading and cartouche scroll detailing, the back engraved with the membership number of the recipient. The loop hole for a cord provided ease of attachment to a watch chain, button hole or binocular strap.
The medallion would have been issued along with members’ ticketing. The tradition of issuing member’s medallions each racing season continued over the next century and almost into the new millennium. As each season’s medallion had to be different from the next – no sneaking in with last year’s pass, please – every issue is uniquely distinctive. The Club has a wonderful array of these tiny treasures in the Art & Heritage Collection.
Medallions were eventually replaced in the 1997-98 season by the familiar barcoded smartcards issued to members today.
But the romance of the little chunk of metal remains. Still to be found in antique shops, desk drawers and even neglected garden beds, many a finder has been in contact with the Club, curious to know more. The medallions, boldly emblazoned with the club monogram and racing season, appear give up their history easily in declaring ‘what’ and ‘when’ but it’s the verso, the numbers stamped or engraved on the back that are the key to revealing its most intriguing story, the question of ‘who'.