Shoulder to Shoulder. VRC members watch the running of the 1965 Melbourne Cup from the enclosure. (National Archives of Australia)
The many thousands of members of the Victoria Racing Club take pride in being, collectively, the custodian of modern Flemington, part of our National Heritage and one of the great racecourses of the world.
The VRC is a club that has evolved over the space of 157 years, from a clique of gentlemen racing enthusiasts into a broad-based, democratic organisation claiming the largest racing club membership in the world.
That tiny clique of 1864 grew to a club of a thousand members within twenty-five years, acknowledged as the Principal Racing Club in Victoria, and it made the Melbourne Cup into a national institution. Under its first Secretary, Robert Cooper Bagot, and his successor for forty-four years, Henry Byron Moore, Flemington became a showpiece. Cup crowds exceeded 100,000 with an immediate focus on fine fashion and champion racehorses.
Byron Moore was an innovator who beautified the grounds and continually had an eye for upgrading facilities for members and the public alike.
For the first century of the VRC, an economic class system prevailed at Flemington. The cheapest reserve – indeed free of charge until 1906 – was The Flat on the infield, crowded always on Cup Day but with basic facilities, limited views, and no great proximity to the racing action. The second-class reserve was The Hill, standing room only on the terraces but with shelter and picnic grounds behind. The old Hill Reserve offered no access to the horses or main betting ring but provided sweeping views.
Premium price public reserve was the Lawn, sharing stands and facilities with the VRC Members who had some sections reserved for themselves. An exclusive Members’ Stand was built in 1924. These Reserve distinctions began to disappear in 1963, when The Flat was closed, and effectively ended when the Hill Stand was completed in 1979 – the same year that the VRC began to enrol women as ‘provisional members’.
The general racing public today receive royal treatment at Flemington. General admission allows all racegoers to range from lawn to hill, to meet horses face-to-face in the raceday stalls and in the Mounting Yard, to access the rails betting ring, to position themselves along the running rail or to book fine dining options with racecourse views. The public Lawn and Hill Stands, directly opposite the winning post, offer arguably the best outlook onto the racecourse. At the Melbourne Cup Carnival, seating in the stand must be pre-purchased when tickets go on general sale.
VRC members enjoy admission to all Flemington meetings and the added comfort and benefits of both The Grandstand, a multi-storey facility for members completed in 2000, and the stylish and modern Club Stand, brand new in 2018. The Club Stand replaced the Members’ Stand which had done duty on this spot since before the era of Phar Lap. Both of these elegant, spacious buildings offer a wide range of betting facilities, dining areas and bars with elevated vantage points close to the racing action.
Members are entitled to numerous benefits including certain reciprocal rights with sporting and racing clubs nationally and internationally. They are offered a selection of hospitality options throughout the year, especially at Melbourne Cup Carnival time. These include the right to reserve car and marquee sites in the Domain, the Rails and Nursery Car Parks.
It’s fair to think of Members and the Members’ Reserve as the heart of Flemington, and it is no surprise that members stay loyal to the VRC, decade after decade. There is an honoured cohort of 50-year Life Members who bear witness to that.