Almanac Book Review: Adelaide Sporting Sites by Bernard Whimpress, Santo Caruso and individual contributors


The Jubilee Oval was once a major sporting site in Adelaide. Yet not many would know of its existence, let alone its whereabouts. Located in what is now the north-eastern corner of the University of Adelaide, near the River Torrens, the Oval was the site for many sporting contests between 1895 and 1932; cricket matches, cycling, lawn tennis, league football matches, trotting, athletics, soccer (including international matches) and rodeo events. Thousands of spectators attended many of these events.


The Jubilee Oval is one of 63 sporting sites featured in the book Adelaide Sporting Sites by Bernard Whimpress (historian, writer, photographer) and Santo Caruso (passionate sporting book seller and publisher). The book is a collaborative effort between Whimpress (who has drawn the strands together in a genial manner), Caruso and some 24 fellow writers*, many of whom are involved with the South Australian chapter of the Australian Society for Sports History. Each of the writers has provided keen personal interest in and knowledge of the sporting sites chosen. The involvement of such a team has furthered the endeavours of ASSH(SA) and Whimpress in nurturing amateur sports history, whether by presenting research at meetings or producing written articles or published books.


One limiting factor in the selection of a possible site for inclusion from an exhaustive list was that the site at some time attracted significant crowds. Sites include football and cricket grounds, racecourses, motor racing tracks, swimming baths and stadium venues for tennis, athletics, basketball, netball, baseball, cycling and hockey. Other areas such as the parklands encircling the city, the Port and Torrens rivers, suburban beaches and the recreational precincts of the Adelaide shores have provided venues for a wider range of sports and these have also been included.
Many projects were initiated by community or personal interest and each writer has provided a brief history of the particular venue and how it has developed over time.
Some smaller stadiums and venues were eventually replaced by larger “state of the art” arenas in order to cope with increasing population and burgeoning interest. Some venues, such as Thebarton Oval, have hosted a myriad of sports over the years. The stories contain many interesting anecdotes of the people involved, whether they be sporting heroes or those with a passion for sport and community who have spent countless hours of dedicated involvement.


Some examples:
• Dawn Fraser, who began her Olympic campaign under the guidance of swimming coach Harry Gallagher at the Adelaide City Baths in the 1950s. One wonders what Dawn would have made of the interestingly named Miss Bastard, daughter of the first lessee of the baths, who became ‘swimming instructress to ladies’ in the 1870s.

• The foresight of HL ‘Cargie’ Rymill in the 1922 purchase of the swamp and sand dune country that eventually became the Kooyonga Golf Course. Rymill was also involved in the layout plan for the Royal Adelaide Golf Course. Both courses are of international standing with many of the world’s greatest players having competed on their fairways.

• Community officers such as Henry Yorke Parkes (Mayor of Glenelg), Robert Lewis (Prospect councillor), Arthur Thomas (Crown Solicitor) and noted philanthropist Sir Edwin Smith whose dedication and persistence led to the establishment and growth of Glenelg, Prospect, Unley and Norwood Ovals respectively.

• Well known early settlers Sir John Morphett, Sir Thomas Elder together with local businessman and politician Patrick Coglin and others were prominent in the development of horse racing at Morphetville, Victoria Park and the short-lived racecourse at Thebarton. The Victoria Park site and surrounding streets now host car racing and equestrian events.

• Colin McDonald scored 304 for Melbourne University in an Intervarsity match with Adelaide University at University Oval in 1955/56. At the time McDonald was an established player in the Australian Test team. Hmmm.

• The ubiquitous Rowley Park Speedway and its intrepid entrepreneur promoter Kym Bonython who in the 1950s and 60s transformed the former pug hole site in Brompton to an arena of Friday night carnage with his Demolition Derby, an event in which the last man/vehicle standing was the winner.

• Apollo Stadium, the principal home of many local and national league basketball teams between 1969 (the year of the Apollo moon landing) and 1991. The venue also hosted netball, volleyball and badminton and, as many baby boomers will testify, musical concerts featuring artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Turner, the Four Tops, Bob Marley, Jose Feliciano and the Bee Gees. Opening act for the Cat Stevens concert in 1971 was a very lost, out of place US folkie, Rambling Jack Elliott who unfortunately suffered from the same ‘fortress’ mentality that befell many of the visiting basketball teams.

• The changing vista of Adelaide Oval from open, then fenced, grass sward (for a time surrounded by a flat and then banked cycling track) to the establishment of the original ‘grand-old’ grandstands now replaced by ultra-modern twenty-first century edifices. And the way in which the games played on the hallowed turf have evolved just as much as the Oval itself. The flags of the district cricket clubs which once flew atop the grandstands, a symbol of the link with the community, are now long gone. The wonderful heritage scoreboard remains.

The text is accompanied by many brilliant photographs, from the archives of the State Library of SA or the Adelaide Chronicle with more recent contemporary photos, many provided by Bernard Whimpress and Peter Argent. The complementary effect of the photos vividly displays the evolving nature of the sporting sites and their activities. Several photographs illustrate the rich history of swimming and rowing in Adelaide. These include a photograph of the Henley Beach jetty and pavilion in 1919, packed to overflowing with children in swimming attire, women in long flowing dresses and men in formal suits, all assembled to watch the Henley to Grange Long Swim.


The front cover photo of the book shows the Ken Martin sculpture of the great Barrie Robran which adorns the southern plaza of the Adelaide Oval. With the Adelaide Oval grandstand looming in the background of the soaring Robran, the photo is an apt representative symbol of all the sporting arenas of Adelaide and the participants who have competed to the best of their personal ability and effort.


Adelaide Sporting Sites provides an excellent historical knowledge of the establishment of so many venues and the manner in which they have grown, changed and in some cases disappeared. It tells the stories of many of the participants involved in activities at these venues.
More than that, the book will provoke memories. It will provide readers with, as John Halbert states in the foreword, ‘the pleasure of many personal recollections (and) distinct incidents’ that come ‘flooding back with such great delight’.


One question remains. Just where was the Adelaide sporting site of the apparently motiveless fatal shooting of a sportsman that occurred in 1952?


Copies of the book may be obtained by calling Santo Caruso 0499 867 077 or 0421 793 833. Cost $40. The book is also available at the South Australian outlets, Dillon’s Bookshop in Norwood, Imprints in the City and Matilda Books in Stirling.


* I add the personal disclaimer that I consider myself fortunate to be one of the contributing writers for the project.


Bernard Whimpress, Santo Caruso and individual contributors, Adelaide Sporting Sites, Melbourne Sports Books, Salisbury SA 5018. 288pp, $40

About Peter Crossing

Peter Crossing loves the pure 'n natch'l blues. He is a member of the silver fox faction of the Adelaide Uni Greys. He is something of a cricket tragic although admitting to little interest in the IPL or Big Bash forms of the game.


  1. Bernard and Santo and writers,

    Congratulations. I look forward to seeing a copy. Please send us some contact details so people know where to purchase the book.


    PS Doggies Park on Goodwood Road in there?

  2. Michael Sexton says

    This is a tremendous body of work put together by a wonderful group to honour and remember sport and the society it reflects. The launch was an evening of shared memory and joy – Rowley Park Speedway, Garry Sobers batting at Prospect Oval, competitors dodging water rats while swimming the River Torrens, Dawn Fraser at the City Baths, Manchester United in 1967 at Olympic Park and the steaming atmosphere inside Forestville Basketball Stadium.
    Briefly, there was a game of one-upmanship about who had seen who at the Apollo Stadium – Jerry Lee Lewis – Bee Gees – Cold Chisel – U2 – until Bernard played his ace: Ravi Shankar.

    Thanks to everyone involved.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    My copy arrived last night, well done to all (tremendous review too PC)

    JTH – Doggies Park gets a mention in the South Parklands section.

    Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, B52s

  4. Pete looking forward to reading this great piece of social history. Rowley Park gets its due finally. Still remember Friday nights fuel smells and the roar and spills. Did mallala get a gig too. Home of norm beachey and the Monaro as he on two wheels in front of crowd on the turn adjusting rear vision mirror.

  5. Dave Brown says

    Looks wonderful, must get me a copy. My grandmother used to tell a story of studying at the Barr Smith Library in the early 1930s and being able to look out the window and see zoo animals grazing on the Jubilee Oval.

  6. Jubilee Oval is right where the Geology Building is now!

    I am ashamed to add to the list:
    Neil Sedaka

  7. bernard whimpress says

    Fantastic review, Peter
    JTH thanks – spoke to Santo yesterday about getting in touch with you, I suggested he should cut a financial deal with you for a promotion.
    Mike, I didn’t know I was acing anyone with Ravi Shankar. I went to see him on the basis of his closing number filmed at the Monterey Rock Festival. I didn’t realise he was a classical musician.
    ‘Cargie’ Rymill had a hand in designing not only Kooyonga and Royal Adelaide but also Grange and Glenelg golf courses which are also featured in the book.
    Good on you for the purchase, Swish and couldn’t leave out mention of Adelaide Lutheran.
    Yes Nank, Mallala gets an entry as do a lot of other motor racing venues. A young Jack Brabham raced at Kilburn Speedway.
    Jubilee Oval stretches from Geology Building and takes in area where the Barr Smith Lawns are. Grandstands were where the Union Buildings are.

  8. Rulebook says

    Enjoyable read Noughts ahh the district cricket flags on the members grandstand a trip down memory lane sounds like a very interesting read

  9. John Warhurst says

    Great review Peter. I immediately rang Santo to order a copy. What a terrific guy he is. My interest includes The Parade, where I was lucky enough to play a bit, as well as Jubilee Oval, Victoria Park (known as the Old Course till 1897) and the Old Exhibition Grounds, which all hosted sport in the 1890s. I’m sure you did Prospect Oval justice!

  10. Michael Harry says

    Excellent review! Captures the quirky originality and vitality of a wonderful project. The text is lovingly written throughout and brought to life by the superb photographs across all eras refectting the individual character of each of these special places. Nostalgia of the very best kind, a great antidote to the excesses of much modern professional sport.

    Congratulations to Bernard and Santo for their imagination and energy.

  11. Bernard Whimpress says

    Keep the momentum going guys and extra thanks for your comments Rulebook, John and Michael. The district cricket flags on the old AO were wonderful even if some were as tatty as Steve Waugh’s cap. Unfortunately neither I nor anyone else appears to have photographed them. Plenty in this book for John by the sound of it and a lovely short review Michael. Share the news on all your social media outlets and quote Santo’s phone numbers.

  12. Peter Crossing says

    Thanks to all for the comments.
    Book launch: Held in the Trinity Gardens Bowling Club, a humble sporting venue with its own rich history. A most enjoyable night with each contributor being given the opportunity to say a few words about their sporting site. Many terrific personal insights.
    Apollo: Everyone has their own hero so no need to feel shame. Rambling Jack displayed grace under extreme pressure. The Peace Train was not at the station.
    The Geology building on the site of the Jubilee Oval: Trilobite fossils. The eruption of the geyser timed to perfection with the explanation given by Alf Clemens during a Geology I lecture.

  13. Rowley Park Speedway was a Friday night ritual as a kid. Johnny Boulger, Phil Crump, “Snowy” White & the demolition derby to finish off the night. Great days.

  14. Great to hear of this wonderful tribute to the venues of my youth. 2 purchases please – one for dad and one for me. Great review PC and all the contributors.
    Wayville Showgrounds for the red hots on the 500 metre saucer track. I saw Joan Baez perform outdoors there in the early 70’s. My first concert was Jethro Tull at the nearby Centennial Hall. West Adelaide played footy there until WW2.
    My first SANFL game was at Kensington Oval in the early 60’s (against Glenelg I think – go figure).
    The Parade for night baseball in the 70’s in the Kevin Greatrex/Dave Mundy days. Laurie Harcus, Ken Cole and a very young Phil Smyth in district basketball at the Forestville Stadium tin shed.
    Apollo memories – 10CC; Chuck Berry; JJ Cale; and (consolation to 6%) Neil Sedaka (I reckon he mimed everything before we had heard of Milli Vanilli).

  15. Bernard Whimpress says

    Thanks Peter
    Best way to purchase is direct from Santo by phoning him on 0499 867 077 or 0421 793 833. There was one helluva range of groups at Apollo.

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