Almanac (Footy) History: Memories of Corio Oval, Geelong

 

 

No, I’m not ancient enough to have seen the Cats play at their old home ground of Corio Oval, Geelong – I mean, they last played there in 1940, and I wasn’t born until the early sixties! That said, I do have very fond memories of being part of a crowd there, the grounds of which nestled at one end of the picturesque Eastern Gardens, very near Corio Bay and Limeburners Point. The East Geelong Golf Course and the Geelong Gun Club were in the vicinity, too.

 

When I was a kid I used to go with my family (father, mother and younger sisters) to the harness races at the oval, which was in some respects still very much the same place where Geelong played all those years before. The trotting track was basically superimposed on the old football ground in the mid-1950s, with the main surrounds remaining intact, and by this I mean one relatively large and one relatively small grandstand, both of which had seen much better days by my era. I particularly recall the rickety woodenness of the smaller stand, which would doubtless have been condemned in the stricter, more regulated days of today.

 

My family used to regularly attend the trots there from roughly the late sixties to mid-1970s, and it was always a source of great excitement to me when told that we would be going on a particular night. I’d select my horses and have a punt, too. Dad would put on some small bets for me, but he was always more successful at it than I was. (That remains the case to this day!) I also recall that at a small booth next to the bigger grandstand they sold the best hot chips I’ve ever had in my life – roughly cut, salty, vinegary potato slices served in a lined brown paper bag (to prevent oil seepage), as opposed to the bland mass-produced chips usually available these days.

 

Good times like this almost always pass, though, and by 1978 the Geelong Trotting Club had held its last meeting at Corio Oval, moving to Beckley Park on the other side of town around 1980. On the Corio Oval land now is a conference centre. Demolition of anything left connected to the oval occurred in 1981. I suppose that the sporting use of the site, which went back to at least 1859, when Geelong first kicked a football there*, couldn’t last forever.

 

But when I think of my childhood, I remember Corio Oval as one of my special places. I even recall an occasion when a South Australian pacer called Son of Desert came to town, led all the way, and won by half the length of the straight at some absurd price, like 40 to 1. Of course, its connections would’ve been in the know, and had quite a few dollars on it, wouldn’t they?

 

@DensleyKevin

 

*Note: Corio Oval became Geelong’s official home ground from 1878. The previous one was known as Argyle Square, near the corner of Pakington and Aberdeen Streets, in Geelong West.

 

Main sources:

Wikipedia: Corio_Oval
Facebook:  Lost Geelong Photos

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His work has appeared in print in Australia, the UK and the USA, as well as on many online venues. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose.

Comments

  1. Ripper photo. I wonder if the people in their carriages tooted the horn when a goal was scored?

  2. Kevin Densley says

    I’d say so, Dips. I reckon the horses would have been used to it. The photo was taken in 1912, incidentally.

  3. roger lowrey says

    Kevin,

    Like you, my dad took me to the trots several times in the late 1960s.

    As a farmer, he was a natural whizz around animals of all sorts including horses. I was often intrigued by all the horsey conversations he had with a number of trainers and other connections most of whom greeted him fondly by his Christian name Jim.

    Yes, the red hots were a great night out for a young lad and his dad back then.

    RDL

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the comments, RDL. Yes, they were great times! I remember particularly enjoying visiting the horses before they went out to race.

  5. Thanks Kevin.

    I say, with no exaggeration, that this was one of the great sporting grounds in Australia. Having studied Geelong of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I could see football’s – and this ground’s – place in the lives of people. Saturday afternoon footy was huge – something to do. And to prove the local type was as good as any other – especially those from Melbourne. Geelong was known around the colonies as ‘the town with the football team’ because the Cats won 7 flags in 9 years from the late 1878-1886. The Saturday afternoon ritual was to have lunch at one of the pubs in town (or cafes) and then get a cab (horse-drawn) to the ground, or walk up through the gardens. They say it was beautiful, as this photo suggests. The Addie used to publish stats regarding the large crowds so it was possible to work out where people were from. 2000 people came on seven trains from Melbourne, 450 came on two Ballarat trains, 600 came on the Warrnambool trains. They also counted jinkers etc. In the 1920s, the stats are phenomenal. Crowds would be over 20,000 when the Geelong population was around 40,000.

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for this wonderful input, JTH! I love the kind of social history you’ve detailed; in fact, this history is very much my history, being born and raised in Geelong. Writing my vignette concerning Corio Oval – as well as your response to it – has reminded me how much my earlier years were connected to the Eastern Gardens area. My maternal grandparents lived within walking distance of the Gardens; I learnt to drive in a Ford Anglia on the Gardens’ extensive, winding roads, and even the father in the family who lived next door to my aforementioned grandparents worked as a conductor on the local trams. Ah, the many and varied connections! I could go on … brilliant stuff!

  7. Kevin Densley says

    I should also mention – as you would know, JTH – that people could travel directly (along Ryrie Street) to Corio Oval by tram, from 1930 onwards.

  8. Peter McLean says

    Do you know which match this photo is of?
    Carlton played Geelong at Corio Oval, Round 10 1912, June 22.
    A crowd of 10,000, which the Geelong Advertiser said it was a record crowd for the venue.
    The caption says a record crowd. Any ideas?

  9. Kevin Densley says

    Not sure which match this photo is of, Peter, but the record crowd for Corio Oval was 26,025 for a Geelong -Collingwood game (round 15, 29-08-1925), which Geelong won by 9 points: 11.8.74 to 8.17.65. From 1921-1940, the average crowd was 11,902, according to an AFL tables website.

  10. Kevin Densley says

    Just discovered that the VFA record crowd for Corio Oval is listed as 11,000 (Round 10, 1886). There’s an “Australian Football” website that says this – google those words to see a little more info, though this figure sounds like an estimate to me. I’m not certain how reliable many of the early stats such as this would be, in general.

  11. Great story Kevin…I’ve used that oval as a nice trick question ‘Geelong used to play on Corio Oval…where IS Corio Oval? Lots of puzzled looks! Have you ever come across any pics of their original ground- Argyle Square…which I guess is housing nowadays?

  12. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Murray. No, I haven’t seen any pics of the original Argyle Square ground, though one imagines that there may be the odd old photo or artist’s illustration of the ground. I did go to an exhibition of Geelong Football Club artefacts at the Geelong Art Gallery not that long ago, but can’t remember any images from that era. JTH may know more about this matter – John?

    The Argyle Square area these days, near what used to be the Argyle Hotel (now called Murphy’s, as I understand) is basically oldish housing and a few commercial enterprises such as a take-away and a hairdresser.

  13. Lovely stuff, Kev. I’ve played on Corio Oval. In a Cup final. Soccer, not footy. Deakin University played the mighty West Geelong Macedonians, and lost. Though the next day Bill Walsh had a column, actually nearly a page in the Geelong Adi in which he asked Was George Best the greatest football player ever. This was in a narrow single column down the centre of the page with a small head/bust shot of the Irish wizard. Down the bottom of the page across three or four columns was a large picture of Gordon ‘Stinky’ Wallace of Deakin (now professor of chemistry at Wollongong), Cane Stojanovski of West Geelong and in the middle, me! Now anyone reading the page would surely conclude that the guy with the little pic could hardly have been the greatest, when there was this bloke splashed across the page! Would you not agree?

  14. Oh and on the ground at the Argyle Hotel, where Geelong footy club played its first games, there was a pic in the Investigator in December 2018, across the front and back cover purporting to be of the oval at the hotel. Not so. It was actually the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1864. The mistake was corrected in the March 2019 issue.

  15. Damian Bourke says

    Thanks Kevin,
    That’s great history. Amazing crowd numbers given the population of the time.
    Bad confession…grew up in Geelong…I didn’t know where Corio Oval was.
    Damian

  16. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks for the detailed response, Roy. Enjoyable, interesting stuff! I do recall soccer being played at Corio Oval (and reported in local papers such as the Geelong Addy ). As you’d probably know, cricket was also played there from 1862, including some local representative sides playing international teams on tour. Your comments also reminded me that I once wrote a poem about George Best – maybe I should publish it on The Footy Almanac website? (Note: I remember you from a Deakin Uni indoor soccer comp in which I played many years ago now.)

    And Damian – thanks also for your comments. I don’t think you’re Robinson Crusoe when it comes to not knowing where Corio Oval was.

  17. Thanks again, Kevin. Bob Gartland has huge copy of that pic of Corio Oval, which he has had worked over by the photographic experts so that you can see the detail in the pic brilliantly clearly. It is blown up to be three or four metres long. Absolutely stunning. It was one of the highlights of the exhibition he mounted at the Geelong Art Gallery last year.

  18. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks Ro. I went to that exhibition, as I mentioned earlier – so many things to absorb. I really needed to go a few times, to take more of it in. A couple of questions … Do you know who Geelong was playing in that Corio Oval picture? Are you aware of any images of the earlier Argyle Ground?

  19. Marcus Holt says

    Col Hutchison, Geelong and AFL historian told me a story about the Argyle Oval. The club rented the ground from the owner of the Argyle Hotel on the condition that the club pay the annual rates. They used the hotel as change rooms. This went well until one year when the club secretary was away in Britain and neglected to pay the rates before he left. When the publican contacted the club requesting the rates be paid he was told it would have to wait until the secretary got back from overseas (a 6 week boat ride back then). The publican was not happy and to prove his displeasure, when the team turned up to play on the following Saturday, they found the oval had been completely ploughed, rendering it unplayable. This was the impetus for the move to Corio Oval. I have vague personal memories of Corio Oval in the background while watching my brother play cricket in the Eastern Gardens parklands on Portarlington Rd. I was also fortunate enough to win an ebay auction for a membership medallion for the Brownlow Young Stand at Corio Oval. The Brownlow connection is well known and I presume the Young in question is Henry “Tracker” Young who was named in the forward pocket of Geelong’s Team of the Century. There is a plaque in the garden of the conference centre signifying the location of Corio Oval, and for anyone interested in this sort of history, Charles Brownlow’s grave is easily located in the East Geelong Cemetery.
    NB. I believe the Argyle Oval story is toward the start of Col Hutchison’s book, “Cats Tales”.

  20. Kevin Densley says

    Great material, Marcus! I find Geelong Football Club’s 19th century history particularly interesting.

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