26 April 2024

Marchmont Racecourse restoration project at Yass is out of the gates

| Sally Hopman
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Kids running in a paddock

Youngsters test drive the restoration work at Marchmont Racecourse, Yass, at the 2024 Picnic Races. Photo: NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

The first stage of a grand plan to restore Yass’s historic Marchmont Racecourse to its former glory has been completed.

A Crown Lands grant of $242,000 through the NSW Government has been used to clean up the 34-hectare course, one of the oldest in NSW. Its first event post-clean up was the Yass Picnic Races, now in its 123rd year, which was held in February this year.

The Marchmont Racecourse was gazetted in 1913 and is one of NSW’s oldest racing venues. It had fallen into disrepair over recent years, with the site becoming overgrown and strewn with waste, including hunks of metal and building materials that were dumped in the centre of the track.

The Crown Lands grant paid for the removal of tonnes of scrap metal and more than 4000 car and truck tyres which had been used as barricades for car and motorcycle racing.

The inside of the racecourse has also been levelled and sown with grass. Other upgrades include construction of a new entrance gateway and fence line, internal road repairs and removal of a derelict concrete canteen block.

Where possible, Trust members have ensured that material was recycled in the restoration process – like the concrete bollards used in the car races were crushed down to repair access roads into the site.

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Marchmont Racecourse secretary Cathy Bennett said although the dream was to create a multi-purpose equestrian centre on the site – a project that would cost around $20 million – completion of this initial stage of restoration work was a great first step.

“This funding from the NSW Government has been critical in enabling us to commence work on improving the facilities at Marchmont,” she said. “It’s taken a lot of work, but thanks to this grant the reserve is looking better than ever.

“Marchmont and horse sports have strong historical links with our community. As a fast-growing regional town, it is important to invest in spaces that can retain the best that rural life has to offer.”

Ms Bennett said more money was needed to continue the work if it were to become a major centre hosting everything from polocrosse to pony club events, show jumping to carriage driving.

“It’s a work in progress,” she said. “This clean-up has certainly made a difference so far – the Trust is pretty chuffed with what we have achieved.”

paddock full of rubbish

Before the clean-up, Marchmont Racecourse at Yass was a dumping ground for rubbish. Photo: NSW Department of Primary Industry.

Moves to revive the site as one of the Yass Valley’s main attractions began in 2021 when the Marchmont Racecourse Trust was established. A Master Plan was created, designed to make the facility more accessible for locals and visitors throughout the year. Up until then, the only major event on its calendar was the annual picnic races.

The Master Plan included powered campsites, a dog trial arena, swabbing facilities, an announcer’s box and a caretaker’s residence.

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Ms Bennett said it had been about 30 years since the centre of the course had been used regularly, which accounted for its deterioration over ensuing years.

“We had polocrosse here for many years but that stopped in 1990 because the facilities were not good enough. Then the car and motorbike racing stopped in 1995 because of the insurance costs.

“These days there are more rural lifestyle blocks all around here so we need to concentrate on non-motorised sports here now – that’s why the plan is to eventually create the equestrian centre.”

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