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Grandstand, former totalisator building and main entrance gates, Cluden Racecourse

  • 600924
  • 1 Racecourse Road, Townsville


Also known as
Cluden Racecourse
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
21 October 1992
Recreation and entertainment: Racecourse
7.6 Maintaining order: Defending the country
8.5 Creating social and cultural institutions: Sport and recreation
Tunbridge & Tunbridge
Reid, Mr
Construction periods
1896–1983, Grandstand, former totalisator building and main entrance gates, Cluden Racecourse (1896 - 1983)
1896–1983, Grandstand, former totalisator building and main entrance gates, Cluden Racecourse - Grandstand (1896 - 1983)
1896, Grandstand, former totalisator building and main entrance gates, Cluden Racecourse - Totalisator (1896 - 1896)
1896, Grandstand, former totalisator building and main entrance gates, Cluden Racecourse - Gates and Ticket Offices (1896 - 1896)
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century


1 Racecourse Road, Townsville
Townsville City Council
-19.32147164, 146.82071191


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The 1896 structures at Cluden racecourse in Townsville illustrate the importance of horse racing in Queensland, which was the earliest organised sport in the colony and was the first sporting institution in Townsville. In the nineteenth century, horses were the main form of transport and were used in warfare, police work and many industries. Racing them was thought to improve the general quality of the breed as well as being an entertainment and was officially encouraged. The breeding, training and racing of horses has been important in Queensland as an industry in its own right and the quality of facilities on an early racecourse such as Cluden demonstrates this.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

The grandstand is a good example of its type and its visual appeal and amenity were much praised when it was constructed. This, together with the totalisator building and entrance gates form a suite of original public racecourse buildings at one of the most important courses in the state

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

These buildings were designed by Walter Howard Tunbridge, one of North Queensland's most notable architects, and the aesthetic qualities of the grandstand in particular have been generally admired by the public. It has a light, airy quality less evident in grandstands in the Southern states.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The structures are important for their association with the Townsville Turf Club, the first sporting institution in Townsville and one of the oldest in the state. The buildings, in spite of assaults by the cyclones which are part of the region's weather patterns, have survived in regular use on this important course for over a hundred years.

Criterion HThe place has a special association with the life or work of a particular person, group or organisation of importance in Queensland’s history.

The grandstand, totalisator building and gates are major works of the important North Queensland architectural firm of Tunbridge and Tunbridge, especially Walter Howard Tunbridge, who did the actual design.


Townsville was founded in 1864 by partners John Melton Black and Robert Towns as a port and commercial centre for the pastoral industry north of the Burdekin. It was gazetted as a port of entry in 1865 and grew quickly. The first sporting institution formed was the Burdekin and Flinders Turf Club in May 1866. The patron was the Governor of Queensland, Sir George Ferguson Bowen, who supported horse racing as a means of improving breeding and with an eye to the development of a Queensland cavalry. The inaugural president was Robert Towns. The first race meeting was a three day event held in mid-August 1866 with substantial prizes being offered. Early meetings were held in several locations, including Cleveland Park in the Garbutt area and Hermit Park. In 1874 the government granted the club a reserve for a racecourse and the name was changed about this time to the Townsville Turf Club, which name it has retained. Work soon began on a proper track on a reserve of 64 acres on the Dalrymple Road.

The discovery of gold gave great impetus to the development of Townsville and by 1880 it was serving several major goldfields in the north. A railway was proposed to link Townsville with the important goldfield at Charters Towers in the late 1870s. The line from Townsville opened to Mingela in late 1881 and to Charters Towers in December 1882. Dr Frost and Mr A.H. Rourke of the Townsville Turf Club proposed a change of site for the course so that advantage could be taken of this rail service. Cluden Park had been established on the south side of Ross River in the early years of settlement and was about three miles from Townsville by rail. The site selected for the new course was only a few minutes walk from the Cluden station. A race track was cleared and marked out and a temporary stand erected for the first meeting. In spite of reservations about the move from members and patrons, the vastly improved accessibility of the new course made it successful from the start. Improvements consisting of a grandstand, stewards and press stand, booths and totalisator were constructed in 1883 at a cost of £2500.

On January 26, 1896 Cyclone 'Sigma' swept through Townsville, causing considerable damage. At Cluden railway station, the rails were six feet under water and the racecourse buildings were devastated. The grandstand had collapsed and the stables, training sheds and a number of local houses had been swept away. The Annual Townsville Turf Club Race Meeting was scheduled for 14 July and the committee decided that it would attempt to rebuild the course in time for this. Although Tunbridge & Tunbridge, as a major architectural firm in the city, was inundated with work at this time, W. Howard Tunbridge designed a new set of buildings for the course. They consisted of a grandstand to seat 700 with a lunchroom beneath at a cost of £1600, plus a totalisator building, judge's box, gates and stables. The existing damaged grandstand was recycled with more comfortable seating as a St Leger stand, which has since been removed. The whole project was estimated to cost over £2000. Thanks to strenuous efforts on the part of the architect, the Club Secretary, Mr James S. Love, and the contractor, Mr Reid, the new amenities were ready for use on time, although the final details, like painting, had to wait until after the meeting.

This was an immense success with 923 people arriving by rail alone. £370 was taken at the gate and £8107 at the totalisator over the two days, setting a new record. Prize money totalled £840. The new facilities, especially the grandstand and the well-ventilated and commodious lunch room and bar underneath it were much appreciated by the public and highly praised in the press. Even 'Feminine' who provided social notes for the North Queensland Herald, commented approvingly on the wide aisles and more spacious seating, because 'in this age of large sleeves and full skirts, we require rather more than elbow room'; an interesting comment in the light of the opinion of the racing press that levels of female attendance had a strong effect on the success or otherwise of a race meeting.

A totalisator was constructed to the rear of the grandstand and the building is still present, though now used as offices. The totalisator system has been in use since the 1860s, though the earliest system, the Pari-Mutuel, was cumbersome and expensive, needing a large number of clerks to make the necessary calculations. The system works on the principle of totalling the bets made on a particular race and then dividing this sum, less a percentage for the operator, amongst those selecting the winning horse in proportion to the amount of their wager. Bets are registered and dividends displayed on a special board. In 1887 a partially automated system was in use in Australia and may have been in use at Cluden, there having been a totalisator on the course before the 1896 rebuild. A Totalisator Tax Act was introduced in 1892 in which the government deducted sixpence in the pound of stake receipts. In 1913 an Australian, George (later Sir) Julius, invented a fully automated system which was introduced at Randwick in September 1917 and was soon widely in use in Australia and overseas.

By the next meeting of the Townsville Turf Club, work had been completed on the new buildings and the grandstand roof was painted in broad stripes and topped with flagpoles at each end of the ridge and roof corners, giving the building a distinctly carnival air. Similar stripes were also applied to the shallow concave roof lines of the totalisator building and two sets of entrance gates. A lower tier of seating, which was not undercover, was originally at the front of the grandstand, but seems to have been removed at an early stage in favour of a sloping lawn.

Major repairs were needed to the grandstand following Cyclone Leonta which struck Townsville with devastating effect in 1903 and a new members bar was added in 1923 by C.V. Rees. He also added a new stewards' stand and such improvements as new lavatories to the grandstand in 1927.

During the Second World War, the racecourse was used as a military camp by the Australian Army. However, the CO understood the value of the races to the morale of the troops and public and so the whole troop concentration moved out every Saturday so that the races could be held.

After Cyclone Althea in 1972 repairs were again needed and a toilet block and car park were added at this time. In 1983, a substantial upgrade of facilities was carried out by architects Martin Dillon and Associates. New toilets and drink serving areas were provided to the ground floor of the grandstand and new totalisator facilities, a glassed-in viewing area and catering facilities on the first floor. The roof sheeting was replaced, but the original seating was retained and materials were chosen to be sympathetic to the structure. Additional covered areas and a kiosk replaced sheds adjacent to the grandstand at this time. The refurbished facilities were opened in 1984 by the Minister for Racing.


The three buildings which form components of Tunbridge's suite of buildings for the site have generally retained their character and much of their original form.

In spite of upgrades to facilities made over the years and repairs following at least two cyclones, the grandstand has retained its character and has a continuity of usage. Its appearance has not changed greatly since opening, although a large section at the back has been glassed in, diminishing its original airy, pavilion-like appearance. It still has flagpoles at ridge and roof corners. It has a hipped roof with a concave profile clad in corrugated iron and supported on timber posts with cast iron brackets between the posts. Brackets to the interior are formed from wrought iron into tendril-like spirals. The seating is tiered and the original slatted timber seats remain. Beneath the grandstand are refreshment and bar facilities. These are now modern, but reflect the original type of facilities, if not their form.

The totalisator is a timber framed building clad with weatherboard and fibro set behind and to one side of the grandstand and can be clearly recognised from early photographs. It is a narrow T shape in plan, with a two storey hip roofed section set at right angles to a single storey gable roofed section. The roofs of both are clad with corrugated iron of the same profile as the grandstand and the hipped roof retains finials at each end of its ridge pole, though the flagpole at the end of the single storey gable has gone.

A wide verandah with a concave corrugated iron roof supported on timber posts surrounds the building and has been partially built in on two sides. This verandah is not shown on early pictures, though its date is unknown. Skylights have been added to the single storey roof on one side. The building has been used as offices for some time and the interior was not inspected.

One of the 1896 entrance gates remains as the main entrance to the course. It is timber and consists of a pair of ticket offices on either side of an entry and turnstiles. The whole is spanned by a corrugated iron roof matching that of the other Tunbridge buildings on site. This has retained its flagpoles and traces of a red and white striped paint scheme. The outer side has the words 'Townsville Turf Club' over the entrance and each ticket office has two grilled windows to the street and a door to the rear. The entrance when closed is protected by a modern security screen of vertical metal rods.

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Location of Grandstand, former totalisator building and main entrance gates, Cluden Racecourse within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated
20 January 2016
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