This topic grew out of a broader subject – sport in Kandos in the 1920s (thank you Donna Upton for that suggestion).
There is so much one could write about: rugby, soccer, cricket, golf, skating, tennis, boxing, cycling, fishing, swimming, trotting, horseracing, rifle shooting, motorcycling, foot racing, wood-chopping, tug-of-war and coursing. They all had their following in Kandos in the 1920s.
It’s that last topic, coursing, that took my interest, firstly I didn’t know what it was, and once I did, I was drawn to the squabbling element. Because out of coursing, as some of you would know, came greyhound racing, a dirty subject in NSW a few years ago.
The first rules of coursing, I learnt, were drawn up by the Duke of Norfolk in the 1560s. For a couple of hundred years it was a nobleman’s sport, because they owned the land. By the eighteenth century the middle classes had got in on the action, and by the late nineteenth century, the working classes, with more free time, were taking up the hobby. And so we come to Australia where coursing took off in about the 1860s.
Coursing is the pursuit of game by sight rather than smell. All you really need in coursing are fast dogs that like to chase smaller animals in a paddock; and a group of men (mainly) who like to watch them. In the beginning it was all kinds of dogs and all kinds of prey including rabbits, kangaroos and wallabies. It wasn’t long before the participants worked out that greyhounds were the fastest dogs and hares were the best prey. They made bets on which dog was going to win, lined them up on a course, held them in check (that was the job of a slipper using a cord of some kind), released the hares, released the dogs and chased after the pack to assess the winner. I imagine it was all fairly hit and miss with a fair bit of disagreement. After all, hares aren’t going to race along a nicely made track to a finish line and nor will their pursuers. They’ll weave and turn and scamper through fencing and around trees. They’ll be pounced on and gorged and ravaged. That’s the bloody part of the sport. But I’m not sure how they worked out who “won” with criteria like intelligence, stamina, courage and speed.
By the time the Kandos Coursing Club formed in 1925, its 35 members were more strategic. Courses were now called plumptons which were on large, enclosed, levelled paddocks, cleared of stumps, trees and debris, sandy-soiled if possible (to have it soft and springy for the racers), and with a good growth of grass. All this was achieved by volunteers working at weekends and on a full moon. Kandos had their plumpton on George land, out along Dabee Road. It was where the hares bred and roamed, but they were also “schooled morning and afternoon” and given “a good allowance of oats and grains”. The plumpton was used for training, trials and race meetings. Members aspired to improve their plumpton with two toilets, a publican’s booth, refreshment stall, bookmakers section, dog yard and kennels, though it’s doubtful Kandos club achieved all that.
That word plumpton, by the way, has been tossed out of the dictionary through lack of use, and according to the urban dictionary, is making its way back in, to mean “a blow job”!
For some (workers mainly who liked to gamble on a Saturday afternoon) the enjoyment of coursing was race meetings held monthly at Kandos during the coursing season, but also at Mudgee, Lithgow, Bathurst and further away. Other followers were more interested in breeding and training, from which they hoped to make good money. In that first year of the club, trainer Jack O’Malley could be seen driving his blue car at thirty or forty miles an hour with six greyhounds chasing after it. And Dick Miranda was selling bitch puppies “from that great dog Andrew Micawber” for seven guineas each. In 1925 there were 82 greyhounds in the town. Another business was breeding hares for speed, to sell to coursing clubs.
Coursing meetings drew interest from town workers but prominent town names appeared on the committee including Dr Darton (patron) as well as Edwards, Walsh, Hayes, Lloyd and Couper.
Fund-raising was an important part of all sporting clubs in Kandos and the Coursing Club ran a number of social events in their first year including a queen competition ball, dances and euchre tournaments. Annual membership of one guinea, as well as profits from race meetings (often around £30) added to the coffers.
Kandos as a new aspirational town was ready to take on something new. In 1927 the tin-hare was introduced to Sydney from America and Kandos first introduced it in 1931. At that time it was called Tin-hare or Mechanical Racing and greyhounds ran a circuit course (though, surprisingly coursing continued till the 1970s as Australia’s last blood sport). Like other betting sports it was controlled by legislation, restricted to licensed grounds and certain days. The main opposition came, no longer from animal welfare activists, but from anti-gambling campaigners, of which there were many in Kandos and Rylstone. Tin-hare racing, they said, would bring undesirables to the town, interfere with other sport, encourage gambling and harm families.
There were three attempts to establish tin-hare racing in Kandos before WW2, including a determined one by Rylstone Hospital Board in order to fund the hospital. But none succeeded.
Small towns are not just about establishment, growth and stability. They are also about aspiration, struggle and failure. Coursing/greyhound racing was just another enterprise introduced by enthusiastic locals that fell by the wayside.
Though greyhound racing was never established in Kandos, there continues to be breeders and followers. In the 1960s Kandos Queen and Kandos Prince made a name for themselves in city greyhound race meetings.