FROM the time greyhound racing behind a mechanical lure was first introduced in Australia, in May 1927, the sport has faced almost unrelenting opposition. That opposition started with the thoroughbred code, not surprisingly, as well as cinema operators and, naturally, the churches.
So-called animal liberationists weren’t exactly thick on the ground in the late 1920s and beyond, but they didn’t need to be as the anti-greyhound lobbyists were powerful enough in terms of political clout back in those days.
For the horse racing crowd the opposition to greyhounds was simply one of direct competition for the gambling dollar, or pound, as it was in those days. The same opposition exists today. For greyhound racing administrators to believe they can somehow embrace their thoroughbred counterparts is folly in the extreme. It would be like Apple and Microsoft engaging in a love-in.
Once the horse racing supremos managed to exert enough pressure on the state politicians, greyhound racing went from an afternoon sport being in direct competition, to being compelled to race at night instead.
This brought greyhound racing into competition with the cinema and theatre industry. Owners and operators complained people were attending greyhound racing instead of going to the cinema with their families.
For the churches the issue was simply the existence of yet another avenue for the average working man to go and lose his money, and thus reduce his family to poverty.
For example, in December 1927 the Anglican bishops of NSW addressed a letter to Premier Thomas Bavin which, in part, wanted to warn the government of ‘the grave menace to the moral and material welfare of citizens…through excessive inducements to, and participation in, betting and gambling. We are convinced that license for betting on mechanical hare racing is calculated greatly to extend the range, and increase the appetite for betting, especially among women and children. The State is threatened thereby with a most serious social peril.’
Yet, despite the vocal opposition and numerous attempts by way of onerous laws and rules to somehow curtail the popularity of greyhound racing, by 1940 there were 45 tracks operational in New South Wales alone.
Nonetheless, the NSW State government considered greyhound racing to be a ‘problem’. Its growth ‘perturbs the government’ screamed one sub-header from an article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in March 1940. The article claimed a ‘prominent member of the Government favours the abolition of greyhound racing, but he considers that it is so popular with a section of the public that it would be difficult now to reduce the number of meetings and to check the popularity of the sport.’ Sound familiar?
One of the key reasons greyhound racing had gathered so much popularity was its reach into so many towns and villages across NSW. Remember, this is a time when there weren’t so many opportunities for outside activities. A greyhound meeting would often become a weekly social focal point for locals, as much as an opportunity to maybe win a few shillings or pounds, if they were lucky.
It is this central-to-the-local-community aspect which greyhound racing today needs to re-embrace if it is to stave off the vitriolic challenges of a vocal minority.
In 1940, the Herald article detailed the location of the tracks, and the populations in the towns at the time. Among them were tracks at places like Bega (with a population of just 2,800 people); Condobolin (2,100); Corowa (2,900); Gundagai (1,500); Inverell (6,000); Moss Vale (1,800); Murrumburrah (3,000); Narrabri (3,250); Narrandera (5,000); Parkes (6,000); Queanbeyan (5,000); Ungarie (1,900); Uralla (1,800) and Werris Creek (2,500).
Greyhound racing was also being conducted at places like Armidale, Bathurst, Casino, Coonabarabran, Cowra, Dapto, Dubbo, Gosford, Goulburn, Grafton, Gunnedah, Lismore, Maitland, Newcastle, Tweed Heads and Wagga. More than 75 years after that article was written those places still have a greyhound track.
In 1940 there were 32 towns which had applied for a greyhound track license. Of these, Broken Hill, Bulli, Coonamble, Nowra, Richmond, Taree, and Temora all eventually gained a greyhound track, and are still there today.
Somehow, despite the churchmen’s fears of a ‘most serious social peril’, it appears the average person managed to muddle through and continue to propagate the species sufficiently that we still have a functioning society.