ThrowbackThursday: Billy Cart Derby, Easter Saturday 1957

Promotional window label, Eltham Gymkhana, Easter Saturday, 20 April 1957 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )

#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to Saturday, April 20, 1957. We are going to the Eltham Easter Gymkhana which is being held at Eltham Park. This is the ninth Eltham Show to be held in aid of the Eltham War Memorial Trust. The Trust has already built an Infant Welfare Centre which was opened five years ago in 1952 and more recently this year, a preschool centre which includes a children’s library in an annexe.

Today’s programme includes equestrian turnouts, dressage contests, and jumping events for which the newly formed Melbourne Show Jumping Club have assisted in laying out an Olympic-type course.

The Women’s Auxiliary of the trust are also running a market stall, with local produce and handcrafts.

Besides the horse show, there will be a pedigreed goat show and this year, a most thrilling soap box derby for us to see for which Mr Russell Lewis along with Mr J.M. Peter Bassett-Smith, secretary of the trust and a member of the show committee will assist in the running of.

Entry form for the Skyline Drive-In “Soap-Box” Derby, to be held along Main Road between Panorama Avenue and Bolton Street, Easter Saturday, 20 April 1957 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
[Note: entry form quotes incorrect date as 19 April, which was a Friday]
The Soap Box Derby is being sponsored this year by Hoyt’s Skyline Theatres and is to be run over a 3/4 mile long course along the main Eltham Road commencing at the eastern corner of Panorama Road and racing down the hill to the finish line at the intersection with Bolton Street. There are two divisions in this Derby; Junior, 8-13 years and Senior, 14-95 years, so let’s go join in the fun.

Billy carts in the Senior division are permitted vehicles of any size or type provided they are fitted with four wheels, adequate braking, steering and have no motor. In the Junior division the vehicles must also be no more than five feet in length and the wheels no more than 12 inches in diameter. No pneumatic tyres and needle or roller bearings are allowed.

It is now 11:00 am and the elimination heats followed by the semi-finals are about to commence. The final of each division should be conducted around 1:20 pm. Apart from the local entries, 18 Melbourne Grammar School Students are in attendance to assist in the running of the Derby.

The Starter now places the competitors on the starting line. He takes a few steps forward in front of the line of billy carts, turns to face them, raises the flag in his arm, scans the line and each competitor one final time then drops the flag. And they’re racing!

In about four minutes they will cross the finish line at Bolton Street.

The 1957 Eltham Gymkhana made a profit of £309 19s 6d, which was paid in to the Eltham War Memorial Trust fund.

Did you attend or participate in the Billy Cart Derby? Do you have any pictures or stories you would like to share with us? We would love to hear your comments and memories.

Entry form for the Skyline Drive-In “Soap-Box” Derby, to be held along Main Road between Panorama Avenue and Bolton Street, Easter Saturday, 20 April 1957 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
[Note: entry form quotes incorrect date as 19 April, which was a Friday]

References:

  • 1957, “Young Rider to Judge at Show”, The Age, Wednesday, April 17, 1957, p8
  • 1957, Your Entry Form for the Skyline Drive-In “Soap-Box” Derby
  • 1957, Minutes of Meeting of Eltham Show Committee held at La Ronde, 12 April 1957
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One thought on “ThrowbackThursday: Billy Cart Derby, Easter Saturday 1957”

  1. Although I was only 5 years old, I remember the Billy Cart Derby well, as my oldest brother, John Phillips raced. The cart was built by our neighbor, Art Weichman from steel tube and sheet metal with wheels from an old “London” pram and painted silver. Was named “Jindivic” after the recently launched Australian rocket. Unfortunately no prize was won but the day was very exciting. A controversy arose when an entrant had fitted some bricks thinking the added weight would increase speed.

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