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From Rectangles to Speedways – Using spatial archaeology to explain the change in function of Rowley Park from Soccer to Speedway.

Posted by cegan on July 16, 2013

Rowley Park is now no longer with us, it has been demolished with houses that now occupy the land that was previously home to up to 20,000 people on a Friday Night. However the ground which was purchased as a philanthropic gift to the South Australian Football Soccer Association has a fascinating history to the world game. The purchaser of the ground Enoch Rowley, a soccer goalkeeper in 1908, which the ground was named after occurred prior to the establishment of speedway in Maitland NSW in 1921. Despite this, in 2013 the memory of the venue is dominated by Speedway, not soccer. This report will give an understanding of how a sport not even invented in 1908 when Mr Rowley bought the ground for soccer, ended up being Adelaide’s premier Speedway facility.

In 1943, the Advertiser on the 11th November reports about the discussion between the Hindmarsh Council and the South Australian Soccer Football Association as they were called.

“A special committee was appointed to negotiate with Hindmarsh Council regarding a proposal submitted by the council to either purchase direct from it a parcel of land from Brompton or grant the association a 99 year lease of the Hindmarsh Oval (now Hindmarsh Stadium) in exchange for the land owned by the association”

Rowley Park had been vested in the Soccer Football Association of South Australia in 1908 after a purchase from Mr Enoch Rowley, who had forged a reputation of being Western Australia’s best goalkeeper.

So it was a philanthropic gift that allows South Australian Football to own an asset that not many fellow associations around the country are lucky enough to own.

On the 26th October 1943, we see that there were issues the Soccer Association had with the triangular piece of land that was Hindmarsh Stadium. There seems to be council discussions with the Federal Government about the realignment for the Hindmarsh Post Office. Space seems to be an issue, particularly with a desire to host international football.

The committee that was established were named a few weeks after on the 19th November 1943.

“Messrs. E. P. Rowley, w. P. J. McCann. H. Waterman, J. A. Croger R. L. Sims. H Evans. T. C. Stephens. R. J. Holiday. C. Campbell Smith, and J. R. Creenbank were appointed to negotiate with the Hindmarsh Council regarding the sale or lease to the council of the association ground at Brompton”

Despite this five months later on the 3rd March 1944 Hindmarsh Oval is rejected by the South Australian’s as a possible home ground, despite the opportunity to hold a 99 year lease at the ground.

Soccer was still being played at Rowley Park in the early 1950s and despite the ground surface being unsuitable for a larger venue, it was the home of local team Budapest, a team for ‘new Australian’s’ in the post war surge of interest in the round ball code.

The movement from Rowley Park to Hindmarsh Stadium is not as early as Wikipedia seems to mention. The early 1950’s at Hindmarsh Oval is a period where Rugby becomes the major sport to be held on the ground and it is not till the late 1950’s that Rowley Park’s spatial landscape makes it unsuitable to hold soccer matches.

It seems the movement back to Hindmarsh Oval (Hindmarsh Stadium) takes a lot longer and comes about not because of the realisation of a bad surface, but because of the increased popularity of Speedway changing the spatial landscape of the venue. While the surface meant it could not hold international games, there was no desire to not hold soccer fixtures at the venue until community demands for a change in its function. Speedway is more popular on that site than soccer.

This photo below shows us the shape of Rowley Park in 1954.

Rowley Park 1954

By 1958 the ground is changed and Rowley Park can no longer play soccer on it. Adaptations due to a change in human behaviour and new technology. The mid 1950’s is seen as a golden era for Speedway in Australia, particularly in Perth, Adelaide and Sydney.

Rowley Park 1958

We begin to see a trait, during periods of heightened interest in a sport at a venue, grounds change shape and function. It is also important to add this to community understandings of history, to add this to the often sketchy records we have of sports history to ensure interpretations incorporate the cultural artefacts – the grounds.

The Speedway which had once had to conform to the needs of soccer in 1949 when it leases the ground over the summer months changed in 1958 to a speedway track. The imagery shows how community attitudes can change and infrastructure adapts to this change in human behaviour.

Today in 2013, Rowley Park is now a housing estate with a memorial on the site recognising its place in history as part of the growth of Speedway in the 1950’s within Australia. Community attitudes to Speedway changed and the last race was held in 1979 at the Brompton site. However the Speedway Track never changed its name, despite its association to the world game. Just like the gates are still called Perth Oval outside of NIB Stadium. The naming of a venue seems to hold more historical importance than the function and cultural artefacts that exist within a venue.

Hindmarsh Stadium is still hosting soccer, just as it did in the 1940s but has now transferred ownership to the state government. Had Hindmarsh council been able to convince the South Australian Soccer Football Association to take the 99 year lease of the site, Rowley Park would have become a childrens playground rather than a football pitch in 1945.

Soccer within South Australia would be in a much more powerful situation if they had taken the lease and would still be holding that tenancy in 2013. Yet, Hindmarsh because of its triangular land parcel was seen as unable to construct an international standard ground based on the limitations of 1940’s architecture. In 2013 Hindmarsh Stadium is a FIFA standard venue as new technologies have enabled site restrictions to be alleviated. In 1944 this is a barrier to football that is not the case in 1999 when Hindmarsh Stadium is redeveloped for the Sydney Olympics.

Adaptations can be seen in the archaeological record at Rowley Park and Hindmarsh Stadium and it begins to chart a new theme in sports history in Australia. Sporting interests at a suburban/community level change over time and this is reflected in the archaeological record.

By Chris Egan

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