16 June 2023

Would you believe Canberra had a motorcycle racetrack?

| James Coleman
Macarthur Park Circuit

Macarthur Park Circuit on Coyne Street. Photo: Terry Walker.

The southern suburb of Macarthur is all residential homes today, so it might be surprising to think that 45 years ago, thousands of people lined its paved roads to cheer motorcycles racing past.

Measuring 2.8 kilometres, the ‘Macarthur Park Circuit’ comprised Coyne Street, Jackie Howe Crescent, Merriman Crescent and Carson Street in Macarthur, near Fadden and Chisholm, between 1978 and 1981.

It came about when several riders in the Canberra Motorcycle Club had enough of complying with NSW rules and went looking for a local tarmac street circuit where they could hold their own race meets.

READ ALSO Remember watching a James Bond-style ad on Canberra TV in the ’70s? The star car still exists …

At this point in Canberra’s history, population growth had suddenly plateaued and caught the Federal Government’s development plans off-guard. So for many years, large parts of Tuggeranong were left cleared of trees and fitted out with paved roads and street lights, but no houses (this also made it the perfect place to take L-platers for driving practice).

The newly formed Canberra Road Racing Club asked the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) for some space in one of these unused suburbs and was handed several streets in Macarthur.

It was near perfect, with freshly laid tarmac, smooth gutters and few trees. All the club had to do was remove a portion of the concrete traffic island on the intersection of Coyne and Carson streets to make room for sidecars in 1981.

On 7 October 1978, the motorcyclists from across the ACT, NSW and Victoria donned their racing helmets and embarked on their first practice laps, with more than 3000 people taking their place along the side-lines to watch. The following day was race day official, and The Canberra Times reported crowds of around 10,000 people attended.

Macarthur Park Circuit

The track layout, including names for various sections. Photo: Speedway and Road Race History.

The event was so successful that more than 140 riders returned from 3 to 4 November the following year.

On the seventh race, however, a group of kangaroos invaded the track and created some measure of chaos – two of the marshals, one on a brand new Suzuki and the other on a Ducati, collided. In the end, several trail bike riders had to be called in to herd the kangaroos off.

READ ALSO The Commonwealth car fleet is going electric (and German)

The circuit was also used for kart racing and even as a stage for the Castrol International Rally.

By November 1981, however, demand for houses was up again and the ‘Finale Meeting’ was arranged for the Macarthur Park Circuit. More than 200 motorbikes joined in, some with added sidecars for the first time.

“To provide a fitting finale to competition at the suburban Macarthur circuit, which will be released for housing next year, there will be $10,000 in prizemoney,” The Canberra Times reported on 23 October 1981.

“Sidecars will be competing … for the first time and the 18-strong entry promises to provide some of the most entertaining racing of the day.”

Despite the poor weather, some 6000 spectators attended.

The circuit was then disbanded and the suburb we know today constructed. The only clues are the small triangular section of missing median strip on Coyne Street and a small sign nearby.

Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.

Weekly Wrap

Canberra is renowned for its restaurants, bars, arts and culture. If you want to know what's going on in and around the nation's capital, sign up for our weekly newsletter and have all the best of the Canberra community delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.