Formerly known as the Bald Hills, Mount Panorama came from humble beginnings.
In the early 1930’s then Mayor Martin Griffin, set in motion the idea of a Tourist Drive weaving its way through Bathurst ’s Bald Hills. In 1935 Mayor Griffin succeeded in persuading the New South Wales State Government Minister of Works at the time, E.S Spooner to support the construction of the proposed Tourist Road financially. His argument included that the proposal would provide local employment in the post depression climate of the 1930’s, creating much needed unemployment relief for the city of Bathurst .
Mayor Griffin spent his days working at the Bathurst Railway Station, but easily adapted to his Mayoral role, he was a salesman at heart and was not only responsible for convincing the Bathurst City Council of the time, but the Minister responsible for Works of the worth of a Tourist Road over the Bald Hills of Bathurst. It is believed that Mayor Griffin, at the time also saw potential for this proposed ‘ Tourist Drive ’ to become much more than had been conveyed.
Mayor Martin Griffin
Construction of the Tourist Road started in late 1936. Most of the land occupied by the Bald Hills belonged to the McPhillamy Family, Walter J McPhillamy having been a previous Mayor of the Bathurst City Council. The McPhillamy Family donated 15 acres at the summit of the Bald Hills to be used as a park. The Park was subsequently named to honour this donation, becoming McPhillamy Park .
In 1935 The Light Car Club of NSW along with a number of members of the public proposed openly for the first time the use of the tourist road as a Motor Racing Circuit. In 1937 the Light Car Club of New South Wales put forward to Mayor Griffin and the rest of the Bathurst City Council at the time the aims they had for the circuit.
- It had to be spectacular so the public would pay to watch
- There had to be balanced technical hazards to test every feature of the car, and
- As often as possible, the circuit should be a test of the driver’s skills.
F.J. Foss Ford V8 Special negotiating Forest Elbow Easter 1938
The argument stated that altering the tourist road to become a motor racing circuit would bring income and tourism to the town. A basic road already existed and would only need slight adjustments to become suitable for Motor Racing.
The Bathurst City Engineer of the time, Hughie Reid redesigned sections of the track to be more suitable for Motor Racing.
The Tourist Road was completed with a final price tag of ₤27,961, or approximately $2.36 Million Dollars in today’s currency and an additional ₤5,000 or $400,000 in today’s currency for Sheds, Gates, a Kiosk and a caretaker’s cottage. Mayor Griffin, City Engineer Hughie Reid and the McPhillamy family all received immortal recognition for their contribution to the track (Griffins Bend, Reid Park & McPhillamy Park) Mr Spooner NSW Government Minister for Works at the time, and a major contributor to the construction of the track received no such honours.
The intended completion date was set for early in 1938, with Easter scheduled to be the first race on the Mountain. The spectator numbers were unprecedented and unexpected, with more than 20,000 people venturing to the new track. The town of Bathurst was overwhelmed by the crowd and was emptied of food, alcohol and accommodation both during the race period and for a short while afterward.
Mount Panorama Bathurst 1938 Australian Grand Prix. 18th April
Winning Driver Englishman Peter Whitehead Easter 1938 April 18
The track was officially opened to coincide with the 150th anniversary of white occupation in Australia. Mayor Griffin and Minister Spooner presiding over the ceremony.
In summary, it is believed (but not confirmed!) that Mayor Martin Griffin used the ruse of a Tourist Drive to deceive the New South Wales State Government, and Minister Spooner into supporting, and in part funding the construction of this new Racing Circuit. From Bald Hills to the World famous racing circuit that Mount Panorama is today, without the driving force of Mayor Martin Griffin, the track may not have existed at all!
NSW Government Minister for Works E.S. Spooner (Left) with Bathurst City Council Mayor Martin Griffin (Right)