The air is heavy and damp when I visit Allison Bolas at Randwick Stables. Unseasonal heavy rains have turned the dusty trees and shrubs at the property into the brightest of greens. The unusual weather is in stark contrast to the typically clear blues of January, so evident just two days previously when I walked along C.Y. O’Connor Beach, shadowing Allison and the other Randwick riders exercising their horses in the Indian Ocean.
Allison is warm and welcoming as she shows me around the property, regaling me with a century of history, coloured by anecdotes about the people who lived and worked at Randwick Stables over the years since it was established.
We are only 50 metres from Rockingham Road, situated on the far side of an open expanse of land, yet here the birdsong is louder than the traffic. This remarkable pocket of rural peace is set in an urban landscape, just a few minutes from the centre of Fremantle. Allison tells me that they have a daily stream of visitors to the stables. People bring their children to see the animals, particularly the horses. Randwick houses five horses, some sheep, a couple of goats, Chester the pig and two cats. She says the visitors all comment on the rare joy of having such a beautiful place so close to the city and how they value just being able to see the horses as they drive by.
Yet, this may not remain the case unless Allison and the collective of horse owners at Randwick Stables can get support in allowing them to continue to exercise their horses on Manning Ridge Reserve, as they have done for almost two decades without any incidents or issues.
Surviving means thriving
For Randwick Stables to survive, the horses need to thrive, which means they need daily exercise. These aren’t racing horses. They are much loved, privately-owned recreation horses needing physical and mental stimulation. In summer, this isn’t a problem as they have access to C Y O’Connor Beach until 8.00 am. In winter, the beach is less suitable, so Allison and the others generally ride along the existing tracks on the Manning Ridge Reserve. Manning Ridge Reserve is part of the ridgeline which extends from Clontarf Hill to the south of Coogee. Randwick Stables is located on the same ridgeline.
In developing their Master Plan for Manning Park, the City of Cockburn has not made provision for horse use in the area, basing their decision on a recommendation in the now 12 year old Beeliar Regional Park Management Plan and without consulting the affected horse-riding community. Allison and the Stables community are negotiating with the Council to change that status.
Randwick Stables has a rich history, with the original tract of land dating back to the first settlement. What is now the horse paddock – lying between the stables and the open tract of undeveloped land – was the site of the original Hamilton Hill farm, belonging to Captain Robb and Sydney Smith who were give a land grant that extended all the way to North Lake.
Randwick Stables was established in 1923 by Jack Marks. The four room residence was transported from Kalgoorlie/Boulder by horse and train. Jack added a verandah to the house and built the stables. Apart from some minor modernisations, the existing stables and residence have changed very little since that time. Even the forge, still in use today, continues that long, unbroken historical trajectory.
The Marks family trained many racing horses on the property over the years. Even in those days, Randwick Stables was a focal point of community life. Allison points out “the church” to me, a primitive, whitewashed room at the end of the old stables. I look at her quizzically and she laughs. The church, she tells me, is where Jack hosted two up meets on a Sunday. After exercising the horses at the beach, the men sauntered down to the Newmarket Hotel, and rolled a keg back down Rockingham Road to provide sustenance for their afternoon gaming.
The property was then taken over by the Collet family who trained trotting horses throughout the 1930s, followed by Jack Egan who mainly rented the stable boxes out to other people looking to house their race horses, though he did occasionally race horses himself.
Jim and Florence Banks moved to Randwick Stables in 1951 after the Randwick-trained horse, Beau Vase, won the Perth cup in 1950. The horse which ran second that year, Leafred, also came from Randwick. Jim and Florence lived at Randwick for 49 years, continuing the tradition of training race winners, including Go John who won the WA Derby.
The Banks sold the property to the Main Roads Department in 2000 and Allison Bolas and her partner, Ted, moved in. In looking to protect the heritage of the property, Allison ensured it received a Category A heritage listing with the State Heritage Council. The State Heritage Council noted the highly valued continual living heritage of Randwick Stables, its authenticity and landmark qualities. The social and community worth of Randwick Stables as ongoing living heritage, was also recognised.
Over the years Allison, with the support of grants from the local council, has held three successful community events. Numbers attending shows that there is substantial interest in these iconic Stables.
The first one in September 2009 was part of the 30 year celebrations of the City of Cockburn. Approximately 1500 people attended.
In October 2013, there was another Open day to celebrate the horse heritage and the newly established community garden adjacent to the stables and paddock. Mayor Logan Howlett opened the Community garden at that time and roughly 2000 people attended. The community garden has since grown into an aesthetically pleasing and welcoming space, and includes a medicinal herb garden which was planted in 2015. The community garden is on the site of the Sunnyside market garden (1890-1960s), famous for its prize-winning produce.
In June 2016, in conjunction with the Hamilton Hill Community Group, an Open Day “Back to Country” event was held and over 5000 people attended. The event celebrated all the heritage of the area including Noongar, colonial and post-colonial heritage. Naturally, the horse heritage was a significant part of the event and horse-related activities, wagon rides, horse and buggy rides, pony rides and blacksmithing formed a core part of the day.
All three events were organised to promote heritage awareness and community engagement with the Stables and surrounds, including the community garden. Community feedback and interest generated by the events was overwhelmingly positive.
Randwick Stables has held meet and greet events, community markets and film nights in the community garden. They currently host a Burundi Refugee project where people from that community are growing traditional food. Conservation Volunteers Australia assisted with projects in January 2018.
Of course, there will be no Stables and their community events to enjoy without the presence of the horses. If the horses are not able to be exercised year round close to the property, the ‘living heritage’ of Randwick Stables which gives such delight to all who encounter it, will become yet another dusty museum remembering a life that once was, but is no more.
Randwick Stables are holding their Community Garden Market on Saturday 17 March.