The First Aus GP Race
Yetholme Circuit, Bathurst
More than a century ago - on 5 October 1914 - a spiffy chap by the name of Edgar Meller, won the very first motorcycle Grand Prix of Australia. One of five Meller brothers who achieved considerable success in the cycling and motorcycle game, Edgar’s victory secured him a unique place in Australian racing history. However, his achievement and even the running of the event, is often overlooked by motorcycle fans.
Held on the Yetholme circuit - located in the Bathurst district - the triangular configuration was made up of roads (mostly dirt). A lap started at Kirkconnell, before running through to the village of Sunny Corner. Riders then turned right for a run to Meadow Lee/Flats before taking another right to head back to the start/finish line at Kirkconnell. Amazingly, parts of the circuit remain, and an opportunity to relive Australia’s first Australian Grand Prix is open to anyone who visits the famous inland city.
The first Grand Prix of Australia was a much-anticipated event. Originally, the race was to be run in June at Goulburn, but legend has it that the Goulburn council held out for a monetary contribution to the roads. The governing body for racing in NSW decided to look to another suitable site, and the Bathurst area was considered and accepted. It was a logical choice; it’s close to Sydney, and successful races had been held there in the past. Little were they to know, that not far from their chosen site, one of the world’s most famous racing circuits would come to life just a couple of decades later.
On race day, what was described by the media as the ‘biggest motorcycle event yet held in NSW’ was in readiness, the weather was fine, the riders had attended a briefing of the conditions, officials were in place with flags at dangerous points, circuit hazards suitably marked out, and local farmers were recruited as marshals to keep their livestock off the circuit. An ambulance sidecar and nurse were also on standby.
Cars, buggies and carts – every conveyance – was requisitioned to take sightseers to witness this great motorcycle event. Reports suggest at least 700 spectators, including the Mayor of Blaxland Council and the sergeant of police, congregated around the start-finish line or were scattered at various vantage points around the circuit. And so, history was made, Edgar Meller took the win on his TT Douglas, beating home Alexander Macfarlane on a Matchless, and William Sinden on a Zenith.
Despite being called the Yetholme circuit, the layout does not actually pass through Yetholme. The 25km loop starts almost immediately after turning off the Great Western Highway and onto the Sunny Corner Road at Kirkconnell. From here, you just stay on the Sunny Corner Road until you meet back up with the Great Western Highway, chuck a right then turn back onto Sunny Corner Road and you’ve completed a lap. Of course, the roads has been paved, and feature far fewer turns compared to the 1914 GP layout, but the main loop is still there if you follow the original track map and match the photos up with the current locations. A lap around the circuit today should only take you 20 minutes - following the speed limit - keep in mind that they were doing a 19min 5 second lap times in 1914… on the dirt!
The 1915 GP was also held at Yetholme circuit, where the average speed from James Mellor was increased to 80km/h over his brother’s 66.5km/h in 1914. The circuit saw snow the morning of race day and subsequently delayed the start.
World War 1 interrupted the event after 1915, and the Australian GP didn’t make a return until 1924 where it was held in Goulburn, then Victor Harbour in 1937 and finally settling for five decades at the Mount Panorama circuit in 1940 (interrupted by the 1957 GP held at the Victorian Bandiana Army Barracks, Sandown in 1976 and Winton in 1987).
If you are planning a single or multi-day ride out to Bathurst, you owe it to the founding fathers of our two-wheeled sport to visit the site where magic happened! The locations of the Yetholme circuit means you can out together a three-tracks ride. Discover the hidden Catalina Park circuit in Katoomba, cut a lap or seven of Bathurst’s Mount Panorama circuit (and visit the National Motor Museum), and then discover the Yetholme circuit in Kirkconnell - all achievable in one day.
- 01 Start of the 1914 Grand Prix of Australia at Kirkconnell.
- 02 The 1914 winner, Edgar Meller on his Douglas.
- 03 Riders approaching the final bend before the finish line at Sunny Corner in the 1915 race
- 04 The map of the 1914 Grand Prix course, drawn and coloured byhand
- 05 1915 Grand Prix Just after the start at Sunny Corner
- 06 James Edward Meller after winning the 1915 Grand Prix, Arthur Biden on his left
- 07 and 08 The sharp V-turn at Kirkconnell, then and now. The Starting point for the 1914 Australian Grand Prix
- 09 An unknown rider tackling the Mount Panorama circuit aboard a 1925 Douglas