Sydney Speedway is All Shook Up, and We're Hearing the Same Old Song

By Dr Andy Marks

“Be there!” The Sydney Speedway, alongside the M4 at Parramatta, was once so deeply embedded in western Sydney’s psyche the '80s TV ads simply nudged people to turn up. But in what reads like the plot of an Elvis film, the small-time sprint-car arena is fast running out of track.

This week, the NSW government released details of its metro rail line. The route runs right through the speedway. Along with about 120 other properties, the much-loved motor racing hub is set to be compulsorily acquired then demolished.

This is hardly a “paved paradise, put up a parking lot” moment. But it speaks to an emerging fissure between the government’s approach to mega and community-level infrastructure. It’s big-ticket projects versus grassroots pursuits.

Although returned to office at the election in March, the Berejiklian government was chastened by pushback against its burgeoning infrastructure agenda. The Premier looks determined not to repeat the delays, overruns and contradictions of projects like the Sydney light rail and knockdown-rebuild of stadiums.

On the heels of this year’s Metro Northwest launch and the opening of the M4 East section of WestConnex, the Premier’s push to get the reportedly $20 billion West Metro under way sends a signal this term is all about infrastructure delivery.

Join us

Last year, with a line-up of provocative speakers, innovative hacks and interactive displays, CatalystWest sold-out weeks ahead of the event. This year will be even bigger. Don’t miss out! Act fast to secure your spot.

Tickets $235 for corporates, government, industry and individuals. As per last year’s event, look out for a number of free and concessional tickets for students and community non-profits.

The metro is undoubtedly needed. In May, the Herald reported average passenger loads on the T1 train line were at more than 140 per cent capacity during morning peaks. But work is also needed urgently to shift Sydney’s jobs balance westwards and stop cramming people into already “jobs rich” areas such as the Sydney CBD and Pyrmont.

Where does all of this leave the humble speedway? The answer comes down to exactly what it is planners and policymakers are trying to achieve in service of their nebulous term “liveability”.

“In a liveable community,” the NSW government says, “all people feel engaged, can participate in local activities and do not face barriers to carrying out their regular daily lives.” What if your idea of being “engaged” in your community is getting along to the speedway? It’s been the site of high drama, tragedy and triumph since the circuit was marked out in the 1930s and the clay track laid in 1977.

And what if your “regular daily” life includes a trip to the community pool? In a double blow for Parramatta residents, the city has been without a public pool since it was demolished in 2017 to make way for the government’s BankWest stadium. The community will now reportedly be forced to wait for another four years until the new one is built at a cost to NSW taxpayers of $38.5 million.

The government shouldn’t be criticised for bringing transport projects online. But this one is in danger of repeating some of its recent mistakes if it doesn’t find a way to meaningfully convey the benefits of its infrastructure plans at the community level. Failing that, it could revert to the Elvis trope and break into song. With reports the government will find the speedway a new home, I expect to hear Viva Las Vegas any minute now.

Dr Andy Marks is Assistant Vice-Chancellor at Western Sydney University. This article was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22 October 2019.