Old Grandstand Survives Beside Frankton Airport
Our airport is a scene of constant expansion and construction, but one simple stone building in Lucas Place has endured since 1864, shortly after the start of colonial settlement here. Unfortunately many people who drive past it to and from Remarkables Park are unaware of its date and purpose, and of the history of the airport land.
The gold discoveries lured to the district many energetic young men who loved racing their horses just as young men now love racing cars. The flat area where the airport now is was ideal for a racecourse. A Jockey Club was formed, and the first race meeting was held over three days in January 1864. This schist grandstand was built in time for the April meeting. It had tiered benches with seating for 200 people, and is one of the oldest remaining stone buildings in the district.
The programme for the meeting in December 1883 reveals 11 races over two days including some rather unusual ones: District Hack Race for untrained horses with a purse of 15 sovereigns. Miners’ Race for horses of miners resident in Lake County with a purse of 10 sovereigns. Farmers’ Race for 10 sovereigns. Hack Selling Race for 10 sovereigns, the winner to be sold at auction immediately after the race. Hospital Race for the benefit of the funds of the Hospital. The winning Jockey to be presented with a handsome whip.
Clearly betting was keen, and on 10 January a tipster named ‘Peeping Tom’ shared his picks in the Lake County Press (accessed from www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.)
Race meetings were held here until 1920, except for some years during the war when they were suspended.
Now the very popular Glenorchy Races, held on the first Saturday of each year, is the only race meeting held in the Wakatipu district.
When the Kawarau Falls dam and bridge was being built between 1924 and 1926, the 100-200 workers lived in wooden-floored and framed tents on the racecourse, and the grandstand became a mess-hall where an excellent chef served them hearty meals.
In the early 1930s the racecourse became an airfield. Scenic flights were provided in single-passenger de Havilland bi-planes. From 1935 Queenstown-Mount Cook Airways offered both scenic and charter flights.
Photo of 1930s plane on Frankton airfield. Credit Lakes District Museum
The Second World War delayed further development of aviation until 1947 when Frederick ‘Popeye’ Lucas (Wing Commander, DFC and Bar) set up Southern Scenic Air Services Ltd. The two curve-roofed hangars were War Surplus from the Pacific War.
Milford Scenic Flights, owned by Real Journeys, now occupies the buildings, incorporating the old grandstand. Long may it remain to remind us of earlier times.
For more information about the building and early Queenstown, download our Queenstown Heritage app for android phones containing free information and optional pay-for articles: http://qur.io/aaaQDHS
For more information visit: www.queenstownhistoricalsociety.org.nz