On Sunday 8 November 1856, a public meeting was called at the Illawarra Hotel in Dapto, owned by Mr George William Brown, for all those in favour of forming an Agricultural & Horticultural Society in Dapto. All those in attendance agreed and “Dapto Agricultural and Horticultural (A&H) Society” was born.
Mr David Williamson Irving was elected President; Mr John Brown was elected Secretary, and a further twenty-one persons formed the committee. At this time, it was decided that the newly established Society would adopt the same rules as the Illawarra Agricultural Society (IAS) and Dapto A&H Society became an affiliate of that organisation.
The first Dapto Show was held on 28 January 1857 at Brown’s Flour Mill in Brownville. At the time, farmers in the area were transitioning from wheat to dairy due to disease rust, and despite the show being hurriedly organised, it was nonetheless considered a success.
On 27 September 1867 a letter from Mr Evan Robert Evans, the honorary Secretary of the Illawarra Agricultural Society was read; it intimated that a resolution had been made at the last IAS meeting of the members to propose an amalgamation of the two societies. Minutes show that it was concluded there be no amalgamation but that the Dapto A&H Society be carried on separately in its integrity.
After the train station was built in 1887 the township grew and in the late 1800’s, Mr Patrick Hill Osborne donated 10 acres to provide a permanent home for the Dapto A&H Society close to the town centre.
Note: In subsequent years, Dapto A&H Society acquired an additional six parcels of land adjoining the site to attain its current footprint of approximately 22 acres. The land was held on trust until it was dissolved on 17 March 1993 to be held on freehold tenure. Records are available at the New South Wales Land Registry.
Eighty years after Dapto A&H Society’s inception, the great depression hit and in 1936, greyhound racing was born out of the impatience of the Dapto A&H Society’s bank manager, who demanded a £600 bank debt be cleared.
The racehorse trotting track was enclosed to allow construction of a greyhound racing track and the first race meeting was held on 25 February 1937. Times were tough during the depression and Australia suffered years of high unemployment, poverty, low profits, and plunging incomes. Race meetings drew vast crowds and over a hundred bookmakers and the income received from racing aided during these difficult times.
During World War II the Australian Army seized the showground on 10 April 1942 as part of the war effort. The government paid a monthly rental of £13 a month for the grounds and the Army vacated after two years in early 1944 and greyhound racing resumed.
In the early 1960’s, Dapto A&H Society received a grant, and a 700-seat grandstand was built. The showground also became home to the Dapto Rugby League Football Club, the “Canaries”.
Other events were regularly held at the showground around this time including circuses, festivals, horse and cattle events, exhibitions etc.
On the morning of Saturday 6 July 1991, the front office buildings (the land on which McDonalds now stands) caught on fire after a loud explosion. It is believed the fire was lit under suspicious circumstances. Thankfully the minute books and other important records were saved due to being housed in a safe.
Due to the tireless efforts of many greyhound racing committees, including a sub-committee to oversee greyhound racing and the Dapto A&H Greyhound Supporters Club, Dapto was a pioneer in the industry.
In 1991 the Greens Super Coat classic race series, with a first prize purse of $100,000 to the winner was hosted, creating the highest prize money race offered in the world at the time.
Dapto was one of the first greyhound racing tracks in NSW to transition from a grass track to loam, a type of clay and sand, and the first to host a regional Group 1 race meeting. In the mid 1990’s a collaboration with the Footy Show was formed, and the partnership between Dapto, Channel 9, and Nature Vet, raised more than $250,000 to charities around Australia.
Dapto Dogs became an Australian Thursday night institution, and famous around the world, recognised both nationally and internationally. No other greyhound club in Australia has been able to build a brand of such legendary proportion.
In 1993, a new office block and bar areas were built, and in 2006, further improvements to the main bar and office block were completed and the betting ring enclosed to create a new TAB room adjacent to the bar.
On 7 July 2016, following a damning report indicating widespread animal cruelty in the greyhound racing industry, State Premier, Mike Baird, announced a ban on greyhound racing in NSW and the ACT from 1 July 2017. The decision was overturned three months later however led to major reform within the greyhound racing industry.
On 11 October 2017, Dapto A&H Society transitioned from an Association Incorporated to a Company Limited by Guarantee. The transition resulted in the first board being appointed (in lieu of a committee/s) and provided a structure for greater oversight, improved governance, and financial accountability.
In April 2019, as part of a state-wide redistribution, Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW), proposed a change to the timeslot of racing at Dapto from Thursday nights to Saturday with a reallocation from SKY1 to SKY2 and a reduction in annual race meetings. The Society did not agree with the proposed timeslot change as it would impact other users of the showground, including the Dapto Rugby League Football Club, weekly markets, bingo and various events and functions. GRNSW agreed to keep the current arrangement in place.
In August 2019, GRNSW provided all greyhound racing clubs, including the Society, with a three-year funding agreement to supersede existing annual arrangements. In addition, an updated Greyhound Media Services (GMS) agreement reassigning royalty rights from the Society to GRNSW was proposed. The Society did not consider the new terms acceptable because, in the Society’s view, they did not provide certainty over the Thursday night timeslot or reflect the increased costs associated with operating at the Dapto showground which is not state-owned.
Negotiations were unsuccessful. On 31 October 2019, the Society’s greyhound racing club registration lapsed and on 6 November 2019, the Society’s Board made the difficult decision to cease greyhound racing at the showground after 82 years.
Following announcement of the Board’s decision, a legal dispute arose between GRNSW and the Society, including court proceedings. The legal dispute and proceedings were resolved pursuant to a confidential commercial settlement between GRNSW and the Society that included GRNSW licensing the racetrack and Dapto Dogs brand from the Society.
During 2020, as part of Dapto A&H Society’s strategic plan, a comprehensive community consultation was conducted regarding the future use of the showground to ensure its ongoing sustainability. Consultation included an independent public survey completed by Illawarra Regional Information Survey (IRIS), market research, member survey, stakeholder and public survey, forums, and meetings.
The draft future vision for the site was determined to include several zones/precincts to create a family-friendly civic to be enjoyed by the young and old, while keeping in theme with the rich local agricultural heritage of the site. Steps were also taken at this time to re-brand from the showground, which is often confused as State, Public or Crown Land, to the Groundz precinct.
On 11 March 2020, the COVID-19 virus was declared a worldwide pandemic and the subsequent two years resulted in mass shutdown of businesses and activities. All showground operations (except for greyhound racing) were forced to cease during two sperate lockdowns.
In December of 2021, following two difficult years, the Society re-purposed an area of the site and launched a new indoor/ outdoor hospitality precinct, providing a family and pet friendly destination for live music, functions, and general enjoyment. The area encapsulates the future vision for the site.
In early 2023, GRNSW announced the purchase of land at Bong Bong Road, Dapto, together with plans to relocate racing from the showground to the new site at the conclusion of the license agreement at end June 2025.
Over the past 165 years the Dapto A&H Society has delivered numerous activities for the benefit of the community, far surpassing the original purpose to hold an annual show.
The showground continues to be home to Dapto Rugby League Football Club, Greyhound Racing, Illawarra Cancer Carers, Pigeon Club, Poultry Club, restaurant and bistro, markets and food trucks and provides a venue for various entertainment events and activities.
The annual Dapto Country Show, despite a few cancellations due to weather, insurance issues and the pandemic, has been consistently held. The annual show is an integral part of Dapto A&H Society’s history and will continue to be held at the Groundz.
Through its non-profit activities Dapto A&H Society remains focused on ensuring the ongoing viability of the showground to ensure it can be enjoyed by many generations to come.
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