Morgan Park fulfils a dream 100 years in the making
THE sporting powerhouse that is Morgan Park has evolved to become one of the region's biggest drawcards and hosting events most weekends.
From motorsports to horse events, the myriad sports held at the precinct are doing their bit to put the Rose City on Australia's sporting map.
Morgan Park would not have become the success story it is without two of the 'truest and best friends' Warwick has known.
James Morgan, an Irishman known for his passionate stance against "land swindling”, was instrumental in procuring the 1200 acre property as a public recreational reserve for the use of Warwick residents.
Mr Morgan, who served as Warwick mayor from 1886 to 1890, was vocal about the need for Warwick to seek protection for public works that would help to grow the population.
More than 100 years later his land would play host to internationally recognised sporting events such as the Polocrosse World Cup and the Queensland Super Sprint Championships, drawing tens of thousands of visitors to the region each year.
Warwick Polocrosse Club president Les Fraser said he was amazed to think a man in the 1900s could have predicted the needs of his community so accurately into the future.
"It's such a wonderful asset to the Warwick community,” he said.
"It's a real piece of our economic development.”
Though the land was trusted to council for recreational use, Mr Fraser said it was originally developed as an emergency aerodrome during the war before being leased to sheep grazier Lloyd Sweeney, who would commute back and forth from the nearby saleyards.
Local sporting clubs were finally invited to apply for parcels of land in the latter half of the 20th century and the grounds eventually became home to everything from bird watching to drag racing.
Prior to this time, the WPC had been surviving on the generosity of local landowners, such as the McDougalls, who would allow them to use the paddock where the Big W distribution centre now sits.
"We never had a home base so we'd just play wherever they'd let you,” Mr Fraser said.
"We'd get the okay then just mow up a few fields.”
Once WPC president Ivor Easey made a successful bid for the land around 1972 the club began to prepare fields that would ultimately become internationally renowned as amongst the best polocrosse facilities in the world.
Mr Fraser said he remembered working on the grounds as a kid, when it was just 14 acres without electricity or water, but full of ant beds.
"For years we would cart water in and we never needed power because everything was done over an open fire,” he said.
Mr Fraser said the community struggled to get on board in those early years, when only 10 or so people volunteered for the club.
"They said it was too far out of town,” he said.
Sentiment began to change over the last three decades as funding from volunteers and local council saw the grounds expand to over 70 acres, capable of drawing in tens of thousands of visitors from across the world.
"We now have seven grass playing fields, two practice fields, trotting tracks, undercover accommodation for 500 horses and camping facilities for 12,000 people,” Mr Fraser said.
"We boast 92 playing members, 50 social members and at the most recent world cup I calculated 16,000 hours of volunteer work.”
"It's just tremendous.”
Some of those thousands of visitors to Morgan Park end up staying, such as Morgan Park Raceway volunteer Naith Lepp.
Mr Lepp recalls he was "wowed” by the raceway when he first visited, almost 50 years after the Warwick District Sporting Car Club Inc was granted access to its portion of land in 1965.
"I didn't really understand how big the park was or how great the facilities were,” he said.
Former MPR president Bill Campbell and his family were some of many selfless volunteers who Mr Lepp names as instrumental in the development of the park.
"They've been a major, major part of how successful the track is now,” he said.
"I could not give them a big enough of a rap.”
Friendships made at the raceway have been the highlight of Morgan Park for Mr Lepp, who said the culture of the club allowed him to "push on” in other areas of his life.
"We all have a common energy to put towards a common goal,” he said.
The Gold Coast man moved to Warwick in December after spending almost every weekend timing or commentating for the sprints.
The decision made Mr Lepp one of many visitors who made the move across the range, fulfilling the dream Mr Morgan had for the park's contribution to Warwick.