In 1876 the Jika Jika Shire Council acquired land in Cramer St for use as a recreational ground. This land became Preston Park and is still the sporting hub of Preston. The rivalry between Preston’s two settlements was felt during the process of identifying and acquiring land for use as a recreational ground. The Preston and Gowerville areas had equal representation on the Shire Council, and obtaining agreement on a suitable location for the ground was a difficult negotiation, with both sides wanting the ground to be nearer to their settlements. Finally the site in Cramer St was agreed upon, its central location and flat terrain proving ideal.
The 1876 acquisition was led by Shire President J.C. Clinch. The price paid for the land was considered quite extravagant by many ratepayers; at £20 per acre Clinch felt it was a bargain but he, along with other council members, lost their positions at the next Shire elections as a direct result of their decision to buy the land. History would demonstrate the wisdom of the Shire’s decision as Preston cricket and football clubs have used the ground continuously since 1882. Clinch was also later to remark positively of the decision “to buy for a song the central Preston Park where present day citizens gather in their 1000s to witness football matches.”
The ground did not always receive great support from the Shire Council; it would be 25 years after being initially proposed that a fence would be built around the park. It was another 3 years after that the oval itself was fenced. A pointer to the rural nature of Preston at the time is the fact that the fence was not so much required to keep people out as to keep wandering livestock off the field. Although in the early days it was quite common to graze animals on the field for a few days leading up to a match to keep the grass at a reasonable length. In the 1890s the Park was also used for limelight showings.
Preston Park’s fence was built in 1904 to keep in line with the VFA regulations. Preston F.C. had been admitted to the Association in 1903. With the fence, admission started to be charged for entry to the ground. This followed the construction of a fence around the playing area in 1901, which had been a condition of Preston F.C.’s continued involvement in the Victorian Junior Football Association. Despite Preston’s poor record in the VFA, the Club did attract good crowds to Cramer Park and helped to raise the profile of Preston. The oval was used for open-air entertainment and for picnics on non-match days by people from all over Melbourne.
Preston Park was the hub of activity to celebrate the end of the First World War. On the 22nd of November 1918, just 11 days after the armistice, a united thanksgiving service was held by the Protestant Church. Then three days later the festivities were concluded with a procession and fireworks display at the Park. The Park was also the location for the official proclamation of Preston becoming a city in 1926 by the Governor of Victoria Lord Somers. In October of 1945 Cramer St Park was again the centre of victory celebrations, this time for the Second World War. A two week “Grand Victory Carnival” was held at the oval, with part of the money raised going to the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital (PANCH).
The booming popularity of football and the VFA was evidenced in the opening round of the 1930 VFA season at Cramer Park, when Preston drew a crowd of 15,000 for a match with reigning premier and fierce local rival Northcote. The ground has been known variously as Preston Park and Cramer Park, particularly until 1942 when the VFA went into recess for World War II. Since then it has been known officially as Preston Oval, or sometimes the Preston City Oval. Informally the ground is known as Cramer St. It is still the home of the Northern Bullants Football Club, the present day name of the Preston Football Club, as well as the Preston Cricket Club. For a period in the 1960s the VFL club Fitzroy considered a relocation to Cramer St, which would not only have required a significant upgrade to the facilities, but also would have forced Preston Football Club to move from its long time home. In the end the move did not take place, partly because of local council’s reluctance to fund the improvements to the ground. Preston FC though breathed a heavy sigh of relief as they were able to remain at the ground.
In the mid 1950s there was an attempt by local council to promote the playing of soccer at Cramer St but the oval has largely remained a domain for cricket and Australian Rules football. Its importance to the local area is perhaps best demonstrated by the decision to divert the railway tracks around the oval when the line was laid in 1884.
Carroll, Brian & Rule, Ian (1985). Preston: an Illustrated History. Preston: City of Preston.
Forster, Harley W. (1968). Preston Lands and People. Melbourne: Cheshire.
Membrey, Brian (2003)? The pubs, the parks and the Rose. Unpublished manuscript.
Membrey, Brian (2004). Where we come from: Celebrating Preston Football Club’s admission to senior VFA ranks in 1903. Preston: Northern Bullants Football Club.
Membrey, Brian. Preston Cricket Club. [unpublished manuscript].