Maitland's Speedway began in 1923, five years before the formation of the Auto Cycle Council of Australia (ACCA), now known as Motorcycling Australia (MA). MA is the representative body for motorcycle racing in Australia today. Maitland's early involvement helped develop the rules of the sport.
In the inaugural Maitland race, on December 15, 1923, the riders were not allowed to put their left foot on the ground - they rode with both feet on the footrests. This made it impossible for the riders to broadside around corners. This restriction was soon lifted and the riders quickly developed various forms of foot protection.
A home-made steel shoe was developed that fitted onto the sole of the left boot, looping over the top of the shoe. Some riders who worked at the BHP in Newcastle would use worn-out coal shuttles to fashion the boot protection. As a new sport, speedway began with no protective helmets, gloves or goggles and the riders wore dungarees. Later, leather suits and various forms of crash helmets were used.
In February 1925 the first serious accident occurred when a young rider, George Kirkwood, damaged his leg when he ran into a post. Unfortunately the leg had to be amputated. The original perimeter fence provided a barrier between the spectators and riders, but it did not protect the racers. It had posts with a top wooden rail, two strands of wire underneath the top rail. As a result of Kirkwood's accident (and a later one involving Jack McLean), the fence was modified to replace the wire strands with wooden rails, resulting in a fence with three horizontal boards. In later years the gaps between these three rails were filled in to create a solid fence.
The initial race in December was held on a 'cinders trotting track' that had grassed over. Half-way through the first season riders had worn the grass away. Big Jim Cameron (the race starter) had already recognised the track was not suitable for bike racing because in September 1923, before the first season started, he discussed with the speedway committee the allocation of funds for a new cinder track. The new (and widened) track was installed.
The first machines were road bikes, just what the riders happened to own at the time. Johnnie Hoskins, the organising supremo of Maitland's speedway, describes the bikes: "They were ridden in off the street; lamps, mudguards and anything else removable was removed and off they went. The first lesson in development of a special machine came quickly. Early bikes had footboards. Racing around the left-hand turn, the left footboard dug in and tipped the rider off. Left footboards were torn off and thrown away forever."
There was no insurance in the early days. To quote Hoskins: "There wasn't a company that would handle the proposition. The track was known locally as Lunatics Paradise, and the pioneer boys were certainly a wild, dare-devil crew." Instead of insurance benefit shows where held - the proceeds supported injured riders. In Kirkwood's case the community also became involved, raising over £203 through euchre parties and dances.