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Famous winning post forged in history

27 December 2022 Written by Sarah Marinos

Three generations of proud craftsmen have forged and assembled the wrought ironwork that brings stylish flourishes to Flemington.

It’s a winning post that is famous across the world – an intricate blend of fancy scrolls, gold leaf and fine wrought ironwork that stretches for about 28 metres.

During the Melbourne Cup Carnival, the eyes of the national and international racing industry – and those of many millions of spectators – fix on that post, eager to see which horse crosses the line first.

That famous Flemington winning post began life as simple drawings sketched by former VRC Chairman, Mr Rod Fitzroy. Reading an Emirates brochure in which there was a picture of the winning post at Flemington, Mr Fitzroy, Chairman at the time, decided that the post did not quite fit with the Flemington brand the Club was building.

Mr Fitzroy shared his sketch and vision with Terry Freeman, Manager of the Ground and Gardens Team at the time, and they decided that it was an ideal time to create a winning post that stamped Flemington as a racecourse of global significance.

For the first time in the Club’s history, following the 2006 Melbourne Cup Carnival, the track was about to undergo a complete reconstruction with revolutionary drainage and an engineered sand profile installed. This work allowed the track to be raced on throughout the whole year and ensured racing was the same and consistent.

As the winning post of the size and detail that Mr Fitzroy and Freeman envisioned required a lot of infrastructure and a long lead time, it could not be done while racing continued at Flemington, making the reconstruction period the perfect opportunity to build the new structure.

Terry Freeman contacted the Nifakos family of blacksmithing business Alpha Wrought Iron, who had made the archway leading into the Mounting Yard, and much more of the beautiful wrought ironwork around the whole racecourse.

In close collaboration with the VRC, Peter Nifakos painstakingly drew each detail of the vision for the finishing post on rolls of tracing paper. His elegant designs captured exactly what Mr Fitzroy had envisioned, and this became a fixture on the Flemington course.

“Terry Freeman was also very involved in the design because he wanted places where he could display roses and other flowers,” said Peter, 85.

“Everything on the finishing post was forged and assembled by hand and it took hours to design and build,” said Peter’s son, Nick.

“It was like putting together a giant LEGO set at the end. But when you love what you do, you don’t care about how much time and effort it takes. When I look at the winning post today, it makes me very proud.”

Peter, Nick, and Peter’s grandsons, Peter and William, have been working on projects at Flemington for almost 25 years. They have crafted dozens of rose towers, metres and metres of balustrading and the ornate Member’s Drive gate and Mounting Yard gates.

“Flemington has changed so much over time,” said Nick.

“I remember driving there on a hot windy day and it was like a desert with all the dust storms, but now it’s transformed with the manicured gardens and roses. A sense of grandness runs through this historic precinct – it is on a par with Royal Ascot.”

Peter arrived in Melbourne from Greece with little more than his blacksmithing skills. Today, 60 years after he began Alpha Wrought Iron, the business has created wrought ironwork for homes across Melbourne. Their work also found its place in cathedrals, major hotels, department stores, government buildings and heritage properties.

Peter was born in Patras, Greece’s third largest city. At the age of 12 he left school to begin an apprenticeship with one of the city’s most accomplished blacksmiths.

“I travelled all over Greece learning the trade and working. I did a lot of balustrading work in monasteries across the country and by the age of 14 I was head tradesman,” said Peter.

Like many migrants in the 1950s and 1960s, Peter left Greece to find his fortune in Australia. He set up the business in a small factory in Fitzroy with a partner and began plying his trade.

Some of his first customers were builders and local homeowners who appreciated his skill and the quality of his work. As word spread, the business grew and eventually Peter became sole owner, working with his two brothers.

“I spent a lot of time in the factory as a kid. My cousin and I would hop in the truck and pretend to drive, go to job sites with Dad, keep the place clean and make the Greek coffee for the workers,” recalled Nick.

A false start at university to study architecture led Nick back to the family business.

“I told Dad I wanted to work with him because I always appreciated the creativity of this work. It can be a trade and it can also be an art.”

Peter and Nick began their work at Flemington after they were approached by architect Ken Edelstein. He was working on the transformation of Flemington with the VRC and decided flourishes of wrought ironwork would add some much-needed style.

First came the Return to Scale entrance through the Mounting Yard archway, an initiative inspired by former Committee Member, Doug Reid, followed by the Leonard Crescent Hill Gate entrance, then Members’ Drive, the Winning Post and more recently, the Mounting Yard fence. They also worked on the Rose Arbour.

“Dad always pushed to create something spectacular and the work at Flemington has always been special because it’s not everyday work. It’s on a grand scale,” said Nick.

These gates, fencing, balustrades and arbours have a distinctly ornamental and French flourish.

“Rod Fitzroy would come past and admire the work. Hill Gate was perhaps the most ornate feature with its gold leaf and it certainly made a statement,” said Nick.

The family continues to work on projects around Flemington and while Peter is still a daily visitor to the workshop and can still forge and wield a hammer, much of the work today falls on the shoulders of Nick and his sons.

“As a kid, school holidays were spent here. From the time I could walk I was in the factory, sitting next to my grandfather while he forged,” said Peter.

“I’ve been taught by my grandfather, Dad and my uncles. I’ve been an apprentice for each one and I’ve shared what they taught me with William, too.”

The Nifakos family name will forever be etched into Flemington’s proud history, leaving a legacy with their magnificent wrought iron masterpieces, and Peter understands how special this is.

“I know how hard my grandfather has worked all his life and he is so happy that we are all working with him. We are all proud of his achievements, including what he’s created at Flemington. I hope that when I’m my grandfather’s age and have grandkids of my own, I can show them what he created.”

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