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Melbourne Cup

Melbourne Cup

 Considering that that Australia's top three heroes are a cricketer, a bushranger and a race horse, perhaps it is fitting the only time the nation stops as one is to have a wager on a dubious sporting pastime. The majority of Australians don’t give a rat’s arse about horse racing, but Melbourne Cup festivities still seem like something worth taking part in.

The origins of the Cup can be traced to the discovery of gold in 1853, which led to a huge influx of gamblers to Australia's shores. If the diggers struck it lucky on the goldfields, they would head for the track to see if the luck would continue. Invariably it didn't and racing clubs sought bigger and bigger meetings to relieve the prospectors of their gold.

The Victoria Turf Club staged the first Melbourne Cup in 1861 and by 1866, the Government had proclaimed the day a public holiday. To make life difficult for punters, the race is run over the unusually long distance of 3200m, it may have up to 30 starters and the favoured horses are handicapped with extra weight.

Although knowledge of the form is still a prerequisite to talk like a guru at pre-race functions, the many variables make picking a winner a case of pinning the tail of the donkey. The most successful method seems to be whether it has a good name or not. With the exception of Kiwi which evokes sheep imagery, all winners have had impressive names like Phar Lap, Black Knight or Vintage Crop.

The fact that the cup is such a lottery has helped it gain popularity amongst those with no interest in racing. There is a certain charm associated with seeing a guru who has studied the form all year, grimly stewing as some novice gloats about how she picked the winner only because she thought its name would still be pronounceable after downing her second bottle of Champagne.

But the Melbourne Cup is more than just a horse race, it is also one of the few times where Australians celebrate looking stylish. In a land of the ugg boot and cork hat, world fashion designers rarely seek their inspiration with a trip down under. But on that first Tuesday in November, the dark clouds part and the elegant ladies come out to shine. It is a day when the famous proverb, " the bigger the hat, the smaller the property" is transformed into "the bigger the hat, the smaller the skirt."

Although it is only a public holiday in Victoria, around the country kind bosses stop work and use the day as a team-building exercise. There is usually a sweep, a prize for the best hat and a drink or two or many. Roughly speaking, the popularity of a boss is proportional to the quantity of alcohol drunk and inversely proportional to the amount of work completed on the day.

A country stops for a day at the races
Editorial - The Australian November 2 2004

"TWO days on the nation's collective kitchen calendar, Anzac Day and Cup Day, bring us together like no others. And although one begins with darkness and grievous loss, while the other is all colour and fun, both capture elements of the larrikinism and egalitarian impulse that are embedded deep within this nation's unique spirit. As a handicap, the Cup is the most egalitarian race the world takes notice of, and we are the only country that celebrates such a race as our featured event: it takes a super horse to win, but every nag starts with a show. Adding to this element are the many paths that can bring a horse to the starting gate at Flemington at 3.10pm on the first Tuesday in November. Alongside high-profile favourites such as Makybe Diva - bidding to become the first mare to win the Cup twice - are dark horses such as On a Jeune. But what stories they have to tell! On a Jeune emerged from the South Australian bush circuit only in May, and scored an upset victory in the Cranbourne Cup last month. Her trainer, Peter Montgomerie, will set foot on Flemington racecourse for the first time in his life today. Or what about Kiwi entrant Catchmeifyoucan? Completely unheard of a fortnight ago, this mudlark carrying only 49kg is suddenly in with a show.

This extraordinary annual event will once again be celebrated at special lunches and in office sweeps around the country. And yes, for around three minutes and 20 seconds, the race will stop the nation. All of which raises again the perennial question: why is Cup Day, one of our quintessential annual rituals, not a national public holiday? Wowsers hate the idea, and so do cultural cringers who say we should not announce to the world how deeply we feel about a horse race. Monarchists always suspect a plot in the suggestion that Cup Day could replace the Queen's Birthday holiday, but what about replacing Labour Day? It celebrates a class distinction long since dead in Australia while Cup Day celebrates something brimming with life. "

 

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""Shouting", or rather its meaning, is peculiarly Australian. The shortest and most comprehensive definition of "shouting" is to pay for the drink drunk by others." Drinking

"Australia has been hailed as a saviour of our soi-disant movie industry. So it could be, irrespective of its box office earnings, if it leads to recognition that we don't have a film industry, despite expenditure over 20 years of $1.5billion in subsidies and perhaps another half billion in tax concessions." Movies

"Australians are very difficult to impress; even if you do manage to impress them, they may not openly admit it." Social Rules

"a confused mix of landscape, animals, and Aboriginal culture, with a kind of Bible overtone." Painting

"A determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop" Wisdom

"Gallipoli tends to seem strange to outsiders, as it appears to be a celebration of Australia's greatest defeat, but in essence it is rather a commemoration of those who died serving Australia in battle, be it warranted or not." Anzac

“We must be the only country in the world that marks its national day not by celebrating its identity, but by questioning it.” Australia Day

"He declared, confidently, that an immense number of women were dying for his diminutive highness, but became terribly angry, when an ugly, red-nosed publican with a hump-back, pretended to recognize him as an organ grinder strolling about with a monkey." Egalitarianism

"Yet there are some like me turn gladly home
From the lush jungle of modern thought, to find
The Arabian desert of the human mind,
Hoping, if still from the deserts the prophets come
" Poetry