Friday, November 4, 2011


Down under in Australia there is one moment, on one day of each calendar year, when the entire nation comes to a standstill.

The mighty Tulloch – 1960’s

No matter where they are, in outback Queensland, on the beach at Bondi, in the Kimberley’s of West Australia, Alice Springs, Oodnadatta, far south in Tasmania  or on the top of Victoria’s Mt Kosciusko, people of every colour, creed or political chant pause in the midst of whatever they’re doing, waiting to hear the magic words, ‘They’re Off!’......and Australia’s favourite horse race begins...The Melbourne Cup.  

As a kid I remember one particular 3pm on the first Tuesday of November when the teacher tuned into a bulky but portable radio so the entire class of 12 year olds could listen to the race that stops a nation.  We all knew what the Melbourne Cup was about, and we all had a small penny wager on it.

Aussies after all have a gambling reputation that had to have started  at some time in their childhood.

Just as the crowd below in 1930’s Melbourne crowded around a shop wireless, I can still remember being a passenger on a tram in Brisbane when the driver stopped outside a city store so we could all hear the race on a radio tuned to its highest pitch by the obliging storekeeper...

...when even 1930’s workmen installing a clock on a building in Adelaide paused to listen to the running of a horse race in far away Melbourne.

Nothing stops the Melbourne Cup, not war, nor pouring rain, blizzard or even the high winds that saw these fashionable young ladies struggling to control they’re already brief skirts.

Melbourne Cup Tuesday is the day when countless women don their fashionable party best, when millions of dollars are wagered on the one race, when more sickies from work rosters are registered, than on any other day of the year, when one horse, one jockey, and one trainer will receive the deserved accolade of an entire country.

In every community hall, sports club, convention centre, parties are held, neighbourhood sweeps organised, bets placed.  Hairdressers do a roaring trade, glad rags are dragged out of closets, frivolous hats created, and an awful lot of bubbly is consumed.

The Cup is, after all, that one day of the year when the whole country celebrates.  On Straddie we have a choice of toad races at the Pt Lookout Pub, or a piglet race at the Little Ship Club in Dunwich.

Fashions though, have changed dramatically since the 1860’s, when Archer won the very first Melbourne Cup.

By the 1960’s skirts were knee length, hats were still puddings, and furs hadn’t yet been relegated to four legged animals only.

The 21st Century saw skirts lifting a whole lot higher and the guys splashing a bit more colour.

And some even decided if a Peacock could flaunt his feathers so could they.

 Mind you some girls went to extreme lengths to match the horsie mood...
We could have stayed to enjoy the toad races and the little piggies on Straddie,  maybe even raced off to the Hens Party at Amity.

But this year, 2011, saw our small clutch of Straddie housewives travelling ‘off island’, to strut their stuff at the Gold Coast Races, an event that just happened to coincide with the big one in Melbourne.

Six of us under the one roof in an apartment on the fabulous Gold Coast of Queensland.  Champers and nibblies, posh outfits and ridiculous hats.  It was going to be fun.

While the fillies on the course in Melbourne were being pampered and preened for the big event, we Straddie show ponies were going through our own pre-party preparations. A spit and polish with careful attention to tips and toes.

While some looked for winning tips on the internet....

Others searched for inspiration on a cereal packet or even in a glass of amber liquid.

Then we faced the battle of what to wear.  This hat or that one...

Or even, should we wear a hat at all?

At last we were all sorted and raring to go...but first a stop off at the local tavern...think of it as a confidence booster.

It took a wee while and a few sips to feel the resulting glow and then we were off...and heading thataway...

 Of course the race course was packed...
But we found a spare table...

And promptly toasted our way to winnings and a party glow, that ended up something like this....

Did we win? 

Not on the Cup, but lets say we finished ahead, enjoyed the day, and then started planning how we might celebrate The Cup next year.  A pool party maybe, a barbecue on the beach,  or maybe, just maybe, we’ll invest in one of those tasty little piglets and enter him in the Little Ship’s Straddie Cup 2012.

Maybe we’ll even win the little piggy himself and combine winnings with the barbecue!


Robyn Mortimer ©2011