melbourne cup day (Photo credit: doublebug)
On the first Tuesday in November, Australia stands still to watch 24 horses race at Flemington. It is a public holiday and if you happen to go anywhere around this time you will find that cafes and shops are deserted as normal life is halted to watch the prestigious race.
For Melbournians, Cup Day is a public holiday. As with all good holidays in Australia, it is celebrated with BBQs and beer. Wether the sun shines or the rain pours (and being Melbourne weather it can go either way), we charcoal sausages and induce hangovers.
Today’s Melbourne Cup got me thinking back to the Melbourne Cup day traditions of my childhood. As a kid, I loved Melbourne Cup day, and it had nothing to do with a horse race.
When I was a small child my parents had a Cup Day tradition. Every year we would go to a friend’s house and a group of my parents friends would get together to bottle wine. They would buy huge casks and spend the day bottling them. Of course, there was still a BBQ and a lot of the wine didn’t make the bottles.
When each cask was emptied, the silver belly would be blown up with air and tossed to us to play with. We would spend the day diving and jumping on the giant casks (in hindsight they weren’t that huge, but it was how I saw them at the time).
Early in the day we would cut out the names of the horses from the newspaper and put them in a hat t be drawn for the sweep. Just before the race we would each pull a horse out of the hat. There were the normal prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. In addition, the last placed horse got their money back. I think we only be $2 each.
At 3pm we would trudge inside to cram around the TV. Back then, household televisions were small boxes in the corner of the room. They were not flat screens that took up a whole wall. We would all squeeze into the tiny family room and squint at the TV trying desperately to find our horse. As they whooshed by, it would be hard to find your horse on the tiny screen.
When I was 10 my parent separated. After that, we no longer spent Cup Day with the same group of friends. However, there was always a BBQ and sweep at my Mum’s house. I used to joke that the 2 biggest religious celebrations in our house were the Melbourne Cup and AFL grand final.
As I got older I started to travel. Whenever that first Tuesday in November came around, I would think about the cup and how it stopped Australia. It would feel strange when 3pm arrived and the world kept turning. In other nations, the Cup was not such a big deal. At most, it was a news story somewhere in the sports bulletin.
After returning to Australia, I met my partner. He took me to my first Melbourne Cup. Strangely enough, before I met my partner I didn’t really think that people went to the races. Sure, I saw them on TV. There were women dressed in beautiful dresses with amazing hats. There were always a few punters in fancy dress and of course, the party in the Flemington Racecourse car park! I don’t know why I didn’t think that real people went to the races. I seemed to have this idea that it was only for the rich and famous.
When I went to Flemington for my first race day I instantly fell in love. I loved the party! I relished the chance to dress up and feel like royalty for the day. The atmosphere was electric and all day I buzzed with excitement.
For the next few years, I was a regular at Flemington for Spring Carnival. My partner worked there so we had the added luxury of getting in and drinking for free. I felt like a princess.
Then children came along. Since then, I have still tried to go to some of the race meets but usually not Cup Day. As it was a public holiday most of my babysitters were away or attending BBQs so I had children to entertain.
Now my partner no longer works at Flemington for the Carnival. This year, we spent the four day weekend at our caravan. My sons rode bikes and laughed with their friends. My oldest son picked his horse out of a hat. We watched the race and he was very excited to see if his horse won. unfortunately it didn’t but seeing him enjoying his day, more for the time with his friends then the love of the horserace, made me start reminiscing.
I am looking forward to spending many more Cup Days with my children. I wonder what they will remember 30 years from now.