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Australian traditions of the worst kind

It is amazing how one event can cram into it so much of what we like to complain about in society. Gambling, drinking, cruelty to animals, objectification of women, class divides…the list is really quite long. I speak of course of the Melbourne Cup, yet another interesting cultural symbol we like to see as “uniting all Australians” as we listen to the race.

To be honest, we didn’t listen to it yesterday. We actually turned off the radio.

I don’t want to be a humourless wowser and I quite enjoy a spot of drinking and even a bit of a consideration of fashion from time to time. My history as a croupier makes me extremely wary about gambling. As a side note, it was fascinating amongst croupiers. You tended to find we fell into one of two very clear and distinct camps: those who did gamble at all, and those who spent every spare minute at the TAB. I am in the former camp and find it hard enough to buy lottery tickets, or even enter a sweep, let alone bet money on racing. Not that I never have, from time to time.

But what seems to be fascinating is how much one event can encapsulate so much that so many would consider either singularly or collectively to be the worst elements of our society and yet….and yet it is still purported to be one of the most important events on the Australian sporting and social calendar. Listening to someone on the radio saying what they would enjoy about the day which ended with the “and of course lots of drinking” just made me think a bit about all the values instilled in the event. Apart from the compulsory drinking and gambling, there is a lot wrong with the horse racing industry and the way that horses are virtually factory produced, and put down as foals if they don’t measure up. I was pleased to hear that the vets actually stopped a horse running because they thought it wasn’t up to it, and a little horrified by the owners carry-on about how it should be allowed to race.

Then there is the objectification of women and the overt gender roles that the day entails. “Fashions on the field” while the men drink and gamble. And the rich in their enclosures being given free booze and advertising, while the poor sit in the carpark with the VB.

And year after year, with little change or innovation, the show goes on and we are supposed to see it as part of our identity as Australians.

I quite like the fact that here in the ACT we had Family and Community Day. We spent time with our family and friends, drinking indeed, but also talking and eating and thinking and playing with children. I also like the fact that one gets away from the near-compulsory workplace Melbourne-Cupping. Of course, next year we’ll be back at work to ensure that caterers get their pre Christmas income boost through work functions. But it was nice for a couple of years to have a slightly different tradition.


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