Although I quite like horse racing, I’m probably not one for getting into all of the ritual associated wiith Melbourne Cup, which was held today, the annual unofficial public holiday here in Australia. Yes, I do like horse racing, or at least going to the races in a “corporate box” sense, anyway. For a number of years, for example, Damo and I would go to the annual Sydney Markets Race Day at Rosehill where, amongst other things, I got to sash a winner one year.
I also have fond memories of being at Melbourne Cup Race Day on Dunk Island with my friend Sue in 2001 (with its horse race along the beach). And also being with Sue at Melbourne Cup two years ago in Perth, where, sensibly the race is timed to co-incide with lunchtime. But generally speaking, I’m not one for crowds and lining up and I generally don’t worry about having a bet.
This is in stark contrast to my early years, growing up in Lismore. As well as mum and dad, I lived with my granny and my uncle, both ardent betters. Subsequently I knew about horse racing and gambling from a very early age and they would often place bets on my behalf. On a Saturday afternoon as a child I would often sit with my granny listening to the radio, relating to her the results (as she was a little deaf), and converting the result in dollars into pounds shillings and pence (as she never really converted to decimal currency). At about the age of ten, I also remember vividly picking Melbourne Cup winners for three consecutive years. Even playing radio stations as a child, I would often do my own race calls, so I hope I have clearly established my “horse racing cred”.
Although I don’t remember dad’s side as being especially interested in horse racing, I have also discovered in recent years there is also a horse racing connection, noted in “River Oaks, Green Willows and young Corn (a brief history of the Bega District Jockey Club)” by Ray James and Jim Gordon. The book documents a number of stories about local trainer, Luke O’Brien, one of the sons of James O’Brien and Mary Smith, my great-great-grandparents who came to Australia in 1864.
“Luke O’Brien was fond of a bet, and his daughter, Mrs Roy Ziegler told a story of one of Luke’s gambling adventures. In many stories of this kind, it can be difficult to separate truth from well-intentioned humour. We’ll let you decide this issue. Well, anyway, Luke set off through the bush to go to the Bredbo Cup Meeting. Bredbo was a flourishing gold mining town at this time, and it took Luke a few days to find his way through the bush and through the mountains, and the horse looked a complete wreck when they arrived. However, he had been fit before leaving Moran’s Crossing, and starting at a good price, the horse duly won the Bredbo Cup, and Luke cleaned out the bookmakers well and truly. It had taken him several days to reach Bredbo across country, but Luke returned by road, stopping at every hotel en route, and the return trip took almost a month. With no communication in those days, the family had to go looking for Luke, eventually to find that he had come to no harm. Which just goes to show, that even if racing is a bit of an adventure, there is no need to overdo things”.
It’s a great story, and anyone who knows me, should be left in no doubt that Luke O’Brien was my great-great uncle.
Despite this heritage, I actually find Melbourne Cup Day a bit of a bore, a bit of a chore, due to the crowds and hype. But anyway, today a few of us from work went to the Crystal Palace Hotel, one of the great unreconstructed pubs of the CBD. They have carpet on the floor, cheap drinks, cheese, jatz and salami on plates on the bar and a TAB! What more do you need for Melbourne Cup?
And did I have a bet? Well no, because I can’t stand joining queues at the TAB, a regular occurence on Melbourne Cup Day, although I did pick the winner. Nothing to do with weight or form, I just liked the name Delta’s Blues. Why? Well, because it’s my birthday this week, the one I’ve been describing as my “Delta Dawn Birthday” because of the song’s lyric, “She was forty one and daddy still called her baby…” In hindsight, I should have listened to the omen and I’d probably have won enough money today to have my own “Bredbo Adventure”.