If you want to know how big Melbourne Cup is in Australia, look at the length of its entry in Wiki, and the level of detail. You'll find out all you need to know, so I won't have to explain. It's so big it doesn't need any qualifiers. When people consult their diaries, they say, 'It's Melbourne Cup'. Not '…the Melbourne Cup', or '…Melbourne Cup Day'.
I spotted my first outrageous outfit by about 7:15 this morning, as I dropped my friend off at Bulimba ferry. There wasn't much to it: short-short; with billowing sheer white appendage; and vertiginous heels, natch. Don't get me wrong. I adore fabulous outfits. Talking of which, I went to see The Dressmaker yesterday. Loved it, for many reasons. But I'd choose stylish over stunning any day.
Eighteen hundred kilometres and a time zone away from Flemington, Brisbane workplaces come to a halt for 'the race that stops a nation'. Don't try to fix a meeting for that time. Colleagues will exclaim, 'But it's Melbourne Cup!' In Victoria, the first Tuesday in November is a public holiday; unless you live in a country town that has its own 'Spring Carnival', in which case you can choose which day to holiday. Daycare facilities are closed, so heaven help you if you're a parent working in essential services that, thankfully, don't stop for a horse race.
The people of this betting nation part with hundreds of millions of their hard-earned dollars on this day. You probably wouldn't believe the figures for all the major sports fixtures during a year, but have a read of this in The Daily Telegraph. And until 19 November you can still catch this deeply disturbing programme from a few weeks back here. Even country town RSLs have ranks of pokies to rival venues on Las Vegas Strip.
Is it me or is this madness?
The first couple of years I lived here, I was away on Melbourne Cup Day. I heard all about the champagne flowing from the 'three-course meal and three-hour beverages packages'. My friends who went looked so smart and beautiful in the photos, and I was almost sorry I'd missed the fun. Another year, I decided I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a new outfit and accessories I'd probably only wear once, and a meal with more booze than I could put away in a weekend, never mind at lunch. By last year I'd admitted that racing isn't for me. I don't like what happens to the horses, either as 'encouragement' to run faster or as a result of injuries they sustain in doing so*. Punters are shielded from the grim realities of a cruel sport. I don't have any inclination to bet, and I find it disquieting that betting is so openly encouraged in a nation in which gambling is such an enormous social problem.
Former racing journo Michael Hutak, writing for The Drum yesterday, observed, 'It may have serious ethical issues, but racing is so embedded in the vernacular of Australian social and public life, many of us are happy to look the other way in the Spring sunshine'.
I heard on the radio this morning that hats are back. Fascinators… aren't. Finalement, les fascinateurs sont passés. So, what happens to them, fascinators that are finished with? There are still 64 on David Jones's website. I rather liked one of Mimco's but my fringe would have got in the way.
Post script The ABC's 7.30 Report on Tuesday evening told the hopefully happy-ending story of a Melbourne Cup favourite, Red Cadeaux, who many feared would have to be put down after he injured a fetlock during the race. In the end he didn't even have surgery. He has been retired and will be able to heal slowly. How many people remember what happened last year, when two horses died?
Post post script 29 November 2015 Sadly, Red Cadeaux's recovery took a turn for the worse and I learned this week that the horse had to be put down. Read more here.