The day the country came to a halt

Saturday, 8 November 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The whole of Australia came to a standstill last Tuesday – 4 November. The reason: It was the Melbourne Cup Day – the day Australia’s best known horse racing event is held. Since 1861 the race is run on the first Tuesday of November every year. It is an annual public holiday in the state of Victoria. In other states work comes to a halt for several hours when everyone at work are glued to television to see whether their favourite horse would win having spent a few dollars on bets. In Victoria and elsewhere office parties are held, staff lunches and afternoon teas are arranged at restaurants and a television is made available for workers to watch the race. Bets are made by even those who usually do not bet. They try their luck with a small wager or entry into a sweep, which is a lottery in which each ticket holder is matched with a randomly drawn horse. The impact of the race can be known from the fact that it is commonly identified as “the race that stops the nation”. However, animal lovers and associations related to the protection of animals are against horse racing describing it as a cruel sport. They have been vocal in their protests over the years. This year’s race ended in joy and sorrow. Joy because it was a thrilling race. Sorrow because it ended up with the death of two horses. The Japanese horse collapsed at the end of the race and was suspected to have suffered a massive heart attack. The other was put down when the vets found the horse had sustained multiple fractures in a hind leg having got excited and kicked a fence seeing a fan waving an Australian flag as he was returning after the race. This was the first time two horses had died after the Melbourne Cup. Last year one horse had died. Melbourne Cup Day is described as one of Australia’s most popular social and racing events. The main racing event takes place at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria. An estimated 200,000 people were present at the race this year. The television audience is recorded at around 650 million people worldwide. It is also a fashion event with many women wearing their best or most colourful hats and dresses, with some participating in fashion parades on the field. The Emirates sponsored race dubbed as “Australia’s most famous race,” offers AU$6.2 million and is the richest handicap in the world. The winner got a million dollars. While the race receives wide media coverage it also gets adverse publicity. ‘An orgiastic carnival of drunkenness and death’ said a headline in the Sydney Morning Herald’. It published a series of pictures showing piles of empty beer cans, remnants of food packs and heaps of other junk. “For the past 20 years, every Wednesday after the first Tuesday in November, Peter Fame undertakes one of the country’s grimmest tasks. As a cleaner at the Flemington racecourse, his job is to delete the aftermath of the Melbourne Cup. He works until 1 a.m. to get rid of the traces of Australia’s most orgiastic carnival – a carnival which yesterday (4 November) mixed its usual drunkenness with death. The scene is as desolate as it is disgusting, the ultimate answer to the day-after regret of the heavy drinker,” a columnist wrote. “Fame has found false teeth, women’s underwear, cocaine and condoms. He regularly comes across a woman picking through the detritus for leftover food – of which there is a lot.” “There is also the off-track spectacle: the garish hats and the dresses, the idiotic stripper shoes which represent the feminine struggle between vanity and sanity, the wasted money thrown at blow-dry bars and spray-on tans and fascinators which so often end up, Kath-and-Kim-style, flecked with the vomit of their wearer,” she further reported. Most newspapers highlighted the tragic deaths of the two horses.