Is it just a harmless gamble?
I have mixed feelings about the Melbourne Cup.
As someone who grew up around horses, the race gets the young girl of me very excited. When I was little more than a toddler, I would pretend race my horse Apache around the paddock, shouting at the sky every time I won.
(I generally won.)
But still there’s something about the Melbourne Cup that sits a little uneasily in me.
And I think it has to do with its tradition.
Remember the Cup is old. The first one was help back in in 1861.
And it actually started as a marketing gimmick.
VRC secretary Robert Bagot had the genius idea of issuing members with two ladies tickets. Like every marketing guru throughout time, he figured that “where ladies go, men will follow.”
It worked. 4,000 people turned up to watch the race. That might not sound like a lot, but it was enough to make it one of the most popular races of the time.
Strong out the gate already, the Cup then managed to secure a public holiday for itself as early as 1865. How on earth the lobbyists pulled that off I have no idea.
But from that point on, the popularity of the race really took off, and it’s place in the public imagination and Australian folklore was enshrined.
And by 1880, less than twenty years on, they reckon 100,000 people showed up to watch the race. In a town (which Melbourne still was at that time) of 260,000, that’s nothing short of mind boggling.
I guess it’s true what they say, Australians love a flutter.
And that’s the part I’m not sure about.
I know it’s a stereo-type that we like gambling, but where does that stereo-type come from?
Gambling is not something that you do if you’re good with money.
In fact, gambling seems designed to prey on people’s desperation and poverty. It offers a (false) road to wealth, when all other roads to you are closed. It becomes the last shred of hope for people with nowhere else to turn.
And so what does that say about its mythical popularity in Australia?
Remember in 1880, most people in Australia believed they were living in some far-flung and wretched colony, having been banished by the lucky elite who ruled England.
(I know right? Almost impossible to imagine now.)
Australians were still, in the majority, the decedents of convicts and economic refugees.
So of course they were easy victims for the false promises that gambling sold them.
And so it’s this celebration of gambling – and the backwards celebration of this hopeless state – that is one thing I would love to change about the Australian psyche if I could.
Your money is too precious to waste even a cent on gambling. We live in an age where you can take control of your financial future. You can make your life anything you want.
You can achieve financial security and the life of your dreams, but I can guarantee you it won’t be through gambling.
So come Melbourne Cup day, I’m reminded of tradition, and of our ancestors pinning their sad hopes on ‘a bit of a flutter’.
For me, it’s a history that casts a shadow over what would otherwise be a fantastic parade of beautiful, beautiful horses.