Melbourne Cup Day: What Do We Celebrate?

Yesterday in Australia, we had the ‘race that stops a nation’, otherwise known as the ‘Melbourne Cup’. It had me pondering as there were several things that did not sit right with me, in the way that this day is celebrated and how it is an event of such significance in Australia, and indeed the world.
Firstly, there is the race itself and what that involves. On a brief look over my social media pages yesterday I saw people sharing and discussing the ways in which the horses in the race are treated – and not just in this race but the racing industry in general. What horses are subjected to in the name of the racing industry is nothing short of barbaric.

Secondly, there are the humans riding the horses – the jockeys. In order to ride they need to meet certain physical and weight restrictions – which can understandably result in all manner of behaviour to achieve this. It may be seen as akin to the modelling industry in many ways, as the physical form is very much needed to be in a certain shape. Controlled eating, drinking & purging behaviours, or medications to assist with rapid weight loss or gain are therefore not unexpected in this realm. This combined with the very physical and imminently dangerous task of manning a very large and fast animal as it hurtles down a track certainly makes for an interesting constellation of health risks.

Would you encourage your child to become a jockey, with this in mind?

And therefore, would we celebrate a day where this behaviour is part and parcel of the preparation?

Thirdly, there are the many Australians that placed bets yesterday on the Melbourne Cup. Some will place one bet a year, but for others gambling is something that can control their lives and can easily become normalised on a day like yesterday. The individual, community and societal impacts of  gambling cannot be underestimated – so we need to be very mindful about what it is we engage with and indeed celebrate, as an example to our younger generations on this day (as with every other).

Fourthly, and not surprisingly, there is the culture and manner of celebration that comes along with the Melbourne Cup. It is the race that stops a nation for reasons other than the race itself. Alcohol consumption and celebrating the Melbourne Cup appear to go hand in hand. Spring Racing, and going to ‘the races’ in general is certainly a space where it appears many a sparkling beverage are consumed. I likely don’t need to comment further on the health risks this entails, but once again this day of likely excess is put forward as the way Australians celebrate.

Are we truly proud of this?

There are talks of having a national public holiday for the Melbourne Cup, and therefore it will be very much in our constitution as a celebration. I can see no benefit to anyone in doing this, as it will only further the above clearly destructive behaviours.

I am unsure the exact funding and money that goes into this race, but in a time when budgets are stretched and peoples’ health continues to decline, I can’t help but wonder why we continue to have – and promulgate – these events that promote the opposite to what our society truly needs.

Something for us all to ponder.

 

7 comments

  1. Definitely a great conversation to start Amelia. Making this into a public holiday make no sense – it is not intrinsically a day of great meaning or reverence. The economic cost of such an exercise would not be balanced by equal value socially or otherwise.

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  2. I agree with every word Amelia. I’ve always enjoyed going to the races (mainly the dressing up) and Melbourne cup was the one time each year where I would put a small bet on a horse. But this year everything about the race made me feel uncomfortable. The dreadful way the horses are treated, the unhealthy jockeys and the awful scenes of excess shown by the racegoers, the drinking and the disgusting mess they left behind on the race grounds. It does make you wonder why we as a nation celebrate such a day.

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  3. A great ponder indeed!.. Each and every point that you raise here Amelia asks us to take responsibility for the society we choose to live and take part in and in this, also to be responsible for that which we don’t speak up for or against. It does appear ridiculous that we want to celebrate a day, a sport and a lifestyle that is nothing but detrimental and unhealthy to all involved. In Australia (and elsewhere) it is normal to want to come together as a group of people, to connect with each other and celebrate from a place where we are in real support of each other and making the best possible choices – wouldn’t this be a great way to spend a ‘day off’ together – one that celebrates us in great health and in a joy that needs to substance or finances to bring us to have fun.

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  4. For some reason I had the impression that a race day was a bit classy. I have been to Ascot and the Melbourne cup and been shocked at the behaviour of people. How are we celebrating and what are we even doing? It’s just like we are doing the same thing for entertainment as they did in gladiator days, watching others suffer, and being gleeful about it. We really haven’t evolved much… deeply sad to really see where we are as a humanity and we still champion it under the guise of sport, competition and achievement -really?

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  5. Great points, Dr Amelia. It is easy to get caught up in the ‘glamour’ of the event – an opportunity to put on a beautiful dress or smart suit. What you expose is that the truth is not so glamorous: injured or dead horses, people so drunk they can’t walk, or others who have lost their grocery money for the week. There is not really much to celebrate.

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  6. I’ve never really understood the point of gambling. But then I’d always succumb to participating in the work place sweep come Melbourne Cup. It was just one of those things I’d go along with as an extension of being part of a team. Until this year when I figured that betting on a horse race that I opposed in every way, including some of the reasons you’ve mentioned in your blog Dr Amelia, just didn’t warrant my precious energy or investment of my money in any way. And the response from my colleagues, well, I may as well have attempted to burn the national flag. It certainly brings up a lot for people and it is interesting that this is so. But nonetheless, it felt very liberating to honour my feelings and inner values in this way. And instead I chose to focus on enjoying the company of my colleagues as we chatted and shared food around the big screen together.

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