My late father used to talk of seeing Bradman bat. I don’t think he saw him in a Test match; it’s more likely to have been a Shield match or two at the Adelaide Oval. I think he was at his testimonial match.
He took me to see a game of footy in Melbourne when I was about four: Geelong v St Kilda at Moorabbin. I have tried to work out which match it was. But I can say I saw Polly Farmer play. I don’t remember much of the day.
Last Saturday. We live in a busy household and have much to do. But I want to take Theo, who is five and has just started prep, to see the Lightning at Flemington. I want him to be able to say when, God willing (as my father would say), he reaches a good age, “I saw Black Caviar.”
It’s hot. We spend the morning doing jobs about the house, and then try to assemble a trampoline (which gets the better of us) in the midday sun.
At three o’clock, with time getting away, Theo and I head down the street to Merri Station. Theo likes the train. He puts his very-engaged face on and looks out the window. When he was very young he called all racehorses Black Caviar and when he saw spots sometimes he would say ‘Black Caviar’. He has been to the races before. He associates the races with fizzy drink and jumping castles.
We have to get off the train at Clifton Hill as there is no service to Flinders St. We are bussed to Parliament Station. We have to wait for ten minutes. It’s half past three already. We are told to get off at Spencer Street and go to Platform 14 for the races train. It arrives but just flies through. It’s nearly four. Will we make it? It becomes an adventure. Theo and I run to Spencer Street. There is a line of people at the taxi rank. We walk west and finally pick up a cab. The driver understands the urgency and takes off, getting us to the track at quarter past four.
We get in, and find Wally Beaver. I introduce Theo and they shake hands. I have a bet. Theo’s cheeks are flushed from running in the heat and he needs a drink which we get at the Bernborough Bar. Solo-coke, as we call it in our household. It’s his second favourite behind Sun-kist.
We make our way through the undercroft. Theo points to a lady wearing a frock in Black Caviar’s colours. And then a tie on a bloke also walking our way.
On the lawns we are among the throng. There are a lot of families. Flags. Caps. Proud Dads. I’m not sure of the origin of the pride, but I feel it too. Like the moment is so incredibly positive that the world is wonderful.
It is too crowded around the mounting yard so we take up a position four-deep at the 100 metre mark. It’s like the Sermon on the Mount scene from The Life of Brian: something is happening over there, but we can’t see what, and our focus becomes on where we are. I have Theo on my shoulders, his drink is in my hand. I notice heaps of kids, and a lot of them have been lifted up by dads who point at the big screen.
“What number is Black Caviar?” I ask.
The horses make their way along the path. Their jockeys are just visible above the heads.
“Here she comes.”
There is applause. Cameras click. And in an instant she is gone.
I explain where the race is starting and Theo waits until the gates open. We watch the screen. The champion looks comfortable and then accelerates. And here she is. And there she goes.
“She won. She won,” I say. “Did you see her Theo?”
“Yes,” says Theo. “Can I have my drink back now?”
People are taking photos of each other – especially of kids on shoulders.
The applause starts as Black Caviar comes back. It is the most delightful applause: respectful, loving. It is not a cheer.
A young bloke who had been arguing with his wife (“You put $10,000 on Black Caviar? No. No.”) is now extremely popular with her.
We watch another race but Decircles is not good enough and the double goes under.
Theo and I get the train and then the 112 tram. We stop at the Red Olive and have a pizza each. Theo is wonderful dinner company.
It is a day of memorable warmth: the day we saw Black Caviar win.