Almanac Life: Stawell and the Hand Gluers



The hand gluers, egg throwers and padlock-and-chain wearers have won again. Chipped away at a piece of Victoria’s historical fabric, indeed, Australia’s fabric, and it fell to naïve good intent and blunt stupidity.

The slogan eaters, cliché consumers and blessed do-gooders have nailed the coffin lid shut which, in truth, had been in place for quite a while. Ever since the second chance was introduced and the clean skins imposed their will, without understanding what they were crushing, things have been slowly wilting.

The born-again hippies, who’ve been lurking in the suburbs since giving up the grass in the early `70s, have re-emerged. They emerge out of the swamp like tadpoles after a rain having saved their money and created a superannuation fund that keeps them immune from thinking beyond the front fence. Now they use their time grid-locking major city intersections as they know best, destroying the day of the good folk going about their business.

They paint banners and giggle to themselves as they think up another snappy one-liner about the climate or meat or punting or drinking. What do we want? Who’s WE anyway? The banners get packed into the back of the Subaru and driven to within a few hundred metres of the protest target then hidden in the trees, so no one sees the footprint. It’s all about perspective. There are no Gazman shirts today. They’re folded away and replaced with a strategically designed flannie.

Things “send a bad message” apparently. A bad message to whom? I would ask. But the easy target is picked and pursued relentlessly. This year the target is the staggering and spluttering Stawell Gift. A tradition that’s been on its knees for years, battered by a massive confusion as to its own identity, beaten into submission in its quest to please everyone it pleased no one. It had no fight left. Hollowed out like an avocado at a Melbourne café its last grip on a past of imagination and intrigue, of endeavour and aspiration and spirit was pried open and let go.

As Luke Burgis, writer and academic says, “The cultural moment is characterized by the technological flattening of personalities and ideas….”

The Stawell Gift was built around punting. It emerged out of the Gold Rush sweat and effort where people sought to improve their lot. They weren’t punting for fun necessarily (though some obviously were) they were punting on life. But those days are well behind us. Now a few bookmakers set up under the elm trees and take the flutters from the punters in a fairly innocuous manner. They don’t have apps and internet or promos. No TV advertisements at school pick up time. They are there because that’s where the people want them.

“Each way the Gift!” is all they have.

But they send a bad message. I ask again – to whom? They’re caught up in the tornado of nihilism that will smash anything in its path. I think of words written in 1945 by Walter Ulbricht, prominent German communist and mate of Stalin, “It’s quite clear – it’s got to look democratic, but we must have everything in our control.”  And I feel a shiver down my spine.

And if it’s a leap worthy of Bob Beamon to align post Second World War Eastern Europe with the banning of bookies at Stawell you may well be right, but tyrants and lunatics always start small.

And this all comes on top of the banning of campers at the local Stawell camping ground. Powered sites are OK, tents are out. So where do the people stay even if they still want to watch what’s left? They’re banished. Quietly removed from their own little traditions that have persisted for decades. The campsite was set year after year. The neighbours acknowledged. We still dig up the bricks for the barbeque that the old man buried under a tree in the 1970s. Saves carrying them up and back each year. The community of campers at Stawell every Easter was another of its charms. Discussions in the facilities block were had as blokes shouted over the showers’ noise or sprayed the tooth paste to make a point or hollered from behind a toilet door whilst undertaking the morning ablutions.  Strangers they were but united in the intrigue of it all. Enthralled after watching the favourite win his heat.

Was that his best?

Can he cope with the weekend wait?

I reckon the bloke in the fourth heat was walking.

Nah, that’s him.

Ya reckon?  

Got him at 16/1.

Good work.

The Queenslander’s come along way. Won’t be for nothin’

I like the lad from the bush.

See his run at Sebastopol?

No one’s talking about the beach sprinter??


I had a dream when I was a kid. A dream to win this romance because that’s what it was. A quirky, utterly Australian, beautifully chaotic, completely unpredictable sporting stroke of genius. We had it but we’ve lost it. And we can’t have it back. It sends a bad message.

“Literature must become party literature…….”

Vladimir Lenin, 1905.


Read more from Dips O’Donnell HERE


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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. While I’m no fan of the corporate bookies, I have no problem with anyone having a flutter. Four legged lottery or in this case two. I went to Stawell from Adelaide twice in the 70’s – once with dad and once with mates. Saw Ravelo win off scratch. Stayed in Hall’s Gap and toured the Grampians on the Sunday. Great memories.
    I’m with you 100% on the cultural madness of the Left. Once it stopped being about economic and work opportunities and embraced a contradictory mess of social “causes” it ceased its relevance to the majority.
    Australia stays afloat on China and minerals. When those dry up it’s Lord of the Flies time. Trump only lost in 2020 because of Covid and like Mussolini he knows how to exploit economic tensions for his personal aggrandisement. Poor fellow my world.

  2. Rulebook says

    Wow Dips absolutely f ing ridiculous and that’s being polite – a tradition removed by ignorant stupidity

  3. High Mark says

    Perhaps a chance for another Australian tradition to come back, the SP bookie

  4. John Harms says

    Good thinking High Mark.

  5. John Harms says

    Thanks Dips, for what is one of the best thin-edge-of-the-wedge extrapolations I’ve ever read.

  6. And right on cue Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge is currently gridlocked by a bunch of weather watchers who think we’re all going to die on Thursday week.
    Traffic banked back for kilometres.

  7. John Harms says

    No traffic in the Barossa, Dips, unless you get caught behind a tractor pulling a bin of Shiraz.
    Have you seen the other Stawell Gift piece yet? I just posted it. Thanks to Swish for doing the hard yards.

  8. Will check it out. Love the old programs.

    Barossa traffic sounds inviting.

  9. Darren Groves says

    Love your articles mate.
    Great memories of you and your dad and brothers .
    Never forgot Susan St Training competing for that trophy off your dads handicaps

  10. Great to hear from you Dasher. Those Susan Street races were high tension, high pressure affairs!!

  11. It’s impossible to disagree with you here, old mate.

    Punting is banned at Stawell, yet the odds for AFL matches continue to be rammed down our (and more importantly, our kids’) throats?

    What a world we live in!

    If they start banning beer, then I am out.

  12. Luke Reynolds says

    Ridiculous. Agree with all of your words Dips. Well written!

  13. Can’t help but think of the similarities to the Easter Oakbank racing in the Adelaide Hills….old time campers who had been camping in Rotten Row for decades, camp sites handed down in family wills and estates. Got to gradually squeeze them out, too. Then the loonies reckoned jumps racing was too dangerous, so the neddies just run around in circles on an uneven playing field. Not into horse racing or pro running to any real degree, but big fan of Australian traditions and they are disappearing way too fast.

  14. Mickey Randall says

    Dips, you’ll next tell us that we’re restricted to bringing an esky with only 24 cans into the MCG!

    Seriously, the erosion of tradition’s an awful thing. I generally see little social good in these developments.

  15. E.regnans says

    Hand-gluers! Very funny Dips.

    Possibly you are not the person these changes are designed to help.

  16. Very true ER. I fought the (new) world and the world won.

  17. Hayden Kelly says

    On the road so slow to comment .It’s legislation drafted by public servants devoid of life experience and signed off by politicians out of touch with the Community . Apparently under the legislation a bookie could field at Stawell but couldn’t put 18 and under competitors on their board which given recent history in the women’s Gift the bookie would be betting on the final with the 2 favorites out .Please .
    However I can go to Caulfield on Saturday and back a a horse ridden by a 16 year old apprentice and its not a problem
    Stawell and the VAL need to lobby for an amendment on traditional grounds as race clubs did successfully for two up to be played at ANZAC Day race meetings
    BTW i reckon online betting on Stawell is going to be allowed but will stand corrected on that .So the Corporate bookies get richer and the satchel swinger from the bush is banned and the on course patrons are derived of a traditional pleasure .
    It’s a nonsense

  18. Thanks Hayden for the breakdown of the actual legislation. I hadn’t seen that detail.

    As I understand it the banning of the bookies has been reversed. Which is just commonsense. I just wish everything wasn’t so hard.

  19. roger lowrey says

    Sorry Dips. I missed this a few weeks ago however I quarrel with nought herein.

    They are the same mob who attempt to terrorise Warrnambool Grand Annual racegoers each May. Thankfully, they don’t get much traction at the ‘Bool though as the big crowd of arriving punters at the track on Grand Annual morning is invariably far more assertive about their own views on the matter!


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