Michelle Payne’s story ‘Life as I know it’




cover Life as I know it



Michelle Payne rode Prince of Penzance to victory in the 2015 Melbourne Cup. It was a peach of a ride.

Not many people outside of racing, and sport, had heard of Michelle. Not many took the 100/1 on The Prince.

We soon got to know Michelle. We connected with her.

In the moments after they crossed the line she spoke three times – with Sam Hyland on the back of Brian (his horse – yes, Brian!) with Peter Donegan in the mounting yard, and then at the presentation ceremony.

With Sam Hyland, she projected a sincere sense of gratitude – or grace. She was so thankful. She didn’t make it about her. She acknowledged the horse, the trainer, the owners, the staff, Stevie (more on that later), everyone who had been involved. With Peter Donegan she spoke up for women jockeys, and for those who feel injustice. In her acceptance speech on the podium she was so poised, so composed.

There was something about her. She seemed so genuine, so open and honest.

I was really moved. When she first greeted Stevie coming back to scale it was a superb family moment. So natural. I had watched Stevie draw Barrier 1 on Derby Day and I had punched the air with delight. Then, in the Flemington mounting yard she showed how much Stevie meant to her, and to the Payne family.

When she told the begrudgers to ‘get stuffed’ I was thinking, “Wow! That’s brave!” And started imagining that she would cop it from some quarters. Which she did.

But the support was greater.

And her story just kept getting better. Her words at the podium conveyed so much character and an understanding of life that resonated powerfully with me. She used words like ‘blessed’ and ‘chosen’ and ‘grateful’ and she conveyed a sense that things happen for a reason, all things, from the greatest tragedies to the greatest triumphs.

I knew the Payne family story – that they were a racing family – but not in any great detail. I knew of the eccentricities of Paddy Payne senior, that he was a character. I knew of Paddy jnr who was a gun horseman from the outset.  I knew the story of the ‘pioneering’ sisters, some of whom had ridden for our own trainer, D.I.Dodson, ‘our’ being SAMRA, the Salvador Allende Memorial Racing Alliance.

But I had no real depth of knowledge.

In the days that followed, she continued to impress. She was wondering why chance had smiled on her and she’d won the Melbourne Cup and, more importantly, how she could make that work for good. She spoke of wanting it to inspire people, especially young people, to pursue their dreams, to be the best they could be.

Not long before Christmas I received a phone call, out of the blue, from Louise Adler at Melbourne University Publishing inviting me to work with Michelle on a book.

Thankfully I agreed to do it and, over the two months it took, I have learned why Michelle Payne was able to speak with such understanding, and such belief, in those moments after winning the Cup. She is a thinker, a contemplator; a woman on a quest, in many ways a spiritual quest demanding the sort of dedication and self-denial you’d expect of someone on a spiritual quest. And being a quest it involved setbacks and impediments and deep frustrations. Riding has nearly killed her numerous times – the most recent in a fall at Mildura.

But she never lost sight of what she wanted to achieve, or to be, and so this is a story of resilience and determination, faith and belief, a wonderful drama with a classic cast: a loving family, a father with an unshakable faith in life, a brother with Down’s Syndrome, an Irish priest, an Australian trainer all the way from the Mallee, a caucus of owners, and a horse, Prince of Penzance, which Michelle believed in.

The story is even better than you already think it is.

I am very grateful to Michelle for inviting me to be part of it all.

If we are on a search for meaning, the 2015 Melbourne Cup provides an important sign-post. While there will be a time to consider that, now is the time to read the story.


Life as I know it is available for $30 (which includes postage).


To Malarkey Publications

BSB 633000

A/C 154103428

Then send an email with your postal address to [email protected]



If you love racing, and you relate to the idea of being a mug punter, and you’ve always wanted to own a horse, read John Harms’s Memoirs of a Mug Punter. It’s one of the three books in his trilogy Play On. The others are Loose Men Everywhere and Confessions of a Thirteenth Man.

Play On front cover final


When Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter and Loose Men Everywhere came out they received outstanding reviews. Here’s some of the comments as collated by Text Publishing:


“Nick Hornby for Australian conditions…a craftsman of rare skill, a national treasure in the making.” Geelong Advertiser



Memoirs of a Mug Punter

“Delightful…light of touch, unsentimental, shrewdly paced.” Canberra Times

“It’s impossible not to share Harms’ enthusiasm for the horse, and impossible not to take aliking to the writer…Truly enjoyable.” Australian Bookseller and Publisher

“Anyone who likes a good laugh will enjoy this book.” Brisbane News


Loose Men Everywhere

“Well-written…funny…gloriously, quintessentially Australian – capturing the great Aussie game endearingly and personally.” Courier Mail

“A Very funny book.”   Sunday Tasmanian

“A complete delight.”   Australian Financial Review


Confessions of a Thirteenth Man

“Funny…Profound…genuinely touching.”   Who Weekly

“Engaging and Witty…should be in every cricket lover’s library.”   Inside Sport

“[This book] is no dry dissection of the [98-99] Ashes’ Tour…[It] is a primer for those who understand that to love and understand cricket is to love and understand life. Even more, it’s an entertaining and perceptive cultural portrait.” The Australian





About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Christopher Harms says

    Cousin John. It was divine intervention. You were an ideal pick for this book. What a terrific person she is and what a brilliant story for these times..
    Well played and well written. Charms.

  2. Steve Hodder says

    JTH, not many took the 100/1? From what I’ve been told, half of the Ballarat District got on.



  3. Its a wonderful story, superbly and gently told. Congratulations.

  4. Yvette Wroby says

    Looking forward to the read.

    Well done


  5. Two months to write the book! You are a machine Harms.

  6. Great achievement, Michelle and John. Rip off the cover and mail us a copy JTH. As a reformed punt drunk I’ll have to convince the AE that its a personal development story.

  7. Congrats John and Michelle, I’d love a copy.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Congrats JTH it will be the 2nd racing book I have bought really looking forward to it ( yes love the mug punter )

  9. E.regnans says

    Congratulations Michelle & JTH.
    This piece above, is itself a wonder.

    This story reads better and better.
    May the audience be wide and deep.

  10. mapfreeman says

    Wasn’t it an incredible half hour after she hit the line JTH, am very glad they’ve got you on board to tell the yarn, looking fwd to the read

  11. Matt O'Hanlon says

    My Irish ancestry always led me to speculate on p payne as a hoop. How can we forget the 2000 Emirates on testa rossa. I backed it during a schoolboy league meeting at 16’s. Sadly I was too smart to take the 100’s on little sister in 2015 and elements of her victory speech were clearly aimed directly at punters like me. Look forward to reading jth’s work as penance to replace the our father and 3 Hail Mary’s required of an Irish catholic

  12. This is your sort of book MOH. The intersection of Catholic theology, Irish mysticism and solid toil. You’ll love Father Keane who told me came from the same county as Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle.

    He also said, “John, I’ll be tellin’ you, if you’re havin’ a bet in a cussin’ competition, put your money on Paddy Payne.”

    And also told me, “Paddy Payne is a man of almighty faith”. You can imagine the way an 88 year old (punting) priest says ‘Almighty faith.”

  13. Citrus Bob says

    Like all of the above I have been overwhelmingly impressed with the Payne family and their wonderful story.
    The combination of Payne and Harms certainly is a great pedigree for such a book.
    Michelle has lifted the profile of women in sport to a very high level.
    Congratulations to all concerned a wonderful story and now for the movie with JTH in the chair.

  14. aussiegus says

    If the books half as good as these 1000 words or so then it will be a great read

    And I got set on the day !

  15. Looking forward to the read too, John. You must have poured everything into this. Thanks for doing that. Michelle does seem very well worth getting to know better!

  16. Could think of no-one better to have been involved in this project.
    Well done, JTH.

    Really looking forward to purchasing and reading.

  17. Thanks for all these kind words.

    Steve, I believe there were pockets of support. I’m told that, because one of PoP’s owners works for the Gold Coast Suns, half the players are very happy, and half are still kicking themselves. He tipped it to them.

    MAPF, I really think the interview with Sam Hyland is one of the great post-event sports interviews.

  18. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Congrats JTH and Michelle. One of the more life-affirming stories in Australian sport. Kudos.

  19. Luke Reynolds says

    Well done John and Michelle. Look forward to reading it.

  20. Earl O'Neill says

    You wrote ‘quest’ thrice in one sentence and again in the next.

  21. It’s a word that deserves to be used as much as possible Earl.

    More quests in Almanac writing, I say.

  22. Neil Kimpton says

    Gday John
    I bought the book lateFriday arvo at the Hill of Content and finished it before breakfast Sunday morning
    What a great story magically told…
    Congratulations to Michelle and your good self
    Had I not spent Saturday watching Strathmore in the EDFL having a big win over Airport West (Matt Little ex-Hawk and Seagull kicked 9) I might have finished the book 24 hours after the purchase !
    It’s a story told with such obvious joy and passion and such insight into the life of a family devoted to each other and their love of racing

  23. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Pulled it off the front table at my local Indie bookshop on Saturday morn. Can’t wait. Bring on winter and rain, term 2 and sneaky sleep ins.

  24. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Read this a couple of weeks ago. Had no idea of the injuries that M Payne had encountered/overcome. The events of this year and her response, wow.

  25. E.regnans says

    Hi JTH – I just finished your story that you wrote with Michelle Payne this morning on the tram.
    I took too long in starting it, but flew through it this week.

    My goodness.
    What a beauty.

    I had no knowledge of Michelle’s broken vertebrae, nor of her closed head injuries.
    Any stories of such injuries are close to home.
    I’ve been thinking a lot lately (as is common) about luck.
    The “I’m-so-lucky/ “I’m so unlucky” loop of thought that applies to us all.

    A magnificent tale, beautifully told.
    Congratulations to you and to Stinky and to all concerned.

  26. Thanks ER.

    Timely too. Life as I know it was on the short list for the ABIA awards – in the biog category.

    Last night Jimmy Barnes was announced as the winner. He has a mighty story to tell too.



  27. Peter Fuller says

    Michelle is featured in an extensive article in the current Guardian Weekly. I can’t locate the story online, but you might like to check it out.

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