The Melbourne Cup

At Gunbower Island State School, on the edge of the bush, a couple of miles in from the Murray river, my teacher Mr. Lucas instilled in me a fascination for many things.

The Melbourne Cup was one of them.

Mr. Lucas was a very strict teacher. He wasn’t a ‘horsey ‘ person, but he knew that good horses came from New Zealand. His favourite hobby was fishing, and he valued heritage and inspired us to learn about Australia and the world beyond.  I recall when we all  stood at the front fence of the school yard watching the last of  the district’s draught horses work in the paddock opposite for the last time.  We understood that history was passing before our eyes.

We understood that the Melbourne Cup was something really special because it was the only time we were allowed to stop  work in class to listen to the wireless. Mr Lucas would ‘test the speakers ‘ once a year- always on the first Tuesday in November at approximately 3 o’clock.

The silent anticipation and excitement preceding the race was  spine tingling. The announcement of each horse would draw whispers and murmurs, such as “That’s mine, or “He’s the favourite.”
As the horses were called into the barriers  you could hear a pin drop. Mr Lucas didn’t need to say “No talking.” We took in a deep collective breathe and didn’t dare move until the caller’s voice would exclaim  ‘They’re off and racing.”

Relieved but focussed, we would sit  at our desks and listen to the thunder of hooves echoing down the track at Flemington. Mr Lucas would turn up the volume as the jockeys settled into their ride.  The race caller would clearly pronounce the names of every horse in the field for the first time.  After the horses had passed the post for the last lap we leaned forward with urgency and gripped  the wooden desks as if riding ourselves. When the horses turned to head down the straight  we had to restrain ourselves to sit still and not shout out so as not to drown out the actual broadcast. Cheers of delight and relief burst out after the first three horses had crossed the line then we’d quieten down again to listen to all the placegetters.

Mr.  Lucas would neatly write the names of the first three horses on the blackboard.

By then it would be almost home time and as we rode our bikes home that day we’d talk about the famous race.

At high school in Cohuna, the speaker testing tradition continued. Class sweeps were organised to add to the fun. Conveniently the race would finish before it was time to board the buses for the trip home.

And so listening to the Cup became a  tradition. One day, I hoped to go the Cup.

In 1975  a group of country college friends, who like myself had never been to the Melbourne Cup decided  we had to attend this iconic event once in our lives before we left Melbourne for jobs back in the country. We gathered for a champagne  and chicken breakfast, then caught the train out to Flemington. The only thing I can really recall about the day was the rain. We spent the day huddled under umbrellas and couldn’t see much at all, but we were there, at our first Melbourne Cup, when Think Big, won his second Cup in a row.

I haven’t been to a Melbourne Cup since, but look forward to tuning in no matter where I happen to be on the first Tuesday in November.

Having no expertise in picking winners is part of the charm of the race for me. Picking horses with exotic sounding names, lucky numbers, or nice colours is part of the fun.

One thing’s for certain though -I’ll be savouring the excitement and listening this year just as intently as I did back in those primary school days.



  1. Pamela – strange how this event gets under your skin. I love the Melbourne Cup. In fact I love the Spring Carnival. Probably because I’m not a horse or punting purist.

    I’ve been to the Cup quite a few times; particularly when I was younger. We’d get up at sparrow’s, go to the Flemington carpark, get out our eskies and prawns, and enjoy the day. One year a bloke with a camera was wandering around and he asked us to gather for a photo. We thought nothing of it. But as we left the track someone bought a copy of The herald and there we were, plastered across the front page! Happy days.

  2. Pamela – good thing you didn’t wait for another year to get to Flemington. That was rain!!

  3. Pamela, the only time I attended the Cup was in 1975. The Hawking Brothers were the entertainment. We all lost and on the way home we were covered in mud because some hoon in his Holden HQ decided that it would be fun to mudlark at ours and others expense. Talk about mud in your eye!

  4. Peter Fuller says

    The story was very similar at the south-western end of Victoria, although the clarity and detail of your memory is much more precise than mine. Your allusion to direct experience with horses (if not thoroughbreds !) also indicates a time- and location-specific aspect of our childhood.

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