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The Bolshie Cup

  • 08 November 2022
Welcome to 'Stray Thoughts', where the Eureka Street editorial team muses on ethical and social challenges we've noted throughout the week.  As a boy I often played cricket on Saturdays at Peanut Farm, a playing field in St Kilda. People came from all directions to the oval during the afternoon, not to watch the cricket, but to place a bet with the SP Bookmaker on the races at Caulfield or Flemington. It was illegal but the police were either paid off or tolerant. To bet legally on horses you needed to go to the races.

Reflecting on that experience could easily have led me to a stern Bolshevik critique that saw horse racing and betting as a class thing. The wealthy, who flogged children, prisoners and horses, could bet in their clubs or at the racetrack. In Melbourne they took over land in the proletarian West for their sport. They saw betting among the underclass as a vice. Two-up and SP betting were banned, but flourished.

This year’s Melbourne Cup would have done nothing to dissuade our Bolshevik from her view. Its redoubt in the West is now protected by a wall that ensures floods will inconvenience only the locals. The Cup is stacked with horses from everywhere but Australia, is designed for celebrities and would-be celebrities to be seen rather than to see, and now restricts the space where the plebeians can ape the dress and the excesses of the privileged. Fortunately, the rain still falls on the rich and the poor alike, but doubtless it will be engineered to make it more discriminating.

Against the argument that it is an enlightened society that no longer restricts who can bet where and how, our unyielding Bolshevik might retort that the wealthy have simply turned betting into a nice little earner by investing in casinos and online booking operations. Now money can be siphoned in industrial measure from the poor to the wealthy, leaving governments complicit and regulators captive. The Cup should be banned!

And yet I still resist these bolshie conclusions. I have a soft spot for the Melbourne Cup, perhaps because so many battlers find employment and joy around horses. Can you help me by finding any good argument why it should continue? 



  Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services. Main image: Jamie Kah riding Flying Casino jumps from the barrier in race 3 the J.B. Prince Of Penzance Plate on Melbourne