WHEN HE was assigned to cover The Cup, TERRY BROWN took great care to steer clear of racehorses and concentrate on race revellers:
CUP Day is Christmas for sinners, Straya Day without the scowls, New Year’s Eve with daytime, outdoor drinking – the very best kind! Around Cup time I get the wild look you see in old hacks in the paddock. I sniff the air for roses and the madding scent of cheap fizz and dead tote tickets. I get twitchy. Time to saddle up.
Off course I admire the thoroughbreds. I have fondly patted Carbine’s severed head and shaken his hoof/ashtray and have a sneaky handful of Arwon in a baggie at home.
Mainly, though, I love the carnage that is Cup Day away from the nags and neigh-sayers.
Between the boozy brekkies and the last train bedlam, Flemington becomes Victoria’s third biggest city, more cramped bodies than Melbourne Cemetery.
Racegoers arrive with an almost patriotic duty to live up to what is the greatest day in the most liveable city on the best planet in the solar system. Giddyup!
That means not only drinking heavily but punting with abandon on a race that could not be harder to pick if it was run over the American Ninja course with chicken jockeys.
I have been fated to have been at more Cups than not.
Before stable shoveling at Sportshounds, I would routinely be assigned to Flemington so the boss wouldn’t have to look at me sulk.
I was already a Cup veteran. Mum got me into the Cup with 50c on Rain Lover and regretted it. At Talaq’s year when the we won so much and drank so hard she nearly broke her spine climbing under a fence to get a bus. The trains were out, typically.
Early on I managed to tweak my VRC press accreditation so I would be nowhere news might potentially happen or celebrities might gather to ruin my day. Or horses. I tried to avoid them.
From pleasant experience, I knew where the best fun lurked.
I bagged the lawns and the car parks and the portaloos and the drunks and teletubbies and the concrete undercroft.
Much is written about trainers, horses and such. Fair enough. On Cup Day they help with the entertainment. I especially like those funny voices the jockeys put on.
But it is the seething clot of hyper-happy humanity around HQ that makes it great. They are the heroes of the track.
The office gave up trying to direct my ramblings. I was like an underwear shopper at High and Mighty, always given a loose brief. The note on the news list read “Cup Colour?” – their question mark.
Arriving at the track, already bulging with bets, I would record the parade of beauty through the turnstiles; the gaiety, fascinators and such. This was the baseline reading you take to measure an earthquake.
Then I would wander and wait …
The Flemington track is irregular. It is technically described as pear shaped and why would the crowd be otherwise?
Bar queues are such that you have to bulk buy fizz marked up 500 per cent in plastic bottles designed to empty automatically if you stand them on or near a lawn.
Practicality demands a bottle in your grip at all times. By Race 3 there are more high spirits than a Tibetan distillery and everyone is your friend.
Before the VRC cleaned it up, the public car park was the place to be seen if not sane, to dress to excess.
One year there were several bandaged mummies of indeterminate sex, a Dorothy, Lion, Tinman and Scarecrow standing around a keg, a Wonder Woman who was Definitely A Girl, an off-colour Snow White and seven decidedly dirty dwarfs.
In the cheap rent areas of Flemington, a camera and visible press credentials are as good as a magic wand. You have beers and occasional bosoms thrust at you. People do anything you say.
My job was usually to stand there smirking and scribbling while a snapper tortured the talent.
Wonder Woman, I recall, was made to fly for us, leaping in the air off a car roof with the famous straight six somewhere back in the distance.
The shot was ok, but the next ones were better because in the process of soaring to the heavens, our voluptuous heroine put her arse near through the car roof. It was more sunken than the Kursk.
To make things right, she jumped in the rear seat, got on her back with practiced ease, splayed immodestly and began to kick the bejesus out the roof from the inside and torture test every seam in what little outfit she was nearly wearing.
I have only seen legs pump like that a couple times at Flemington and one of them was Kiwi coming from last.
In case the car owner came back, and because the dint was not popping out but Wonder Woman sure was, we quickly moved on to check the mummies unravelling.
Eventually we posed a young and just-presentable Snow White after rejecting enough cross-dressed men to send Lyle Shelton more apoplectic.
Over the years many flirtatious fellows in lingerie gave fake names for my notepad and lies about dressing that way to get the women.
The fake names were harmless enough, unlike those dwarfs. I put theirs in the story, mostly as a joke for the subs to cut out, but they got through unscathed. Hi ho!
Which is more than I can say for Horny, Rooty, Randy, Sleazy, Toey et al. (A big shout out to Cok!)
At some point late in the day that feels like 11 but is only 4.30, horses or the Maribyrnong tram thunder past what might be a landlocked Egyptian garbage barge, given the mummies.
Probably it is horses because the trams are screwed. Who cares? It’s not about them. Anyway, not seeing the race is the sacrifice you make in going to The Cup!
The car park always had the worst view, and the cheapest thrills!
It was Disneyland for grownups, even the years without dwarfs. Oktoberfest, Disneyland and Sexpo, with gambling. You could bring your own bus.
It was the best fun.
Of course, it had to go.
The revellers needed to be neutered, muzzled, contained in deceptively named nurseries, clubs and birdcages, in glittering Guantanamos branded to sound like a petting zoo.
You can’t bring a keg in now. How weak is that?
But while the VRC can take the public car park out of the track, you can’t take the carparkness out of almost racegoers. I’m punting on that again this year.
There will be a bloke in a horse head (why the long face?), some Kim Jong Uns waving their missiles if they don’t get confiscated, and roaming in red truckers’ hats, a stupidity of Trumps.
Along lawns so soaked with fizz you get drunker doing a faceplant, in the new worst spots, passed out from blowing up inflatable couches beside rose bushes, neatly clothed but unravelling inside, they will be there Tuesday.
It is a Cup tradition as good as any and I’d put money on it.
Go you good thing!
TERRY BROWN worked for many years as a general reporter, columnist and colour writer at The Sun and Herald Sun. He is now an academic lecturing in journalism and is an unpublished novelist.