As the sun sets on one holiday in Edinburgh, it rises over another in Melbourne. We all learned from Heather’s last post that Edinburgh is the birthplace of Halloween, but I’m here to tell you all about Melbourne’s even more terrifying holiday, the Spring Racing Carnival!
The Spring Racing Carnival is a Melbourne-specific horse racing season that takes place every year with about two weeks of racing events and associated fashion events. The crown jewel in this diamante studded, faux gold tiara is the Melbourne Cup. According to poet Vivienne McCredie, “it’s the race that stops the nation.” But as you might have already guessed, only Melbourne gets the day off. That’s right folks – this is another fabulous Melbourne public holiday that I’m very passionate about. Just four weeks after we’ve had a day off for the football Grand Final eve, we get a day off for a horse race. Man, I love this city and its priorities!
As always, I like to educate those in the dark, as well as offer my own twisted version of reality so here’s the link to the real info up front so I can get back to my ranting. The official website above will give you all of the proper rundown of what the Spring Racing Carnival is but it will unlikely tell you about all the trash bag action that happens at the races in real life! That’s what I’m here for.
In the beginning, I was a sensitive soul and boycotted the horse racing industry, claiming it was a cruel and bourgeois pastime. However with age, hard work and the knowledge that free tickets to fancy shit are hard to come by, I threw my morals to the curb and hit the race track like a pro!
My first time ever at the races (please don’t ask me to clarify which actual race day it was, all I know is that it wasn’t THE Melbourne Cup) was back in 2012 and I was there with my boyfriend of that time. To clarify, we weren’t just at the races – we were at The Birdcage on his daddy’s corporate marquee tickets. I remember when daddy was offering us the tickets (over drinks at a fancy bar) neither my boyfriend nor I cared that much about the tickets but luckily our other friend was with us because apparently he knew what was up. He almost squealed as we were offered the tickets and explained to us in a whisper that that’s where all the rich and famous people hangout and the tickets come with unlimited drinks.
Well, I had seen Withnail and I and I had learned to appreciate the meaning of the quote, “Free to those who can afford it. Very expensive to those who can’t.” So he had us at “unlimited drinks” and we were off to the races! I wore a stunning hand crochet ivory dress and some pearl nonsense in my hair. I even paid a woman to do my hair that morning, because I knew I had no skills to make myself look like a member of the elite.
While we were in the Birdcage, we drank endless flutes of fizzy wine, ate a couple of tiny snacks and got sufficiently sunburned before we grew bored of each other’s company and decided we looked too good not to go out. Back in the city at about 4 or 5pm, we decided that Chinatown dinner with our favorite friends was in order and so we gathered the troops and headed to a Korean BBQ.
Now, this is where my memory gets fuzzy.
I fall down the stairs of the restaurant.
I rip up a public flowerbed and throw it at my friend.
I answer the bouncer’s question at the next bar of “How many drinks have you had love?” with “Wha? In there (pointing inside the bar)? None! I’m just trying to come in!”
Morning: I’m on a mate’s floor. Covered in Big Mac.
The following year, that boyfriend and I were no longer, so I hit the races with my girlfriends. This was the last Spring Racing Carnival I was going to experience for a couple of years, as a few months later I would be moving to Edinburgh.
I’d like to claim that the year I went with my girlfriends I was less of a fiend. That would be a lie. In 2013 I went to some (again not sure which exactly) race day that was on a Saturday but on the Friday before I accidentally ended up at a rooftop bar throwing back vodka shots. So when I had to get up at 8am to get the train to my friend’s pre-race champagne breakfast, I was so violently hungover that I could not do my own liquid eye liner and just brought it with me in my tiny clutch. Not that it mattered too much because by mid-morning we were all drinking fizzy wine and cackling in our fancy outfits. That year I wore a striking silky red dress, cut my hair short like an emo boy with a massive fringe and wore a shitload of fake flowers in my hair. Oh and a maximum fake tan! I claim the fake tan saved me from getting sunburned that year.
At this stage, I should probably point out that the average lady spends hundreds of dollars a year on dresses, fascinators, hats, tans, diets and cocaine (well maybe not the last one but I swear they must be on something to keep up that level of enthusiasm). Meanwhile, I spent basically nothing. The dress I picked up from an opp[ortunity] shop/ charity/ thrift store for like $10, I made my fascinator for a day of the dead warehouse party I went to earlier in the year and my shoes where basically free from eBay. Now sensible shoes are a must for me. I never said sexy and sensible don’t align, that of course depends on everyone’s unique pain threshold. But I really hate it when ladies take their shoes off at the end of the night, be it at a night club, wedding or race day. I mean you instantly get the trashbag look!
Now just because I still try to hold on to some level of my morals on race day, and refuse to take off my shoes, this does not make me part of the race-going norm. Most people do get quite loose and frankly turn into wild beasts! Shoes come off, hair gets undone, rubbish gets thrown around, fights start up and the entire city becomes a public toilet for both gents and ladies. Maybe it’s the fact that us ladies diet to fit into the perfect dress so when it comes to the day, our alcohol tolerance levels drop and we go from zero to hot mess in 2.3 standard drinks? Or maybe it’s the fact that it’s a fancy party, similar to a 21st birthday or wedding but on a massive festival scale and where everyone attending is splashing about their expandable income? Maybe it’s the sight of those magnificent racehorses and their pristine beast qualities that get us all rowdy? Or quite possibly it might just come down to the fact that Aussies love an occasion to get in the spirit of (any) thing and hit the spirits?! In any case, the photos that circulate the social media and newspapers of the debauchery are probably my favorite part of the entire Spring Racing Carnival. Here’s just a few examples (this and that) to illustrate my case.
This year, we got Tuesday, 1st November off as a public holiday in Melbourne and I acted like an adult. I went to a double barre class the night before, instead of a public bar and on the day my lover and I had a quiet BBQ with a couple of morning mimosas. It was really lovely to just take the day to chill instead of getting into the party frenzy. I almost feel like a nana telling her grand kiddies tales of her former battle glory days. It’s fun to recount those naughty days of day-time drinking in fancy hats.
So if you’re heading to Melbourne, make sure to experience the Spring Racing Carnival – it’s a must do. But please watch out for the wild animals and hold on to your dignity!