Let's Not Have the Race that Stops the Nation; Let's Be the Nation that Stops the Race
It's Melbourne Cup Day yet again, and as a nation, I continue to feel like we're turning a blind eye to the Cup and the harm it has on society.
Ever since I was a child, I detested Melbourne Cup Day. I grew up around horses and find them the most gentle, beautiful creatures, and I can't stand to think of the pain and suffering they go through for a 3-minute race.
For a full day of missed work, people who have slipped back into gambling habits, a lot of drunk people and a lot of horses in pain, I have to question whether all of it is worth it for just 3 minutes.
Gambling has never something with which I've been involved. I have always stayed away from it, never trusting myself to be 'lucky' enough. It wasn't until I met Kate Seselja from The Hope Project that I truly understood the harm of gambling.
Viewing the Melbourne Cup through a new lens was the tipping point of that. Unlike other sports, the race does not intrigue people beyond gambling. Very few people watch the race to look at the techniques of what happens. It's not like cricket where you watch the bowler to see what length of ball he or she bowls, which way he or she will or won't spin the ball. It's not like AFL where your eyes stayed glued to the TV to see your favourite player shine, taking a corner pocket screamer before bending it through the posts for a goal.
As someone who already didn't like the Melbourne Cup, my further understanding of the predatory actions of gambling companies repulsed me even further.
There are so many techniques used to lure vulnerable Australians into taking a punt on Cup Day. Over $100 million is bet on the single 3 minute race each year.
That is $100 million that could be going to small businesses, businesses owned by women or people of colour, $100 million that could be supporting local artists or be given as a scholarship to indigenous students living in remote Australia to attend universities to pursue further education if they choose.
We get up-in-arms about a few politicians using thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to take a questionable business flight somewhere... but then as a nation, we willingly throw $100 million away on a horse race.
Not only that, but we are involving our kids in this nonsense.
In Australia, the legal age for gambling is 18. However, schools are introducing students to the idea of Melbourne Cup at a very young age. I remember at my school, we all piled into the library to watch the race on a TV; we participated in a sweep; we were taught that the Melbourne Cup is a defining part of Australia's history.
I left school knowing more about Pharlap than I did about Coleen Shirley Smith (AKA Mum Shirl). We can't even teach the right parts of history to students without making it about gambling.
I remember Kate explained it to me one day as to exactly how twisted Melbourne Cup participation in schools is by comparing it to other activities restricted to those over 18. We don't have a National Try Meth Day in schools. Or a National Take a Shot of Tequila Day in schools. So why are we encouraging children to participate in a day of gambling?
There's the fashion component of the races, which brings its own questions around sustainable fashion and supporting Australian designers. I would love to see spring carnival as a celebration that has nothing to do with horses or gambling - but purely focuses on sustainable Australian-made spring fashion. With a defined system of what happens to those clothes after they've been worn once and all the Instagram pictures have been taken for the day (shoutout to the realest women who wear their clothes more than once).
It's a tradition that is celebrated for the sake of being celebrated. At least for a tradition as insensitive and inappropriate as Thanksgiving, it brings members of the family together in one room - the Melbourne Cup doesn't even do that.
We can do so much better than this, Australia. We can say #NupToTheCup.