Sunday, 11 November 2007

A Dog Story

This was posted to my other blog on the 30th of December, 2006.

In the mornings, I go for a long walk along the local reserve on Sydney Harbour's foreshores. Because I've taken some time off work between Christmas and New Years Day, I've been going later in the morning and see lots more people out walking than I usually do. And I've seen lots more dogs as well.

This morning there were lots of dogs and their owners out and I saw something I don't usually see during my early morning walks: the dog-smelling-dog ritual greeting. And this, in turn, reminded me of a story that my dad always told my brothers and I while we were growing up . He always swore that it was true.

Now, there aren't many stories that my dad told us while we were growing up that I can share with anyone outside my immediate family. But I think I can get away with this one if I tell it carefully.

Once upon a time, my dad would say, there was a big dance hall where all the dogs would go on Saturday night for dancing. Dogs from all around would gather at the big dance hall every week, some coming from miles and miles away.

Before they would go into the dance hall, each dog would hang their dog bottom up outside the door, like people hang up their coats on a winter night, on rows and rows of coat hooks. After dancing the night away, they would collect their dog bottom on their way out of the dance hall and head on home.

One Saturday night, tragedy struck and a fire broke out at the big dance hall. In their panic to escape the flames, the dogs just grabbed any old dog bottom on their way out of the dance hall. Of course, they didn't grab their own dog bottom but got someone else's. Which means that some other dog has their dog bottom.

And that is why dogs smell each other's bottom when they meet, just in case they found their dog bottom lost the night of the fire at the big dance hall.

Even after all these years, his dog story still makes me laugh.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The Race That Stops A Nation

For the Australians who read this blog, this post isn't really for you. It's for everyone else who has probably never heard of the Melbourne Cup.

Today was the running of the annual Melbourne Cup thoroughbred horse race, also known as The Race That Stops a Nation. It is a key event in the Spring Racing Carnival at Flemington Race Track. With the quarantine on transportation of horses in NSW and Queensland because of the equine flu outbreak, there were questions around whether or not the race would be held. As if.

Melbourne Cup is so important that it is a public holiday in metropolitan Melbourne so that nothing gets in the way of the race. But I prefer the way it is celebrated in Sydney. Everyone fronts up to work as normal but lots knock off about noon for a Cup Day lunch, with friends or co-workers, that lasts until the race at 3pm. There are the obligatory bets and the ubiquitous sweeps and the odd glass of champagne and more hats than you could shake a stick at. As 3pm approaches, everyone watches the Cup on the nearest big screen TV. Then it is back to work as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Productivity for the day may suffer, but it is the Melbourne Cup.

While Australia is a nation of punters (translation: gamblers), for lots of us, Melbourne Cup is the only day that we set foot into the TAB (translation: where you go to place bets in NSW). To take some of the pressure off the city TABs, they open a huge TAB in Martin Place, the large pedestrian mall in the heart of the Sydney CBD. It is usually packed and has extra staff on hand to handle all the questions of once-a-year punters.

This year, I not only bet on the tips from a friend's dad, but I also bet on jockey Michael Rodd, the nephew of my good friend Pennie Darling. And I had quite a few winners, including the Cup itself. That's right, sports fans, Michael Rodd was riding Efficiency, this year's winner of the Melbourne Cup. I've never picked the winner of the Melbourne Cup before so I was pretty chuffed. Thank you Pennie!

Horse racing has a long history in Australia, dating back to the very beginning of the Sydney colony. I can't find my copy of The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes to confirm the details, but I remember a story that strikes me as being quintessentially Australian.

It seems that the powers that be in the colony decided that the convicts would benefit from the civilising influences of a day of horse racing. So it was decided to give the convicts a day off from their labours with two provisos: (1) no gambling and (2) no drinking.

The big race day came and was a huge success. Except for two things: (1) the next day, most convicts were still too drunk to work and (2) the ones who weren't still drunk couldn't work because they were naked. Seems that the convicts didn't have any money to bet on the races so they bet their clothes or they traded their clothes for rum.

Somehow, Melbourne Cup seems a bit tame in comparison.

P.S. I wrote this on Tuesday night but forgot to hit the Publish Post button. Ooops.