It’s true that on the whole we Australians

have always been a betting people,

unable to tell the difference between

a Stock Exchange and a Casino.

Our Outback and Anzac traditions

would not be complete without

the picture of hard men in a circle,

betting on a spinning coin.

Though such scenes may be far now

from our everyday lives,

still we weave these nostalgic threads of heritage

into our nation’s colours

flapping there on the cultural flagpost.

Here in the Great Southern Land

our most respected prophet after all

is not some grim global-warming Cassandra,

or sanctimonious purveyor of Hellfire,

but the punter

with the gift of picking winners.

Who can contradict the wisdom of the Casino,

the calculating logic of the dealer?

The insouciant, all-knowing calm of the croup’ǐer?

Want to know who’ll win the next election?

Ask any bookie for the odds,

they’ll pick it to the percentage point

with a cold, blue eye,

the wan eyelids drooping with ancient knowledge

as they survey the holding yard

for promise and potential.


All things considered then,

it’s only natural that our true National Day,

the day that defines us as a people,

should be in celebration of a horse race.

Yes, on that day state boundaries and rivalries are forgotten,

the streets grow quiet, work-places and classrooms stop,

and people everywhere gather together around

a communal TV or a radio,

to eat and drink and party

and listen to the results come in.

Yes all of Australia comes to a halt

for those two or three minutes each year

when we worship a horse.


And what the hell’s wrong with that,

I ask?

Better than some triumphal, flag-flapping,

brass band blasting, jingoistic affair,

celebrating the dismal deeds of the Glorious Dead

in some best forgotten war,

or the day we took the land away from the darkies.

No! Better, I say, to all get drunk

and wear silly hats

and cheer the horses coming down the final stretch.

Better our Bacchanalia of foolish betting

and drunken caperings,

than goose-stepping thru Red Square,

or waving flags at tanks in Baghdad.

Better to squander a few dollars

and have a bit of fun, experience

the gratuitous excitement

of seeing your horse momentarily in the lead

than be deafened & overawed by some militaristic fly-over.

Better the aesthetic pleasure

of seeing those powerful beasts

do what they were born to do and run

as though all depended on it.

(The horses have a good time too,

if you ask me, the winner always

seems so proud, trotting along afterwards,

head held erect as though

acknowledging the resounding cheers.)

Though not usually a gambling man myself,

I like to play the hardened punter once a year,

and survey the form guides with the gravitas

of an old hand.

I Pontificate about my “system”to my peers ,

and boldly penetrate the Mysteries of the TAB,

to participate in the arcane rituals

with the other hierophants of track & field.

(I must admit I join the Melbourne Cup rituals

partly out of sentiment, nostalgic memories

of my old Dad, a working class lad,

who liked a little flutter on the weekends,

it gave him an avenue to dream

of an escape from the economic treadmill

to which he was condemned.)


And besides, at the risk of sounding like

old Rudyard Kipling,

in the great University of Life

events like the Melbourne Cup

generally serve to remind you of the Realities of Life

and help you learn to make a loss.

To take a bet on a chance

and see it go to hell,

then shrug and just continue on

with our traditional laconic fatalism.

If nothing else console yourself

that you’re helping to send some jockey’s kid

to a very good school indeed.


 So let us raise once more altars to Epona,

the Gaulish Goddess of Horses!

Invoke her intervention

and her favour,

(perhaps she’ll send a prophetic dream)

and like our ancient Roman forebears,

lets shout ourselves hoarse with the excitement

of seeing our horse cross the line.



The Reverend Hellfire is a practising performance Poet, an ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists AND the Church of the Universe and is in general an ubiquitous cultural gadfly.

So what are you lookin at?



~ by reverendhellfire on October 30, 2011.

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