A Noosa camel race to mark Melbourne Cup did not end all that well for one spectator.
A Noosa camel race to mark Melbourne Cup did not end all that well for one spectator. Garyin

No horsing around for big race

ALTHOUGH I lived in Melbourne for more than three decades, I went to the Melbourne Cup only once.

You were either a Melbourne Cup devotee - someone who waited all year for the big event, planned your outfit months ahead, always had two at the ready in case Melbourne's weather played up (it always did) - or you ignored the event all together.

I sat in between. Enjoyed it on the telly. And loved the public holiday. Where else in the world but Melbourne could you have a legitimate day off work to watch a horse race? And now another to watch a football game?

Getting into one of the marquees at the Melbourne Cup was the biggie. I knew many a wannabe socialite who waited in useless hope every year for an invitation that never came. A ticket to the Emirates marquee was the most coveted of them all but I never knew anyone in my modest social set who got to step inside that hallowed tent with its free-flowing Bollinger and mountains of oysters.

I liked the colour and glamour of the lead-up to the Melbourne Cup. Lillian Frank, the Melbourne personality and doyenne of all things social in the city, would come on the telly in the morning, giving all of us stay-at-home plebs an insight into what her glorious day would bring (flitting from one marquee to another, kissing a lot of cheeks, saying daaaaarling a lot). It made us envious, and smile, for she was a social legend (still is).

My one big outing to the Melbourne Cup came when friends decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about. We were a motley group that put on our best finery (not much) that morning and arrived early to avoid the crowds. We opened our bags for inspection at the gates to show we weren't sneaking in any of our own grog, and then sat on fold-up chairs in a dusty carpark eating dried-up chicken sandwiches and drinking overpriced chardonnay with hundreds of others.

We did not even see a horse let alone watch the big race.

Now that we live in Queensland we like that the Melbourne Cup is celebrated with as much enthusiasm as it is in Melbourne. Hats, feathers, fascinators, lace, tulle, frou frou and litres of champagne are de rigueur in Queensland, and why not? So much better to celebrate a horse race in the comfort of an air-conditioned restaurant, a lively bar or glam garden where you can be fairly sure the weather will be reasonable.

But one memorable year in Noosa, where I live, I experienced the mother of all Melbourne Cups. Sadly, not in a good way. An ambitious but foolish person decided to resurrect the popular camel races, an event that was celebrated in a large paddock with much country fanfare and great frivolity in Noosa's young and innocent days.

After months of searing sunshine, it poured that first Tuesday morning in November. Paddocks turned into mud holes, mini lakes formed inside modest marquees that were more like small tents. I sat at a plastic table on a plastic chair with my feet in a giant puddle, my fascinator feathers damp and wilted, drinking cheap sparkling wine out of a plastic glass with a stem that kept separating from the cup. Everyone was miserable. Even the camels were having a crap time and wouldn't stand up let alone run.

When the big race came on over loudspeakers I was actually in the claustrophobic confines of a portaloo mopping up after dozens of grogged-up blokes who'd been before me. I just kept mopping. It was the last time I celebrated the Melbourne Cup.

But you go ahead. Dust off the fascinator, frock up and enjoy. But stay away from lazy camels and messy portaloos.

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