As Australians, we tend to be obsessed with this notion of our national values. Who knows why. Maybe it’s because what white Australians mean when they talk about “our country” is our white country; our country as a nation of convicts and murderers that displaced the Indigenous Australian community, and brutalised them, and continue to brutalise them to this day.
And maybe it’s because, in ignoring that horrendous history – that bloody origin story – we have left ourselves without character. No other country so aggressively denies their history, and so no other country has to so aggressively seek a new, substitute one.
Anyway, whatever the reason, defining ourselves is our favourite national pastime. We yammer on endlessly about the Australian capacity to laugh; and the Australian capacity to insult both ourselves and others; and the Australian capacity to sink ten pints of piss without wobbling.
We have entire television channels that do nothing but define what is Australian and what is not, sorting out the patriotic wheat from the chaff in an attempt to create some wholly manufactured image of the beer-swilling, caustic but kindly, sheep-shearing Australian that so few of us actually resemble.
We reveal ourselves through the Melbourne Cup, a mutated display of animal cruelty, drunkenness, gambling, and aggressively casual unkindness.
Not that we really need to be so loud. We reveal ourselves constantly, every day of the year – through our government’s treatment of refugees on Manus and Nauru; through our widespread philistinism; through our continued ignorance when it comes to Indigenous tradition and culture.
And, we reveal ourselves through the Melbourne Cup, a mutated display of animal cruelty, drunkenness, gambling, and aggressively casual unkindness.
We revel in the vileness of it all. Every year there’s another Channel 9 report full of rich, silk-draped boomers stuffed full of cocaine puking on street corners; and collapsing into hedges; and tackling security guards. We get off on the madness of it all; laugh at the excess, and the sickness.
Check out a ‘highlight’ from the Melbourne Cup:
And this is all while the divide between the wealthy and the poor in this country grows greater and greater; while the Murdoch media simultaneously denigrates the poor as dole-bludging heroin addicts and pats the Cup-going, rack-addled elites as merely a contemporary manifestation of the age-old Australian capacity to get royally fucked up.
And that’s not to speak of the mistreatment of animals. As Elissa Sursara, an Australian and US based science writer, points out, horses are the victims of the Cup; its sacrificial lambs.
“While the racing industry would have punters believe horseracing is an affluent affair concerned with proper regulations and welfare, the harsh reality is that the for-profit industry cares little for the life-time care of animals in its possession, and bases its profits on the cyclic expenditure of racing horses and misinformed betters,” writes Sursara.
“Of the 13,000 thoroughbred foals bred annually for the sport, only two-thirds make it to the track. The rest are off-loaded with retired horses as ‘wastage’ to cut stabling costs before they’re sent to the knackery and processed into dog food. Although the industry claims to prioritize retirement plans for career racers, no legal requirement is in place.”
To point any of this out is to run the risk of being branded blasphemous.
Then there is the race itself. Horses are pushed to points of exhaustion, their bodies so exploited and punished that they will frequently begin to cough up blood, their backs and legs whipped relentlessly.
“Whips are used to wallop horses in every stride of the last 100 meters of a race, an exhausting tactic condemned by the RSCPA and a panel of equine experts,” Sursara notes. “Whip striking does not improve a racers chances of placing, and the act causes localised trauma, swelling and tissue damage with long-term exposure.”
To point any of this out is to run the risk of being branded blasphemous. You are not meant to question the personality this half-formed country has chosen for itself; not allowed to criticise the sacrifice of the Diggers, or the virtue of the prototypical, Akubra-hat wearing Aussie male, or our national public holidays, which we spend getting drunk, and puking, and fighting. To do so is to be risked being asked to leave.
Melbourne Cup day is sick. It is a white culture grubbily searching for a way to distract from the murder and the genocide that formed it. It is symptomatic of our collective urge to silence outsiders, and to vilify critics, and to other those not willing to drink and gamble themselves into a stupor. And if it is a symbol of what it means to be an Australian, then I have no desire to be Australian.