Today Australia celebrates the 151st Melbourne cup. It’s a very special day in national psyche. It’s our longest running tradition. Men and women gamble and drink with work colleagues because that’s what you gotta do on the first Tuesday of November. By 5 o’clock this afternoon main streets in every capital and regional centre in this god forsaken brown land will be lined with receptionists vomiting into their best shoes while the pubs will be chock full of married men trying to cheat on their wives but because its Melbourne Cup day its ok. People will get dressed up to go to the races but most of the people watching the fucking thing won’t even be there, let alone the same city. Bookies will make millions off every class of Australian and Australia will be cool with that because they ‘were just having a punt on cup day.’ It’s been happening for a century and a half and will continue forever.
The thing that shits me about the Melbourne cup isn’t the hats, the drunks, the national obsession or the fact people will always try and talk to you about it, it’s the term ‘having a punt’.
This country has a pretty fucking serious gambling problem. In Sydney, my home town, for a pub to stay open and turn a decent profit they need to be full of pokies. When members of the government tried to introduce new reforms, Clubs NSW attacked them saying they were trying to take away the right people have to ‘have a punt’. It wasn’t true. They were simply trying to make sure the government gets some of that gambling money to invest back into the community as well as make it harder for people to destroy their lives through gambling.
The RSL will tell you that they do help communities but they really don’t. They provide safe places for people who are dead on the inside to cheaply fuel their alcoholism while they profit from these same people feeding the rest of their money into gaming machines. With the millions of dollars these places make they could be doing a hell of a lot more for their communities but all they really do is ruin them.
When I was 18 I worked in an RSL club. It was one of the bigger clubs in the area (Sydney’s inner west) and I was a barman. One day I was rostered on to do a double shift, 9am-midnight. On arrival this woman who was probably around 45 or so ran straight in and sat herself down at her favourite machine. I thought this behaviour was a tad obsessive and fucked up but hey, it’s a free country. I kept an eye on her throughout the day and by the time I clocked off at midnight she was still there, gambling until we closed. I didn’t see her get up once. Her machine just HAD to pay up. She would have been ejected from the club at closing time and been back first thing the next morning. If she didn’t have enough money to gamble then she would have stolen it, that kind of thing is common.
My parents live down the road from an RSL and before they got alarms installed they got burgled all the time. Once when I was a kid my brother and I were out at the footy and Mum and Dad went out for a walk. They came back to a man in his 50s robbing the house. Dad had to wrestle him until he dropped his loot. He didn’t look like a junkie. Chances are he just lost big at the RSL.
I have travelled all through Europe, done Japan briefly and I have been to the States and the only place that comes close to Australia’s rabid gambling problem is Las Vegas. Nevada is covered in casinos of varying glamour and prestige but at least they call themselves casinos and don’t pretend to be anything they aren’t. In Australia and particularly New South Wales we have a casino in every suburb and a place to gamble on every second block. If you are housebound you can gamble on your phone and if you really wanted to you could go to the actual casino (which funnily enough has a lot more to offer than just gambling).
So yes, back to the Melbourne cup. I will not be celebrating, participating or even talking to anyone about it. It is an embarrassing part of Australian culture and always the one day of the year I wish I wasn’t born here or living here.
It started with the Melbourne cup and now it’s a national epidemic. Great job Australia!