Posted on November 9, 2010 - by Jennifer
Okay,¬† since some of you are weary of hearing about how great our views are and how we are eating delicious food that you cannot have, this week is going to be very sports-themed in honor of the Melbourne Cup Carnival and the “race that stops a nation.”
First, an observation.¬† As a new expat it is easier to meet¬† and find common ground with fellow expats.¬† And after many conversations with expats from Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Finland, France, Canada etc one thing that unites us all is the way we answer this question: “What do you miss the most?”¬† The answer, without fail, is ” My family and (insert name of favorite sports team).”¬† If you are Canadian and miss hockey, good luck!¬† Aussies are also pretty lukewarm about football (soccer) so if you’re European,¬† things are not much better.¬† Plus matches are on at ungodly hours.¬† One of my friends sets alarms at 4:30am to get up and watch his team, Inter Milan play.¬† He finds a website showing the game and settles in with his coffee. ¬† By comparison, I was lucky to get the watch the Yankees at 7:30 am or 10:30 am.¬† Well, lucky if you consider it luck to see them sent packing by the Rangers‚Ä¶but I digress‚Ä¶.
Okay, so, once you stop moaning and groaning about the matches you are missing (or losing sleep to see) there are an abundance of sports to enjoy and none is more festive than the Spring Cup Carnival, a series of horse races held here in Melbourne at Flemington Race Track that seem to kind of signify the official start of Spring here in Melbourne.¬† This year, Akhil and I were invited to go to Derby Day which is a big day for both racing¬† AND fashion.¬† Before I get to the actual day, I want to talk a little about the pronunciation of “Derby”. Everyone here says ” Darby”.¬† So, naturally I assumed that unlike the Kentucky Derby, they spelled it with an “a”.¬† But, no, it’s spelled the same as our “Derby”.¬† It’s just pronounced “Darby”.¬† I did some online research to try to determine the “correct” pronunciation but instead found interesting and seemingly sound cases made for both pronunciations by some linguistic scholars and -waaaaay more fun, some knock down, drag out blog wars like the one between “Sman-21, buzzbuzz, STC,and Dyslexic Emo on bigfooty.com that deteriorated into posts such as the following
Sman-21 “When I turn into a snobby old pommy git and sing god save the queen at the football coz the actual game is so boring I have to entertain myself somehow, I will call it darby”
Apparently the derby vs darby pronunciation wars also extend to Aussie Rules.
As an American who grew up with the “derby” pronunciation, I feel just a wee bit pretentious going around saying “darby” (really echoing what Sman-21 so eloquently expresses in his blog post).¬† But, I didn’t want to be perceived as uncouth either, daaahhhling.¬† So, in honor of my Australian-American state of mind, I sometimes settled on “Derby Darby Day”.¬† And when I was feeling more obnoxious, I went with a nice, throaty, exaggerated “Daaaaaahhhhhhrrrrrrrby Day”.¬† ¬† The best time for the exaggerated “Daaaaaaaahhhhhhhrby” pronunciation is when you are at the races, wearing your enormous hat and shipping champagne (or “bubbles).¬† And that leads me to the next fabulous thing about the races – the fashion.¬† As one of my friends put it, “It’s like the entire city is going to a giant wedding”.¬† This is a pretty apt description since EVERYONE truly does get dressed up for the races.¬† The best part is that many also take public transport so that they can drink until they stagger home in their eight-inch heels or beer-soaked Armani loafers.¬† The result is city buses and trams and ferries filled with people in haute couture and huge hats and natty suits, AND fascinators. What are fascinators, you ask?¬† Well, they are delightful, feathery, spangly, dangly, sparkly things you attach to your head with a headband or a comb.¬† I had never heard of a fascinator before but, trust me, it fascinates.¬† They run the gamut from elegant, to funky, to cheeky, to, well, literally over the top. You can see photos of a few worn by my friends in the Derby Day Album.
Derby Day is traditionally black and white day for the ladies and naturally there is a contest to determine who is the most fashionable¬†on the field! ¬† Both ladies and gents strut their stuff at the Myer Fashions on the Field event, held under a massive tent right by the racetrack.¬† Contestants young and old enter in groups and parade in front of judges and winners from each group are selected.¬† Then the finalists¬† from each group are assembled and a winner is crowned, Miss America style, complete with a sash and a walk down the runway.¬† The ladies take it quite seriously while the gents are a bit more unpredictable, with a few drunk Aussie lads with jackets off and ties askew appearing onstage beside elegant fashionistas with impeccably tailored pants.¬† The whole thing is quite a spectacle but this year I experienced a special treat when the cross-dressing Dame Edna crashed the show.¬† Dame Edna is quite beloved here in his/her hometown of Melbourne so since the Dame was at the races, the show’s producers made an impromptu decision to bring her up on stage.¬† She was wearing a massive rainbow of a garment- sort of a mumu meets a a tutu- and I believe the Dame may have had a few too many glass of the “bubbles” before making her entrance.¬† This was unfortunate for the hapless presenters but delightful for the crowd!¬† What was supposed to be a brief cameo turned into an hysterical, unscripted 20-minute outright theft of the spotlight. The Dame paraded in her mumu/tutu of many colors, cracked jokes, asked embarrassing personal questions of the contestants and told one of the presenters ( I believe a local TV celeb) that he was totally useless. His female co-presenter was choking back laughter and trying to keep things moving along but the Dame was having none of it.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your view, I saw a lot more of Dame Edna than I did of horse racing because the weather for Derby Darby Day was absolutely miserable.¬† At first the grey skies and wet weather were helpful because crowds were smaller than usual and I got right down to the track for the first few races.¬† And it is pretty cool to be that close to horses going that fast, especially because we were close the finish line.¬† But, after two races, the rain just came in sheets and everyone had to seek shelter.¬† Women with spray tans dripped orange as they ran for cover.¬† Mascara ran everywhere. Being a bit of a pragmatist and knowing the forecast, I personally opted for pants and a dark shirt.¬† And I had fond a fabulous big hat at a vintage shop so I made it to cover without any major make-up mishaps.¬† But, basically the entire rest of the day was spent drinking huge quantities of alcohol while huddling under a tent (actually, the tent at the bookmakers!)¬† It was too wet to venture out even to watch the main race on the TV monitors, which were exposed to the rain.¬† So, I saw minimal racing and had a wicked hangover.¬† That said, I would go again for the people-watching and in the hopes of a better day with more opportunity to see the actual races.
Like the Derby, the Melbourne Cup or the “race that stops a nation” is of course held here in Melbourne where everything does come to a grinding halt because people in Victoria are given the day off work. ¬† The unlucky people in the other states have to go to work (suckers). But, since our clothes were still drying from Saturday’s adventures at Flemington, we decided to watch from the comfort of a warm, dry pub where the “nation” had stopped everything EXCEPT eating, drinking, and betting.¬† Since we got there early to secure seats,¬† we had time to actually do a bit of research on the horses.¬† So, I learned a few interesting things about racing in Australia.¬† One thing I learned is that the Melbourne Cup is a handicap race, meaning that the best horses are required to carry extra weight.¬† As a newcomer to racing,¬† I am having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around this concept.¬† To the untrained (me) the logic seems something like this:¬† An owner invests money in a horse and then selects a really talented and knowledgable trainer.¬† Said trainer works with the horse for months or years, perfecting the horse’s fitness and technique.¬† The horse puts in months and years of work to build speed, strength, and endurance. ¬† On the day, the jockey guides the horse skillfully in the race.¬† Because of all this hard work, dedication, and skill, the horse wins a big race like the Derby or the Melbourne Cup.¬† And the result?¬† Well, basically, it’s “Hey, great job owner, trainer, jockey, and horse.¬† Now as a reward in the next big race you get to wear a whole bunch of lead in your saddle to slow you down so the other horses have a chance and the bookies can make more money.” ¬† Maybe I’m too heavily influenced by the American ideology of rewarding success?¬† But why does the playing field have to be leveled by a “handicap”? Perhaps the reasoning behind it is more subtle and sophisticated?¬† Maybe if I said “darby” instead of “derby” I would understand?
Anyway, back to the big race.¬† This year’s Cup Carnival had pretty poor conditions as it has been one of the wettest springs on record.¬† So on Saturday’s Derby Day the races were run on “heavy” tracks, meaning basically ridiculously wet and sloppy.¬† By Cup Day on Tuesday, the weather was cold and drizzly but not as wet so it was considered a¬† “dead” track which is defined as a racing surface that is infirm or lacking resiliency. We placed our money on two horses, with the sentimental choice being Descarado, a horse trained by colorful Melbourne resident Gai Waterhouse¬† http://www.theage.com.au/sport/horseracing/gais-back-with-unfinished-business-20101101-17ak8.html .
In short, Gai is a former actress turned trainer who actually had quite a fight to get her trainer’s license because her ex-husband was involved in some sort of betting scandal.¬† Anyway, she fought the establishment and won so how could I resist?¬† She is now a hall of fame trainer with numerous racing successes but the Cup continues to elude her.¬† Sadly for our plucky heroine, this year was no exception.¬† Descarado got off to a great start and was in the top three almost to the very end when he suddenly pulled up shy of the finish line.¬† In my opinion, Descarado was probably making a silent and misunderstood protest re: the whole handicap thing because poor Descarado was flying around the track “handicapped” by extra weight.¬† As he got to the finish line, he was probably like, “Wait a minute‚Ä¶they put lead in my saddle?‚Ä¶this is bullshit!”¬† Gai seems to think that it was the track conditions and if you’re interested in her slightly more learned and nuanced perspective, she blogs about it at gaiwaterhouse.com.au
So, the rebellious Descarado ultimately recorded a “failed to finish”.¬† Also, in case you are interested, the winner was a horse named Americain, who truly embodies globalization being born and bred in America,¬† owned by Aussies, trained in France, and raced in the Cup by a french jockey based in Hong Kong.¬† And the Aussies who are so insistent about pronouncing “Derby” as “Darby” consistently butchered the French pronunciation of “Americain”, pronouncing it instead as “cane” as in “sugarcane” or “John McCain”.¬† If necessary, this is ammunition I may pull out in a “derby” vs “darby” argument
Perhaps less glamorous but certainly not less popular, I turn now to the other sport of the week – Cricket.¬† India continues to best Australia in Internationals so Akhil is (quietly) happy.¬† And on the local level we have learned that the team in bright yellow who have played several times on the oval beneath our window are, in fact, the St. Kilda Saints who represent our neighborhood in Victoria Premier Cricket.¬† The Saints were founded in the 1850’s when club cricket was more informal and the Melbourne champion was basically chosen by journalists.¬† But, in the 1870’s more structure was introduced and eventually led to pennant matches, and a Challenge Cup. Today clubs like St. Kilda have multiple teams at different levels ( I believe St Kilda has four teams)¬† And since the early 1900’s, St Kilda’s A team has an impressive 18 titles and the Saints are tied with the Melbourne Demons for winningest record.¬† It is so rare in life to be on the side of the saints that I really do have to take this opportunity!
The cricket pitch below us, known as the St Kilda Cricket Ground or Junction Oval (because it is located at the junction of two of St Kilda’s main roads) apparently has quite an illustrious history including that Australian cricket great Shane Warne made his first-class debut here with St Kilda.
Unfortunately heavy rains these past few weeks have prevented some scheduled matches from being played at all.¬† And we seem to be seeing the C or D teams here rather than the A teams. So, recently we saw one of the St Kilda teams getting trounced by Camberwell.¬† But, according¬† to the Victorian Premier Cricket website, St Kilda’s A team are faring better.¬† So, hopefully they will come to our oval soon or else we’ll (sigh) make the long journey to another oval to see them play. ¬† In the meantime, as new fans of the St. Kilda Saint’s, I’d like to share with you their fight song. Grab a friend and a spot of tea and start practicing.¬† It’s so‚Ä¶what’s the word?‚Ä¶rousing?
“Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside
Oh, we do like to be beside the sea
Down at the Junction there’s a cricket ground
And that’s where The Saints all hang around
So, let’s hear three cheers for old St Kilda
This year successful we will be
Though it’s not quite in the bag
We’ve got hopes to win the flag
Beside the seaside, beside the sea”
Come on‚Ä¶try it out in the shower‚Ä¶it’s a cracker!
Leave a Reply
Here's your chance to speak.