Day 1,035: A Day At The Races

01.11.11: The Melbourne Cup advertises itself as The Race That Stops A Nation and for once the bods in advertising might well be telling us the truth. It’s a little like Liverpool’s own Grand National, only the entire state of Victoria gets a Tuesday off work and schoolchildren across the land stop their lessons to watch it on the telly. Gambling, like boozing, can range from a couple of tramps in grotty little cellar to a national festival were people dress up to the nines – and that’s no bad thing. Say what you like about the dangers of gambling and drinking, at least they’re democratic.

The day started in fine fettle with this hapless adventurer waking up on somebody’s couch. I had been out drinking the night before with Simon and Adam, my friends from the UK, who, like Michael Caine in the 80s, are only here for the money. As I know only too well after paying for a round at the pub (won’t be making that mistake again!), the Australian Dollar is the strongest currency in the world at the moment. Although I wish people would get it into their heads that the worth of a currency (like time) is relative. If I have to educate another person that just because a single British pound is worth more than a single Aussie dollar, it doesn’t follow that our currency is ‘worth more’ I may be responsible for the world’s first economic-educationally motivated murder.

After dragging myself off the couch, I showered last night’s grime off myself and put a shirt, tie and suit jacket on. I say that casually like I always travel with a suit, but I had bought them second hand the day before for less than a pint of (Australian) lager. Didn’t have the pants or shoes though, so I had to do with my scruffs for my legs and feet. From the waist up I looked quite dapper. Or like a an overgrown schoolboy. You decide.


Before we left at 10am, we had downed a couple of ciders, a large shot of sherry and a bottle of champagne. You’re not playing with no amateurs here.

With Ads and Si in tow, we sauntered over to Spencer Street station (I call it by its old name, because I like to show how old-school I am). On the way we stopped off at a Liquor shop and stocked up on booze. I bought one of those little bottles of Jack Daniels that are in the shape of a glass hipflask, poured it into my real hipflask and then stuffed the hipflask down my pants in case I got frisked on the way in.

Ads and Si bought some booze for themselves and after a quick flame-grilled Whopper from Hungry Jack’s (that’s what they inexplicably call Burger King in Australia) we were on the train to the Flemington racecourse, just to the northwest of the city centre. We had tickets to the big race and time was of the essence.

The security was marvellously lax, I could have smuggled my JD in my jacket pocket. If I was wearing my wonderful travel vest that I bought in Afghanistan, I could have smuggled in two 1.5 litre bottles. I know for next time.

Once inside, there was an awesome carnival feel to the day. Even a scouse slob like me appreciates the world of fine wine and bowties even if I’m unlikely to ever be part of that set. But that’s the brilliant thing about events like this: everyone is playing dress-up. And I love a good fancy dress party.

I’m fairly sure that Mohammed had things to say about gambling, but that hasn’t put Emirates Airlines off being the main sponsor of this, the 151st Melbourne Cup. Going against my usual policy of not laying down my cash unless I’ve rigged the contest, I placed some ill-informed bets and lost my shirt, so let that be a warning to ya. The main race of the day was a real nail-biter – never has the term ‘won it by a whisker’ been so apt. I got recognised off the telly by at least five different groups of people: there’s nothing better than being a minor celebrity amongst drunk people. Especially when you’re pretty drunk yourself (that JD didn’t last long).

After the races were over, we retired to Bev and Mick’s Backpackers for a swift half before pressing on to Cookie – a bar on the roof of the Curtin building. I have vague memories of an Indian in a kilt and singularly failing to impress an American girl from Washington by knowing that her state capital was Olympia.


All in all, a bloody good day.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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