The cup that runneth over with cruelty

Image by Guy James Whitworth.

It may be called the Melbourne Cup but it’s celebrated fervently in Sydney too. Here, Guy James Whitworth explains why he’s saying nup to the Cup.

Jeez, Melburnians have had a bit shit the past few months, they really have. 

A few times of late, I’ve reached out to my Melbourne mates for a tentative check in and often been blown-away by the heart wrenching and, quite honestly, distressing responses.  

To say that we Sydneysiders need to be a bit kind, compassionate and supportive of our Melbourne mates at this time is a massive understatement. We need to be considered and generous in our dealings with our Victorian friends as they tentatively transition back into the vibrant and cultured state it once was. 

I have faith they can do it and there is nothing stopping us, their NSW neighbours, from lending a supportive dollar when needed. 

However, that said, I see absolutely no reason to encourage or support anything to do with the Melbourne Cup. This year, like every other, I’ll be saying nup to the cup. Any activity that is based on the exploitation of poor animals (and just to be clear, I’m talking about the horses, not the cashed-up bogans that watch the race) is not based on interstate support, but in unnecessary abuse. 

The fact is many horses suffer hideous deaths each year in horseracing. By far the biggest cause of death is catastrophic limb injury with horses needing to be euthanised while in horrific pain, however other common causes of death include cardiac failure and internal bleeding. And that only refers to the horses that make it onto the racetrack. So many don’t; statistically far more racehorses only make it as far as the dog food factory. 

You can swap your flannel shirt for a fancy fascinator, but that doesn’t make the day of boozing and betting either glamorous or noble. It’s still an ugly event fuelled by greed and an unethical industry. 

Long before Covid-19 came along, gambling has been a devastating epidemic in Australia that regularly destroys families and lives.  

And unfortunately, it’s not only the horses that are repetitively beaten on Melbourne Cup day.  

Once billed as the sport of kings, racing certainly hasn’t been glamorous or exclusive for a long while, with the federal government’s 1800 RESPECT service reporting an average 17 per cent rise in calls involving domestic violence on the first Tuesday of November, the day the Melbourne Cup is held each year.  

While saying all of this, it’s not that I don’t understand the appeal, the ritual and the lovely vast amounts of money involved. There are elements of the race season that make total sense. I love a dress up. I need no excuse to wander off and stop working of an afternoon (true story, just ask my boss). I also love a nice refreshing wine, I just don’t drink to the point of shoving a policeman to the ground, falling into a hedge or riding a wheelie bin downhill whist wearing a cheap, badly fitted suit.  

A woman pushes a police officer into bushes at a previous Melbourne Cup. Video: ABC/YouTube.

I am totally up for keeping some of the fun bits. If people still need an excuse to down tools, indulge in excessive day-drinking and dress up like a cashed-up bogan with a piece of overpriced polyester netting wrapped around their head, then hell yeah, count me in!  

What about replacing the horse racing with drag racing? I’m not talking loud silly sports cars, I’m talking actual proper drag. Drag kings and queens all running as fast as they can, in inappropriate outfits and heels, the length of the field! Come on, how hysterical would the steeplechase be? Now that would definitely lift the spirits of the nation, although I wouldn’t like anyone’s chances of using a whip on those feisty fillies!  

Or a slightly less frantic option; we could en-masse all live-stream footage of the daily activities of animal sanctuaries and throw some much-needed money their way.

Another option is we could all just stand around our offices and take bets on which work colleague will get drunkest and try and pash another co-worker first. I mean, when all’s said and done, that’s really what the day of The Melbourne Cup is about anyway, isn’t it?

I choose not to put money into the horse racing system because I’m a decent person and I think many other people are too. If you count yourself an animal lover, how the fuck do you justify placing a bet and funding the racing industry? We just need to stop and think this through. Let’s take this time of change to change some traditions. Melbourne, Sydney, Australia, I reckon we are better than this.  

Rather than encouraging the race that stops a nation, it’s time this nation stopped the race. 

This year, on Melbourne Cup day, I’ll be messaging my mates down in Victoria and checking in. If you want to place a bet, let’s have a wager on how many Victorians will really need and appreciate that. 

Guy James Whitworth is a Sydney based artist and author. His book, Signs of a Struggle, is available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst and good bookshops everywhere. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter.

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