I grew up in a TAB, and I’ve seen my share of taboo
On my access visits to my Dad in Adelaide, he’d make me his honorary Bookie’s hand at the Morphettville race track. The ladies would don their Harris Scarfe hats, the blokes resplendent in T-shirts, Stubbies and thongs to have a flutter on fine fillies with names like “Dagger Bow”, “Dad’s Army”, or “Howyagaarn”.
They’d rip crisp twenties from newly opened pay packets, kiss them passionately goodbye, before staggering to the bar for another West End draught. Pickaxe size, luv. No breathos back then, matey!
Mum and Dad both ran TABs too. As a teenager, my job was to sweep the ciggy butts and tickets off the floor. Oh the tickets. Thousands of the big beige things. Every single one hurled to the floor in disgust, insousiance, regret. I witnessed people throw thousands of dollars over the counter, thousands they could not afford. This was the ‘60s. Even then, the money generally flowed in one direction.
You reckon I was ever stupid enough to place a bet?
Of course I did! It’s a rite of passage, the cause that brings the common man, the latte set and the chardonnay swillers, the chattering classes and every other cliched demographic together in search of a common goal - to forget about how foul, narcissistic and self-seeking life can be.
So why are we so attracted to the race track that we score a public holiday for a horse race? On Wednesday we only wake up to the same problems as Monday - family violence, marriage breakdown, immense credit debt, crippling bills. The race track became our gathering place - our church - where we congregate for our meaning and sense of purpose. Our tribe.
That tribe however will not be there for us on Wednesday when we rejoin peak hour.
Today, Melbourne Cup Day, Melbourne abandons its establishment gentility for a debauch, bacchanalian party. Hedonism and Clive Hamilton’s Affluenza are acted out as we attempt to make up for our social inadequacies, health issues and relationship breakdown by blowing the credit card, and accessing the mortgage redraw to blindly punt on some bloke sporting a cerise-coloured, satin hat.
We perve at Rolls Royces and dandies in Top Hats, Facebook blurry photos of celebrities, and attempt to gatecrash the Bird Cage so we have something to brag about over the water cooler the following morning.
I don’t spend much time hanging in bars or at the race-track. I do spend a fair bit of my time with people who wouldn’t be seen dead placing a bet, to win only when someone else loses. But the truth is they have a lot in common.
From my many years observing people… bookies and punters at pubs, race tracks and TABs and more recently, people from the pulpit, I realise they have a lot in common.
We all want, actually need, community. People who understand us. A place where we belong.
We all want to live for something more than simply working for the man 9-5 or 8-6, or paying mortgages and school fees… we want to a purpose to get up in the morning. Something to believe in, something beyond ourselves, even if it is just yelling at a two year old gelding for one minute and thirty five seconds…
Will this activity bring lasting purpose, peace and joy? Or will it be back to the ‘same ol’ on Wednesday morning after you’ve blown it all again…
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