I appreciate a state that gives its residents a day off for a horse race. The 5.6 million inhabitants of the State of Victoria are given a public holiday for the Melbourne Cup each year. So, to take advantage of this free time I roped a friend in to taking us on a road trip.
Sometimes you only realise how much you miss open space and nature when you escape from a metropolis. Ferntree Gully is in the Dandenong Ranges it is only about an hour from Melbourne CBD but feels like another world. Even in the carpark the green & red parrots swooped overhead and happily pottered about in gangs on the tarmac. The sounds were unfamiliar, the air pungent and the temperature was even a few degrees cooler.
Following a muddy track we ambled past curling ferns, mossy logs, giant Mountain Ash’s, peeling gumtrees, butterflies and dense foliage. If there are fairies, which I am sure there are, they were there. We passed a tree with a wide girth and large hollow big enough to fit a small adult or large child. Signs warned of ‘falling limbs’. Apparently, this refers to tree limbs rather than the human variety.
Signs directed us to the Sherbrooke falls. Beads of dew stuck the underside of the handrail and to leaves, as we got closer. A small cascade flowed over large boulders and splashed down each tier until it eventually evened out. It was not as dramatic as the name suggests but pleasant all the same.
After our fill of fresh air, we drove to a little village called Monbulk to watch the ‘race that stops the nation’. Outside the bakery sat a plump chap with a ruddy complexion.
“Do you have any tips for us” I shouted over.
“Number 3″ he replied.
There were no bars in the town only an RSL (Retired Services League) which is a type of members club for retired veterans. The blackboard sign outside indicated “Ladies wear Fascinators”. I wondered if muddy shoes would do? Inside there was a large screen display the Number 3 horse and I declared it was a sign. My friend went to the bar and we tried to blend in unsuccessfully. A lady with skycraper leopard print heels and shocking pink feathers attached to her head, tottered over.
“You guys aren’t from around here are you?”
So far for the blending in.
“You’re backpackers aren’t you, I knew it!”she said with an air of excitement as if she had just deciphered someone’s nationality.
A wooden table was in front of the bar and two older official looking gentlemen sat behind it. An antique metal money box complete with wooden drawer sat on top. Three sheets of lined A4 paper with various columns written in blue biro pen were being analysed. The men of course were taking bets. I am not sure of the legality of the situation but I was game. I placed $5 on number 3 to win.
The race began. The thundering hoofs, amplified through the speakers. All eyes were on the screen. I watched as the yellow jersey with blue stars hung back until a gap opened up and he charged through. I started shouting. I’m sure it helped. Then it was over, the finish inconclusive. Some said it was the closest finish in Melbourne Cup history. I held my breath until the photos revealed Dunaden, number 3 the winner. Finally a roar went out followed by high fives all round.
I had won, at a potentially illegal gambling station, at my first experience of an RSL and Melbourne Cup Day. Times were good.