Mysteries of the Track

pharlapshooting_katebirrell_2016

It’s Friday night, Derby Day eve.

I’m no punter, yet I love a racecourse. It is a mystery to me, I know.

I like the look of the racecourse, the open space, the greenery of the turf and the white railings circling the tracks.

I like the city track for its urbanity. The distant CBD, it’s buildings, its cranes, its smog and its blue-grey haze.

I like the commission flats rising up like pop up sprinklers above a flat botanic lawn; they are all beige and boxy; and a bit eastern European in appearance. They guard the perimeter of the Flemington track at odd intervals in the neighbouring suburbs of Kensington and North Melbourne.

I like the Queens Avenue Californian bungalows of Caulfield East, with their second storey bay windows and terracotta roofs peering down onto the far side of The Heath. The avenue meets with the Monash University block and the Metro towers running wires and persons along the Cranbourne, Frankston and Pakenham lines.

I like the members lawn at Caulfield on Cup Day. It is sheltered from the gusty Spring winds and the crush of the outside crowds, albeit, wilting in the sun as the day progresses, and sprawling their fluid limbs across plantar boxes and plastic turf as the day draws to a close.

I like the fact that a racecourse predates our Southern Cross and Spencer Street stations. Races on Batman’s Hill in a city barely named, let alone formed.

I like the country racetrack, with its low horizon and wide open skies; and the Black Angus studded across the granite soils in the background; and ochre wheat fields and paddocks of grazing ewes and gum trees and dust and mud, too; or not, depending on when and where you are, of course.

I like the architecture of the stands, ornate filigree and long wooden benches stepping upwards; the stewards towers and the finishing posts; those in the shape of the horseshoe – and the ads; Elders always, the local real estate agents, financial advisors and beer, too.

I like the Schweppes Ad at Kilmore.

I like the chrome green John Deere tractors lined up in the middle of a track way out west;

And the country girls with contours in all shapes, colour and dress, lining up for fashion on the fields, waiting to be judged by the owner of the nearest ladies fashion boutique. As judge for the day, she is demure in her refinery and ready for the responsibility she has at hand.

I like listening to the call of a race, on a radio. I don’t know why.

I like a torrential downpour at St.Arnaud, where everyone one runs to the betting ring for cover.

I like being at Towong when the skies are blue and the sun is shining and news of a ferocious storm ripping through Flemington filters through; the horses disappeared from the racecallers view, so the crowd at Towong said, and the meeting had to be abandoned.

I like the shady Oak trees at Woolamai in March, and the blazing heat and dust of Dederang in January.

I like sitting on a rug on the grass with my kids, especially when they were little, sleepy and dozing off in the open air.

I like the story of Pharlap. He was shot at, so the papers said, in a Glen Huntly street on Derby Day 1930. My neighbour was about thirteen. She remembers the day. Her friend saw it all.

And Feathers, the man up the road so named for the brightly coloured feathers adorning his hat; his horse trainer grandfather found the cartridge wadding. It says so in a book titled “A Century Galloped by”. He takes me to the page where his grandfather is named.

I like the colour and the character of people, all mixed in together, slipping between the veiled layers of place, time and memory.

I like the loneliness, and the camaraderie.

I like the mystery of it all.

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