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Melbourne Cup: Is that a bird on your head?

by on October 29, 2013

aussie-yorker-1Photo credit: Laura B.

Ah, Melbourne Cup: the day Australia comes to a halt to watch the preeminent horse race of the year…book-ended nicely by a party that starts at lunch and ends in the wee hours of the morning.

Held annually on the first Tuesday in November, the Cup is the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season in Australia. It’s been rumoured that workplace output begins to slow around Melbourne Cup…and doesn’t pick up again until Australia Day, in January!

In true Aussie form, the Cup is open to everyone’s participation – you don’t have to be trackside at Flemington Racecourse to enjoy the festivities. Around the nation, offices close early, and pubs and restaurants fill up well before the race’s 3PM start time. If you’re lucky enough to live in metro Melbourne or parts of rural Victoria, Cup Day is even a public holiday.

For those who like to frock up, the Cup offers the perfect opportunity for a parade of fashions. From Darwin to Hobart, Cup enthusiasts don their finest attire, topped with an outrageous hat or a fascinator: fluffy, frilly, feathery and often sky-high headpiece. Is that a bird on your head?

Here are some fun spots associated with the Melbourne Cup:

1. Flemington Racecourse
Flemington Racecourse is not just famous for being the site of the Cup. For followers of fashion, it’s also the spot where model Jean “The Shrimp” Shrimpton quite scandalously wore a miniskirt (four inches above the knee!) in public during the Melbourne Cup’s weeklong festivities in 1965. The horror!

phar Phar Lap winning the 1930 Cup. Photo credit: State Library of Victoria.

2. Phar Lap
One of the most famous Melbourne Cup winners of all time and a national icon, thoroughbred Phar Lap won in 1930. He was so famous, he’s been in a movie, a postage stamp, and a song — and he’s included on the Australian test for citizenship. If you’d like to visit his remains today, you’ll need to cash in on frequent flier miles: his hide is mounted and displayed at the Melbourne Museum, his skeleton is at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa — and his heart is in Canberra, at the National Museum of Australia.

3. Hats, hats, hats!
In the market for a fascinator? There’s no shortage of these fluttery creations Australia-wide, but in Melbourne especially, you can shop with the créme de la créme who outfit the Winner’s Circle. Try the studios of Louise Macdonald Millinery, Serena Lindeman, and The Millinery Association of Australia has opened a pop-up shop. If you’re game to make your own, perhaps you’ll find some inspiration from Richard Nylon’s creations.

4. Way Down Under
Before the 18-carat-gold trophy arrives at Flemington, the Cup tours all over Australia in the lead-up to race day. In 2012, the Cup’s tour kicked off in Tennant Creek, NT – 2,760km away from Melbourne. There, the gilded prize received a police escort down the main street, visited the local hospital – and then posed for photos 18 meters underground, in the Battery Hill Mining Centre.

5. Faux Pas
The biggest faux pas on Cup day for ladies? Taking off your heels and walking barefoot. Seems obvious, but after a day of drinking, and aching tootsies, this could start to sound like a good idea. Just say no to joining the throngs heading back to the city sans shoes – instead, bookmark the location of the taxi rank on Leonard Crescent. Oh wait, that’s half the problem – no one can get a cab after the Race!

trashed-cup The racecourse after the 2010 Cup. Photo credit: The Long Acre.

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