ACT News


Oh, and there were horses as well

There was a big lizard wriggling up the long, bare leg of an unsuspecting short-dressed damsel at Tuesday's carnival-like Melbourne Cup Race Day meeting at Canberra's Thoroughbred Park.

This reporter was about to leap forward and gallantly pluck the reptile off her when it dawned, just in time, that it was only a lizard tattoo and so, thank goodness, wasn't going to climb higher.

And it was one of the many revelations at the teeming occasion, dominated by spectacular feats of fashion among the women, that the young women of Australia are very tattooed now. The day's sometimes blush-making outfits revealed a great deal of skin and a lot of that skin turned out be attractively tattooed. The damsel I almost embarrassed myself with (for she might not have accepted my explanation for having my hands on her leg!) was the only one decorated with a lizard, but there were lots of butterflies, flowers and stars. One woman boasted a calf that Kevin Rudd (fluent in Mandarin) would even have been able to read, because it carried a message in Chinese characters.

While almost all the women at Thoroughbred Park were being as fashionable as possible, Stacey Bennett, of Latham, was doing the very opposite. At a Cancer Support Group marquee a little apart from the madding throng she was having her head shaved totally bald. A colleague was harvesting her lost hair in a plastic shopping bag.

''Stacey, what are you doing?'' this columnist probed.

''Well right at this moment I'm freaking out!'' she laughed.


''Last September I lost my Nan to cancer. The Cancer Support Group were a great help to our family and to my Nan and so we decided to shave our heads to raise money for them. We've got sponsors. We decided to do it here today because my Nan loved the races. She loved the horses and she owned race horses.''

Elsewhere, though, the women at Thoroughbred Park were pursuing glamour. Have high heels ever been higher than they are today? Lots of the women teetered in shoes that made them excitingly tall as if all of Australian womanhood is basketballer material now. And the shoes! In women's footwear, fluorescent green and fluorescent tangerine (often with matching handbags and necklaces) are enjoying a heyday.

The damsels made their menfolk look exceedingly drab, with the dramatic exception of Andreas Preiner, of O'Malley, an outstanding entrant in the male section of the day's Fashion of the Field contest. His black and white ensemble made from some very hide-like material made him look from a distance like a very well-dressed Friesian cow walking on its hind legs.

It would have been perfect to have been at Flemington instead but one of the beauties of being at Thoroughbred Park is that you can get very, very close to the rail. There, watching the races, with the turf beneath you thrumming with the hoofbeats, you got a sense of what monsters big horses are and what a thunderingly wild and scary and stampeding thing a horse race is. We know that it takes manly pluck to be a top boxer, footballer and ice hockeyist but do we ever stop to think how brave one must be to be a jockey?

Stepping out of the fast and glamorous lanes of the occasion and visiting the saddling enclosure we found the comely little horse Girls On The Avenue waiting, with her minder, for her turn in the fifth race. Another minder arrived leading Daryl who, right in front of the box of Girls On The Avenue relieved himself in the most spectacular, dung-sprinkling way.

Back in the throng, and as the afternoon wore on, queues for the bars and ATMs became prodigiously long. Fermented and spirituous beverages began to exert their disinhibiting magic and one young goddess, towering high above me on her skyscraper heels and noting my Media pass demanded she be interviewed because, ''I'm Kim Kardashian!''

Tall as this Ms Kardashian was she was dwarfed by two hard-working entertainers on tall stilts, dressed as exotic birds, and moving among the crowd shrilling down to the girls about how gorgeous they, the girls, were looking. ''We are,'' one of them shrilled down to me, ''the long-lashed, plume-bottomed 'Birds of Paradise' from The Fool Company. And I love your shirt (I was wearing my most vivid Hawaiian shirt so as to not to be a drab thing on this carnival occasion). It's delectable!''

It is a great consolation on a day when you figuratively lose your shirt at the races to have your actual shirt praised by plume-bottomed connoisseurs of costume.

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