The Melbourne Cup has been a public holiday in Melbourne since 1875 – yes, that’s 140 years of skiving off work to go to the races. And you can blame an engineer for all that fun. Bismarck (an engineer) would tell you that engineers have the most fun, and always blame an engineer for a party!
The engineer Robert Bagot immigrated to Australia in 1849. In 1861, he transformed the MCG playing surface from a rough paddock into a proper oval. The Victoria Racing Club saw the potential in this work and head hunted him for the job of club Secretary. He refused, saying he knew nothing about racing. Administrator Herbert Power responded by saying “There are too many self-styled racing experts in Melbourne, and all they have done is to bring the sport to the brink of extinction. We need a man of character who will get things done in his own way.”
Bagot drained the marshland in the centre of the course, re-turfed the track and bought ‘the Hill’ for punters as a vantage point. In 1875, Bagot moved the Cup from a standard Saturday to the Prince’s birthday public holiday on the Tuesday. It has been run on a Tuesday ever since, and the holiday quickly became known as Cup day. This genius move had a massive impact on attendance. Prior to Bagot accepting the job, the Cup attendance was around 7,000 people – a reasonable figure when Melbourne’s population was around 200,000.
In 1880, just five years after stealing the public holiday, attendance hit 100,000 for the first time. That’s almost half of Melbourne going to Cup day. Back in those days, there were more horses in Melbourne than people, so people had a natural connection to horses (and often raced their own working horses on unofficial tracks).
In today’s media environment, with so many competing sports, it is impossible to compare, but last year’s cup was watched on Seven by 1million Melbourne based households (and 3.25m households across Australia). Even in a society where racing competes with so many other leisure activities, more than one quarter of Melbournites watched the race.
Since so many people are going to be watching the Cup, why not make an event of it? Have some champagne and canapes, pick a horse based on your favourite colour or name. Listen out for the ‘omen bet’ – usually a horse with a name that has some similarity to a media headline. And most of all, have some fun and enjoy the day off. Bagot would have insisted on it.
- 1⁄2 a block of cream cheese
- One lemon
- One baguette
Take the cream cheese and squeeze the lemon juice over the top. Use a fork to mix together. Cut the baguette into thin slices. Spread each slice with the cream cheese mix and top with a piece of salmon. Top with dill.
Spicy salmon skewers
- Peeled raw prawns
- Bamboo sticks
- Thai Mint Leaves
Thread three prawns onto sticks, with a mint leaf between each one. Sprinkle with paprika and bbq. You could add chili if you want, or use a pre-made chili dip to go alongside.
- Sweet Potato (one medium sized potato does about 15 cutlets)
- Knob of Butter
- Splash of milk
- Parsley (one leaf per cutlet)
Cut the sweet potato into chunks and boil until soft. Drain the water and mash with a splash of milk and the knob of butter. Mix some salt into the mash for taste.
BBQ the lamb cutlets. Place a spoonful of the mashed sweet potato onto each cutlet and top with a parsley leaf.
Slice one rockmelon into thin, long pieces. Wrap each piece with prosciutto.
- Zucchini Flowers
- 1⁄2 block of cream cheese
- One lemon
- Cumin powder
- One cup of flour
- 1/3 of a bottle of beer
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder
- Canola Oil
This is one of our family’s favourites. We grow zucchini in our garden every spring, mostly for this recipe.
First, make up the beer batter by mixing the flour, beer and baking powder together. It should be quite runny.
Mix the cream cheese, juice from the lemon and a teaspoon of cumin powder together.
Open each zucchini flower and pinch out the stamen. Wash carefully as ants like to live inside, and if you cook this with an ant in it, it gets a weird bitter flavour!
Fill each flower with the cream cheese mix – approximately a teaspoon or two per flower.
Fill a wok about 1/3 full with canola oil and put on a high heat. The oil is hot enough when a drop of the batter cooks in a few seconds.
Dunk each flower in the batter and deep fry in the oil. Use a slotted spoon to take them carefully out of the oil and place on a paper towel.
Champagne – of course! Nuts
Cheese and crackers