Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Big day today

For Americans it's the Congressional elections. For Australia it is the "race that stops a nation". I am in a sweep, of course. It's the only thing to do if you know zilch about the neddies. I drew nos. 13 and 17.

Each year on this day, Flemington racecourse becomes the play pit for Australia's most elegant, fashionable and classy. It also witnesses some of Australia's most drunk and disorderly behavior.

And there are some pretty dire scenes to be had. Aside from the girls who stumble out at the end of the day, shoes in hand, and the drunken men who vomit on their best suits — I have two words for you: public toilets.

But despite this, the day is one of buzz and excitement, and unsurprisingly Sydney-siders like to get in on the action: some travel to Melbourne, others kick up their heels in their own backyard.

Each year the restaurants in Sydney's CBD — particularly those in Darling Harbour and along the foreshore — play host to Melbourne Cup banquets, complete with fashion shows, sweeps, celebrity MC's, and best-dressed competitions. It allows Sydney-siders to partake in the carnivalesque mood of the day without having to feign interest in track conditions or jockey's weights. So while metropolitan Melbourne and some other parts of Victoria get a public holiday on Melbourne Cup Day, wealthy Sydney-siders tend to just take one for themselves.

But I suspect that many other Australians would like to see Melbourne Cup Day recognised as a national holiday.

Of course, there will be those who would oppose this suggestion, particularly members of the anti-gambling lobby and of various animal rights groups. And fair enough.

Australia is the poker machine capital of the world, with one in five of the world's poker machines calling this country home. While it is socially acceptable to have a flutter on Melbourne Cup day, it is important to acknowledge that problem gambling is a serious and growing issue.

Similarly, animal rights groups have legitimate concerns about the treatment of horses used in racing, as well as other animals used in other legal and illegal betting "sports" (such as cock fights and dog fights.)

But the Melbourne Cup is not only about gambling and horses. Increasingly many people are partaking in it for the fashion, fizzy and food (at boozy banquets). And as far as national holidays go, I think Melbourne Cup Day could be a winner.

Like Australia Day, it would be a holiday where we could hang out with friends and have a few drinks (but thankfully Southern Cross tattoos would remain covered up). Warring families would not have to spend torturous hours together as they do at Christmas. We wouldn't have to spend frantic days in the lead-up, preparing huge meals and battling late-night shopping crowds. Secular groups (and various religious groups) would not need to conceal their bitterness about being forced to recognise the Christian calendar as they do at Easter. We could sidestep the heated and divisive political debates concerning the invasion of this country (as occurs on Australia Day) and our invasion of other countries (as occurs on ANZAC Day).

This is not to say that these debates are unimportant and or that we should sidestep anything that produces controversy or discomfort. But the point is that almost all of our national holidays alienate at least one group; indigenous groups on Australia Day, immigrants of countries who fought against Australian troops on Anzac Day, Muslims and Jews at Christmas, and even republicans on the Queen's birthday.

While many dismiss such complaints as "political correctness run amok" it would still be nice to have more secular and de-politicised national holidays that could be enjoyed Australia over.

If nothing else, it seems bizarre that on the day of "the race that stops the nation", only one state is actually allowed to stop.


Why those hats?

All the ladies will have their most amazing hats on today

Ask the internet why women wear ridiculous hats to the Melbourne Cup and it will answer, "tradition". Ask a fashion historian and it gets more complicated. England at the turn of the 20th century is one starting point. Under the style-conscious rule of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, Royal Ascot Week was the catwalk of its day, launching outrageous fashions topped by eye-catching hats. Competition was fierce as, writes fashion theorist Michael Carter, hats grew in height and circumference to accommodate "little theatres of ornament". Fields of flora and fauna were popular; if feathers were good, a whole bird was better, until an entire barnyard seemed like a good idea.

But according to historian Claire Hughes, beneath these frivolous confections lay a serious intent. Ascot launched the London "season" and that entailed a different sort of race, one with a successful marriage (or generous benefactor) at the finishing line. In this, the hat - with its age-old connections to status and ceremony - was no casual punter. Made from felt, silk or straw, trimmed with ribbon, feathers or flowers, the ornamental hat symbolises the eternal trifecta of money, power and sex.

Men started it all. Go as far back as you like and you'll find crowns and feathered headdresses proclaiming power and rank. Sex was added at the close of the Middle Ages, when men's headwear developed an erotic edge with the liripipe - a long, padded tail that extended from a hood and trailed suggestively, snake-like down the back. In an attempt to keep up, women wore the hennin, a stiff, pointed steeple, equally suggestive, albeit in another direction.

In the 20th century, such sartorial innuendoes attracted Freud and, in The Interpretation of Dreams, he labelled the hat a phallic symbol. Coming from Freud, this is no surprise. More interesting is the semiotics of individual styles. A broad-brimmed hat may be practical, offering protection from the sun, but in the mid-19th century it was not quite respectable. The German name for this style said it all; worn by spinsters on the hunt for a husband, it was called "the last attempt".

If a dalliance of a less long-term nature is what you're after, then look no further than feathers. These flutter in the merest puff of a breeze, imitating the quiver of orgasmic delight, an effect which, fashion journalist Colin McDowell assures us, arouses in men a certain weakness at the knees. At least this would explain the popularity of the fascinator; perched on heads like a half-plucked bird, I am relieved to find they serve some purpose.

McDowell, who spoke at the Victoria & Albert Museum's symposium on hats, deplores the descent into fancy dress that typifies the average racegoer. For him, the essence of a good hat is flattery, a quality in short supply when excess is the order of the day. For a spot on the evening news, the bizarre beats elegance every time.

There is, however, a way to wear a hat without ending up looking like the victim of some mad milliner's joke. But when the secret lies in calculating the correct alignment between the hat, the hips and the nose to within millimetres, no wonder we so often get it wrong.

Such a state of affairs was once unimaginable. In the days when a woman would as soon walk out the door hatless as naked, a woman's hat was part of her personality. Hats themselves had a vivid and full life. They appeared as characters in novels and films, were proclaimed as surreal pieces of art, had their own magazines and a guaranteed segment in the weekly newsreel.

They could even fight a war. In occupied Paris, French milliners, faced with draconian rationing, created hats from crumpled newspaper, a scrap of tulle or wood-shavings. Such hats, in their stubborn frivolity, signalled a clear sign of resistance to Nazi rule.

Perhaps only in France could milliners have their own patron saint, but not even St Catherine could save them from their eventual fate. By the middle of the 20th century, hats were on their way out and, by the end of the 1960s, fashion pronounced them dead and buried.

This moment in the history of the hat is also part of the history of Melbourne's Spring Carnival, and it produced one of the most iconic images of the era. On Derby Day in 1965 - against a backdrop of gloved, hatted and demurely suited women, and men in top hats and tails - stands British model Jean Shrimpton.

She has the focus of every eye and every camera, not because of her spectacular hat but because of her gloveless hands, her skirt that reaches just above the knees and her hair - long, loose and flowing in the breeze.


Must not build sandcastles on beach???

Surf Life Saving Queensland has thrown its support behind Sunshine Coast life guards, saying that digging holes and building sandcastles between the flags can pose hazards – but only in more extreme cases.

The Daily reported yesterday that children had been asked to fill in their hole and not dig or build sandcastles in the area between the flags.

Brisbane visitor Gary Roberts, told how he and other beach-goers were left gobsmacked on Friday when a life guard asked a young family to move on because they  were  playing  in  the  sand in a patrolled zone.

He said the mother and two young children were doing nothing more than building a small castle between the flags and the life guard’s request was met with disbelief by on-lookers.

Mr Roberts said the case of bureaucracy gone crazy would not affect his decision to holiday in the region in the future, but he worried that it would reflect badly in the eyes of interstate and international travellers.

The story was picked up by media outlets around the country and sparked plenty of debate on the Daily’s website. An online poll found 72% believed building sandcastles was part of Australian culture and should be allowed.

Sunshine Coast council’s manager of life guard services, Scott Braby, said that although the council had no hard and fast rules regarding digging and sandcastle construction, it did have a general policy to move on beachgoers if they were posing a hazard to themselves or others.

Sunshine Coast Surf Life Saving services coordinator Aaron Purchase said SLSQ had a similar policy. “From our point of view it would only come into question if it was a big deep hole that was large enough to pose a risk to public safety,” Mr Purchase said.

He said if it was blocking life guard access or vehicle access or at risk of collapse then lifesavers would exercise their judgment and ask the beachgoer to fill the hole in and continue their activities outside the patrolled area.

“If it is posing a risk of sand collapse then they would need to step in,” Mr Purchase said. “We’ve had incidents of this is the past. A while back a guy was digging in a dune at Sunshine Beach and it collapsed – luckily the guys were able to dig him out and resuscitate him.”

But Mr Purchase said kids having a little dig and building small sandcastles within the flagged area was not a problem.


Australians have the world's largest houses

AUSTRALIANS have the world's largest houses, beating traditional champion the United States, however the cost of renting is similarly expanding. Data commissioned by CommSec shows the Australian house has grown on average by 10 per cent in the past decade to a record high of 214sq m, three times the size of the average British house.

But a second report from BIS Shrapnel has also forecast rents would continue to spiral with a rise of 5 per cent a year in Brisbane between 2010 and 2012 and similar levels in other capitals. It was estimated landlords would pocket an extra $2 billion nationally during the period.

According to CommSec, while the houses are getting bigger, so too are the families with the number of people in each household rising from 2.51 to 2.56, the first such rise in at least 100 years.

NSW has the biggest houses in Australia and by a large margin. The size of the average new house built in NSW in 2008-09 was 262.9sq m, followed by Queensland 253sq m. "The increase in the size of the average family unit may mean that fewer new homes need to be built," CommSec's Craig James said. "It makes sense. Population is rising, as is the cost of housing and the cost of moving house, so we are making greater use of what we've got. "Children are living at home longer with parents and more people are opting for shared accommodation."

Had the number of persons per household remained unchanged, CommSec estimates that 166,000 extra homes would needed to have been built in the 2007-08 year. "If the size of the average household continues to rise, there will be reduced demand for new houses and apartments," Mr James said. "It is questionable whether Aussie homes can, or indeed should, continue to grow. "Generation Y is already baulking at the cost of housing, choosing to stay at home longer with parents."

In Europe Denmark has the biggest homes (houses and flats), with an average floor area of 137sq m, followed by Greece (126sq m), and the Netherlands (115.5sq m). Homes in the UK are the smallest in Europe at 76sq m.



Fed up said...

It would be interesting to know how many of the immigrants have families of 8 children or more, lured on not only by their religioius culture but egged on by the $5000 baby bonus and generous child allowances. They have never had it so good but does it help Australia?

Paul said...

"An online poll found 72% believed building sandcastles was part of Australian culture and should be allowed."

This statement itself is ridiculous as it implies that we should accept having to ask permission in the first instance...to build a f.....* sandcastle! Who is it that will "allow" us? The sandcastle registration and inspection bureau?