figured that in three years the trial had cost the sponsor (an oil additive
company) about $50,000 but had cost competitors—in entrance fees, ruined cars,
fines and time lost—between $1 million and $2.5 million. The enthusiastic
Australians didn't mind this a bit. Incongruously, it was the sponsor who quit.
His prerogative was snapped up quickly by others and the race remains an annual
Australian race is the professional foot race at Stawell. This is the Stawell
Gift, a 130-yard handicap run in heats each Easter weekend. The race was
organized when gold mining failed in the Grampian Mountains and left the small
town of Stawell with no particular attraction. But a prize of $45 offered in
1878 brought runners and bookies into town. Now a winner can expect to take
home about $1,000, plus what he bets on himself. One or two have reported
totals of $11,500.
Edward S. Skinner, won in 1889 (punters claimed the handicappers grossly
underrated him) but the most colorful competitors ever were a pieman and a
bookmaker. The pieman, operating a stall in a country town in the 1930s, became
a great runner chasing boys who ordered pies and ran to beat the bill. The
bookmaker had even more compelling reasons to run. At a small picnic horse race
and track meet, he overbet the winner of the Jockey's Wives handicap, says the
story, and could not pay. In desperation, the bookie entered a sprint, backed
himself with all his available cash and ran, spurred by the thought of what the
punters would do to him if he didn't win. He won.
interest, business support and good coaching all have contributed to the fine
Australian international tennis record. An equipment manufacturer, who produces
219,000 racket frames and 3,070,800 tennis balls annually, estimates the
continent has 300,000 players. In junior school tennis, coaching begins at
eight years. Two-thirds of the courts are noodlit; and in New South Wales there
are 4,600 competitive courts, another 2,000 or more privately owned. A crowd of
27,500 watching a single court during Davis Cup play at Sydney in 1954 was a
Not as successful
as tennis, but still the biggest and most important of all sports are cricket
and horse racing. Australians use up 40,000 cricket bats a year.
cricketeers are officially amateurs, but members of the Test (i.e., national)
team draw bonuses approximating $180 a game on their home shores, or $2,700 for
an overseas tour. Just now, Australian fortunes in the British Commonwealth
game are at a low ebb. Its prestige soared from 1936 to 1951, when no English
team in the international Test matches (time out for war years) could score a
series victory. In 1953, 1954 and 1955, however, England had it all her own
way. What's more, there are signs that American habits are infiltrating even
this game: at Melbourne, players joined in a general melee while fans booed;
recently on the playing fields of industrial Footscray, Acting Captain Bill
Jacobs replied to a spectator's advice by bashing him on the beak. "I'd do
it again," he said. "I object to such remarks as were passed."
There's no real
confusion about horse racing; just too much of it to see, let alone discuss. No
respectable town is without a track, and cities boast half a dozen or more.
Bookmakers operate at the tracks as they do in England, the horses generally
run counterclockwise (clockwise in Sydney), but racing is racing anywhere, only
more so in Australia. Pari-mutuel "investments" (bets) totaled $76
million last year. Licensed bookmaker "investments" in four reporting
states hit $467,587,250. Allowing for non-reporting areas, the figures add up
to $75 each for every man, woman and child on the continent.
To appreciate the
importance of racing in Australia, the one thing certain to drive the Olympics
off the front pages this month is the Melbourne Cup, with a $33,750 purse and
75,000-plus average crowd. Since 1861 it has been held at the Flemington track
on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. During the running of
the Cup, Australia's work simply stops, so visitors might as well be prepared.
A visiting New Zealander found that even a Sydney tram halted so riders could
listen to the radio while the race was being run. The story is told of the two
pig-tailed schoolgirls who came home downcast, having lost five shillings each
in a sweepstake. Asked how they had learned the race result so soon, the tots
were astonished. "Why," said one, "teacher turned the wireless on
so the class could hear."
Regardless of how
the Melbourne Cup seems to affect the Australians, Americans need know only one
fact: the cup was won, in 1930, by a New Zealand-bred horse (but many of the
best in Australia come from there) named Phar Lap. In 1931 he tried again, but
had to carry 155, and ran eighth. Subsequently, in America, he won one more
And this is the
part which must be remembered. Australians will buy beer, lend a Yank their
tennis rackets, take him crocodile hunting, give him fish, hock the family
jewels for an evening on the town, generally act what they are, the world's
most sportsminded people. But they won't forget Phar Lap.