For the past fortnight, I’ve asked many people, in the course of general conversation, to indicate any tips they have on the Melbourne Cup.

To my surprise, the majority of people have responded with blank stares, and explanations like, “I haven’t followed the Spring Carnival this year,” or “I don’t gamble Father.”

These answers, in themselves, are good! I haven’t followed the Spring Carnival this year either, or any other year. Once at university, and once again in the seminary, I had friends who threw themselves into form guides and Saturday betting, but I could only muster half-hearted enthusiasm, and in a matter of weeks even this limited interest was exhausted.

But I didn’t enquire about the racing carnival, or betting in general. I enquired about the Melbourne Cup, which is a cultural event. It’s a bit like asking someone in Grand Final week who they’re backing on Saturday. “I don’t follow a particular footy team,” or “I don’t watch TV” aren’t pertinent answers to the question, but now that I think about it, I got a lot of these responses in September, too!

I mention this not to criticise my respondents, but to highlight a cultural phenomenon. On Sunday, the parish youth group visited some of our house-bound parishioners. One of the parishioners we visited had emigrated from Holland after the war. She loves Australia very much, but she said there is one thing she has always missed: singing.

In Holland, she said, everyone sang. Even the smallest country parish had three or four choirs, of very high calibre. And every social gathering, whatever the context, incorporated singing. But in Australia, we don’t have that tradition. It’s one of the ways we are culturally impoverished. But, I would hasten to add, we have different cultural riches. The Melbourne Cup is one of them. Or it was. Now, not so much.

Maybe the culprit is atomisation. It’s not that people are too busy now, to review the field, or enter a Cup Sweep. People are always busy, and always have been. It’s just that people have no interest, and more pointedly, no compelling reason to be interested. We had more reason, once, to show interest in things that didn’t particularly appeal to us, because they united an otherwise disparate group. It gave us an opportunity to share something with people we don’t share much with.

We needed to do this — to “confect” common interests — because otherwise we didn’t share anything much with anyone, beyond our family and close friends. But that has changed. The communications revolution has connected whole worlds of people who share natural interests. For example, I can read the blogs of country priests all over the world! Technology reduces the need, I think, to cultivate commonality with the people who actually surround us.

Now, I must confess, this blog has itself become atomised. When I started it, I regularly blogged on a very broad range of subjects, from footy tipping and seminary life to English literature and French philosophy. Now, not so much. Time to revert, I think.

Here are Simon the Pieman’s tips for the big race:

  • 3. Red Cadeaux.
  • 9. Ethiopia.
  • 12. Seville.
  • 19. Simenon.
  • 22. Dear Demi.

He adds:

Have great Cup day! Mike Brady and Slim Dusty have both got Cup songs! Have a look on YouTube! Thank you Fr John for letting me put my tips on your blog!

I’m gratified to see that Simenon gets a mention. I’ve liked his form since I first started attending to the potential Cup field a fortnight ago. Simenon started his racing career as a jumper, and the unusual length of the Melbourne Cup is especially suited to him. His odds have shortened a lot since then, but I maintain he is still underrated.