Today, November 1, 2016, is the first Tuesday in November and the nation (Australia) stops for a horse race – The Melbourne Cup. I have absolutely no interest in horse racing, yet it has been with me all my life. My attitude to this ‘sport’ is a fool and his/her money are soon parted. More on that later.
My father was born on November 5, 1901, in Broken Hill, NSW, Guy Fawkes Day and the first Tuesday in November. It was Melbourne Cup Day. His name; Harold Revenue Sweet. The horse that won The Cup in 1901 was called, wait for it, Revenue. Yes, my father was named after a horse. So the first week in November was a celebration in our home. Thankfully I was born in August and this family tradition didn’t continue, otherwise I would have some wierd and unpronounceable middle name.
Growing up as a kid in suburban Adelaide and having a father whose birthday was on Guy Fawkes, or cracker night was a treat. There were family and friends visiting, tables of food and good times. The couple of weeks before ‘the night’ the kids in the neighbourhood would collect old lumber, tyres, anything that would burn to build a bonfire. Between us we would scavenge around to get old clothes, stuff them with straw, paper and grass to build a ‘guy’ to place on top of the pile of rubbish waiting to be burnt. There was not one environmental thought amongst us.
I still have a nostalgic feeling this time of the year. Fireworks can be dangerous – no they are dangerous – and how we were allowed to do what we did I am still surprised. None of our mob ever got injured by the crackers, but may children did. Then there were the fires. Cracker night was the busiest night of the year for the (then) SA Fire Brigade. Decades later, as a fire fighter, I came to appreciate the problems unsupervised fireworks can cause. Yet we kids set-off ‘penny bangers’ and ‘thrippeny bombs’ under tin cans, in letter boxes and storm water drains – anywhere it would look and sound spectacular. It was fun.
It was Dad’s birthday and Melbourne Cup Day in 1957 and I remember asking my father why we didn’t put money on the horses and win more back, like one of our neighbours did regularly for the Friday night ‘trots’ and Saturday ‘gallopers’. Often one of my boyhood friends would be excited over a win of a couple of pounds from a bet, more so if his father gave him a few bob from the winnings to spend on lollies. At that young age I hadn’t compared homes and lifestyles in the neighbourhood. My father, who had come home from work early, took me for a walk. He pointed out the horse gambling neighbour’s home and then we walked in to Fisher Street, Myrtle Bank and he showed me a home there. I knew it quite well. I would walk past it twice day going to and from the Glen Osmond Primary School. The home was two-story, huge grounds, lawn tennis court, a swimming pool (unherad of in the ’50s) and they had numerous cars. One was a Studibaker. Dad asked me which I preferred, the horse betting neighbour’s poorly kept bungalow, or the mansion owned by the ‘bookie’. I can still remember his words, ‘they only tell you about their wins, never how much they lose.’ Lesson learnt – I have never bet on a horse race.
I struggle to visualise my father’s life as a teenager 100 years ago. At fifteen he was working full-time having only gone to Unley High School for one or two years. The photograph above is the only one I have of Harold Revenue Sweet working, then as a home delivery greengrocer. Recently I ‘discovered’ more than four-hundred family photographs that I knew existed, but thought had been lost. What stories they generate – now to capture the narratives before they are lost forever.