03 November 2015
by Crispin Hull

History made but speeches missed it


Michelle Payne, who rode Prince of Penzance, holds up the cup after winning the 2015 Emirates Melbourne Cup.

Not since 1977 – almost 40 years ago – has a governor-general performed so poorly at the Melbourne Cup.

In 1977 Sir John Kerr got a bit plastered and was out of control.

Not so in 2015. Sir Peter Cosgrove was in total control. So much in control that he was utterly controlled by what seemed to be a pre-prepared speech.

Just fill in the blanks with the name of the jockey, trainer and owner.

He completely missed the point of history.

Why didn't he just chuck away his prop – his prepared speech – and seize the moment of history. For the first time in the 155 years of its running, a female jockey won the Melbourne Cup.

Yay.

You wouldn't know if you listened to the Governor-General. Or worse, the speech from the corporate sponsor's lackey. The Emirates man was worse. His speech seemed like an obvious "fill in the blanks" script.

Even the trainer, who should have had more empathy, thanked the owners, the staff and even the strapper before even mentioning the real historic heroine of the moment – Michelle Payne, the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.

Payne was magnificent. Panting and bouncing in the saddle while returning from the win she told of her fight against a misogynous industry and a battle to fight off moves to take her off Prince of Penzance a couple of weeks before the moment of glory.

Typical. Woman does hard yards. Bloke takes over at the winning moment. But not so on this occasion. She fought to keep her ride and won on it.

Riding back to the pavilion she said this about males who thought a female could not win the Melbourne Cup, "You can all get stuffed."

Meanwhile, back at the pavilion, the miserable, frightened, beholden set-piece speakers spoke their set-piece speeches. Ironically, they imagined that this would be safe. Their PR speech writers propping them up from any possible faux pas.

Well, the safe, offend-no-one approach backfired this time.

The glossy failure of the Governor-General and the Emirates representative to seize the moment of history illustrates the desperate poverty of a large part of public life in Australia today: safety, bum-covering, offend no-one, no spontaneity.

The obverse is of course, inspire no one. And if ever there was a moment to capture imaginations and inspire Australians it was the day the first woman jockey won the Melbourne Cup.