Tag Archives: Mark Twain

Mark Twain in Melbourne

The day after I returned to Adelaide from Kangaroo Island, I departed from South Australia. I would return later in this trip, and I have visited SA each time I’ve returned to Australia, but this first visit was at an end. A Greyhound bus carried me across the miles, and I had soon crossed into the state of Victoria, and by late afternoon, I was in Melbourne.

The day after my arrival offered me a chance to visit offices necessary for arranging whatever sights I’d see in Melbourne, but the following day everything would be closed. I had arrived just in time for the Melbourne Cup. In my book, I quote one line from Mark Twain’s book Following the Equator (published elsewhere as More Tramps Abroad) about the Melbourne Cup, but I thought you might be interested in what else Twain had to say about the event.

Mark Twain visited Australia in the late 1800s, while on a world-wide lecture tour. He was realistic and humorous in his appraisal, but also, on the whole, quite flattering. He said of Melbourne itself, “It is a stately city architecturally as well as in magnitude.” Twain also arrived at the time of the Melbourne Cup, and here are his observations (and I might add that little has changed since he wrote this).

It is the “Melbourne Cup” that brings this multitude together. Their clothes have been ordered long ago, at unlimited cost, and without bounds as to beauty and magnificence, and have been kept in concealment until now, for unto this day are they consecrate.

And so the grand-stands make a brilliant and wonderful spectacle, a delirium of color, a vision of beauty. The champagne flows, everybody is vivacious, excited, happy; everybody bets, and gloves and fortunes change hands right along, all the time. Day after day the races go on, and the fun and the excitement are kept at white heat; and when each day is done, the people dance all night so as to be fresh for the race in the morning. And at the end of the great week the swarms secure lodgings and transportation for next year, then flock away to their remote homes and count their gains and losses, and order next year’s Cup-clothes, and then lie down and sleep two weeks, and get up sorry to reflect that a whole year must be put in somehow or other before they can be wholly happy again.

The Melbourne Cup is the Australasian National Day. It would be difficult to overstate its importance. It overshadows all other holidays and specialized days of whatever sort in that congeries of colonies. Overshadows them? I might almost say it blots them out. Each of them gets attention, but not everybody’s; each of them evokes interest, but not everybody’s; each of them rouses enthusiasm, but not everybody’s; in each case a part of the attention, interest, and enthusiasm is a matter of habit and custom, and another part of it is official and perfunctory. Cup Day, and Cup Day only, commands an attention, an interest, and an enthusiasm which are universal—and spontaneous, not perfunctory. Cup Day is supreme it has no rival. I can call to mind no specialized annual day, in any country, which can be named by that large name—Supreme. I can call to mind no specialized annual day, in any country, whose approach fires the whole land with a conflagration of conversation and preparation and anticipation and jubilation. No day save this one; but this one does it.

As in Twain’s day, the crowds still throng. TV cameras reveal the fabulous clothes and ladies’ hats still purchased for the event. All businesses in Melbourne close for the day, and I have read that everything—work, traffic, conversation—in all of Australia stops for the few minutes of the actual Melbourne Cup race (because while there are races all day, only one is the actual Melbourne Cup).

Fortunately, I got to enjoy this with a friend I’d made while touring elsewhere, along with her friends. So I was able to get swept up into the celebration of the race—though not with the expenditure on wardrobe.


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