Melbourne Cup in Darwin & beyond

Melbourne Cup Day is an excuse to wear the new short cocktail dress, put on those super high heeled shoes and head to the Casino or The Turf Club. Not for me though. I’m in my jeans and walking boots and in the car heading south for 90km towards Adelaide River.

Trish, Ken and I are visiting friends who own a cattle station with an address something like Lot 243, Stuart Highway. The highway runs 1500km to Alice Springs so imagine trying to find a particular lot number? Miraculously we arrived just as the National Anthem blasted out from a small TV which I didn’t even see to start with. I took the NT News which had an 8-page pull-out including a double spread of the form and pictures of the jockeys colours. I chose a jockey in purple with white stars! The race was exciting, at least for the first two minutes. My jockey ran second, gave up and ran last for the rest of the race.

We celebrated with a beer, a must in the bush. Then came the lunch platters. Not the Brahman steaks we expected, but fresh cooked prawns, battered and warm barramundi, cheese, eggs and salads. It was extravagant and delicious. Then Ken and Trish tried the steak. Their medium-rare meat made me cringe but they said it was really tasty, a bit gamey and very tender.

We’d just been treated to some of the best bush hospitality – these guys didn’t know us and here they were treating us like royalty.

Next came a tour of the property. We piled into the station’s 4WD and followed the boundary fences till we found some cattle. The Brahman are crossed with Short Horns, sorry I’m not sure why. Anyway they are pretty with their floppy ears and inquisitive eyes.

A few hours went by and we were determined to visit the Noonamah Tavern on the way back to Darwin. Melbourne Cup Day is their biggest day of the year. For 25 years they have run frog races, with money going to charity (and a very decent $10,000 to the winner). Unfortunately we missed the races but the ABC News tell a good story.

There would have been many hundreds of people crammed into the pub. Some were dressed to the nines in their skimpy frocks and high strappy shoes. Others, like me, were more casual. All were partying and laughing (and drinking) together and there was a terrific atmosphere. The prize giving was a riotous affair with much cheering, slurping and laughing. Someone struck up “Aussie Aussie Aussie Oye Oye Oye” to more clapping and downing of beers.

“Only in the Territory!” people say. So don’t just take it from me. Come to Darwin at this time of the year and get off the beaten track. Meet the locals (and the frogs). You’ll have a ball.



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