“Janette’s fine – she’s just over there, watching the Irish dancing” someone would reply. And there, immersed in a world of Celtic music, from Irish to Scottish; captured by colourful costumes, from the green, front laced dresses of the Irish dancers to the multicoloured tartan kilts of a variety of clan based hues; would sit my younger sister, mesmerized by dancers dancing delicately around two crossed swords on the ground to the careful attention of judges standing nearby.
Later, perhaps hoping to cadge a few more sixpences for the spinning wheel, someone would ask “Where’s Dad?’. If Dad wasn’t at the spinning wheel he’d be at one of two places—the log hut some distance from the tea rooms at which beer drinkers gathered to pass the time (he was rather fond of a beer or two), or standing looking at the ‘odds’ boards of three ‘bookies’ in crumpled tweed suits with large weathered leather ‘kit’ bags containing money hanging around their necks (Dad was rather fond of a bet as well!) At various stages during the afternoon tall, graceful racing horses would appear. Jockeys in silks would mount them and ride past the crowd before entering the field to race around the oval field. Punters would gather around the bookmakers, where they also had the chance to bet on races in Melbourne and elsewhere, with odds boards thoughtfully perused throughout the afternoon by those interested in the ‘sport of kings’.
John, my year older brother, was likely to hanging out with classmates from the little Molyullah one teacher school we attended for two weeks each year, perhaps watching the wood choppers in action. We spent three weeks with our uncle in Molyullah each Easter when Dad took annual leave from the Department of the Army in Melbourne and enjoyed catching up with the students we met there each year. Or he might be with me, near the horse floats, watching the arena as Arthur Hill, on his beautiful palomino pony ‘Goldie’, skilfully wove around the barrel racing posts, aiming the pole at the barrel at the completion of the course before galloping to the finishing line. We loved Goldie, loved the times when Arthur would ride across the paddocks on Goldie to ‘Bertie’s’ farmhouse where my uncle, a sharefarmer for Arthur’s parents, milked a large herd of cows. Arthur had taught us how to ride Goldie bare backed. He was our friend and we barracked for him vociferously!
Nearing two o’clock, everybody would head towards the running track in the centre of the field. The Stawell Gift was just about to be run in the western district, so it must be time for the Molyullah Gift to be run! Runners would appear in white singlets and shorts. Stretching and preening, some already professional runners, others perhaps having their first professional start, they walked to the starting line. Last bets would be placed with the bookmakers. Everything would stop for the Molyullah Gift! ‘Get Set’…. they were off!
For the children, not long after, the races would begin – all sorts of races, from egg and spoon; three legged races; bag races, and more. How I longed to win a prize!
Reflecting back, I find myself wondering, where was Mum? I suspect that Mum was always thereabouts, quietly watchful, unobtrusive but ready for a chat and if necessary a hug. She would call us together to go to the tea rooms, her purse open for us to buy sandwiches, cakes and a drink if we were hungry. I suspect she occasionally bought a ticket at the spinning wheel, looked after our prizes, spent time chatting with Mrs Hill who took the money at a front table in the tea rooms and perhaps helped other mothers making sandwiches and putting together plates of delicious home made cakes and slices behind the servery. Looking back, she was probably also keeping an eye on Dad, hoping he wasn’t drinking or betting too much!
At the end of the day Mum would gather us together before finding my uncle, who would be standing under the gum trees where he’d almost finished his work shepherding cars, horse and pony trailers in and out of the parking areas. He was happy in this role as he found socializing and making small talk embarrassing and difficult. I’m sure he breathed a sigh of relief that ‘it was over for another year’ as we packed into his old jeep or walked across the paddocks to Bertie’s farmhouse.
However for us – the day was full of joy and memories – we could hardly wait for next year’s Molyullah Sports on Easter Monday!
28 October 2019