CAN you imagine the reaction from some of the older conservative brigade at the Australian Jockey Club – or throughout the country for that matter – when news filters through of a proposal for a ‘Gay Race Day’ at Randwick?

My mail is strong that behind-the-scenes planning is well advanced and that the meeting could proceed as part of the new format for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras early next year.

You might remember in one of my earlier columns I spoke of two long-time gay friends of mine, Lyle and Mal, operators of the Back Door Theatre Restaurant in the country town where I started my career in newspapers.

Lyle, a keen punter, was on the ‘blower’ a few days back excitedly telling me of the news that was filtering through to the gay community. His informant suggested the proposal was still a bit of a dilemma for the club directors with the more conservative ones concerned how some of the older traditionalists among the membership might react.

But Lyle says his contacts are convinced it will get the green light and was quick to add that he, Mal and a group of friends were already planning a Mardi Gras holiday and would be taking in the races.

One wonders how anyone – in this day and age – could object to officialdom doing anything to attract crowds to the races, especially an audience certain to ensure plenty of publicity and with disposable dollars to spend.

What are those opposed to it worried about?

Do they think that ‘gay’ race-goers will participate in three laps of leap frog around the saddling enclosure before each race?

Do they think the outside broadcast crew from Sky Channel will be playing Ring-a-ring-a-Rosy around the trackside cameras?

Or do they think that big Richie Callander from TVN will turn up in a cowboy outfit, mimicking a member of the Village People?

The AJC – and any other major race club around the country – should bite the bullet and encourage members of the gay and lesbian community to dress up for the day in their exotic and colorful costumes.

Can’t you picture a couple of hundred ‘Dykes on Bykes’ riding down the Randwick straight with the public address systems blaring to hits made famous by the Village People and Pet Shop Boys like ‘Y.M.C.A.’ and ‘Go West?’

A ‘gay race day’ has the potential to be a block-buster. What’s the difference between that and using a lap-dancing club as a major sponsor like happened at a Queensland racetrack a few years back when many of the performers packed into the directors’ lounge and provided an impromptu performance?

Homosexuality might not everybody’s cup of tea but it’s about freedom of choice and people who dare – or want to be different. Racing officialdom should know all about being different.

With all due respect the industry has had plenty of fruit-loops in high profile positions over the years that make members of the gay community look like choir boys.

Let me mention one racing region – which shall remain nameless – where I have witnessed first-hand the worst behavior of some of those who have found their way to the top of the racing tree.

There was once a Racing Minister so drunk they couldn’t get him off the floor of the directors’ lounge at a prominent racetrack. Eventually a few club heavies and his driver helped carry the big bloke to his Government vehicle. They ferried him back to his Parliamentary suite where he was resurrected in good enough condition to officially launch the annual Pacing Carnival that night.

All went well until he couldn’t find the ‘little boys’ room’ and wound up relieving himself into what he thought was a rubbish bin in a corridor behind the committee room. Unfortunately the rubbish bin was full of entry forms from a race book competition and his call of nature had occurred in full view of a group of Rothman’s girls who squealed in disbelief when they caught the ‘big fella’ off guard.

Then, in more recent times, we had the high profile appointee to a prominent racing body who ordered an inquiry be launched after plonking his Italian-made shoes in a pool of urine in the toilet block at racing headquarters.

The problem occurred because the men’s toilet in the new facility had been constructed without a urinal. The chief executive was a keen jogger and decided because of limited space that it was more important to have a shower included than a urinal – that way he could go for a run and clean up before starting work.

This meant male members of the staff had to point their manhood in the direction of a bowl rather than a urinal. Someone had apparently miscued before this pratt visited the same cubical and doused his Italian-mades in you-know-what.

He stormed out of the toilet and angrily ordered an immediate investigation with the female in charge circulating an e-mail to all male members of the staff which read:

“I am about to conduct an audit to find out who cannot shoot straight in the male toilet. This has to stop.” There was much hilarity when news filtered through about the Italian shoes – needless to say another inquiry was opened when the e-mail was ‘leaked’ to the local media.

In his fledgling year this same official had been invited by a country club as a special guest on Cup day. He had never been to the provinces before and rather than battle the traffic ordered a limo for himself and his wife – no doubt paid for by the industry.

The early crowd that day thought the Governor must have been arriving as the limo drove slowly down the main straight and came to a standstill at the winning post but then out jumped this tosser and his missus.

The same stick-brain was a regular at his local track where every race day he and the wife would arrive for the meeting and claim the same table in a prime location overlooking the action from the members’ lounge. They were a little late one afternoon and someone had claimed ‘their’ table.

Despite the fact there were no reservations the chief executive of the club was ordered to have the ‘squatters’ removed – an action that became the duty of some poor underling.

Within no time the ‘royal couple’ had taken up residence and were being served champagne by a club waiter – while the other poor peasants in the members’ lounge were forced to do their best when it came to ordering a drink.

We have witnesses to the above incidents but have saved the best ‘story’ of one legendary official for last in the hope that it has lost nothing in the telling. But neighbors of racing’s answer to Basil Fawlty swear it is true.

They claim that before he jumps into his convertible to head to racing headquarters to decide on the future direction that the industry should take this high profile chap straps Neddy – his stuffed horse – into the passenger seat and drives off down the road with the music of ‘Animal Crackers in My Soup’ churning out of his car’s CD player.

With blokes like this running the industry, even if they are removed from the real big smoke, we should be privileged to have even the most outrageous Mardi Gras visitors rub shoulders with racing’s finest.

To support their cause I have researched a few facts on the Sydney Mardi Gras to back the ‘yes’ argument for a ‘gay race day.’ My good mates, Lyle and Mal, would be truly proud.

It began three decades ago as an act of defiance for gay equality and provoked a violent riot in the late seventies but has evolved into a wonderful celebration of Australia’s colorful gay and lesbian culture. Cripes they don’t even get riots at racetracks these days when hot favorites run like mules.

The promoters argue that the Mardi Gras has a transformational energy that works its magic on young and old, straight or gay. First-time visitors, repeat visitors, parade participants, supporters and the simply curious are inevitably caught up in the whirlwind of feathers and glitter, parody and satire, pride and politics that makes the parade and festival such a unique event.

For some, this transformation occurs as the Mardi Gras parade rolls past. The magical moments are many, as gay and lesbian police officers march alongside the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence; as queer lifesavers from Australia’s iconic Bondi Beach mix it with gay and lesbian members of the Jewish and Arab communities; as the raunchy Dykes on Bykes rev up the crowd ahead of the ever-popular Asian marching boys and the somewhat more sedate group of parents and friends of gays and lesbians that follow.

They say the street parade showcases a richly diverse community, one not often seen amid the stereotypes of drag queens and disco bunnies which populate the mainstream media.

Mardi Gras transforms understanding of difference because it breaks down barriers between ‘us’ and ‘them’ by showcasing a community whose membership is unexpectedly diverse but whose interests are surprisingly universal. Let’s face it, over time Randwick has been over-run by crooks and cheats, Christians and Catholics and was even the scene of the recent Papal Mass.

One could argue that it’s refreshing to see there are more new-age tolerant people now running racing who recognize what a powerful and influential market the gay and lesbian community presents.

We now have Gay and Lesbian Tourism Australia representing Bed and Breakfast outlets, rural hideaways and luxury resorts around the country. There are gay cruises, gay resorts and many forms of gay travel. Why should racing miss the boat?

If we’ve got politicians in this country who sleep with ‘stuffed’ Teddy Bears; high profile racing officials who ride to the track with Neddy the Horse strapped into the passenger seat while their car CD plays ‘Animal Crackers in My Soup’; then why not encourage the gay community to rub shoulders with racing’s finest?


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