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Cup Week: The Grass Roots Protest of Farshans on the Field

Newmarket Reserve, Flemington, Melbourne Cup Day, Tuesday 8th November

With an entire bright-pink birdcage around her head, and needing a spotter to move, Tenielle Clerke was impossible to miss on Melbourne Cup Day. If you were in the park outside the racegrounds that is. That’s where the annual Cup day Protest and Picnic was being held, with organisations Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, a number of vegan and cruelty free business such as Mr Niceguys vegan bakery, and a small cohort of police in attendance.

A proud animal rights activist, Clerke had a message for those participating at the Spring Racing Carnival’s main event only a stone’s throw away; an optimistic premise that some of the carnival spirit, not least of which being the ridiculous dress-ups of the ‘Fashions on the Field’, are worth keeping while the senseless horsey torture porn is not. Despite the softly softly approach, not everyone in the neighbourhood was so keen.

Judgesx and host Tenielle Clerke
Judges and host Tenielle Clerke. Photo by Mike Pickard

Police at the event confirmed that on the morning of Tuesday’s event, an angry counter-protestor – allegedly a stables’ worker – had attempted a half-arsed attack on a member of the event staff as they were setting up their parodic event. The assailant had seen the ‘Nup to the Cup’ banners going up in Newmarket Reserve – a park just outside the main gates of Flemington Racecourse – and from a nearby cafe had run over to the Reserve with a pair of scissors, first proceeding to try to cut down one of the vinyl protest banners. On being approached by an organiser, the person in question had allegedly turned the scissors on the organiser. Fortunately, police were already on the scene and quickly aprehended the would-be assailant before a stab could connect with the horrified target.

The Spring Racing Carnival’s official ‘Fashions on the Field’ event is the cultural attachment to the popular pony death race,  touted as “Australia’s largest and most prestigious outdoor fashion event”. Of course, I’ve no idea who the hell would care to testify otherwise. Is someone else, somewhere in the country running a specifically outdoor fashion event that we haven’t heard of who’s going to challenge that?

A rudimentary Google tells me, no, there’s not. There’s no parade of new togs and the latest spectacles at the Pier-to-Pub swim, there’s no fierce competition for Best Cobblery attached to the Dawn Service. But the event – tied to the Spring Racing Carnival as it is, is one of national importance, and you can read all about it in glorious, boring detail here or don’t leave Daily Review and read Helen Razer rip it apart here.

Rules were simple for competitors on the day: immediate disqualification for use of fabrics made from animals or items newly purchased.

Tenielle Clerke, aka event organiser Tenfingerz, has been running the counter-cultural event ‘Farshans on the Field’ for three years. The first year ran at outdoor art site, Testing Grounds behind Arts Centre Melbourne, but last year moved to the more conspicuous location beside the home of the big race; joining forces with the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses and its ‘Nup to the Cup’ picnic.

People spend a great deal of time and effort in preparation for the official ‘Spring Racing Fashions on the Field’. Clerke says she spent less than an afternoon creating her headpiece for ‘Farshans on the Field’, mostly waiting for the paint to dry. Her look was inspired by the notoriously dull, excessive, and elite ‘Birdcage’ – a promotional pop-up tent filled with B-list celebrities, politicians, and criminals all necking champagne and doing their best to pretend they’re not either paid to be there or in fact at a networking event.

Rules were simple for competitors on the day: immediate disqualification for use of fabrics made from animals or items newly purchased. Hundreds turned out for a day of protest, vegan food and drink, avoiding being stabbed by counter protestors , and a game of dress -ups in a mileu of hilarious, beautiful, and satirical dresses, suits, costumes, and fascinators.

Neel Morley xas an Astronaut and two competirors
Judge Neel Morley as an Astronaut with two competitors. Photo by Mike Pickard

The events were broken down into events such as ‘Dressage in Dresses’ – where competitors had to run around a makeshift track while wearing a dress; ‘The Melbourne Cup’ – a lap around the track, wearing only black, while scowling; and the feature of the day ‘The Human Race’, with a $500 prize. Competitors were judged on (a) their fashion (b) how fast they finished the race and (c) how stylishly they moved down the racetrack. The events were judged by Rose Chong Costumiers’ Hannah Cuthbertson, model/performer Shamita Sivabalan and celebrity hairdresser Neel Morley.

The protest does not shy away from graphic discussions of the violence of horse racing and despite its immediate proximity to the Cup site, both the presence of police and a well-cultivated, fun, family atmosphere (devoid of the binge drinking culture only a few hundred yards away) meant the event was a peaceful one.

Clerke told me they’d attempted to book Daryl Braithwaite, but he declined their offer and “It turns out he didn’t even write that Horses song, so good riddance”. That, and that he was to perform at Oaks Day. Instead, the stage featured drag performers Kindred Surpise and Jimay Falcon, a Jet Phoenix DJ set, and the slow parade of cars creeping past trying to work out what the hell was going on.

Despite the overcast sky, the winner on the day was Sebastian Berto, a charming and softly spoken entrant who came dressed as ‘The Weather’, in a costume made of what appeared to be discarded blue builders’ cladding and yoga mats. Blue skies indeed.

DISCLAIMER: This reporter called three of the ‘races’ at the Farshans on the Field protest event; wore a fascinator made of an old head band, two zip ties, and a CCTV camera; and was paid handsomely in compliments for the pleasure.

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4 responses to “Cup Week: The Grass Roots Protest of Farshans on the Field

  1. there are always going to be the permanent eleven year-olds with their ‘protests’ about ‘animals’, ( yes I still play with ‘My Pony’ he/she has the loveliest mane!)but the dickheads who thought their ‘direct action’ stunt with the car on the railway line I would love to see thrown in the hoosegow . . .what jerks

    1. While we’re ‘governed’ by a bunch of cashed-up bogans who think it’s OK to torture refugees in order to make an example of them (while simultaneously ramping up immigration to reduce the cost of labour) and celebrate with copious booze, an industry that tortures animals and cultivates and preys on addicts (gambling), of course people of good conscience will resort to drastic means to make their opposition known. If there’s a campaign to fund the legal costs to the woman charged for her brave stunt, I will be contributing to it.

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