Horseplay Is Serious Business


Is there anything more Australian than a horse? Ever since the First Fleet arrived on horseback, horses have been an integral part of Australian life. Every Australian child knows the joy of summer days frolicking in the horse paddock, days at the horse beach swimming with your horse, gathering around the horse barbecue on weekends, and running home from horse school to mum, who would have a nice cold glass of horse milk for you. Our country has had a long love affair with horses – in many cases literally – and the equestrian arts are very much at the heart of who we are as, for want of a better word, "people".

The only thing more Australian than horses, in fact, is betting, which was introduced to this country by Governor William Bligh, owner of Sydney’s first Cash Converters. Ever since then, Australians have loved nothing more than to have a bit of a “flutter”, to go on the “punt”, and to lose their “houses” and "families".

Racing brings together our twin obsessions of horses and gambling in an industry so Australian, it might as well be Ned Kelly wiping Vegemite off his chin with a wombat. So it’s no surprise that the nation has now been gripped by a horsey-betting story that in the annals of history, definitely ranks as a series of occurrences.

The great thing about the Waterhouse-Singo-More Joyous-Joey Johns-another Waterhouse-that other guy-someone else saga is the larger than life characters involved. The glamorous trainer who dresses stupidly and talks funny! The heavy-drinking amoral millionaire! The heavy-drinking footballer! The guy everyone wants to punch! It’s just like a big Hollywood movie! A really long one! That very few people watch!

And of course there’s the intrigue: who said what to whom? Who lied? Is somebody corrupt? Will Gai Waterhouse and Andrew Johns ever “get together”? Mysteries abound, not least that of exactly what was wrong with the horse in the first place. Newspaper reports indicate that it had “heat in the neck”, but so far all enquiries have failed to uncover the truth about what that is. Is it like sunburn? Maybe the horse had menopause? Who knows? The world of racing is a strange and arcane one, and depends for much of its mystique on the fact that nobody is interested enough to learn anything about it.

And that is perhaps the most fascinating thing about the whole affair: the fact that so much mud is being slung, so many reputations tarnished, and so much money bandied about, on account of an activity which according to all known scientific tests, is extremely boring.

Why are they doing this? Why does Gai Waterhouse, a woman who in spite of her appearance is reputedly in adequate mental health, get up every morning in the middle of the night to stand around timing horses and ordering hay? Did she lose a bet? Was she cursed by a gypsy? Is she trying to pay a ransom to ruthless kidnappers? It’s inexplicable behaviour.

And then there’s John Singleton, who apparently actually owns horses. Yeah, horses: plural. It’s not like he owns one horse, just to get around. He actually owns numerous horses, and I’ve heard he doesn’t ride any of them, or even get them to pull a buggy. He bought them just so they could run around like idiots. My sources tell me he pays thousands, even millions of dollars for these horses! Even though there are clearly much better ways to spend large amounts of money, like personal helicopters, private parties at the Hog’s Breath Café, or VIP status at high-class brothels. If John Singleton has passed up any or all of these just so he can buy some horses, he may require an intervention.

Now Tom Waterhouse I sort of understand. He was obviously brought up in a toxic, heavily pro-crazy-horse-shenanigans environment, and it turned him into the twisted beast we see today. It just goes to show how important upbringing is. It’s easy to just write young Tom off as a moral vacuum, as an empty shell of a man who can find satisfaction in nothing except amassing more wealth at the expense of others. It’s all too easy to believe that Tom Waterhouse is simply evidence of God’s decision to create evil so as to better illuminate humanity’s nobler nature, or that he is a creature who long ago abandoned any attempt to live in the world as a regular human being, and instead accepted some kind of Satanic bargain in which he would gain enormous riches, but forfeit any ability to make friends or not get spat on by strangers.

But this would be unfair. Tom didn’t make himself a monster. He was made into one by his bizarre childhood, being nurtured and cared for by a mother who kept running out in the middle of the night with a stopwatch, and a father who wouldn’t stop painting livestock. It’s no wonder he became the vessel for all the world’s sins. Just remember that next time you see him signing autographs for children and find yourself unable to avoid vomiting in your partner’s face. He is more to be pitied than censured.

The question is, when you’re dealing with a group of people so thoroughly steeped in the horse industry, can you expect any rationality to intrude at all? One of the people involved is a jockey, whose life has revolved around sitting on horses and sometimes hitting them with a stick while wearing midget parachutes. What that does to a man’s brain doesn’t bear thinking about.

Of course Andrew Johns wasn’t brought up as a horse person, but he was brought up as Matthew Johns’s brother, and so by all rights it’s a miracle he knows how to catch a bus by himself, let alone how to testify before a racing tribunal.

Now some people might say that what the whole affair demonstrates is the shady nature of the industry, the insidious corruption at the heart of the gambling world, and the moral bankruptcy which lies in wait for us all if we do not take steps to restrain the betting monster that grows ever more powerful and every day destroys lives and spreads misery and deprivation wherever it reaches its oily grasping tentacles. But let’s put our moral panic on the backburner for just a moment, and think here of the real victims: people who spend all their time with horses.

What I’m saying is, this whole More Joyous brouhaha, as dull and tedious and irritating and full of alcoholics with enormous teeth as it is, gives us a society a great opportunity. An opportunity to realise that there are those among us who need our help. The racing community has been neglected for too long by the more sensible and interesting of our citizens, and it’s time to reach out a helping hand to them, to help them cope with and possibly even overcome their destructive addiction to hanging around with horses and forcing them to run.

So when they all show up for the hearing, I think it’s important that we seize the day and stage an intervention. The trainer, the owner, the jockey, the whole bunch. Let them know that they can lead rich, fulfilling lives without horses. They don’t have to go on being pathetic laughingstocks because of their equine perversions. We can offer them support and practical help: barista training, TAFE courses and so on. Maybe Eddie Hayson could offer Gai and Tommy and Singo jobs in his brothels to help them get back on their feet during the long, painful rehabilitation process. Anything must be on the table when it comes to freeing our fellow Australians from the icy grip of smelly horses.

The important thing is that we take advantage of this chance to help people struck by the crippling disease known as horse racing. As we know, the Chinese word for “crisis” is the same as the Chinese word for “bookie”; can’t we learn a lesson from that?

These people are clearly suffering: just look at them. If we, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, can’t help our most vulnerable colourful racing identities, maybe it’s time to ask ourselves: just what are we doing here in this stupid country?

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.