The matrons wore their fashions long – drooped sleeves and button collars –
For it came around just once a year. The men bemoaned the dollars.
Gowns in lemon, mauve, or red or black, with gloves from the Co-op store,
A lovely grey over cow-yard hands in elegant rapport.
Hair in a range of shades of blue, all permed and curled by Beryl,
And stocking hose, sleek brown or black, with shoes as high as peril.
And each woman wore a dainty treat, to sink a poor man’s heart,
That a thing so strange and flimsy cost the price of high-blown art.
Yes, the smiles of men were hard to find, and needed some persuasion
On that annual most auspicious day, and local big occasion.
For on the busiest day Beryl’d had since the morning of Dysart’s wedding,
Each dazzling dame wore a marvelous hat, thatched with invisible threading.
The milliners of Sydney and from Melbourne in the south
Wore wider smiles than you or I could fit in any mouth.
One, I heard, sent a champagne ‘thanks’, all the way from Paris!
But tongues were set alight that day by a bloke from Perth, named Harris,
Who hired an empty warehouse and for five months worked alone
To stitch the wildest head-attire a milliner’d ever sewn.
This Harris did a dainty job, but the hat was over large
And to get it to the railway it went down the Swan, by barge.
Then overland by special freight to preserve each shapely line
From the red bull-dust and dirty air that that could mangle a hat design.
By prime-mover labeled ‘EXTRA-WIDE’ it was delivered on the day,
Then a small crane placed it on the head of Mrs Gladys Grand-Chalet
Gladys was credentialed well to don the massive hat,
The wife of the club Chief Steward, and bigger than most when she sat!
On manoeuvres through the carnival crowd they’d part like Moses’ sea,
Then fill the space left in her wake, the hostess of cup-day tea.
A delicate job this dowager had, touching hands and kissing air
While constrained in all her movements by the monolith on her hair.
When presenting a prize to Breathing Hard, just prior the main event
Convergence of wind and a drunk ex-jock struck Gladys, and over she went
Onto ground turned into muck and mud much earlier in the day.
Wrecked the best of Beryl, and threw the hat into the fray
As the horses vacated the mounting yard to enter the starters’ stalls.
The cup was next, with Aley-Oop the short, and Slipper too prone to falls.
Now the hat, while rolling down the hill, upset the drinker’s tent,
Then, through the roses without a hitch, re-arranging as it went.
It would have been well if it sailed along not veering left or right –
The crowd would settle with a beer, or gin, to calm down from the fright –
But the wind was fly, and the hat tacked about at the sound of the starter’s gun,
Then the horses were off and racing, and the cup was being run.
Before the furlong post was passed they were jostling for position,
Too Fit was fast but A Bit To Drink was showing poor condition.
Bouillabaisse lost a jockey, spread widely across the rails,
While the favourite, held in check out wide, was champing at their tails.
But, never mind the nags out front, the late starter might embarrass,
The form guide could not tell you, but – it was out of Perth, by Harris
It was almost flying, on the outside fence, too wide to seem a threat,
But the bookies started barracking, it was too late to place a bet!
Around the turn and lying fifth, three hundred left to go,
Lashes jockey flung the whip, but Lashes told him ‘No!’
Then, neck and neck beside the favorite, they’d bolted in the cup,
The crowd could sense an upset for Aley-Oop could not keep up.
It’s history now that the cup that year didn’t go to any runner.
No horse came first. A no-result. They were beaten by a stunner.
It was argued that poor Gladys could have claimed it by default,
But she had left, in disrepair, gone off and ‘done a bolt’.
And the Harris hat was seen no more, it passed the post and flew.
Where it went no one can say, but this tale, I swear, is true
© Frank Prem, 2002 (approx)