The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Greg Sheri­dan

As this is a light­hearted col­umn, I cer­tainly do not in­tend to en­ter the lists on whether the NSW gov­ern­ment was right to ban greyhound rac­ing. I would re­fer you, nonethe­less, to the de­li­cious pas­sages in Tony Blair’s mem­oir con­cern­ing his own blighted ef­forts to ban fox hunt­ing.

He came to think it one of the dumbest de­ci­sions he ever made. For a start, it turned tens of thou­sands of po­lit­i­cally in­ac­tive peo­ple into fierce op­po­nents of his gov­ern­ment, ded­i­cated to his de­feat. It also turned out it was not just up­per-class Tories he was an­noy­ing. Loads of work­ing-class peo­ple, in­volved with inns and sta­bles and horses and coun­try vil­lage en­ter­prises of all kinds, were wrapped up in fox hunts.

Then when he tried to re­treat to an honourable com­pro­mise, his own party ac­tivists went ba­nanas on him. I wouldn’t triv­i­alise an­i­mal cru­elty, but I find it hard to be­lieve you couldn’t pos­si­bly run the dogs hon­ourably.

But what struck me was the lost world of the greyhound races of long ago, and how in­te­gral a part of work­ing-class cul­ture they once were. I have the faintest memory of go­ing to the dogs in Glebe once or twice in early child­hood more than a half-cen­tury ago. And am I wrong to re­call that in the very dis­tant past grey­hounds oc­ca­sion­ally ran ex­hi­bi­tion races, so to speak, in the old Royal Agri­cul­tural So­ci­ety Easter Show?

The thought of the dogs, the races, gam­bling, re­minds me just how vastly dif­fer­ent are the worlds of peo­ple who make de­ci­sions like abol­ish­ing greyhound rac­ing and the worlds of the peo­ple who ac­tu­ally go to the races. Horserac­ing has its aris­to­cratic side and gets to all classes but the dogs were a purely work­ing-class pre­oc­cu­pa­tion. The dapto dogs was a term to con­jure with in my child­hood.

I re­mem­ber un­cles who worked at the rail­ways com­ing home with a tabloid news­pa­per folded to the race guide and stored in the back pocket of their shorts — an Aus­tralian work­ing­class uni­form briefly given an air­ing on tele­vi­sion in the early Paul Ho­gan shows.

The old Aus­tralian An­glo-Celtic work­ing­class life has gone, just as surely a small cul­ture chased into obliv­ion as the old class of cul­tured gra­ziers. A hand­ful of gra­ziers sur­vive, as per­haps a hand­ful of old-style work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties do, but the norms and the iden­tity have changed to­tally.

And the lan­guage. I grew up with a rich brew of ex­pres­sions to hand which have ei­ther died now or are no longer al­lowed to be used. I wrote the other day that blind Freddy could see what was go­ing on and the sube­d­i­tors, God bless them, wouldn’t let it find its way into print. Fair enough, if it’s now con­sid­ered of­fen­sive. The same I sus­pect is true of say­ing that the gov­ern­ment’s sub­marines pol­icy was all over the shop like a mad woman’s break­fast.

Let me has­ten to say I am not us­ing these ex­pres­sions, merely cit­ing them as his­tor­i­cal arte­facts. Can we say, now, that some­thing is a com­plete bug­ger’s mud­dle?

Even the old say­ings which are not now banned as of­fen­sive to good taste and com­mon de­cency have lost their salience. I loved the for- mu­la­tion of two politi­cians that there was not a cig­a­rette pa­per’s dif­fer­ence be­tween them. But that comes from the days when a lot of peo­ple smoked and many of them rolled their own cig­a­rettes.

I did this my­self for a short time in late ado­les­cence, but the cig­a­rettes I rolled were al­ways grossly obese in the mid­dle and ema­ci­ated at ei­ther end, and though I liked the feel of to­bacco on my tongue, these were not sat­is­fy­ing smokes.

Partly as a re­sult I abruptly switched, as one does in youth, from the swag­ger­ing, tough­handed, work­ing-class lout with a fag in one cor­ner of his mouth, to be­ing a young fo­gey with a fash­ion­able pol­ished wood pipe. From this de­vice I blew bil­low­ing clouds of su­perbly aro­matic smoke. I loved that flavour, but I could never get the damn thing to stay alight.

Blimey Char­lie, as I was in­clined to say, or, as my fa­ther might have put it, for the love of Mike, smok­ing was a dodgy busi­ness. And I never backed a win­ner at the track ei­ther.

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