On paper, the Melbourne Cup is a 3200 metre race and one of most prestigious horse racing events in Australia. Often coined “the race that stops a nation” to my Gran and Pop it was so much more. Pop called Melbourne Cup Day a day of Holy Obligation. Because Pop was Anglican and Gran a committed Irish Catholic, I would say there was much banter and teasing between the two, especially for occasions such as the Melbourne Cup. In the Catholic traditions DHOs were extra days deemed important enough to attend Mass, even if it wasn’t Sunday.

Pop’s story and love for the races, carries with it a legend that he bought an engagement ring after winning a daily double and proposed to Gran. This was the 1920s, a time when to marry outside your lane was frowned upon. Further to that, Pop was also a Victorian and Gran was very attached to Sydney. Gran put saying yes on hold for six years and eventually (after a nudge from her Irish father) Gran agreed. I’m proud to say, my great grandfather and my grandparents were progressive independent thinkers, unconstrained by popular opinion. They were people lovers who enjoyed life, and these were traits that filtered through the generations.

As the Melbourne Cup rolled around each year, the tradition continued to spend the day at the races with Gran’s brother Jack who would travel down from Sydney. 1941 was no different. You see, my Grandparents had many connections and by that stage they were living in East Malvern, with Pop a bank manager to many of the Caufield training fraternity. This year Gran and Jack’s  Sydney friend Jack Scully had a runner in the big race. Jack was a humble trainer with a handful of steeds and had been gifted a horse Old Rowley for an unpaid debt. Old Rowley was a stayer, so Jack brought him down for the Cup. At 100 to 1 and from interstate he was given no chance. Jack gave Gran and Pop the word that he was in form and had been training the track off. They loaded up (a fiver each way) and Old Rowley duly saluted. Added, a love of racing and the hope of a long shot is another family trait.

The excitement and celebrations lasted days, weeks and months. Gran and her daughters were back in Sydney in January 1942 and Jack brought the Cup around for afternoon tea. Mum and her cousins drank ginger beer from the Melbourne Cup, of all things. As a family this story has been retold on scores of occasions.

What does this have to do with Excellent Farming?

I too find myself telling this story time and time again as I feel it captures the essence of my mother’s family, a broad church, a love of people and the joy of celebration. Every family has their own story, their own culture. These stories and traditions are woven into the fabric of how we think, what we believe to be true, how we work and how we play.

In family business, especially family farms, new members who join the family through relationships bring their own sets of traditions and beliefs, their own way of thinking. By sharing stories, we gain insight and understanding and build better working relationships, better business relationships and better family relationships.

It makes succession planning much easier. So, if there are newcomers to your family and potentially newcomers to your business, consider trading assuming and concluding for asking and listening. Swap judgement for kindness and curiosity. The outcomes might be pleasantly surprising.

Happy Cup Week.