If he were still alive, he’d be the same age as the Queen, Hugh Hefner and Sir David Attenborough. Ninety years after his birth, Phar Lap still remains Australia’s most beloved racehorse and Melbourne Museum’s most popular exhibit.
It’s time to celebrate the life of this equine icon and the delight he has brought to millions of Melbourne Museum visitors!
Melbourne Museum is planning a week full of activities to celebrate the impact Big Red has had on Australians across the decades. As a symbol of hope in the Depression and the Australian ‘can do’ attitude, Phar Lap has become a symbol of national pride and a beloved Australian icon.
To celebrate, Melbourne Museum jumps out of the starting gates on Monday 3 October 2016, with a visit from the 2016 Emirates Melbourne Cup. Part of the annual Emirates Melbourne Cup Tour, visitors will have the opportunity to hold the Cup and listen to a talk by the Victorian Racing Club’s Keeper of the Cup, Joe McGrath at 11am.
On Tuesday 4 October, a homage to Phar Lap will be made by over 350 people on the Melbourne Museum plaza as his portrait is recreated outside and in grand, Big Red, scale. The racing legend will then be presented with a birthday cake. Flavour? Carrot, of course.
The festivities continue with a Facebook Live Q&A with the Melbourne Museum’s resident Phar Lap expert, Michael Reason, Curator, Leisure and Social Space at Museum Victoria. He will answer questions about Phar Lap’s incredible racing career and his life at the museum.
Throughout the week Melbourne Museum will offer free entry to those in the know with the code word (psst…it’s “Tommy Woodcock”, the name of Phar Lap’s strapper) and visitors will also be encouraged to express their love for Phar Lap by writing him a special birthday love letter.
Born in 1926, as a yearling Phar Lap was considered too big and gangly to be a successful racehorse. However just as the economy went bad, Phar Lap started to show promise and he soon became the champion that Australians needed during the Great Depression.
Between September 1929 and November 1932, Phar Lap ran 51 races and won 37 of them.
Victory in the 1930 Melbourne Cup made him a household name and each win heightened the national sense of awe.
His death in 1932 sent the nation into mourning.
After his death, there was a scramble among several institutions in Australia for his mortal remains.
Phar Lap’s heart went to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, his skeleton to the Te Papa Museum in New Zealand and his hide went to the National Museum of Victoria (now Museum Victoria).
His mount and objects from his life, including his training saddle, shoes and tonic book are currently on display in the Melbourne Gallery at Melbourne Museum.