All Saints Day from the Nicholson Street TAB

TAB sign

TAB sign

It’s no coincidence that the best card in Australian racing fell on All Saints day. The canonized associates of the lord presided over fields of the highest order. More than 90,000 people graced Flemington’s lawns, marquees and carparks but for me it was the no-nonsense surrounds of the Nicholson Street TAB. For the regular Carlton North crew (and their peers that frequent countless other TABs across this great land) Saturday racing is a ritual equal to any Christian observance.

I know the Nicholson Street TAB well. It was the first agency I worked in, I did my Sellers ticket there. Dad is a horse breaker and farrier so I’d been around the gee-gees all my life but it wasn’t until that point that I discovered the complexity and intrigue of parimutuel betting. It’s been a passion ever since, and that I’ve ended up living less than five minutes walk from the place is both a blessing and a curse.

Not much has changed in the 15 years since I worked there. It’s not the classiest joint from which to experience the sport of kings. Men in dapper suits and women in heels and cocktail dresses are a world away. The place smells of sweat and stale cigarette smoke. There’s hardy a soul aged under sixty; well dressed gentlemen with their slacks, shirts and sensible shoes and those in two strip tracksuit pants and runners. The TAB might be bleeding market share to the newer, sexier sports betting agencies but there’s still a place for it. TABs have a rhythm of their own: punters moving from board to board, the rush and hustle at the windows and the quality of the banter. There’s also the fact that form reads better when pinned to a corkboard.

It was a good day of racing; neck and neck finishes with a bit of value to be found. The Carlton locals seemed to start well, half the room called Kermadec home and while heads were starched when Thunder Lady saluted in the Wakefield, Hucklebuck provided atonement.

At one point a woman walked in with her fella – necks craned and pacemakers stalled but the excitement quickly abated. Eyes returned to the form or the screens.

A few in the crowd applauded Joao Moreira’s double, more for the fact that he steered Signoff into a Cup berth. Some even celebrated with focaccia from Milato Café across the road. They returned with a couple of sneaky Fat Yak stubbies in time to see Happy Trails get the nod.

The highlight of the day came when Preferment nosed out Bondeiger. The bloke next to me looked to his mate and said, “Good win. Oliver?”

His mate nodded, “Waller too.”

“Pricks,” said the first bloke. They shook their heads knowingly and chuckled.

I had to smile too, two Group 1s for Ollie and three winners for Waller, it’s a fair day at the office.

The Myer Classic saw Bonaria add some much needed value to the multiples and as the 96 tram continued to rattle back and forth between East Brunswick and St Kilda those still alive in the Quaddie discussed the chances of Deep Fields. $1.60 is pretty skinny but he still proved to be a popular winner.

For me and most others, that saw another Saturday done. For the blokes still with a taste for it there were a couple left at Ascot then the dogs at The Meadows. The Nicholson Street TAB might not have the gravitas of Flemington but it’s still provides a good day of racing.

This article was originally published in the Footy Almanac on 3 November 2014.

Coffee in Carlton North

Mary Street, Carlton North

The boulangerie and patisserie on Nicholson Street is five minutes walk from our apartment at the leafy end of Rathdowne. The bike path that was once a train line isn’t far. A hip new café up there has good coffee and food but it’s busy. I prefer to walk the laneway. Skip the path, swing through the trees, I once read.

The walk takes me along a cobbled bluestone street cutting between Lygon and Nicholson. More lane than street, it is a backstage glimpse of inner city life. Thunderboxes lining the back fences have been converted into sheds and an old stable is now a loft apartment but they are a reminder of another time, a different city.

Rathdowne is busy in the morning. Office workers in flash cars looking to shortcut through the traffic sit bumper to bumper anyway. Fixed wheeled bikes zip along the inside lane carrying guys and gals with asymmetrical haircuts and the cuffs of their jeans folded up.

A catering company spans the entire laneway, a red brick warehouse on one side and the old barn opposite. Day and night people scurry from building to building loading food in and out of a white van.

A sixty-foot gum tree springs out of the cobbled ground between Ames and Canning. Neat cottages and terraces nestle beneath its leafy branches. It is cooler under there and the autumn sun filters down through a sea of green.

I think of the bush, then look down Canning Street and see a city full of possibilities. A wide boulevard dotted with palms and double storey terraces leads toward a city skyline reaching up to put its fingerprint on the big sky.

The lane gets its punk on at Station Street. Black, silver, reds and greens. Tags and pop references creeping across the walls and around windows guarded by metal bars. Tiny courtyards overflow with ashtrays, herbs and hard rubbish chairs. Late starters are still rising in the flats above the shops.

Step out on Nicholson Street and the Railway Hotel is on the left and the Empress on the right. They deal in pots, cheap grub and live music. Maria’s Deli is down the road a ways selling meats of all sorts as well as dips and cheese. There is a butcher, two souvlaki joints, a TAB, a bookshop and a green grocer. I could jump the 96 to St Kilda beach or East Brunswick but the coffee is there at the bakery on the corner. It costs $3.20. The service is shit but it is a strong brew. Life back in Melbourne is good.