It’s the race that stops the nation in a flutter of fashion, form guides, foreign raiders and famous faces but, behind closed doors, the Melbourne Cup is one of the darkest days of the year, writes Director Dale West.


Horses aside, there is one sure thing tomorrow – domestic violence will soar.

Alcohol and gambling coupled with the use of power, coercion and control over another create a perfect storm for abuse on the first Tuesday in November, most often by a male perpetrator.

The result can be sickening.

Research shows emergency department admissions, police recorded assaults and family incidents are elevated on Cup day.

In response, South Australian support services are preparing for a spike in demand for outreach, emergency accommodation and crisis help, as the impact of race day celebrations hits home.

The problem is not the Melbourne Cup itself – we should be able to enjoy the Spring Carnival without hurting our partner and kids. Rather, it is the cumulative effect of noxious gender attitudes, alcohol and gambling.

For a big problem, the link between gambling and violence remains largely unknown.

In the past decade, studies have found family members of a problem gambler are likely to experience violence and that this can impact the broader family: parents, parents-in-law, children, siblings.

In acts of desperation, family members may turn to violence themselves – sometimes against their partner, and other times, against children – to try and change the situation.

Centacare is currently working with Government and other non-Government organisations to develop practice frameworks for problem gambling and domestic violence.

While we recognise that these two problems are not always interrelated, many households receive support for both. However, service providers may not always be aware of one other or cross-refer clients.

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) recently announced it would fund new research into the impact of gambling on domestic violence.

The study is one of three ANROWS projects to address key gaps in current evidence on the experience of domestic abuse, and the prevention and response to violence against women.

Key research questions include how problem gambling might contribute to domestic violence towards women – when it is linked to his gambling or her own habit – and the use of economic abuse to sustain the perpetrator’s gambling.

Hundreds of millions will be bet on the Melbourne Cup as once-a-year punters join regular gamblers for their annual wager on the iconic event.

Who wins, who loses and how that affects individuals and the choices they make will mean many families are fearful of what tomorrow may bring.

Living under the threat of violence day-in and day-out is debilitating.

As the euphoria of the world’s richest two-mile race dies down, spare a thought for those who will lose more than money – their lives are threatened regardless of who’s first past the post.

Dale West is Director of Centacare Catholic Family Services.