Who is Phar Lap to you? A lovely, big red critter you like to visit at the Melbourne Museum? The representation of a generation’s hopes, dreams and hardships? Or the one gift requested but never delivered on Christmas morning?
To Michael Reason, Phar Lap’s ‘spokesperson and curatorial strapper’ at the Melbourne Museum, Phar Lap is all of these and much, much more. As he says, ‘Phar Lap’s so in demand that he practically needs a full time PA: me!’
Given that it’s Cup Week and the Melbourne Museum’s 10th birthday, we thought Michael Reason’s Phar Lap duties required further investigation.
Do you ever give Phar Lap a little pat when no one is looking?
As much as I’d love to do this, he is sealed inside his display case, to protect him from insects, dust and other dreaded pests. I can `poke’ him on Facebook – but I’d have to take a number – Phar Lap now has 5,000 friends and 3,500 fans.
Tommy Woodcock called Phar Lap ‘Bobby’. What do you call him?
`Sir’, if it’s a formal occasion, or `Big Red’ or `The Champ’ when we’re away from the public gaze.
What’s the most common question you hear about Phar Lap? And what is the answer?
At the moment, as we’re hosting his skeleton on loan from Te Papa Museum in New Zealand, it’s `Why aren’t his bones still inside him?’ The taxidermists constructed a stronger artificial (skeleton), forged from steel, that will last for centuries to come.
What do you wish people would ask?
I think I’ve been asked every conceivable question about the life and times of Phar Lap, but it would be nice to be asked to one of those infamous marquees at the Melbourne Cup. I’m sure it would happen if Phar Lap was my `plus one’.
If Phar Lap raced in this year’s Melbourne Cup, what do you think his chances would have been?
Phar Lap’s training and preparations were completely different to today’s champions but, if everything else was equal, I still think he would still leave them all in his tracks.
He certainly had the `X factor’ rarely seen in horses. In my opinion, the only horse that may have come close to giving him a run for his money would be Makybe Diva.
What moment in Phar Lap’s life best captures why he is so loved and remembered today?
His triumph in the 1930 Melbourne Cup would be an obvious one, but the one for me was the public sending hundreds of sympathy letters – many now in the Museum’s collection – to Phar Lap’s owners after he died.
To many people Phar Lap was a beloved member of their extended family, a feeling which seems to have survived today.
(Indeed, we noted that the glass surrounding Phar Lap was much grimier at his face end. It seems quite a few people – us included – would give Big Red a bit of a tickle behind the ears if they had half a chance.)
We should also add that Michael Reason’s official job title is actually History and Technology Curator at the Melbourne Museum. Phar Lap’s curatorial strapper has a nice ring to it though, don’t you think?