Do you remember where you were when Michelle Payne won the Melbourne Cup in 2015?
I remember it clearly. I was at the lovely French restaurant Lutece in Bardon celebrating the day with friends. I’d just arrived home from another great sporting event ‘The Rugby World Cup’ in London. I remember hoping that I’d still fit into my green lace dress (Thankfully I did), after weeks of celebrations as Australia progressed up the ladder, heartbreakingly coming second again to our mates across the ditch. I’d been travelling to Paris quite a bit in those years, so my money for the Cup was on ‘A Trip To Paris‘. I’m glad now that I didn’t win. I remember our surprise when we realised that it was a girl, an Australian girl, who’d actually won the Cup. It seemed like she’d come out of nowhere. Little did we know the years of hard yakka that had preceded this astonishing day.
Melbourne Cup Day is special in my house. My Dad was a mad keen punter and it was his very favourite day of the year. Our tradition on Cup Day was to visit or call Grandad for his tips. He was always right! It’s been over 10 years since he’s been gone so our Cup wins have been few and far between. I like to think he would have thought Michelle Payne was a bottler for winning the Cup. He was the father of three girls, so he knew that girls could do anything when they set their mind to it.
I’ve seen Ride Like A Girl twice now thanks to SheSociety’s friends at Think Tank Communications. The first time I missed a lot as I was blubbering too hard. It was just after Father’s Day and Sam Neill’s portrayal of Paddy Payne reminded me so much of my own father. The whole story is so heart warming and will bring tears to even the toughest man’s eyes.
Who knew Michelle had been the youngest of 10 children? Rachel Griffith’s called her a Disney Princess, “Think about it! She lost her Mum at six months old. She was five years old when she said she wanted to win the Cup. She had to fight back after numerous injuries and use her tenacity and determination to prove herself, before finally receiving her fairytale ending.”
Director, Rachel Griffiths has had a stellar acting career: from her breakout role as Muriel’s bestie in Muriel’s Wedding to becoming one of my favourite characters on TV’s Brothers and Sisters. She was beloved by all in My Best Friend’s Wedding and as masseuse Brenda Chenowith in Six Feet Under. Ride Like A Girl is Rachel’s directorial debut and she said she has always wanted to direct but with acting, family and film commitments she had only made a couple of short films in the past.
Rachel continues, “I was looking to make a really powerful coming -of- age story about a girl having a dream but nothing seemed to be clicking. I was at a friend’s barbecue on Melbourne Cup Day and was so surprised when a girl started to take the lead. I’d never heard her name except for when the caller said she’d missed the start. Suddenly all the women at the party were screaming , “Go Michelle! Go Michelle!”. When she’d won and I saw Stevie and their bond together and then she told everyone to “Get stuffed, if they think women aren’t strong enough”, that was the moment I knew I’d found my story. I’d always loved big sports movies and although I knew nothing about horse racing, I knew this story was bigger than that one amazing race.”
Michelle had been keen to get on with her life when Hollywood came calling. “It was Rachel who convinced me. One of my favourite things is seeing Stevie on screen, ‘he steals the show’. It shows people that those with Down Syndrome can do anything. Stevie was always treated like anyone else in our family. Dad always says that he’s been a blessing and he’s so funny.”
It is clear that Michelle also had a special bond with Melbourne Cup Winner ‘Prince of Penzance’, “He was the best horse I’d ever ridden. There was another horse I’d been riding and he’d won a race where Prince of Penzance came last. They laughed at me when I said I was sticking with the Prince. I saw them after winning the Cup and they weren’t laughing anymore.”
Rachel Griffiths said the casting of Teresa Palmer, in the role of Michelle Payne was easy, “She was the only one I wanted for the role. She appeals to men and women in a down to earth way but has such grace and ease within herself. She worked so hard to physically fit the mould of a jockey. Twice a day she was on the practice horse you see in the movie. It was lucky too. On set one day one of the horses got skittish and took off for about 2400 metres with Teresa holding on. It was the scariest three minutes of my life, hers too. Even seasoned jockey’s gave her a new respect after that.”
It’s obvious this film was a labour of love for Rachel Griffiths. She gave up four years of her life to make it and is now hoping to spend some time with her family. She’s just been in Toronto promoting her new TV series, In Total Control , starring Deborah Mailman. Rachel directs and appears in the series as well, but is very proud of the fact that Deborah has the lead role after all the accolades she’s received in her career. Then it’s off to New Zealand to act in The Wilds.
Michelle kept her promise to Stevie and they now have a property in Ballarat where she’s training some very promising horses. One she is excited about is owned by an all female team with Rachel, Deborah Mailman, Kate Page-Harvey and others as part owners. She’s hoping to take this horse all the way to the Melbourne Cup.
The Brisbane Launch was big, buzzy and enlightening with people clapping and cheering as they watched Michelle cross the finish line in the film. I loved the fact that she was wearing the colours of the Suffragettes on the day. This moment never fails to give me goosebumps.. It was another amazing moment for me to be in the room with two such inspiring Australian women.
Both women proved that hard work pays off and you can aspire to do anything, whilst still being stylish, graceful and feminine. Rachel Griffiths says it best when she explains, “If a boy is an uncoordinated runner he is a told ‘ You run like a girl!’. If a cricket bowler has a misstep he’s told, “You bowl like a girl.”
Michelle continues, “I could never be as physically strong as a male jockey, but I could be at one with my horse and on the day of the Melbourne Cup win I had no nerves at all. I knew I was ready. I had done everything I could to prepare. I am proud to say I ‘Ride Like A Girl’.
Watch out for Pamela Connellan’s review coming soon to SheSociety.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).