To celebrate the centenary of the Melbourne Cup in 1960, the chairman of the Victorian Racing Club, Sir Chester Manifold, wrote to Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies on 14 July 1959 requesting a commemorative postage stamp. 

Manifold was a scion of squatters and had been one of the triumvirate, with Menzies, of Young Nationalists who had gingered up Victorian conservatives in 1930. After a trot in the State cabinet alongside Menzies, Manifold eschewed party politics in favour of the racetrack. Married to a Grimwade and a member of the Melbourne Club, Manifold had some reason to expect that his old friend “Bob” would bless so modest a request from “Chettie”, as he signed himself. When Menzies replied a week later, he cautioned against optimism since “too many special issues of course reduces the value and significance”

Menzies did not share his Sovereign’s pleasure at watching horses pass by. His first visit to Flemington was to accompany his queen during her 1954 tour. Yet, in 1950, he had mocked himself as “the most notorious non-racegoer in the House” when justifying his delaying Parliamentary proceedings till after the cup broadcast. The traditions inherited from Westminster were more malleable than those at Old Trafford for in 1953 he joined with opposition leader, Dr Evatt, to complain when the ABC interrupted broadcasts of five-day cricket matches to announce race results.

The decision on a Cup stamp rested with the Post-Master General, the Country Party Cabinet Minister, Charlie Davidson, who relied on an advisory committee. Late August 1959, Davidson informed the prime minister that commemorating the Melbourne Cup would be outside stamp policy, since only “occasions of outstanding national importance” qualified. He noted that he had declined issues for various sports, even cricket. Moreover, “a horse race would not commend itself to all sections of the community”.  Manifold was not contrast with the offer of a special post-mark for what was “not only a National event but an International one as well”.

Menzies wrote back to Davidson: “I am no racing man, but the Melbourne Cup is, I believe, unique and historical. Would you yourself have another look at this matter?” The PM sent a hurry-up note in October, which resulted in a face-to-face meeting at which Davidson agreed to authorize a preliminary design. For all Menzies’s autocrat style, he knew better than to impose his whims on ministers or departments. The days when each new stamp had been a matter of high policy were gone. Administration had become too complex to take up the time of cabinet with such minutiae.

Back and forth the personal letters went without any decision being finalized until, in June 1960, another VRC committeeman, Melbourne QC, Eugene Gorman, met with the acting PM and Country leader Jack McEwen to advance the preparations. On Menzies’ return from London in July, the postmaster-general acquiesced. When advising Manifold of the good news, Menzies asked if his son and daughter-in-law could be accommodated in the grandstand – “not lunch or anything official, but a permit of some kind”. A couple of free tickets was the least the VRC could do.

The printers had less than three months to complete their work and distribute stamp sheets to thousands of post offices. A new issue usually required more than a year’s preparation.

Manifold’s success in securing a stamp was part of his vision for the reform of racing. In preparation for the Centenary Cup, the VRC in 1955 had authorized half-a-million pounds in improvements at the Flemington course. The Committee increased the prize money for the anniversary run by 10,000 to 25,000. The race was telecast direct for the first time to Sydney.

The centenary race initiated the current era of the Cup as a hub of commercial enterprises. The Melbourne City Council decked the Central Business District with flowers. The racing carnival would become a community festival. In 1960, the Wool Board and Dupont’s nylon sponsored the first “Fashions and the Field”. Five years later, this parade brought Jean Shrimpton in a shift above the knee.

Manifold welcomed the stamp as a further endorsement of his battle against Protestant wowsers and Irish-catholic bookmakers who opposed his plans to set up an off-course totalizator. That betting system would increase revenues for the VRC and hobble police corruption around SP bookies. State parliament gave its approval in July 1960. After the centenary race, Manifold resigned as VRC chairman to chair the TAB.

As a practicing Presbyterian, Menzies was well aware of Protestant resistance to gambling and alcohol.  Six out of ten Victorians in 1956 had voted to retain six o’clock closing of hotels. A smaller majority opposed horse-racing in the afternoon of Anzac Day. From Sydney, the Methodist Central City Mission refused “to send correspondence carrying a symbol of gambling”, and hoped churches elsewhere would join a boycott. The Salvation Army deplored the issue for its “publicizing an evil force undermining Australia’s spiritual foundations”.

The Cup stamp was one of only five issues in 1960, compared with over sixty this year. Before the 1970s, a stamp for even the most sedate of causes was rare. The select few confirmed the middle-class values that Menzies portrayed himself as representing. In the year of the Cup, the other events recognised were the Golden Jubilee of the Girl Guides, the centenaries of Northern Territory exploration and of Queensland’s first stamp. The fifth issue that year was part of the campaign to put Christ Back into Christmas, to which the PMG had committed itself only in 1957. Restraints on the number and the topics have gone. Stamps nowadays fall like confetti on Mrs and Mrs Average, Rock groups, venomous marine life and Olympic Gold Medalists.

Since 1960, horses have appeared on thirty of the 1,600 stamps issued. Only the 1978 set of four allowed racehorses - two Cup winners - Phar Lap and Peter Pan - and Bernborough and Tulloch, which ran second in 1960. In 1981, jockey Darby Munro was caricatured in a series honouring four “Sporting Personalities”. One in three hundred stamps for the turf hardly confirms the Methodist allegation that the 1960 Cup issue “shows Australia up as a nation of gamblers” - not even if we throw in the 1971 stamp for the centenary of the Sydney Stock Exchange.

Released on 12 October 1960, at the standard rate of five pence, the Cup stamp was sepia, in keeping with the monochromatic limit of the presses. The image was of the first winner, Archer, and its jockey, John Cutts. They had won again in 1862 and might have taken the hat trick had the VRC not seized the opportunity to disqualify the New South Wales champion when its nominating telegram was delivered a few minutes late. In the top right corner, the Cup is shown in very rough outline. Philatelists deplored the crudeness of the whole design as just the worst of a bad lot of Australian stamps.

In light of the manoeuvres behind a stamp for the centenary Melbourne Cup, it was appropriate that the 1960 winner should be Hi Jinx at fifty-to-one.

See also: Melbourne Cup Broadcast