Car-boot culture

A tried and true tradition

The car parks at Flemington during the Melbourne Cup Carnival are usually a hive of activity and life. Colourful umbrellas, people, flowers and food abound, following a ritual that is decades old. So how exactly did this unique idea evolve? We look back at the history of car-park culture at Flemington, and how you can recreate this unique
tradition at home.

Since the VRC’s earliest days in the 1800s, Flemington during the four days of the Carnival has been the place to wine, dine and celebrate. This reputation of it being a place of revelry can be traced back to the initiative of Robert Cooper Bagot, inaugural VRC secretary in 1864.

Believing that patrons’ comfort was essential for a great day out at the races, and to attract repeat visitors, he initiated venues such as a new grandstand, opened in 1873. As pleased as people were to have somewhere comfortable to eat, there were those that preferred to dine in the Carriage Paddock, enjoying picnic lunches.

This first iteration of what would eventually become the popular car parks had a water supply with taps every 25 feet, a large bottle department and a refreshment bar in the centre offering fresh oysters, sandwiches, cakes and ice. It also carried six brands of iced bottled champagne.

In 1892 under Bagot’s successor Henry Byron Moore, these dining amenities were offered as part of the Official Cup Day Programme. Glass and china could also be hired, and the course caterer was able to be employed to supply lunch.

The Elms was also a popular place to enjoy these luncheon parties, and members could book undercover bays under the grandiose canopy of the trees. Gatherings ranging from small family affairs to groups of more than 65 guests were held, with hired staff serving white-gloved style.

The Hill also hosted many revelries, described as ‘the place of cake and wine, of ham sandwiches and bottled beer, of apples, oranges and lemonade, of family parties on the grass beneath the trees’.

Ninety-eight years of boot parties

After a massive redevelopment at Flemington in 1922 when a new members’ stand was built, a new era in Carnival celebrations began, as luncheon parties began to appear in the members’ car park. These ‘boot parties’ usually involved pulling up the car, unpacking card tables, folding stools, crockery, tubs or eskies for ice, drinks and finger food, usually made by the hosts.

In the late 1980s, The Birdcage was still awash with cars and picnic tables when the arrival of the first marquee changed the landscape forever. The brainchild of Lloyd and Suzie Williams, it had its own kitchen, was catered by Peter Rowland and was decorated with flowers.

This lone structure spurred The Birdcage of today – grand marquees erected by organisations to wine and dine their customers and staff that set new standards in design, hospitality and entertainment year after year. The Nursery, The Domain and The Rails are now also all full-functioning event spaces, with super screens, temporary bars and small marquees, guaranteeing a great time is had by all.

Sadly, we can’t be at Flemington this year, but we can still embody the spirit of the car parks at home, for at the heart of it all, the car parks are the places where you pull out some chairs, put your champagne on ice and enjoy a relaxed and informal day with family and friends. Do the same at home on your back deck or backyard, or why not get the whole street involved, and set up in the front yard or driveway!

All you need is your preferred tastes and tipples, like a cheese board and Champagne, and the racing broadcast turned up loud. It’ll be just like you are there.


(by Executive Chef Ryan Flaherty)

Choose an attractive board

Present your platter on a rustic wooden board or even a marble slab.

Display is key

Keep all the cheeses in large blocks and let people carve their own. There is romance in the tradition of such rituals.

Offer various choices

Include a cream, semi-hard and blue cheese. This ensures everyone’s tastes will be covered. Some recommendations are a Berry’s Creek Riverine Blue, Powlett Picnic Prom Country Cheese Semi-hard style, and a Tarago River Triple Cream.

Dress it up

Add some fresh fruits such as grapes or strawberries to your platter. Include some pickles or chutney, or try peppered marinated figs which pair wonderfully with cheese.

Include charcuterie

Depending on the occasion and time of serving, you could add a small amount of good, local charcuterie or smoked meat. A jamón-style ham is always a hit.

Give it some crunch

Offer an array of artisan breads, lavosh, fruit bread or grissini.

Visit the Marketplace

Enhance your Cup Week experience with mouth-watering food and drink offers.