The Phar Lap Story: Representations of the Sporting Past

Mark O'Neill (2011). The Phar Lap Story: Representations of the Sporting Past PhD Thesis, School of Human Movement Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Mark O'Neill
Thesis Title The Phar Lap Story: Representations of the Sporting Past
School, Centre or Institute School of Human Movement Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-05
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Murray Phillips
Professor David Carter
Dr Gary Osmond
Total pages 289
Total colour pages 6
Total black and white pages 283
Subjects 11 Medical and Health Sciences
Abstract/Summary The thoroughbred racehorse Phar Lap (1927–1932) remains an enduring and popular icon in Australian culture. As a result, representations of the horse’s achievements and biography have appeared regularly in newspaper reports, magazine articles, film, television, museum displays, and other media in Australia. Like other popular icons, narratives recalling Phar Lap are highly stylised. These narratives intersect with dominant Australian cultural values and cast Phar Lap as a national hero, a battler, a mate, and a victim, to create culturally-laden meanings. In many cases, the various Phar Lap stories have been shaped around the popular Bush narrative of Australian national identity and have aided in the wide dissemination and continual re-interpretation of this important ideology. Despite his popular appeal and widespread use in Australian culture, there has been little academic commentary or examination of Phar Lap as a cultural icon. Sporadic mentions of the horse have appeared in various survey histories of Australian sport and culture and there have been only sparse attempts to analyse the importance of representations of Phar Lap to Australian history, culture and identity. Neglect of Phar Lap is curious. Firstly, for such a prominent marker of national values and ideologies to remain outside the purview of critical interrogation is unusual when compared to other cultural icons in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Secondly, as both a transmitter and product of Australian culture, Phar Lap facilitates investigation into mythology, iconography, sport, and representations of the past. This thesis attempts to remedy the dearth of critical study of both Phar Lap, and Australian sporting icons more generally. It does so by adopting a deconstructionist sensiblity that acknowledges that representations of the past are inherently the products of agents in the present and, subsequently, do not recall the past objectively but rather reflect the attitudes and beliefs of their creators and their socio-historical contexts.The thesis is guided by the intersection of Phar Lap’s iconography and his representation in Australian culture since he burst onto the horseracing scene in 1929. It is this intersection that generates the study’s key concepts. There are three key foci: Phar Lap as an exemplar of a particular form of Australian national identity, the salience of interpreting multiple forms of memory for sport history, and the value of Alun Munslow’s deconstructive approach to interrogating social memory. Thus, the subject matter is not only the historical figure of Phar Lap, but also some of the various media that have remembered him. Such media are important, as the wide array of texts that remember Phar Lap provide salient insights into the creation of the highly significant versions of his story that are familiar in Australia. With this in mind, Chapter One begins the thesis by challenging the most rigid element of Phar Lap’s memory: the supposed sacredness of the working-class status of the horse’s human support staff, particularly owner/trainer Harry Telford and owner David Davis. It does this by examining the complex intersection of popular sporting novels with the contemporary sporting press to create a context that was hostile to Telford and, later, Davis. This hostility did not last. As Chapter Two shows, popular written histories of the horse from the 1960s onwards began to embrace and celebrate the Bush origins of Telford and Phar Lap’s previously ignored strapper ‘Tommy’ Woodcock. Specifically, it looks at the influence of elements of historian Russel Ward’s seminal work The Australian Legend and structural changes in the Australian publishing industry that influenced Phar Lap’s representation in Australian popular culture from 1945 onwards. From here, this thesis begins its examination of three non-written forms of Phar Lap’s memory. Chapter Three focuses on the evolution of the taxidermed and preserved hide of Phar Lap in the Melbourne Museum in Victoria. This chapter argues that Phar Lap’s multivalence has assured his retention in this prominent cultural institution as the artefact moved from scientific to cultural exhibit following changes in museum practice. Chapter Four examines the feature film Phar Lap: Hero to a Nation against the broader contexts of national identity and the Australian film revival that began in the 1970s. This chapter addresses the implication of the nationalistic film-making project, which took root in 1970s, for a version of the Phar Lap narrative tailored to suit new, emerging concepts of Australian national identity. The body of this thesis concludes with an examination of contested claims about the horse’s nationality in statues in Melbourne, Australia and Timaru, New Zealand. As Chapter Five argues, rarely in memories of the horse or in wider Australian and New Zealand historical and cultural discourses have the two Antipodean nations been so compelled to directly consider their mutual neighbours’ past. Phar Lap’s role as an exemplar of Australian national culture contrasts starkly with the desire in New Zealand to “reclaim” the horse’s identity for the nation and region in which he was born.
Keyword Phar Lap
Australian Legend
Additional Notes 138, 211, 212,226, 231, 233

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Created: Wed, 02 Nov 2011, 08:58:14 EST by Mr Mark O'neill on behalf of Library - Information Access Service