Ride Like A Girl

“The only thing that matters is the odds you give yourself,” Paddy Payne – father of Australia’s first female Melbourne Cup winning jockey Michelle Payne

I EXPECTED her to be more rough and tumble in person. An unpolished diamond. After all, this was the Aussie woman who told the world to “get stuffed”. And as for the actor sitting beside her? I anticipated she’d exude more airs and graces. But last night, when Australia’s first female Melbourne Cup winner Michelle Payne took the stage at the Brisbane premiere of Ride Like A Girl, she was petite, poised, confident and charming. Next to her, Australian actor Rachel Griffiths, who made her film directing debut with this movie, deliciously dropped the f-bomb and unapologetically stated “I just swore like a girl”. Things just got real.

Like the film itself, which debuts in Australian cinemas on September 26, these are two fabulous feminists telling audiences how it is. And just like these two strong, smart, sassy women, Aussies are going to love this movie which captures the moment a woman won the Melbourne Cup for the first time in its 155th history. Like most Australians, I remember that day well. On November 3, 2015, I made my annual trek to the TAB and put my usual $1 each way on the outsider. My life motto? Always back the outsider. At 100 to 1, I liked the odds on Prince of Penzance. Little did I realise at the time it was being ridden by a woman, or I would have put $100 on that horse that day.

Griffiths says she was at a barbecue on that 2015 Melbourne Cup Day and at the 300-metre mark of the race she heard the name Prince of Penzance, the horse that would carry Payne to victory.
“At the 200-metre mark I heard Michelle Payne and Prince of Penzance. I remember turning to the barbecue and saying ‘is there a girl racing? Are girls jockeys?’,” she says.
“My first thought was ‘what kind of woman would do that and what would it take to break that 155-year-old history of men winning the race?’
“Then she told the world to get stuffed and that was an Australian heroine. I had a feminist sports film that would make men cry.”

During this 100-minute film, you’ll learn that it takes a lot for a woman to win the Melbourne Cup. Payne, the youngest of 10 children, lost her mother when she was only six months old. She grew up in a chaotic household with her horse trainer father, jockey siblings, and her best friend and younger brother, Stevie.
Stevie, who was born with Down Syndrome, plays himself in the movie, and is considered the best strapper in the country.
After this film, he may well be considered one of Australia’s best actors too.

Payne says she was surprised after her Melbourne Cup victory that many considered her a one-race wonder, rather than understanding the sacrifices she made to win, including crippling injuries and multiple bone breaks, and the death of one of her sisters from a race fall.
As for the victorious day itself?
“I felt like I was so ready that day. I’d left no stone unturned,” Payne says.
“I’d watched the last eight Melbourne Cup races to see where it was won and lost.
“It was an eerie feeling to be going into the largest race in Australia but I was unbelievably confident and calm .
“Any other day, any other race, I would have been so nervous. I felt I was so ready for that race. When we went over the finishing line it was the most incredible feeling you could ever imagine.”

You’ll see plenty of well-known Aussie faces in this film including Sam Neill as Paddy Payne, Magda Szubanski, Mick Molloy and Shane Bourne. Lesser known Teresa Palmer, who plays Michelle Payne, stamps her authority as an actor to watch in this movie which will make you laugh and cry.
This isn’t so much a story about horse racing, as it is about a sista sick of sexism in her industry.
Payne confessed to the Brisbane audience she would have preferred there was no film and was “just happy to go about my business” after the Melbourne Cup.
“But I started to get really excited about it. My dream was winning the Melbourne Cup from five years old and it became so apparent it was so much more than that,” she says.
“I had my role models of my sisters being female jockeys and this film gives me the chance to give back. If this film can give young girls inspiration for a dream…that’s what makes me so proud.
“Not only that, having Stevie a part of that, who in my opinion steals the show. People with Down Syndrome are so capable of so much. When Stevie was born people said sorry, like it was at tragedy. He brings so much joy, he’s hilarious.”

Griffiths says the film title came to her because growing up in Australia, the phrase had a negative connotation.
“It’s kind of crazy as a woman that when growing up ‘like a girl’ meant giving up, not doing something well,” she says.
“For young girls it must be so dismaying to hear that used as an insult. ‘Like a girl’ means winning.”
Curiously, Payne has a different take on the title.
“I was really intrigued by the choice of the name. For me, it was a whole different meaning. I fought the battle that we are not strong enough. That was part of the reason for the ‘get stuffed’ comment,” she says.
“I think that ‘ride like a girl’ is an advantage in so many ways. It is being at one with your horse and developing a connection where that horse wants to try for you.
“I think for a lot of the boys it is about strength. They are hustling and bustling, while you see a female rider, it is smooth and beautiful to watch. We bring a whole different element to racing. I proudly ride like a girl.”

Ride Like A Girl is out in Australian cinemas on September 26. Go and see it, and always, always, back the outsider. And For God’s Sake, ride like a girl.
(The Global Goddess attended the Brisbane Premiere as a guest of Transmission Films. Photos courtesy of Transmission Films’ Official Trailer)

The Magnificent Madams of Mauritius

A BOLD black mole has taken up residence beside Madam Kwok’s nose, but rather than being viewed as a facial flaw, it’s considered good luck for this Mauritian-born Chinese woman. And Kwok, 75, knows a thing or two about fortunes. This fortune teller and astrologer has been predicting the future for the past 35 years, and so I find myself seated in her China Town premises, in the middle of the chaotic capital of Port Louis, discovering my fate.

Kwok sports kind eyes, wears a jade bracelet on her left wrist and is perched behind a desk, a gold statue of Buddha to her left, a shrine behind her. She speaks Creole, French and Mandarin, but no English, so my fortune is being translated courtesy of my hotel Host, Vimla, from SALT of Palmar. I am furiously trying to scribble notes for my travel stories, an impossible task while Kwok holds both palms, and I wonder how much of my fate is being lost in translation and my sloppy scribbling.

She tells me I am fiercely independent, faithful and frank, a writer who is happy discovering the world, and that money is not important to me (mmm, well a little would be nice). While Kwok tells me I will be happy even when I’m single (no, Kwok no!), she says I will find love again (phew), but not marry (fine). She thinks he may even be Mauritian.
“You will meet someone who will be a traveller like you. They will have the same character as you,” she says.
“But there will only be one and that person will look at you like you are the only one.
“It will all be about love and affection.”
Kwok tells me I will keep moving, for now, until I’ve found “the person” and he will take me to where I am meant to live.
I will also live for a long time, but I need to take care of my health (stop drinking wine Goddess) and I will never stop writing until I take my last breath (which, frankly on some days, could be the very death of me).

To find Kwok, Vimla and I have driven past ripe banana and pineapple plantations and rustling sugar cane crops. The country’s cyclone-proof concrete homes are a confusing jumble of African, Indian and Chinese architecture, and there’s a mesmerising mixture of mosques, temples and churches in this multicultural pot which is so hot, it sizzles. We arrive in Port Louis and ask around the streets of China Town for Kwok, part madam, party myth in these parts. But find her we do, and after our reading, Vimla and I saunter to a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop carved into a 100-year-old building, and sip on a sweet Coca Cola in a glass bottle, redolent of my Australian childhood, and eat Chinese chicken noodles, all for $5. At the pumping Port Louis Central Market there’s plump olives and fat cauliflower heads, pungent spices, colourful vegetables and tropical fruit served the Mauritian way with salted vinegar. It’s so strong it makes my eyes water.

Later that day, and as part of SALT of Palmar’s bid to encourage guests to meet the community, I visit the hotel’s potter Janine Espitalier-Noel, who handmade SALT’S 950 pieces of crockery. Janine, 58, originally from South Africa, fell in love with pottery when she was 16 years old and says it “changed the course” of her life.
She met and married a Mauritian man in her home country and they decided to move to the island in 2008.
“I’ve learned everything from trial and error and have always been drawn back to pottery,” she says.
“I saw a wheel and kiln for sale and brought it to Mauritius and taught fabric painting all around the island to expats.
“About a year ago SALT phoned me and said ‘we are doing locally produced’ and they sat with me and together we worked out what would be correct for them such as mugs, plates and dishes.
“They have really put me on the map.”
It took Janine and her potter partner Richard 1.5 months to complete the 950 pieces for the hotel.
Now, guests are invited to do a “taste of pottery” at her studio in lessons where they learn wheel throwing, hand making, clay modelling and glazing.
“When people come they are so happy, it fills their soul,” she says.
“It is the feel of the clay, a ball becoming a face or a beautiful bowl from a blob of clay.
“It’s stunning.”
Janine hands me the wheel and I make what appears to be a penis. Maybe Kwok was right, I will find my man in Mauritius?

The next afternoon I encounter Nathalie Marot, 56, who retired from her former sustainable dry-cleaning business, and started making eco-friendly soaps as a hobby. Now, she supplies SALT with its soaps, hair masks and body scrubs for its guest rooms, as well as massage oils, balms and salt for the spa.
“I was talking about no waste and everything ecological and non-detergent based products long before anyone else,” she says.
“Eventually SALT heard about me and it fit into their concept and they contacted me and we began.
“For SALT, the soap is custom-made and everything is done inhouse in my shop here in Mauritius. There is no extra packing and we like to use the same kind ingredients as you would in cooking.”

On my last night at SALT I am due to interview mother of nine girls (four of her own and five adopted), Mirella Armance at her home but she has been called away. Instead, I meet two of her delightful daughters and we sip local rum in the back yard before feasting on traditional Mauritian curries. The night has turned cool for this tropical destination but the conversation is warm. Like all women around the world we talk of love and loss and loneliness. And while I don’t meet my Mauritian man on this trip (despite many and varied offers), I fall in love with this Indian Ocean island, her magnificent madams, and a heavenly hotel group connecting strangers with community. And so, as Kwok predicted, I keep wandering and writing.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of The Lux Collective https://www.theluxcollective.com and stayed in both SALT of Palmar https://www.saltresorts.com/en/mauritius/hotel/saltofpalmar
And its beautiful sister property LUX Belle Mare http://www.luxresorts.com/en/hotel-mauritius/luxbellemare

East coast Australians can overnight in Perth and stay in the likes of the new QT Perth, which opened last September, and boasts an award-winning restaurant and elegant rooms. https://www.qthotelsandresorts.com/perth

Air Mauritius has up to three flights a week from Perth to Mauritius. http://www.airmauritius.com

From Brisbane With Love

A FAMILY wedding, my birthday, new hotel openings, restaurant reviews, festivals, and friends. After a busy start to 2018 which had me on the road constantly for nearly 8 months, I’ve spent the past month at home, writing and recalibrating. I even joined a boxing class!
As much as I adore my beloved Brisbane, and my own bed, it’s time to hit the road again for the next few months. Time to get out there and hunt and gather the world’s stories, doing what I love most. I’ll be heading off this weekend to Tropical North Queensland to tell the tale of the Australian Aborigines who live there. Please join me on this and other journeys.