Working class pastimes are always complicated, aren’t they? Gambling, in all its forms, is destructive, whether it’s cards or betting. Ancient “sports” like cockfighting, dog-fighting, bull-baiting and bare-knuckle fighting have all been so brutal they have been banned in English-speaking countries. Then again, “sports” favoured by the upper-classes, such as horse-racing and the betting associated with it, have been heavily regulated to standards of what some consider to be safety.
Greyhound racing in Australia arose from the ancient practice of coursing, which involved setting fast hounds in pursuit of small prey. Scratching Sydney’s Surface has a great piece about the origins of coursing, which I drew on when I wrote about Lithgow Greyhound Racing Track for Lithgow History Avenue. The electrified greyhound racing track (the tin hare), which we now know as part of the sport now, was introduced in the late 1920s and both reduced the (public) cruelty of the activity and increased its popular appeal. Greyhound racing was accessible, low-cost (compared to horses) and became part of the fabric of many working class communities. There was many a working class household with a racing dog in its backyard.
And now, with Mike Baird announcing the banning of greyhound racing, it’s all gone. On the one hand, too many dogs live intolerable lives, too many small furry creatures are sacrificed and too many beautiful greyhounds die horribly. But it’s another element of working class life that is biting the dust, taking much that is positive with it.
And what will become of those hounds? They won’t all be converted to pets or rehomed. It’s a big change. Necessary, but big.