My Grandad Knew Phar Lap

Phar Lap stands with Ned Kelly and Sir Donald Bradman as one of Australia’s top three heroes. How did this come about? Why do some characters, human or animal, endure as heroes while others are forgotten?

Heroes are talked about and remembered not only for their feats, but for their stories. The true story of Phar Lap contains all the elements of good fiction. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been fascinated with the horse, and loved his story. You can’t beat it. I have written a work of historical fiction, centred around a family of today, but I haven’t changed the true story of Phar Lap in any way.

In what era does the cover tell you this story is set? How did Australians live in the Depression years of the late 1920s and early 1930s? Could the times in which Phar Lap lived have something to do with his impact on the people? (Phar Lap was a bright light in the gloom.) Then why is he still the most popular exhibit in the Melbourne Museum?

List the elements of Phar Lap’s story that give it more emotional appeal than that of other champion horses (Makybe Diva, who won three Melbourne Cups, Black Caviar who won twenty-five races, and the famous Winx who won thirty-three consecutive races.) Compare with champions in other sports.

One of Australia’s most respected historians wrote in his history of Australia that Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup twice. How do you think he made this mistake? Do you have to be a winner to be a hero?

Who is telling this story? Yes, Toby is the narrator, but it’s Phar Lap’s story, and also Grandad’s. Notice that the title brings all three together.

Can you pick differences between the way Grandad and the children speak? Why has Grandad kept his secret for so long? (It is true that a newsboy witnessed the shooting, but he was not Toby’s Grandad.)

The story of Phar Lap has an unhappy ending. How have I tried to change your feelings without altering the story?

TOPICS for DISCUSSION:  Depression times in Australia. Careers in racing – trainer, jockey, strapper, clocker (see glossary.) Family relationships.

 Correction: Phar Lap’s heart is now in the National Museum of Australia, Canberra (see glossary.)

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