Legendary jockey Michelle Payne has opened up on how her father’s “tough” parenting affected her childhood and early career, after he was forced to bring her and her nine siblings up alone following the tragic death of their mother.
The 32-year-old is the youngest of 10 children –almost all of whom are now jockeys – and depended on her father’s support after her mother passed away six months after she was born.
Speaking in a tell-all interview with Andrew Denton on his weekly Channel 7 show Interview, Michelle revealed her dad Paddy had a “tough” approach to parenting, but praised him for the endless sacrifices he made in order to keep the large family together.
Describing the “toughest time of her life”, Michelle recalled the moment she made the brave decision to leave home to pursue a career opportunity in Melbourne – giving up her position as her father’s apprentice at the time.
However, rather than supporting the move, Michelle said Paddy became “very angry” after she turned down his offer to stay – and cut off all contact with her for a year.
“During that time he had a heart attack,” she said. “I went to see him and I was bawling my eyes out, but he wouldn’t speak to me. I was devastated.”
Asked by Denton if he was a “hard” parent, she agreed but added: “Very hard but very loving at the same time.”
While she has amazing memories of living in a large family, Michelle said it was anything but easy, and added: “You had to fend for yourselves. My dad did his best for us, he was of the opinion that we needed to stick together. He didn’t get any help in, there was talk of getting us split up but he wasn’t having any of that.”
She went on: “He was tough… But he spoke to me about her [mum] every day, and I’m so glad because I felt like she was with me because of that. I was always his little girl so he was probably softer to me than by brothers!”
The image of Michelle flying over the finish line on thoroughbred Prince of Penzance to nab the 2015 Melbourne Cup is one that’s seared into the minds of most Australians.
Describing winning the Cup as “the most incredible moment of my life”, she added: “I feel like I relive it and get back into the moment each time I watch a replay.”
It was a moment she’d always dreamed of, and Michelle revealed she would often act out winning the Melbourne Cup at their home with her siblings.
However, she’s had some excruciating injuries through the years, and admitted one rehabilitation period left her feeling “depressed” and questioning her future as a jockey.
Running Denton through each of her many injuries, Michelle revealed she’d slashed her pancreas apart, suffered a huge head injury and been left struggling to recover for months on end following falls – but none of them made her give up the sport she loves.