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Three years ago I was waiting nervously – completely and utterly anxiously – to see what would happen to the Australian Government. After six months of tarting up my tiny ex-guvvy grey-brick box in Canberra, the thing was ready for the market; in a rare fit of good but not entirely risk-free decision making, I’d decided that my house was the ticket to a better life, one where writing would be the core of each and every week. (For years, decades, it had been the core, but it was a struggling core, exhausting, and something had to give.) So there I was, house ready and real-estate agent on standby. But we had a problem. A massive problem. If the Conservatives won the 2010 election they’d strip the bejeezus out of the public service, ejecting bureaucrats from the capital, and house prices would plummet.
Of course, there were plenty of better reasons to fear the Conservatives returning to power. Tony Abbot, a former seminarian, and boxer, and Rhodes Scholar, was a key player in John Howard’s backwards-looking, xenophobic and homophobic government. Now he was leader of the opposition, who knows what he’d do. He was famous for saying that climate change was ‘crap’, that women had a different physiology (exact quote: ‘I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons’), was anti-abortion, and maintained the anti-immigration and anti-marriage-equality stance of his political godfather. Being rusted on to small-government ideology, if Abbott got in there would be carnage in the capital, and I’d lose $50,000, the $50,000 I needed for my new and better life to begin.
That year, 2010, Abbott almost did get in. It was a terrifying two-week wait to see if Labor’s Julia Gillard could form an alliance with the independents. I remember watching that press conference in which the three key independents would reveal their decision – it was the most excruciating 20 minutes of my life. When Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott eventually announced that they’d be supporting a Gillard-led government I threw my arms in the air as if my favourite footie team had just scored the game-winning try in the final seconds (if I had a favourite footie team, that is). Not only did I want the Mad Monk and his insidiously grinning gang to lose and for Labor to continue moving us forward (if only inch by inch), I wanted to be able to ring my real-estate agent and shout, ‘GET THIS SHOW ON THE ROAD!’
The show did go on the road. My house was sold and I now could move to regional New South Wales and live a cheaper, more frugal life in order for writing – creativity in general, the arts, all of it – to be my reason for existence. So, while Gillard managed to keep her precarious government together, stoking the fires of the economy while the rest of the world went down like the Devil wearing velvet trousers, and putting a price on carbon, and enabling a massive – and wise – investment in education, and establishing the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and continuing with the National Broadband Network (try downloading something as short as a 30-second video where I live and you’ll see why we need this infrastructure), and increasing the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,000, which is an enormous reform for those struggling to make ends meet including artists, and allowing her party to officially endorse a policy of legal recognition of same-sex relationships (while she personally opposed the policy, which, to my mind, was a gross misjudgement on many levels), and – let’s indeed be critical where criticism is due – failed to find a humane and effective way of welcoming refugees to this country, yes, while all this was happening, I moved house, I went interstate. And now, more or less, I live the life I’ve always wanted. How luck I am.
There are approximately 23,000 people in this regional New South Wales town of mine. The place is working class, it’s welfare oriented, there’s some old rural money but not much despite the Big Merino stuck there out on the Hume. There are cracked faces, broken bodies, some broken spirits. There are pubs, some of which look like they haven’t been changed in 50 years, and the carpets probably haven’t been changed either. The mainstreet is packed with 2-dollar outlets, hi-viz stores, and there’s a run of takeaway shops that I swear goes for 300 metres. But this is home. For someone like me, who was born and bred on Sydney’s North Shore, who spent his formative adult years in Canberra, which is one of the most enlightened and progressive jurisdictions in the world, in many ways Goulburn is not my natural habitat. And when the wind howls and the sky comes over grim and grey, it’s really no place for anyone. But in my little old house with sparrows in the guttering I read and write and read some more. When I take a break from the words and me and my misshapen tracksuit pants and uggboots go out to see what the chooks are doing, I feel more myself than ever. At the end of the day, when I pour myself a glass of wine, light the fire, and put on the most miserable music in my collection, I know that this somewhat struggling but good-natured old town is being very good to me.
At times like these I raise a chipped, cracked, coffee-stained mug to Julia Gillard and say thanks for (a) being as decent as you could despite all the shit that was thrown at you (and even though your judgment seemed to go AWOL at times, and your mass-media communication left many of us wondering what you really did mean), and (b) for making all this happen to me.
Today, however, it’s election time again and Tony Abbott, the love-child of John Howard and George W. Bush that he is, will most likely romp across the line. Despite Labor’s undoubted achievements, the party’s leadership dramas have been appalling – it’s been like having to put up with a couple of junkies fighting in the fruit-and-veg aisle of my local Woolies. It has to end, and hopefully it ends tonight, when Abbott, all Botox forehead and flapping jug-ears and budgie-smugglers already set out for an early morning swim, takes to the podium. Perhaps it’ll end a bit more when Kevin Rudd vainly announces his resignation, or doesn’t have to do such a thing because he’s lost his seat.
I’m not a social conservative, and I don’t believe that markets are necessarily the be all and end all, and I don’t believe that wealthy nations can ignore our responsibility to care for those who are wracked by poverty and political turmoil. So I can’t put a mark in the Coalition’s box, and I can’t ever see myself not thinking in a progressive way. But I do hope this weekend marks the beginning of a refreshed, enlivened voice for the Left, which may or may not be the Australian Labor Party.
Even though it may well be true that at heart Australia is a fearful, inward-looking country, frankly, as they say around my home-town, you’ve just gotta get the fuck over it and find a better way.
Here’s cheers to Goulburn, to Gillard, and to bright new chapters.