(From Suddenly, Last Winter)
Sunday, 5th September, 2010, 7.10 am
Great storm winds shake the house and bring down a tree we have loved for thirty years on the front lawn. The winds are as bad as any I have known. The very heavens protest at what is happening.
A change of government, perhaps.
The little crippled butcher bird has not come this morning. She may have been killed by the storm.
No, here she is.
What a big, demanding voice she has, trilling and ululating.
She has mouths to feed in this new urgent, rainy spring.
A big earthquake in New Zealand of 7.1 magnitude has brought down five hundred buildings in Christchurch, some of great architectural beauty, ninety in the CBD, and made unstable a thousand others, high schools among them. Strong winds of cyclone force are buffeting the surviving tottery structures and may bring them down. The one person dead had a heart attack, but two others, gravely injured, may follow him into the ultimate question. And so it goes.
As in China in 1976 when both Mao Tse-Tung and Chou En-Lai died, an enormous earthquake shook Beijing. Gough Whitlam and his wife were there and Graham Freudenberg. ‘Did the earth move for you, dear?’ Gough asked Margaret in a famous cartoon.
What portents, old friend, what portents.
An afternoon sleep with a hot water bottle and Kenneth Tynan’s Profiles, just in from the bookshop, a serial treasure of mine that I keep lending and losing. I read again, with pleasure, Ken’s best opening line.
What, when drunk, one sees in other women, one sees in Garbo sober.
How good is that. Put the words in any other order and they have no impact, or beauty, at all.
How good is that.
I read on, with familiar joy, his many delvings into Shakespeare in rehearsal and performance.
Katter has had two meals in Brisbane with Rudd, an old fond friend and bookend, and heard out his bitterness with yelps of sympathy. If Rudd were still Prime Minister, Bob has just said, or implied, he would be in the Labor camp for sure.
I imagine Katter in a black cloak aghast on the turrets of Elsinore, and Rudd, a grave sere ghost, impelling him with bespectacled, burning eyes.
Rudd: If thou dids’t ever thy dear file clerk love —
Katter: (yelping) Oh…God!
Rudd: Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!
Katter: (beating his eyes with his fists) Murder!
Rudd: Murder most foul, strange, and unnatural!
Katter: Haste me to know’t, that I with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge!
Rudd: Adieu, adieu, remember me. (Exit)
Katter: (a dingo howl, a risen fist, a horse-breaker’s leap to the highest turret,) The time is out of joint! Oh cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Monday, 6th September, 2010, 7.10 a.m.
A bright, cold morning with little flurries of wind. The lorikeets come and go. I attend to the news, and grow restive.
Oakeshott has spent the weekend in Canberra, sorting out and writing up the Three Amigos’ proposed new laws and parliamentary procedures. Windsor went home, and at an early, milking hour took a phone call from Fran Kelly.
‘Have you made up your mind?’ she asks.
‘No I haven’t, and there’s good reason for that. I really want to talk to the other two about the possible prospect of a seventy-five all. In which we might have to rethink our own thoughts.’
‘How much of a chance, do you think, are we for a seventy-five all?’
‘I don’t know how the other two are going to vote. So we’re going to put our cards on the table today. And we will know, and we will be able to go from there.’
‘So you’ve decided how you’re going to vote?’
‘Not until I talk it through. Because the main objective here is seeing if we can get to something that’s stable. If we can’t get to something that’s stable, we may well wind up back at the polls. And that’s why I mentioned seventy-five all.’
‘Would it be fair to say that at this point you’re more inclined to one side than the other, but you could shift if you thought the other two were going one way and therefore the number was needed to get stable government?’
‘Well, that may need to happen if in fact we don’t want another election. And I’ve spoken to both sides of the parliament and to other people, and they don’t particularly want another election. It may mean that people may be leaning one way, but they may have to come back the other way to get some stability into the system.’
Coalition’s hope for power sinks, say the headlines at Wayne’s, Entsch tells Katter to hurry up. A cartoon has Swanny with a scratched face by a hospital bed where Gillard lies covered in bandages, her broken limbs up in the air and only her eyes visible. ‘You’re looking a bit better,’ Swanny says.
I chuckle a bit; and then it becomes clear what I should do.
‘I’m going to Canberra,’ I tell Annie. ‘I’ll drive down tonight.’
‘No,’ she says. ‘You take the train.’
And so it is concluded. We drive in silence through the Forest. We part at five-thirty outside Central. I listen to PM as the train pulls out and suburbs drift by and night comes on.
I sleep for a while and wake and ring Rhys while we stop at Mittagong. He’ll be driving down, as before.
‘See you there,’ he says.
Goulburn goes by in darkness. Bungendore. I fear the outcome, but I have to be there.
The key is in the appointed place, which a button-push opens, in the Best Western Motel in Kingston in the cold and shivering dark. The flat-screen television shows me channels, but not the ABC.
I take two Aspro Clear, and soon sleep.
Tuesday, 7th September, 2010, 6.45 a.m.
By cab to Parliament House, the Reps entrance, with a driver upset as me at the loss of talent from government lately. A Labor supporter, he calls Nick Minchin the best of the others, ill-lost through an injured and addled son to the nation’s dialogue and governance.
I dodge the cameras and at the front entrance go in sidelong and wait for Ben; the muzak is playing ‘Ring of Fire’. One of the Channel 10 girls from our night at the Penrith Panthers greets me breezily and signs me in. I get my new pocket knife through the machinery as I did the old.
I get lost and ask directions to Aussie’s. The aged moustachioed guide, signalling right and saying left, gets me lost again.
The corridors are empty. Only one visible human, a male cleaner in the Disabled Female toilet, looks round at me suspiciously. My footsteps on the polished wood floor. The sound of water in the marble fountain is loud, ominous, threatening.
I attain Aussie’s, order a latte. There is only Chris Uhlmann writing notes at another table. He looks uncomforted. I recall him designating himself as ‘a barren man’ on The Drum a fortnight ago. I feel for him, avoid speech with him.
The papers come to Aussie’s and I buy and read them. Reform deal clears way to end stand-off, headlines The Canberra Times over a picture of the Three Amigos (as they are now being called) drinking tea at Aussie’s and Bill Heffernan behind them listening closely. Lisa Vineburg, the vigilant bureaucrat who trawled through parliamentary computers and off her own bat, exceeding her terms of employment, accused Paul McLeay of porn and gambling ‘at inappropriate levels’, has been told to resign and has done so. Tony Crook has pledged his vote to the Liberals, meaning they can get there now.
Chris Barrett is suddenly sitting down with me. Gauleiter-handsome, blond and unchanged from 1998 when he worked for Kim and nearly got him into power, he ask how my book is going. I give him a copy and he asks me to inscribe it. His colleague Jim says, ‘Write “you’re a cunt”,’ and I do this. Amazed merriment as two more Swan staff sit down.
Swanny joined us, and I gave him a copy too. I inscribed it Unsung hero, as always. He seemed pleased by this. He looked up his name for a while, and read with approval.
‘Swanny,’ I said, ‘are you fifty-four?’
‘I’m fifty-six,’ he said, to my surprise.
‘You’ve been the right things at the right ages,’ I said, recalling how he and I worked in Kim’s office in 1996, as back-roomers when he was, what, forty-three. And now he’s Deputy Prime Minister. For a few more hours at least.
‘And I feel some mornings no more than forty,’ he added, with irony and despair.
‘At sixty-eight,’ I rejoined, ‘you get to feel like a teenager again.’
‘There’s no evidence, Bob, that you ever stopped,’ says Barrett, and laughter occurred.
I looked at him carefully. He was the one Rudd deputed to tell me I couldn’t speechwrite for Swanny, or anyone. He will do what’s necessary, I thought, in the way Richo did, and have a light jest about it.
‘There’s a great line from Arthur Miller,’ I said. ‘I was twenty before I learned how to be sixteen. I was thirty before I learned how to be twenty. And so on.’
‘It’s good,’ said Swanny.
We talk about the campaign and I suggest that Rudd cost Labor eight days with his interventions, and each intervention cost us half a seat. Swanny looks around the room and then looks back at me and says, ‘I couldn’t possibly comment,’ like Francis Urquhart in House of Cards. ‘Take a look at The Australian’s front page,’ he says, getting up to leave, ‘it’s Murdoch’s last roar of pain.’
I buy it at Aussie’s and read it. Gillard mine tax to deliver $8bn less than forecast, it says. Smugglers feared Abbott victory. Crook backing for Abbott clears way for gang of three. Greens alliance threatens Aboriginal wellbeing: Pearson.
Noel Pearson, it seems, has called Abbott a ‘once-in-a-generation’ conservative: good on reconciliation, against Wild Rivers, drunken violence, welfare dependence, and so on. He can do good things for Indigenous people, he’s telling the Independents, and ‘carry conservative Australia with him’.
An interesting man, and by my reckoning our greatest orator. Peter Costello in his book speaks of sitting beside him on an aeroplane, and watching him absorbedly read Hayek. A good few of this lunatic’s fundamentalist views have penetrated, it seems, and it’s a pity.
Amanda Lampe comes by, cracking hardy. ‘It’s like waiting for exam results,’ she says.
Christopher Pyne goes to the ATM, decides not to use it and goes away.
Where is Rhys? I need Rhys’s ebullient intrusive banter, to talk to these people.
Jim has a bacon-and-egg roll which I didn’t know Aussie’s supplied, and he goes and buys me one too, on him. Then he goes away.
The chairs are filling up. Fran Kelly, Michelle Grattan and Malcolm Farr are at the next table, talking thoughtfully. I can’t hear what they say.
Tony Windsor comes in with two friends and sits down.
He sits down in the same chair he was in eight weeks ago, on the day Rudd fell.
Dare I approach him?
Do I dare disturb the universe?
To my amazement he looks up, gives a red-faced big smile, and invites me over.
‘How are you?’ he asks me.
I look at his beaming, red unreadable face. I cannot ask what is on my mind, or even go near the subject. So great is his charisma (and the word is well-used in his case) that I cannot even go near the subject.
‘Bruce…Hawker,’ I say, clearing my throat, ‘your cousin…’
‘Do you know him well?’
‘No, not really. His father I saw a bit of. He was a genuine eccentric, an interesting man. Always researching things. No practicality though. Couldn’t put a cap on a petrol tank.’
‘Hawker’s research,’ I said, ‘brought seven Liberal Ministers down, and put Bob Carr in power.’
I realise he was a National once, and this is not a good place to go.
‘He’s a capable man,’ he says. ‘We haven’t been close. He sent one of his children to my sixtieth birthday party. Just last week. And today is my mum’s ninety-third birthday.’
A National, I think. Can’t disappoint mum today.
I tell him EG Marshall might have played him in a 1950s movie, and Lee J Cobb, Edward G Robinson, Jimmy Stewart and Brandon De Wilde the others. He seems contentedly amused by this. But then I say, the way you do, that this is the way a democracy should be working, and I speak of Edmund Burke and his address to the electors of Bristol.
‘Yeah, others have made that comparison,’ he says. ‘Well…’
And he gets up and goes away.
What have I caused?
This is awful.
The first buds of spring are on the courtyard trees. A lot of people sit under them, smoking.
At the television, which can’t be turned up, a woman swears the Liberals ‘are confident they’ve got Katter and Windsor. It’s Oakeshott that’s going the other way.’
‘I don’t think they’ve decided,’ I say. ‘I think they’ll work through it this morning.’
‘Nah,’ she says. ‘The Liberals are home.’
I text Rhys: just had a long talk with Tony Windsor, where were you?
I go towards the toilet in the Senate wing and see a man wrestling with a koala in the courtyard, with a crowd of people watching.
His view is the koala should go up a eucalyptus branch he has with him but the koala prefers a real tree, one growing in the courtyard.
He climbs up the tree after it and wrestles it to the ground and puts it in a box while old women shriek with dismay.
This is Endangered Species Week, it is explained to me.
He then gets a Tasmanian devil out of a box and it gets away too.
I go and piss and come back and he’s holding a python and a woman is screaming hysterically.
‘It’s a parable,’ I say to David Marr of the endangered species. ‘It’s called Taming the Independents.’
David Marr is convinced that he may have ruined Australia, or saved it perhaps. ‘It’s now like it was with Harradine and the Wik legislation. He had to be persuaded clause after clause, and genuine argument was happening, and he passed it because he heard good argument. It’s a great day.’
He was in London, he says, when the Gillard news came through. ‘And the catch-phrase all over England that day was deliberately barren.’
‘What’s the line-up?’ I ask.
‘Oh, seventy-five—seventy-five,’ he says airily. ‘Oakeshott’s deciding, deciding as we speak, if he’ll go with the other two or not.’
Faulkner comes by and greets me. ‘I’ve just read in your book,’ he says, ‘that you think I don’t like you any more. This wrongly implies two things: (a) that I’ve altered in my liking for you, and (b) that I liked you in the first place.’
Bill Heffernan comes towards me with a plate of cereal. ‘This is the answer to everything,’ he says. ‘A village in Mexico which eats only this has no heart disease, and no diabetes.’
‘Sounds good,’ I say.
‘I’m planning to live to be a hundred,’ he says, with menace, walking on and eating it with a spoon.
‘It’s the Liberals, the Liberals for sure,’ avers the resident hobbit Don Dwyer.
‘No, it’s not,’ I whimper in pain.
‘No, no, look, it’s happening.’
I see Albo receding with a can of Coke in his hand.
‘Don’t resign!’ I call after him. ‘Don’t resign whatever you do!’
‘Pardon?’ he says.
‘Test it on the floor of the parliament!’ I shout. ‘They won’t vote out a government.’
He looks at me quizzically. ‘Yes, they will,’ he says. ‘They will – or they won’t.’
And he walks on.
I go back to my table, which Don Dwyer is minding for me.
‘If Abbott wins today,’ I ask, sitting down, ‘what happens to Gillard?’
‘Oh, I’m sure she’d carry on as Opposition leader,’ he says cheerily. ‘There’s no-one else primed to take over the job. It would be different if there was somebody else primed and ready.’
‘I reckon Shorten will be Opposition leader by April Fool’s Day.’
‘He’s coming from a long way back. I know you know him, but he hasn’t been a Minister or a leading figure.’
‘I know. Rudd hated him. He would have been the number two pretender if Rudd hadn’t diminished him…I don’t know.’
‘I think he’s carrying a lot of baggage these days…I think the three Independents will go with Abbott because they are, deep down, Tories. They’ve all got a Country Party or National Party background. And in Bob’s case, a long history of conservative politics and so it would be very difficult to spend the rest of their life explaining why they went with the Bolsheviks. No, their National Party background will come to the fore. Nuh.’
Rhys arrives at last, looking haggard.
‘Where were you?’ I ask.
‘Ah, I had a long night last night.’
‘Carousing was only the start of it. I got to bed at six, woke at seven-thirty, and drove and drove and here I am. It looks like we’re done.’
‘Done? What do you mean, done?’
‘Oakeshott and Windsor are going back and forth between the two leaders.’
‘And Abbott will always up his bid?’
I tell him about the koala and he thinks I’m lying. ‘There’s no koala there. Look.’
‘There isn’t any more.’
‘I don’t believe you.’
He goes to chat up the Independents, all apparently friends of his, and see what’s happening. Ashleigh Gillon goes by and I remember the Disney bluebirds he spoke of. An interesting fellow.
The Sky News ribbon is alleging the three Independents will be announcing their decision at two-thirty, then it’s changed to three.
Everyone I speak to is sure the Liberals are home.
And I realise it’s up to me.
It may be too late, but it’s up to me.
I walk the half-mile of polished wood floor to Swanny’s office and ask to see Chris Barrett. I’m told to sit and he’ll come out soon.
In five minutes he is standing in front of me, looking suspicious.
‘Look,’ I say, ‘there’s one deal they’ll come to.’
‘Offer them a year each as Minister for Regional Affairs, with a fixed and copious budget to spend as they will. That way they won’t be tainted with the full extent of a Labor government and they can get things done in their area.’
‘In which order?’
‘Who’s on first? To coin a phrase.’
‘Let them decide.’
He paused, looked down and then looked up at me.
‘We can do that. We can do that. Thanks.’
I go back and find Don and we go to the staff canteen and I buy a salad. Don went to school with Bob Katter who, he tells me, is not Afghan but Lebanese, and speaks of the difficulty Bob is in occasionally, concealing his ethnicity.
‘Some years ago a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald, David Leser, was writing a profile on Bob Katter for the Good Weekend magazine, and shortly before it went to proof he had a call from Katter pleading with him not to refer to his Arab background, his Lebanese street-merchant background from the 1880s. And Leser said, “Oh no, Bob, I’m a Jew from North Sydney and you’re an Arab from North Queensland. It shows our wonderful multiculture Australia.” And Katter said, “I know all that bullshit, David, but I’ve told the Kalkadoon tribe north of Mt Isa that I’m one of them and I certainly don’t want to get speared.”’
We are back at the television and Katter has declared for Abbott. The other two are having a press conference without him at three.
Clearly the ghost has stirred him to enact revenge.
Rhys was there when Katter made the announcement in his crowded office. ‘I went for North Queensland,’ he explained with invective passion, ‘I went for my tribe, my homeland, that’s who I went for. And it’s a pity a few other members of parliament didn’t do it as well.’ Then, feeling a bit cornered, he said he wouldn’t vote to oust a Gillard government if it was already sworn in and doing good work.
‘He’s having two bob each way,’ says Don. ‘The Katter safe bet. It’s a tradition.’
I find Hawker in the hallway, and put the three-consecutive-Ministers idea to him.
‘It’s good,’ he says. ‘But Katter’s defected.’
‘You can bring him back.’
‘Okay, I’ll try that.’
And he walks on, texting as he goes.
Windsor has just arrived at Aussie’s and he sits down with me.
I’m tongue-tied again.
We talk, I think, of our favourite movies.
He looks really happy though, and approving, somehow, of me.
I’m too shy. I’m just too shy.
They won’t let Don Dwyer and me into the big room where it’s happening and then a guard recognises me and he says, ‘He’s all right, he’s been here before.’
‘On every such occasion since the fall of Gorton,’ I say gratefully, and we go in, Don with a pass that qualifies him.
We sit in the third row and wait.
The room fills up. Rhys sits in front of me, texting. ‘Why weren’t you there with Katter? It was fantastic,’ he says.
‘I was saving the country.’
Three o’clock passes. We wait some more.
At about 3.06 there are lots of lights flashing outside the door beside the stage, and Oakeshott comes in and says, ‘Where’s Tony?’
No-one knows where he is.
There’s a long pause. Oakeshott looks at his watch.
This could be it.
‘Oh well,’ says Oakeshott, and he gets up and does a soft-shoe dance like Fred Astaire. ‘Keep the good folk amused,’ he says, dancing on, and smiling goofily.
What a wonderful country this is.
The flashing lights resume outside the door and Windsor comes in looking red-faced and undecided.
Then he gets up and says he’s supporting Labor, and gives good cogent reasons.
At about three-fifteen Oakeshott gets up and says, ‘And, as in the Agatha Christie classic thriller, then there was one.’
Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, he says, ‘would be both good Prime Ministers, there is no question about that. And if anything that has made this decision all the more difficult for me and I think on behalf of both of us and for Bob as well, a more difficult decision. They both, in this parliament where it will be a different parliament, will contribute fantastic things for this country. And I hope whichever way this ends up going that they renew their friendship, they talk and they do work together as much as possible in the national interest. It does matter.’
He goes on for a while, his stance awkward and shuffling, his voice like that of Tom Long, the youthful clerk-of–the-court in SeaChange, and it seems he will never get to the point. Every now and then he says ‘we’, and it’s probably all right, but maybe it’s not, you never know, he might mean Katter, and twenty-seven minutes pass while he articulates the enormity of his passionate indecision, and we all wonder if there’s a dreadful punch line coming.
At a certain point, however, about halfway through, I text Annie who has interrupted her TAFE class to listen to it with her restless, impatient students: It’s okay, I say, 3.18 p.m.
It’s been sheer agony like (I suppose) Rudd’s unstoppable apologia with blinked-back tears in the Prime Minister’s Courtyard seventy-seven days ago and it’s suddenly, if that’s the word I want, suddenly over. Two good men in an ordinary room with unpretentious language and immense good intentions and greatness of heart have altered forever our national story and made our democracy better.
They’ve restored that freedom of speech which Rudd and his ignorant slim young Gauleiters had for too long stifled.
They’ve brought back Australia again.
A wonderful thing Oakeshott said, in an answer, of this great and noble experiment. ‘This is going to be a cracking parliament. It’s going to be ugly, but it’s going to be beautiful in its ugliness.’
What a fine phrase that is. Like all world-altering clusters of words, it means nothing, and everything.
‘It might have been me that made the difference,’ I said to Rhys who was smoking in one of the courtyards and waving at clusters of tourists who were waving back at him, the celebrity.
‘It might,’ he said. ‘It was close.’
‘These are good men.’
‘Do you know where Gillard’s announcement is?’
We are proceeding thither when we come upon a small gathering in another courtyard. It’s Bob Brown murmuring a few words in his lovely voice to a half dozen reporters, and he says, ‘We Greens commit to making this new government work. We’re committed to making it an innovative period of government, and I look forward to working with them. There’s been a sigh of relief from everybody that at least a decision is made. I think it’s the right decision. I congratulate them, and Bob Katter, for having gone through such a long process, and wish them all well. I look forward to working with them.’
He takes questions, and one of them is mine.
‘Is this the fork in the road?’ I ask.
His face alters into a great joyous smile and he says, ‘When there’s a fork in the road, you should always choose the exciting one.’
A journo takes umbrage at this. ‘There’s no evidence,’ he says, ‘that Australians want an exciting federal government, is there?’
‘If you think Australians want a dull federal government,’ Bob replies, ‘I’ve got no evidence about that. I think people do prefer excitement.’
We’re in the Labor Party Caucus room and Gillard keeps us waiting again. Eventually she comes in, and she’s clearly been crying. But she smiles, and lifts her head, and all the computer chips are in place, and she says:
‘Can I say we live in a lively and a resilient democracy – and it works. We have democratic institutions and conventions that work well at the most important times when they’re put to the test by the Australian people at an election…Throughout this process of forming a new government we’ve been open with the Australian people. To quote Rob Oakeshott, sunshine is the best disinfectant, and we’ve agreed to far-reaching reforms that make me as Prime Minister and our government and how it functions more accountable to the Australian people. So, let’s draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in. Let our parliament be more open…’
At this point someone in the room groans, ‘Fu-u-uck’. Some around me later allege it was me. You may say that, Matty, but I couldn’t possibly comment.
She then goes on to speak of ‘forging a new paradigm’.
This means, I am told by The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, ‘to shape by heating in fire a new grammatical inflection.’
Which is just what we fucking need.
Don has gone home and Rhys and I look at the portraits of the Prime Ministers lined up in the usual place.
‘Notice something?’ I ask.
‘They’re the wrong colour. His real eyes are blue.’
Rhys looks at the portrait’s soggy brown eyes.
‘But he chose this portrait.’
We go to Abbott’s press conference and admire his grace, unscripted eloquence and what I guess must be called his heroic stoicism.
‘I congratulate Prime Minister Gillard for being restored to office,’ he says. ‘For our country’s sake, I hope that she can be an effective Prime Minister in this term of parliament. For our country’s sake, I hope that the Labor Party can provide a better government in this term of parliament than it has over the last three years. For our country’s sake, I hope that the Labor Party can rediscover the soul that has been so lacking, particularly over the last half of the previous government.’
And so on, without notes, most eloquently. He seems a good, deserving man. He says he hopes he will not go down in history as the best Opposition leader never to have become Prime Minister. Asked several times if it will be henceforth a kinder, gentler Opposition, he eventually says, with care, ‘My intention if the government does well is to give credit where it’s due. If the government does badly it will be held ferociously to account. Now, you won’t be surprised if as an Opposition leader I tend to focus more on what can be done better than what had been done well, because that will be my task.’
The word ‘ferociously’ registers, and is noted down, and that is the end, after half a day, of the vision splendid of a gentler, kinder, sweeter parliament. We have been warned.
Events after this became surreal.
The building emptied almost instantly and, seeking an alcoholic drink, Rhys and I found Aussie’s closed, and the canteen closed. I rang Shorten’s office and Matt said there was, he thought, some beer in the office fridge. Rhys went down to his car to recharge his iPod, or something, and I loitered by the marble fountain amazed at the echoing emptiness about me.
Then Hawker came towards me with two of his most influential colleagues, Simon Banks and Mark Nolan, looking chipper.
‘We are the real Three Amigos,’ Hawker said. ‘And our work here is done.’
And he walked on, chuckling and texting.
I made my way to Shorten’s office, texting Rhys the good news of the beer. Matt greeted me, and I asked if Shorten was in. ‘Sure,’ he said, and I went into Bill’s office, and he was on the phone shoring up his future. He gave me his big lighthouse smile and with a hand-gesture bade me fuck off. I went out, and in the fridge found two beers only, Cascade Premiums, awaiting me.
‘Can we drink these?’ I asked Matt.
‘Sure,’ he said. ‘Help yourself.’
Soon Rhys was amongst us and we sat and sipped and talked. Then Rhys went outside to make a phone call and ran, physically, into Rudd.
Rudd looked at him enigmatically.
‘How did you respond…to the outcome?’ he asked.
‘With…mixed…feelings,’ Rhys replied. And they both fell about laughing.
In the office, meanwhile, Bill emerged and asked who owned the laptop.
‘Rhys Muldoon,’ I said.
He looked at the half-drunk Premium. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is the last free beer he gets from me.’
Immediately Rhys was in the room, and I introduced them, assassin and corpse’s friend, and their big smiles flowered matily.
‘Good to see you,’ Shorten said.
Shorten falsely swore he’d join us at the Realm a bit later and we finished our beers and went down in the lift to the car park.
It was full of drunk and fighting old men in war medals and their worried, nagging wives.
One of them had locked knees and couldn’t move. Rhys tried to pull him to his feet and probably crippled him. He was weeping, and his drunken wartime comrades growling at him. We moved on and got in the car. Reality goes into overdrive sometimes, I thought.
We got to the Realm and immediately encountered, three inches away, Bronwyn Bishop, smiling at us crazily, like Luna Park.
‘Good to see you,’ Rhys said.
Beers, double vodkas and ciders wash down the excellent Italian sausage pizzas we then eat in the Realm and we talk of things. I read him Tynan’s essays on CS Lewis and WC Fields. He reads out the one on Garbo. He agrees with me that this, for him, has been a great life-experience. We talk about people we love and drink a toast and share a man-hug. Soon he leaves to join Kevin Rudd in his new, small, rented Canberra house for commiserative conversation and a further beer or two.
On the pub television are images of Abbott and Gillard among conscript veterans of two wars, uneasily, fraternally, patriotic and chummy, as required. As is required in politics.
It’s been a long day.
I take a cab to the motel and go in. The television isn’t working again.
And I think, again, as I did at the end of The Things We Did Last Summer, my first political book, My God I love Australia. And my God I love elections.