Published in the Spectator Australia. Read it online here…
Tag: One Nation
When I was young and naive I believed that I was Australian.
Blonde-haired, blue-eyed and vampirishly white – I was born in the Northern suburbs of Sydney and spent my childhood playing in the bush down the back of Fox Valley. The kids from the cul-de-sac got into all manner of strife scrambling over outcrops of sandstone before walking the fire trails trying (but always failing) to catch lizards. My father found a Lorikeet with a broken wing. Wolfi (short for Wolfgang) used to sit on my shoulder until she laid eggs one day and we hastily renamed her Wolfeena… The bush was our world. We knew it was dangerous but neither the oppressive Summer heat nor the stern warnings from our parents kept us from exploring barefoot every weekend.
It wasn’t until it caught fire in the late 90s that I truly appreciated the blatant indifference the country had to my survival. A firestorm engulfed Sydney and I remember standing on the street, staring at the red sky behind my house as ash and flaming gum leaves fell out of the air. The smoke gathered at my knees like fog. You could hear the roar of fire as it moved up and down the ridges, consuming our neighbours’ houses. I was rushed away to my nan’s but soon the valley behind St Ives caught alight too. It was a spiritual experience – facing down what could only be described as hell.
On holidays my parents would take me to see natural wonders. At first, it was the rainforests and beaches of Queensland where I was always begging to walk in the Glasshouse Mountains rather than the tourist parks. Geology had become a passion and although I was deeply terrified of volcanoes I couldn’t help but feel a fascination with old rocks. Though I am sure the attachment was tiresome to my parents, outcrops of dirt became the focus of our exploration.
Turns out that this is not entirely my fault. My grandfather was a great one for fossils and gold – same as my great-grandparents who walked from Sydney to Sofala to scratch a living during the Gold Rush like every other desperate Australian. Some of them are buried there in the dust. A few stones, lopsided and cracked.
We went to the Wollemi National Park where I picked up a new religion. Ancient trees from the dawn of the Cretaceous had me enraptured. For a good few years the only thing a tiny version of me cared about was the pre-history of Australia and what giant things were living here. I cried when the Wollemi Pine that I had adopted was accidentally mown over and yes, I’m still trying to work out how I can find another.
A little while later we had enough money to travel South. I spent hours glued to the left side window of the car as we drove around The Great Ocean Road where Bass Strait did its best to rip shreds off the mainland. The Twelve Apostles seemed to be missing a few members but we stood as close to the cliffs as we dared and listened to the endless violence of the waves.
Invisible beyond the grey curve lay a piece of Australia I’d not yet seen. In my mind it was an island of environmental anarchy where the tallest trees formed forests of silent giants, Tasmanian Devils attacked from the shadows and the only convict member of my family saved Old Hobart Town from a devastating fire, earning his pardon. That’s the only reason we’re allowed to acknowledge him… He, like so many, were brought to Australia against their will. Countless died but those that survived disease, forced labour and a hostile continent found their home.
I did not realise then that The Great Ocean Road was a gift from the Australian people to all those who fought in the first World War. It remains the largest war memorial ever built, providing both work for returned serviceman and an everlasting source of beauty and enjoyment for which they could be remembered. Is there anything more Australian? You may say that this coast became a spiritual monument. I would like to go back – stand on the edge and say thank you to the waves for the dozens of members of my family slaughtered on foreign shores to protect this little strip of cliff.
Some of my family were pioneers. First and Second fleeters. Our free settlers headed up the New South Wales coast. A few followed old tracks through dense bush while others sailed into harbours looking for somewhere to farm. The first maps of the area bear our name as these hopeful fools turned tiny scraps of iron-stone filled forest into a place they could survive in. These people lived in shacks built on the banks of the river with the ocean on one side and a mountain range full of iron on the other. The rains came, the river rose and everyone nearly drowned under two metres of water. Then the Summer storms arrived and the lightening shattered so thick and fierce that they thought the gods of the ancient world had found them.
Nearly two hundred years later, I still live on that piece of land. The dairy they built has been lovingly restored but we left its hardwood exterior on show – grey with age. There’s a set of tracks leading down to the river where the cream barge used to deliver once a week from the butter factory to the isolated families running cattle. Now we wave at tourists looking for fish and loft our eyebrows at brave water skiers. For a brief moment our ancestors thought there might be gold beneath them but all they found was white sand, fossilised leaves and fresh water.
One day soon I may have to sell this place to survive. Our spiritual and cultural connection to the land is irrelevant to the government and the banks. The old house and the entwined fig trees planted by our departed kin are meaningless. My grandparents died within a week of each other. They were scattered in the river but it cannot be sacred to us.
If I am here to see another flood – I will think of them.
When I am told of my ‘white privilege’ I remember my grandfather.
Picture this. A wild sweep of sand interrupted by volcanic rock, pockmarked and covered in hidden pools where sharp molluscs make the rough surface utterly treacherous. The ocean lays in front, endlessly blue and behind there are a few k’s of scrub backed by the odd rise of a large, scruffy hill. Looking left up the beach is the smoky outline of a distant mountain range so far away it may as well be a spectre.
Every now and then the ocean rushes in, gets caught inside the weathered tunnels littered through the rock before roaring into the air. The sound echoes in the caves above where a pair of young boys emerge. It is 1930-something and this may as well be the edge of the world.
Starving, the boys have decided that the best solution to their hunger is to go for a fish. This seems like a sensible solution until you realise that one of the boys is balancing a 303 rifle on his shoulder while he skids down the near-vertical rubble and the other is pacing toward a water trap aptly named, ‘Shark Hole’.
The boys take up the positions above the water. One by one they ignite sticks of dynamite and toss them into Shark Hole. The subsequent explosions shake the bedrock and leave a few stunned fish floating on the surface. One boy rushes out, hessian bag clutched in one hand as he dives into the water. He gathers up the fish and then drags the bloodied bag behind him while his mate watches on, rifle scanning the waves for any ominous, prowling shadows.
Can you you guess who elected to sit on the slope with the rifle?
Safety 101. If you find yourself on a hunting trip with my grandfather, always remember that you are the bait. He’s not hunting fish – he’s hunting sharks.
There was nothing privileged about his poverty. He saw his four young sisters to school on horse back and then across the river in a canoe – barefoot and returned to work the farms in exchange for food. His escape from rural poverty was World War II where he paddled up river and became the third person to sign up for the Australian Parachute Battalion as a sniper.
My grandmother would return to that isolated farm after the war and raise three children alone in the bush with nothing. Their wealth came from weekends catching mudcrabs and baking the odd cake (after making the butter by hand).
No one in my family has had the privilege of money of any significant kind but we always had stories. They centre around the land and its secrets.
When I was 15 I finally got to go to the greatest rock of them all – Ayres Rock, or Uluru if you like. I didn’t care about its name. I wanted to know its story. This piece of sandstone was part of a greater creature, like a dusty iceberg trapped in the desert. Essentially it was the corpse of the Petermann Ranges, a ridge of mountains that rivalled the Himalayas.
Following the track around the base of the rock, I ended up in one of the many caves. In the silence I could feel Australia’s age dripping out of the stone. There’s something elusive about our country. Perhaps it is eternally conspiring to shake us free with bushfires, floods and droughts – or maybe it is the incomprehensibility humans feel when they’re faced with oblivion and what better way to feel it than in the grave of a mountain?
The next day the rains came. Lightening struck the endless, golden flats. The rock turned violet in the afternoon light and soon waterfalls poured off its sides. It was a canvas shifting colour faster than I could sketch as though it were beating.
I was in the heart of my country and very near the beginning of its story. One day I will go West to the oldest corner where the rock has seen life wash up on the cliffs and waste aeons building odd-looking mounds in the shallow water.
Then I grew up.
I was told that I am not Australian.
My cultural heritage lies in a country I’ve never been to.
I am only allowed to have a spiritual connection to lands my ghosts passed through.
People like me, we are indigenous to nowhere. Culturally stateless. Cattle-class in the eyes of our government who have no interest in our stories.
Our virtue is a tally of our ancestors and that is a mountain I can never climb.
SETTING FIRE TO A PHOENIX
Outside something is dying. I can hear it squealing in the dark. Some poor bird entrapped in a firm set of jaws. Teeth pushing through its bones and flesh. These are the sounds you hear at night on the farm, echoing down the river until they’re suffocated by the banks of sheoak and overhanging teatree that dip into the water without so much as a ripple. The initial panic is followed by an occasional squawk – a shuffle of feathers against the grass and finally, the cows who wander indifferently across the slaughter. Later, the mists thicken. The clouds fall away from the sky and the blackest nights are lit by a peaceful hue of starlight. It’s like the violence never happened.
This is how politicians die – in a flurry of spectacle before being hurriedly folded into the deck. A slight of hand.
Very few hear the actual slaughter, even fewer the event itself but one thing is certain, by the time morning dawns the fallen politician has been replaced by a fresh suit and a clean slate. Humanity, personality, charisma, opinion – these are all the perceived enemy of the new political class. Our major parties would prefer if their MPs were born at fifty as historical orphans with no future beyond the years they’ll spend in office reciting the party line.
This is the safe game.
As a result of this bubble-wrap approach, the majority of representatives are elected purely upon inferred merit inherited from the party despite voters having no opinion whatsoever about the actual person being elected. This is a fabulous shortcut but a precarious situation for a country which ends up having its laws drafted by a pack of strangers.
Having set the standard for perfection at the brevity of a headstone it becomes decidedly easy to remove MPs who divert from the party’s pre-ordained path. A minor infraction is all that’s required. A Tweet excavated from childhood. An innocuous private photograph or ill-conceived joke. Something written in college or, for those who are deemed worthy of perishing in a hail of headlines, a scandal in the style of HBO – tits out, blood on the floor…
The power given to the Press to make or break our elected leaders is staggering.
Without much effort, their coverage can fashion the knives with which political opponents strike. Elections are relegated to a baptismal formality rather than their intended kingmaker status. We have become voyeurs to a system engineered to use the common man as scaffolding. And what is scaffolding but something to be removed and thrown away when the building is complete…
As with the notorious trolling group SleepingGiants, the only reason that the Press are in possession of such power is through the endorsement of parties all too eager to rid themselves of political dead weight but lack the courage to do the deed themselves. More often than not, their back room whispers are where the damaging stories start and the quills sharpened. Somewhere in a desk drawer, there are incriminating post-it notes collected at candidacy to ensure any god may be slain and that no one be allowed to rise above the faceless men at the helm. At the end of the day, all of our politicians are poppies bowing their heads toward open scissors.
It is an ecosystem that gifts exceptional power to the party factions at the expense of rigorous politics.
This regrettable situation is endured by the voting public because very few mechanisms exist to protest its existence. The public must vote for candidates who are first chosen by a party. If a line of clones are on offer, there is nothing to do but scan a barcode at the ballot box.
For the industrious and brave, stepping out as an independent proves a costly venture. The reality is that you must have a considerable amount of money to represent the people but not necessarily good sense. While the Press are friendly to the established card-board cuts outs, they pick up their pitchforks and hound anyone who falls outside the fold with a voracity common to Necrotizing Fasciitis. The entrails of those who failed are often seen dragged behind campaign buses to be used as an anecdote when a diversion is required.
But wait – this is not the whole story of our political world.
Every now and then the weakened lungs of democracy cough up the most feared of all politicians… Like an exorcism these people arrive without warning to rain down havoc on the established order.
I am speaking of course, of a contrarian. An adversary to the elite.
They are a figurehead of public opinion and great care must be taken by anyone who opposes them for they are no longer simply the flip of the political coin – this person represents the people and their interests. You are looking at a champion of democracy and there is nothing in human history more persuasive than a martyr.
These rare individuals climb the steps onto the political stage eliciting a hush from within the crowd. It is the still of night when a sword has been taken to the moon and it lies on its side, half in shadow. The insects of the swamp tap their antennae against one another. A feather tumbles between the swaying grass and everything waits.
Hands wrapped around the edge of the lectern, they pause to take a good long look at the score card before holding it aloft to a stifled gasp. Then, a match is passed beneath the waxed cardboard and it is left to fall to the ground aflame.
They are the individuals who refuse to play by the tiresome rules of national nihilism. You will never find them with an exposed neck near a chopping block. Indeed, they are the only ones who seem to realise that politics is about the people, not the system.
When you understand this you also privy to the contents of a dangerous and well kept secret.
Traditional politicians like Bill Shorten crave power but they are ignorant to its origin. Sure, their electioneering skills are second to none (except possibly Clive Palmer) and on occasion their deep pockets buy them a slice of polling supremacy but – but… The great leaders of our history do not pay for power as if the voting booths are rooms to let at a Roman brothel, it is laid at their feet to the sound of raucous cheers. Call it Populisim if you like or more simply the underrated art of listening.
A true leader begins with empathy and ends as a servant of the people. That is the purpose of a politician. To serve and to listen. When these flukes of the system appear they are unstoppable because you do not face a person on the other side of the ballot, you face the country.
The established political class have always been caught expressing an unkind view of the masses who elect them. Whether it be Caligula’s wish, ‘Would that the people of Rome had but one neck, I would slit it…’ in his understandably short reign as Roman emperor or United States presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s 2016, ‘basket of deplorables’ comment which shall we say was, misjudged.
The grandeur of their office or power of their platform affords these political figures an inflated self importance leading them to woeful Freudian slips common to celebrities who forget that they are paid to read other people’s lines for a living.
Mistaking the writhing hordes of cameras for actual adulation, politicians are quick to forget that they are entrusted with other people’s money – people who are usually significantly worse off than them. Flaunting this absconded wealth does them no favours. And so we have the situation where a treasurer announcing a budget thinks his billion dollar spend is a grand gesture to win votes when in reality the public see their stolen cash consumed by the industry of politicking.
In steps a Trump. A Pauline Hanson… These are the Machiavellian princes at the gates of the city besieged from within by institutionalised rot. It is said that a leader will be despised if he is changeable, foolish, weak, mean and uncertain – Australia, take your pick. Leaders in this circumstance are wise to fear everyone and everything and so even a minor party like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation or a property developer with an empowering slogan can shake the bars of the cage clean off.
Greatness, courage, seriousness and strength. A little wit wouldn’t go astray. These are the qualities forged in those who stand up against the tide and are craved by those who struggle to survive.
The danger of a Pauline Hanson to Australia’s political establishment is profound. Her policies expose weakness of character in the conservative parties while her heart leaves the left a shrivelled, self-serving shell. You can tell how seriously the major parties and Press take her threat by the severity with which they seek to punish her existence, hounding her campaign, magnifying missteps and paying for fiction when their treacherous-foreign shovels come up empty. As with Donald Trump and the Steele Dossier, if you’re going to kill a brown snake make sure you bloody well know what you’re doing because you’ll only get one chance.
The Press missed with Donald Trump and created an untouchable president, emboldened by survival and the people love it. Not only does scandal fall on deaf ears, when the Press whisper it is their own organisation left painted as a conspirator. The damage they did to themselves unjustly setting out to destroy a man of the people has created not only one phoenix but a movement across the world. Donald Trump is protected from idle chatter while ever he sits behind the presidential desk. He cannot be unmade by the Press – only the people who sat him in the chair.
In Australian politics, Pauline Hanson is a different iteration of the phoenix narrative. Like Trump, her political opponents dragged her toward a bundle of wood left in the town square, expelling her from the Liberal party only for her to win Oxley at the 1996 election in defiance and on her own merits. Petulant, her peers in parliament walked out on her now infamous maiden in speech and in doing so, those foolish ministers walked out on the voice Australians had put in parliament. They were told to listen and they refused. It was the first of several strategic mistakes for the majors, the next coming when Pauline was unjustly (and incorrectly) sentenced to three years’ of prison over an electoral fraud charge that was later overturned. Backed by the then Prime Minister, John Howard – this action was seen as an extraordinary attempt to remove a political force from the stage. Bronwyn Bishop said it best when she spoke to Channel Seven:
“It’s gone beyond just political argy-bargy of political opponents. I think the fact that she has been charged and convicted and sentenced to three years’ jail is just outrageous. We don’t have political prisoners in our country and that’s what we’ve got today.” – Bronwyn Bishop
The striking of the match against the thatch had failed. Having survived the worst possible punishment for a political dissenter in this country, Pauline donned a fresh set of armour.
Learning nothing, the Press continue to sneer at every opportunity but as with the whispers of CNN against Trump, they serve to further isolate the people. Pauline has become the embodiment of the Australian story – a battler faithful to the country she serves – not the interests of those who seek to control her. She isn’t born of an appalling gender quota. There was no flock of factional cronies orchestrating her rise. Her voice, like it or not, is hers and hers alone.
Repeatedly we have watched her taken to the edge, driven there by betrayal or disappointment but unlike her peers who fold away and save themselves the heartache, Pauline Hanson refuses to break despite the tears. Channel 9’s A Current Affair thought they had a ‘gotcha’ moment with Pauline cornered, alone and distraught, softly prompting her to lay down arms and abandon politics for her own good but they could not have predicted a woman in possession of unwavering fortitude.
Pauline looked down the camera of her metaphoric captor with no attempt to hide the raw pain of all that she had endured. Then she did something extraordinary. She refused to give in.
“I’ve copped it more than once and I’ll keep getting up and have another go until the people don’t want to vote for me. [ … ] I have been let down dreadfully. Not by him. I can give you a whole list of them. A whole list who have actually. So just don’t put the blame on them. I’ve had Fraser Anning, I’ve had Brian Burston, I’ve had a whole list of them – David Oldfield. You name them. Where are they now? Where are they?! I have stuck with this because I believe in making a change for the people.”
Tracy Grimshaw: “Why are you still in it? Why are you still in it? Look at you. Why don’t you walk? Look at what it’s doing to you…”
“Tracy I’ve made a change out there for people. I save people from losing their lands. I have helped the farming sector. I have helped those kids out there get apprenticeship schemes that was introduced this year by the government. My scheme. I am hoping to get water inland to help the farming sector in the Murray Darling – and I’ll do it.”
Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten can subject themselves to all the ‘Leader’s debates’ they like – neither of them will earn of a measure of what Pauline did in this short interview. It was her soul on show for all to see. The absolute assurance that her reason for being in politics is to serve the people at any cost to herself. She does what is hard because it is right and she fights for those who are of no consequence to the elite because they carry no significant political advantage. The farmers. The poor. They are of value to her because they are Australians.
If you had to leave the survival of Australia on the shoulders of one person in a room full of wolves, she is the only member of parliament I trust when the doors are closed and the cameras are off.
She gets frustrated and upset, has been betrayed and made mistakes from which she has learned – she wears her heart on her sleeve but her reasons for being here matter. Not even her harshest critics can pretend that Pauline is anything other than loyal.
So, while Shorten practices his ghoulish smirk and Morrison smiles – as our major parties trouble themselves with how many bits of Australia can be lopped off and sold to their mates for international economic sweeteners – what laws can be drafted to infringe upon our right to speak and how our political systems might be manipulated to lock us into the twin pillars of green and greener – remember who faced the camera and refused to stop fighting.
Democracy itself is a fire. It started in the stranglehold of oppression where the first contrary voices fought their way out of the crowd. Humanity is not a blank slate. We cannot be painted like a red banner at the start of a Marxist revolution or pushed into uniforms, branded and told to act like thoughtless copies of each other.
No one is no one… We all have a history. Every knock is recorded. You cannot erase the people with flames any more than you can set fire to a phoenix.