||Issue No. 123||21 December 2001|
The Unmaking of History
International: Global Year in Review
Unions: A Year at the Barricades
Technology: Unions Online 2001
Republic: Terror Australis
Economics: 2001: Annus Horribilis
Campaign Diary: Melanie and Me
Politics: Tony Moore's Final Word
Review: You Are the Weakest Program
Legal: The New McCarthyism
The Locker Room
The First Bastion
Tom Collins' Christmas Wish
Melanie and Me
Extracted from Strewth
Strewth's Steve Cannane went into the viper's nest on election night and emerged with an ordinary feeling.
It was a warm November night when I shared a room at the Wentworth Hotel with Melanie Howard. Not that things got real intimate, or that Melanie had much say in the matter. Like her father, Mel's big on security, and while she didn't at any stage call in the Navy, we were surrounded by federal cops, hotel security, and the robust frame of News Limited octopus Piers Ackerman.
The night was election night, the room was the Grand Ballroom, and Melanie and I shared the space and the moment with five hundred Liberal Party bluebloods. It was a packed house of grey heads, blue polo shirts, white pearls and dark suits. Howard's battlers had gathered to celebrate the dual achievements of keeping the towel-heads out of the country and the ALP out of office.
Lucky for me, I got past border patrol. I had the right papers and an Anglo-Celtic look about me. A media pass got me past hotel security and the Liberal Party door-bitches. When I arrived at 5.30pm, the polls were still open and Melanie was nowhere to be seen. She was obviously behind closed doors, fretting about the result. Melanie had a lot to lose from a Labor victory. Free rent at Kirribilli House and a free car parking spot in the CBD, paid for by ordinary Australians and mum and dad shareholders, is not handed out to every corporate lawyer from Gilbert and Tobin.
The media were the first to arrive, a horde of TV crews, photographers, print journos, radio reporters and columnists. Piers Ackerman shuffled the floor like an insecure schoolboy looking for friends, and when he couldn't find friends he found sandwiches. It looked like Piers was treating the cocktail party food and drink trays as a form of payback, scoffing and slurping back years worth of one-sided columns. Maybe I was witnessing the first throes of a catering for comment scandal. I didn't see any other journos tucking into the Liberal party freebies, just Piers who was up to his sirloin ears in Thai fish cakes and white wine. Channel 9 brought their own open baguettes of salmon and cream cheese. Other hacks ordered out or starved. But Piers kept going all night, continuing his one-man crusade against the elites by eating all their canapés and drinking all their charddy.
I didn't expect to see porno at the Wentworth Hotel that night, but around 7.30pm, I copped an eyeful. Around four large TV screens were scattered across the room so the guests could watch the seats fall and wait for Cheryl to cry. One journo, sick of HG & Roy's coverage, tried to switch over to Red Kerry. Somehow he stumbled on two separate porn channels, piped through to The Grand Ballroom via the in-house movie channel. Unfortunately there were no Liberal party matrons around at the time. Janette, despite the vanilla positions on display, would not have been amused.
As the porn disappeared, the guests started to arrive. Those highly manicured monarchists Donald McDonald and David Flint turned up. Malcolm Turnbull found himself a little too close to Kerry Jones. Kerry Chikarovski tried to find out what winners do on nights such as these. Michael Yabsley, impersonating a real estate spiv on a mobile, looked even happier than the day he took away prisoner's rights to wear thongs.
Then another guest turned up, unannounced and uninvited. Craig Reucassel from The Election Chaser breached border security and made it through into The Grand Ballroom. Clad in red lycra and adorned with a playing card with an Arab's head crossed out on it, Craig had dressed up as The Race Card. "We've won, we've won." he cried "And it's all down to me." He had a drink thrown over him and was told to "Go home" in a way that only toffy people can muster. Of course this unseemly security breach might've been avoided if John Howard had taken out full page ads in the nation's newspapers exclaiming "We decide who comes to our party and the circumstances in which they come." Hotel security did decide the circumstances in which he exited, taking him outside and towing him into international waters. The poor fella wasn't even granted a temporary protection visa.
With the crowd purified of any uninvited queuejumpers, it was time for the guest of honour to arrive. The Prime Minister, kept them waiting like a high maintenance bride on a stinking hot wedding day. Mike Munro, allowed out from behind the autocue, twitched nervously as he waited near the lifts. He'd been dining that evening with Richard Howard, another one of John and Janette's bludging offspring, and must've expected an exclusive. But there'd be none of that. The PM's media flunkies and security heavies cleared a regal path for the Howards.
Then they arrived. It seemed so ridiculous to be waiting for such an uninspiring lot. It was like queueing up on a Saturday night to get into the Masonic Club, or waiting on hold for an hour to buy Barry Manilow tickets. Was I really here? Was this really happening? Was I really waiting for John, Janette, Melanie and Richard? Could someone please flick that porn channel back on? Could someone challenge Piers to a hors d'oeuvre eating contest? Could anyone vote for these people? There amongst all the suits, the pearls, and hairspray were three people in t-shirts. Two "Vote-1 Pat Farmer" t-shirts and one "Vote 1 - Ross Cameron" t-shirt. What kind of election party was this? If the people of Western Sydney could see this pack of wankers now they'd never vote for them.
Then our Prime Minister spoke. He was as excited as I've ever seen him, and that includes the time he met Shane Warne. But he didn't seem like a Prime Minister. He talked about figures, not feelings. He spoke of victory, not vision. He sung the national anthem in chorus with the crowd. If I blocked out all the wealthy nobs around me I could see only one thing. An ordinary Australian on a podium, giving an ordinary speech. I was in a bowls club somewhere, and the local President was giving a speech about what a great year it had been, how they'd won the A grade pennant and kept the slopes out of the club. He'd been the Club President forever, played the local politics like a master and survived. This is who we'd been waiting for.
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