Friday, 4 June 2010

Recollection of the election

At my tent on the Great Victorian Bike Ride

John Howard

Kevin Rudd

Throughout 2007 I negotiated preferences for the Greens in the run up to the November election.
It was a fascinating task, involving meetings with representatives of every other political party - many of them with very different philosophies - and in the end we had the preferences for Richard Di Natale, our senate candidate, flowing as well as we could. There would be no repeat of the Steven Fielding election debacle this time.
On 24 November, election day, I was away on the Great Victorian Bike Ride with my brother, and not able to attend in person my usual booth, or the party get togethers in the evening.
The ride that morning started at the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, and meandered along the coast to Wonthaggi. We passed a few polling booths on the way, decked out with bunting and green triangles. The Greens candidate here was Bob Brown - not the one you might think, but a singer songwriter well known for his song "Give me a home among the gum trees".
At Wonthaggi, we found a quiet spot at the edge of the vast sea of campers, set up our tents and relaxed for a while.
As evening drew on, I was looking for a screen where I could watch the election. This proved harder than I had imagined. Several pubs were showing the trots or the races, and it seemed I would just have to listen on my small radio.
But at last I found a pub which had a back room with a large TV screen tuned to the ABC election coverage. I bought a beer, settled down alone in front of the screen, and began to take in democracy at work.
As the evening wore on, the place began to fill up. Soon it was packed, with nearly everyone glued to the screen. Wonthaggi is an old coal mining town, and pretty strong Labor territory. The Great Vic Bike Ride has a good proportion of Green voters. If there were any coalition voters in that room (and I doubt it) they certainly kept very quiet.
Right next to the TV screen was a juke box.
One keen Labor supporter, a little unsteady on his feet, saw Peter Garrett celebrating his win, and put on a Midnight Oil song. Not only did this drown out the election coverage - causing several angry murmurs - but it got right up the noses of the Greens.
After we had endured the song, and had resumed watching the coverage - Liberals losing seats with some very big swings - he got up and put on the same song again.
This time people called out for him to stop. "We're watching the coverage!" "Don't play that crap!" "We can't hear the TV!"
"This is history!" he retorted. "This is a big win! We gotta celebrate!"
Once again the song ended and the throng resumed rapt attention on the election coverage.
Then another guy - beefier and tougher than the first music lover, and sporting a formidable beard - approached the juke box.
The gathering became passionate. "We are trying to listen to the coverage! It's really important! Don't put the juke box on!"
The bearded music lover was a bit worse for wear. With an angry sneer he put on the music and gave us a few gestures to go with it. Now the mood was getting ugly.
The song ended, and things settled down. A few more Liberal seats fell. We heard Kerry O'Brien saying that John Howard was on his way, and was expected to concede.
Then the bearded muso walked up to the juke box again.
The crowd wasn't having it, and he was howled down. "You can't put the juke box on!"
He fronted his tormentors angrily: "My mum owns this pub. I can do what I like!"
"Well, why don't you go and ask mummy!" came the chorus.
Defiant, he reached for the juke box, and several people stepped forward to physically stop him.
Then he lashed out in all directions and in an instant was dropped to the floor still kicking and punching.
I quietly got up and pushed my way past the spectators into the night air outside. Definitely time to leave.
I phoned the Greens' number crunchers to see how Richard was going: it was very close, and we would not know that night. It was the first Victorian senate count when we would not know on the night.
Then I turned on my small radio, put in the earpiece, and caught John Howard's concession speech. He attempted statesmanlike grace towards Kevin Rudd but the mere mention of that name roused partisan boos from the Liberal crowd, forcing the conceding Prime Minister to repeatedly gripe "Please! Please!"
Still listening, I strolled back to the campsite and could see others gathered in the darkness around radios taking in the change of government. We exchanged friendly looks and kept our ears glued to the sound waves.
Then it was Kevin Rudd's turn. This was his moment in history. What would he say? The cheers built and built to the accompaniment of upbeat music. The pride in the achievement of overturning the bitter Howard years, coming through my earpiece, was radiant, splendid.
The music stopped, but the ovation persisted - with exuberant supporters calling out their congratulations. At last the acclamation died away, and the new prime minister commenced his victory speech with a tetchy "Okay, guys."
I got into my tent as I listened. It didn't get much better:
I want to acknowledge now for the entire Australian nation and publicly recognise Mr Howard's extensive contribution to public service in Australia. There are big differences between us, but we share a common pride in this great nation Australia. And I want to wish Mr and Mrs Howard and their family all the very best for the future.
Today Australia has looked to the future. Today the Australian people has decided that we as a nation will move forward, to plan for the future, to prepare for the future, to embrace the future, and together, as Australians, to unite and write a new page in our nation's history to make this great country of ours, Australia, even greater.
And on it went. I knew I should try to listen right through, but I didn't hear the end of the speech.
I fell asleep.

Bob Brown

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