I know it’s nearly six weeks since the Australian federal election and yeah, I know I should be over it. Everyone else is. Well and truly. But I am not. To be honest, I’m only just lifting my head above the clouds. The same cumulonimbus that threatened rain, but I thought would one day clear. But it has been thirty-eight days and the sky continues to dump down its contents, and I have to stretch my neck giraffe-style to see stray rays of sunshine.
I’m not the only one either. It seems my small band of select friends make up all 200 people who voted against John Howard in the federal election. We are an untidy lot of bush regenerators, refugee advocates and peaceniks.
I have a vague feeling I did something on 9 October, beyond voting and watching the TV. Then I remember. On the night of the election I staggered to bed at 10.30 pm. Not in the drunken stupor of defeat, but in a daze no less, the daze of realising the majority of our population had voted for John Howard. I took out my notebook and scribbled words I now hardly remember writing, but the emotions that evoked them come flooding back:
9/10/04, 10.30 pm
Election night. Half an hour ago the Labor Party conceded defeat and I have decided to take up fiction. This factual stuff is too hard, too emotional. The thorns from our election campaign still sting my hands. The flowers bought only yesterday have died in the vase.
I know there’s a plan somehow but I can’t see what the Liberals winning government has to do with it. After all the deceptions, the Tampa, children overboard, weapons of mass destruction, Wilkie’s exposÃ© and that illusive meeting between Abbott and a certain representative of God. And it all meant NOTHING to the Australian people. NOTHING.
Yesterday I was filled with hope. I raced to a meeting with hopeful people. Our cars brandished ‘Not Happy John’ stickers on our bumper bars, testimony to tactics discussed in a cafÃ© over salad. The High Court was on the agenda, the federal government in our sights.
Two days ago the High Court ruled that it was legal under Australian domestic law to keep children in detention. International law didn’t come into the equation. That is why I (and many others from that meeting) spent yesterday afternoon handing out red and creme roses to hundreds of happy smiling people. ‘Free rose?’ I’d ask, and many astounded people said ‘Yes!’ No doubt they wondered what the catch was.
There was no catch, only a message stating that the rose represented a ten-year-old child by the name of Adam, who had spent four-and-a-half years in immigration detention. A system of denying children their freedoms strongly supported by the Liberal government. The label simply asked that on election day people not let Adam wilt and die like the flower inevitably would. I thought that could help people understand that this election was not about interest rates or terracotta roofing. It was about human beings and what a government would do to keep power.
I don’t know what the answers are anymore. I look at the book Dark Victory (by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson) on my shelf and think about its story; an exploration of how the Howard government won the 2001 election, standing on the backs of drowning refugees. I scan the pages of Desert Sorrow (by Tom Mann) a teacher’s story about Woomera filled with drawings from children, among them a child lying in dirt crying out to the sky ‘God help me’. Someone once told me that Australia only hosts a population of 1.8 million readers. The rest are too busy replacing their bathroom tiles.
Me, I don’t know what I do with my time. From my armchair the sites are disturbing. I see volunteers making lunch for people with no Medicare and no right to work. Others detained for years without charge. Aboriginal institutions shut, the bolts on their doors beginning to rust. And our museums instructed to promote a version of history even our teachers do not debate. If I was a bit older and German these visions might invoke a haunting memory from childhood.
But could this vision of history be repeating itself now? Human memory is very short. Perhaps God seeks to remind us of something forgotten.
‘Do not get too comfortable,’ He booms down from His heavenly throne. ‘You have to desperately want your freedom. You have to earn it.’
I know we are going the way of the Land of the Free but in a completely Orwellian way. For those 18.2 million out there who don’t read, this may need an interpretation. Our new land will be what Australians voted for, excluding the odd bush regenerator or refugee advocate. When people find themselves held without charge, without phone lines because they are not in the city, or without rights because they are too old or too young, then maybe they’ll get angry.
Let’s hope by then it’s not too late. Let’s hope that our government’s efforts to woo fearful voters with fake terrorists have not wooed real terrorists; shifting the sites of their guns to our heads.
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