The Armpit of Australia


In general, I find Victorian Premier John Brumby every bit as beguiling as a new song by Paris Hilton. Further, and again reminiscent of my reaction to any musical release by the young heiress, I find him as arresting, socially conscious and effective as blancmange. He does not trouble me unduly. Nor does he normally merit my consideration.

I’m aware, of course, that he takes poor decisions often. (Again, the equivalence between Brumby’s time in public office and Ms Hilton’s own adventures are uncanny and far too tempting not to explore. To the horror of many, he blithely insists on urgent channel deepening. If you have endured some of Ms Hilton’s amateur moments on digital video, you will know she has, in her own special way, presaged this action. However, the cost and profit of this latter dredging is relatively slight.)

Lately, however, I’ve become far more intrigued by Brumby. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a fool for a joke about Adelaide. Even if the gag is about something as grave as an infrastructure task with potentially drastic environmental consequences, I will still giggle. Adelaide is a risible punch line to so many jokes. You know the ones: they’re invariably about shabby pretension, unusually creepy murders and the graffiti which follows the sign "Do Not Use WC while Train is Stationary". It reads, "Except in Adelaide".

Certainly, none of this is overly droll and would never have formed a legitimate part of, for example, a Bill Hicks routine. However, there are certain universally appealing objects of derision. There are articles so dreary and generally loathed that any critique of such is met with howls of censorious mirth. These include musical outings by Paris Hilton, fast food franchises and any fibre or utterance attached to Brendan Nelson.

Not, of course, that the self-styled firebrand Brumby was hoping for yucks following his "backwater" comment. Nonetheless, the entire nation, save for those pompous sots of Glenelg who sweetly and genuinely believe in the caffeinated myth of their own Urban Sophistication, pissed itself. Even people who legitimately fear the consequences of dredging. Even people from Adelaide.

Adelaide is a hole.

Have you ever visited this armpit? "Backwater" is unchecked flattery. Of course, in choosing the term, Brumby intended to indicate infrastructural flaws and a sluggish economy. He didn’t mean to evoke, for me, what he did. Viz. Cabernet-tinged memories of appalling Mod Oz restaurants that deem the word "vinaigrette" chic and rather reflexively pop Hokkien noodles with everything. Including vinaigrette. And, of course , a citizenry that honestly thinks it sounds rather posh. And a stupid mall filled with "boutiques" that smell faintly of vinaigrette and hawk low-slung jeans as though such were the apogee of sexed up sophistication. And those stupid ruddy balls.

I loathe Rundle Mall. It gives me the willies. I always fear surveillance by a barnyard-animal-killing predator who enjoys the music of Paris Hilton and smells faintly of vinaigrette. And uses affectedly quaint English terms like "brolly", "Spencer" and "ritual disembowelment". Oh, Adelaide.

No, Boomtown Brumbles meant to convey nothing of the sort. Although Melburnian, he seems of the sort markedly unmoved by questions of taste and salad dressing. While his punch line was well received, his intention was dubious.

Again, the congruence between Brumby and Hilton-the-container-port surfaces. And you can’t blame me.

"If you want Melbourne to be a backwater," he said. "If you want Melbourne eventually to be an Adelaide, as someone described it the other day, well, don’t do this project, and Melbourne will just die a slow death."

Is he right? When we have stopped laughing at all of Adelaide’s faults and her faint stench of vinaigrette, should we pay attention to the free market fervour that drives this unremarkable bogan?

I dunno.

All I know about markets is drawn from the Communist Manifesto and a singularly annoying group of lazy activists called Resistance. Have you heard of them? They’re sort of a Brownie Guides guild who dress in Baader Meinhof fashion rather than little tan dresses.

And I do watch SKY News and I tend to pick up a bit about finance there. Not that I actually care to hear people prattling on about Rio Tinto and bears and maniacally using the term "sub prime" until such loses its conversational currency. I watch SKY news because I love to watch Brendan Nelson strive to maintain his absurd hair do in opposition.

In government, it seems, Brendan’s improbable mane had been treated with a kind of styling Viagra. A manly mousse by Pfizer. Now, it’s flatter, thinner and makes me nastily nostalgic for that era in which the little prick had Air in his Hair.

Brendan Nelson’s collapsing hair, however, is hardly my point.

Just as the Federal Opposition leader is losing the Do that, doubtless, got him laid in a variety of unorthodox positions during his time as a medical student, Brumby’s own mop is budding. He’s popping Labor Unity for Him in his roots every morning, I’d venture.

So what of this man who tends to his tresses even as he refuses to engage with the electorate about the consequences of dredging? Is he perverse and myopic and blinded by the spectacle of his own brunette lustre to see sense? I’ve been suss on my Premier ever since the wacko GM legislation passed early in his term. I’ve been suss that he’s just fond of making unpopular decisions, like a shorter-than-average High School principal who has no delight beyond imposing detentions. Either that or he just can’t get enough canola.

Even Ted Baillieu (for non-Victorians and similar infidels who stink faintly of vinaigrette, he’s the State Opposition leader and looks exactly like a real estate agent. Which is, as it happens, his profession) is questioning the environmental impact of channel deepening. Naturally anyone in Opposition will grab at whatever ideological detritus is left on the shop floor after a knock to the civil conscious, but helloooo: what kind of State allows a Liberal leader to call for economic restraint lest Our Broken Earth suffers?

Victoria, apparently. Where now we have little of which to be proud. Save for laneways, food that has moved beyond acrid vinaigrette and jokes about Adelaide.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.