Port Phillip Council: Where Magic Happens


"You have to believe we are magic." So sang Olivia Newton-John 29 years ago in the century’s most underrated movie and I think her words ring as true today as they ever have. Magic is important in life. Olivia herself is the proof of this. Back then she had magic in her life and was one of the biggest stars on the planet. But at some point during the 80s she stopped believing she was magic and look at her now: a sad shadow of her former self whose boyfriend would rather fake his own death than continue being seen in public with the star of A Mom For Christmas.

But it’s not as if Olivia Newton-John is the only evidence we have for the primacy of magic in a happy life. Look at the enduring popularity of stage magicians: from David Copperfield, to that creepy-looking one, to the myriad others who I am fairly certain exist, magicians are one of the biggest draws in entertainment, just behind music, video games, films, television and internet poker. We humans just can’t get enough of magic, of wonder, of mystery and illusion. One might even say that the craving for magic has been hard-wired into us by evolutionary pressures, if one were the sort of person who says that kind of thing. Hopefully none of us are, but it still could be true.

Even in today’s weary, sceptical, competitive-cooking-saturated world, this most cynical of generations harbours the desperate desire to see real magic, to see something beyond the normal human experience, to believe that, just maybe, somewhere, somehow, lurk forces that pass understanding and will allow us to break our mortal bonds and ascend to a higher plane, where we can live as gods and make our enemies’ heads explode just by looking at them.

And it is true that we see tantalising glimpses of this world all around us. Take legendary Australian supermodel/philosopher Miranda Kerr, who revealed last year that she has the ability to change the structure of her cells with her mind. "It is such a powerful tool," she went on, echoing at least three of the words that popped into everyone’s heads on hearing this news. And isn’t it refreshing to see a supermodel who isn’t just a pretty face but is also a wizard? One who is not only great to look at, but who can also hopefully in the near future be dissected and studied to discover the source of her powers?

So magic is indeed all around us, and yet there is one sphere of life where magic seems not to venture, and that is politics. Political life remains such a drab, prosaic realm, completely free of enchantment and eldritch happenings. In fact, beyond certain unsettling resemblances borne by certain Coalition frontbenchers to evil elves, I would say politics holds practically no magic at all.

That is, until now. Yes, finally, someone has taken the first necessary step in magically spicing up our political landscape, and not before time. How strange it is that time and time again in life, just as one is ready to scream at the lack of supernatural shenanigans in the halls of power, a local council hires a witch. An old story, and yet a good one.

The council, of course, is Port Phillip, in the heart of Melbourne, third-most magical city in Australia behind Grafton and Humpty Doo. In many ways, Port Phillip Council is an unlikely candidate for the role of magic-bringer to the people, and yet isn’t it so often the little folk who make the greatest difference? Look at Rosa Parks. Look at Lech Walesa. Look at the Young Divas.

But Port Phillip Council always did have a bold, daring streak of divine madness within it as evidenced by its own website, which states raffishly, "The City of Port Phillip was formed in 1994 and is an amalgamation of the former cities of Port Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda." Wow. And after all, where better to start the magickifying of Australia than at grassroots level, where we can magic up pet microchips and recycling bins before moving on to bigger things, like tax reform and world domination.

So what Port Phillip Council did was hire one Caroline Shahbaz as a consultant to whip the staff into shape. Who is Caroline Shahbaz? Well, she describes herself as a white witch. That in itself proves nothing, of course. Others have claimed to be white witches before and things have turned out badly. But far from being the sort of witch who abuses children and murders large Christlike cats, Caroline Shahbaz is, instead, a woman with "special powers of intuition honed through training in eastern religion and fringe healing disciplines". Doesn’t that sound exciting? Eastern religion! That’s the good kind of religion! Not the stiff, formal, straitjacketed type of religion you learn from your parents, but the fresh, funky, relaxed, open-minded type of religion you learn from repeats of Monkey.

It was probably this training that led her to take council staff on a trip to India for a workshop called "The Hero’s Journey". Here you see the advantage of using magic in governance. Only a witch like Caroline "Glinda" Shahbaz could have cut to the heart of Port Phillip’s municipal problems and acted swiftly and decisively to silence the disgruntled Port Phillip ratepayers, angry as they were at their council’s lack of travelling experience and knowledge of basic narrative theory.

Now, of course, there are complaints. The magical are always subject to persecution. Once upon a time we burned witches at the stake. Today, we burn them at the "stake" of public opprobrium. Typical. We don’t even have the guts these days to murder our enemies, we have to rely on figures of speech to do our dirty work for us.

Okay, so Caroline "Dumbledore" Shahbaz’s work was not universally popular. So her honesty sessions led to allegations of bullying, sexual harassment and intimidation, but isn’t that what honesty is all about? How can we be honest with ourselves, let alone each other, if we have first not allowed ourselves to have our psychic walls broken down with a gentle program of having obscenities screamed at us and being subjected to intense feelings of sexual discomfort? Shahbaz was merely following the basic principle of all magickal systems: first humiliation, then enlightenment. Craig McLachlan went down a similar path.

And it’s now been revealed that our very own Reserve Bank hired Caroline "Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus" Shahbaz several years ago to put its own house in order. The story says that her work led to employee illness and industrial disputes but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. And as omelettes go, the opportunity to infuse a vital monetary service with the spirit of sorcery and enchantment is a pretty damn spicy one.

So let’s rejoice that finally our leaders are waking up to the power of magic. Yes, now it’s local councils and note printers, but tomorrow it could be Medicare and Centrelink. Just think, interest rates, foreign aid, environmental impact assessments; all processed through a few simple spells and maybe a crystal or two. The trouble with our government thus far has been that it’s all head, no heart; all reason, no rhyme; all procedure, no scented candles.

Come on, Australia. Let’s get off this mundane, soulless road we’re on, and hop the Shahbaz train. Let’s hang up our dreamcatchers, gesticulate oddly, rub ourselves with herbs and cast a spell of awesome over the land. It’s easy. You’ve just got to believe, YOU are magic.

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.