I have always been a great lover of Australian children’s literature. I have devoted a good part of my life to absorbing the works of the great pantheon of Aussie kids’ authors — Mem Fox and the other one — and have long considered this field to be perhaps the richest and most satisfying segment of local cultural achievement.
And so what better field for our Prime Minister, a man who has already conquered so many other peaks — of politics, diplomacy, linguistics, apologising, etc — to enter, tossing off a children’s tome during his summer holidays as part of his relentless drive to educate and uplift the children of this country and to avoid spending time with his own family.
The book, of course, is the already-legendary Jasper and Abby and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle, which was launched this week to great fanfare at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital; an appropriate venue, given the results of a recent survey of seriously ill children. When asked what they would most like in the world, "to be read to by Kevin Rudd" was one of the top answers given by the young respondents, just below "life-saving surgery" and just ahead of "a Mary MacKillop brooch".
The book was co-written by Rudd and his good friend, noted actor/writer/teddy-botherer Rhys Muldoon, who evidence suggests did most of the actual "writing". It should, however, be noted that the PM offered vital moral support — frequently texting Muldoon with messages like "howz it goin?" and "have you finished my fricking book yet?" — and undertook most of the research for the book in the form of extensive interviews with both Jasper and Abby.
The aforementioned pair are, of course, Rudd’s cat and dog, whose feisty, lovable personalities inspired the PM to abandon his plans for a picture book about defence co-operation treaty negotiations, and instead pen a simple, exuberant tale of a dog, a cat, a national holiday, and a kerfuffle.
By strange coincidence, "The Great Australia Day Kerfuffle" is actually the traditional Aboriginal name for the white settlement of Australia, but unlike Aboriginal people, the book is unlikely to make anyone feel guilty. It is, rather, the feelgood story of the year, and deserves huge kudos — if for no other reason than it is the only children’s book published in the last 10 years to be about something other than a small child dealing with the arrival of a new baby or the death of a grandparent.
The story is, briefly, this: Jasper and Abby live at the Lodge. Great celebrations are planned for Australia Day. A scruffy dog causes a kerfuffle. Jasper and Abby save the day. Rejoicing abounds. It’s a classic hero’s journey in some ways, but on closer reading, we find deep resonances and messages about the Prime Minister himself.
For example, it doesn’t take a genius to see that "Jasper" and "Abby" represent Kevin himself, and his faithful offsider Julia Gillard, an analogy made even more obvious when you take into account Rudd’s famed catlike reflexes, and Gillard’s wet nose. So of course, it was most revealing when Rudd told the launch audience that Jasper is "the brains of the operation". A subtle hint to Julia to back off and keep her pointy feminist ambitions out of his leadership? Perhaps.
More importantly, the book sends the message that, just as Jasper and Abby saved everyone from the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle, the Rudd-Gillard team are ready, willing and able at all times to save us from the various kerfuffles that plague our lives. Like the Great Climate Change Kerfuffle. The Great Work Choices Kerfuffle. The Great Insufficiently Close Relationship With China Kerfuffle. And so on.
So who, in this scenario, is the scruffy dog, "Chewy", the mutt who almost ruins Australia Day by causing the aforesaid kerfuffle? There are myriad likely suspects.
Perhaps it is Tony Abbott, who ruins all of Australia’s days with his reckless disregard for the environment and insatiable desire to make women have babies. But Abbott is not really scruffy — he was voted Parliament’s Most Dapper Goblin eight years running — so there the metaphor breaks down.
Perhaps it is Barnaby Joyce, who being a National is always unkempt and often walks on all fours.
Or perhaps it is Therese Rein. Is Rudd making a veiled comment on both her unruly hair-do and her tendency to get in the way when he’s trying to do more important things?
It could even be Wilson Tuckey, as early drafts reportedly contained a scene in which Jasper and Abby had to prevent Chewy the dog beating a Sri Lankan to death.
But everything taken into consideration, I think Chewy is actually Wayne Swan. First of all, Swan looks like a dog. I don’t mean that in a negative way; I just mean he looks well-suited to chasing rabbits. Secondly, Rudd is constantly having to clean up Swan’s messes. And thirdly, Swan’s nickname among close friends and colleagues is "Chewy", due to his love of Star Wars and faint odour of Juicy Fruit. Pretty conclusive, yes? I haven’t even mentioned Swan’s constant attempts to desecrate the flag.
So, in essence, Jasper and Abby and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle is a story about the burdens of government and the internal struggles of a modern Australian political party. In this respect, it much resembles other classics of the genre, such as Possum Magic, which was about the Whitlam dismissal; There’s a Hippopotamus on My Roof Eating Cake, which was about Ben Chifley’s plan to nationalise the banks; and Dingo Stew, which was about Malcolm Fraser’s cannibalism.
Now, some have been critical of Rudd for writing a children’s book. "Hey," cry the letters from the sort of people who like to make clever jokes about Canberra running on hot air, "why doesn’t he stop writing kids’ books and start running the country?" Without wanting to malign anyone, the people expressing this opinion are the worst kind of sub-retards.
First of all, it doesn’t exactly take long to write a children’s book. They only have about 10 words in them, and they only have to be good enough to impress small children, who I can tell you from experience are pretty stupid. Rudd probably did all the writing in his lunch break. Not even his entire lunch break. In between bites.
Secondly, the last thing we want is our leaders running the country. When people try to run countries, they only stuff it up. Things run best when the politicians find something more interesting to distract them and just let things drift along. This has been the case throughout our history and has applied to our greatest PMs. John Curtin had his drinking, Bob Hawke had his sex drive, and Robert Menzies had his scrapbooking course. And in each case the country was fine … great, even. On the other hand, when you get a PM who actually concentrates on his job, you get people like Whitlam or Howard, who might as well have spent their entire terms stabbing Australia straight in the face.
I predict, in fact, that now Kevin Rudd has found a constructive outlet for his work ethic, this country will rise ever-higher to hitherto unimagined glory. And furthermore, I recommend, for the good of our democracy, that all politicians try their hands at writing children’s books. It will help calm them down, promote literacy, and keep them out of our faces for a bit.
Gillard herself could, I imagine, write a cracking little book, focusing on industrial relations reform. Billy the Bandicoot Wins Back His Penalty Rates, something like that. Abbott, whom we already know to be a magnificent writer, could really bring the kids onside to the Liberal cause with his Baby Wombat Survives RU-486. And imagine Julie Bishop’s effort: Ryan’s First Day At School, Where He Does Nothing and Feels Pretty Comfortable With That.
Of course my real motivation for suggesting this is my desire to see the publication of Steve Fielding’s trilogy: The Story of Jesus for Kids; The Story of Jesus for People with Learning Disabilities; and The Story of Jesus for Sceptical Engineers. That day Australia will truly be worth celebrating.
And so I call on all our parliamentarians, Representatives and Senators, state and federal, useful and Garrett, to head home early tonight, down a couple of glasses of wine, commission an illustrator, sit down before the typewriter (or for the tech-savvy, "word processor"), and start banging away.
Think of it this way: you are the custodians of our children’s future. But to be honest, they really don’t have one, so let’s give them a few laughs while we can, yeah?
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