Getting Loose After The Lock-Up


Last night I headed to the post-budget lock up drinks, ostensibly to write about journalists’ perceptions of the event, but mainly to indulge fantasies of one day working for Grazia or being the next Perez Hilton. This isn’t anything like an authoritative account of the night. Still, read it with one thing in mind: hacks are people too.

After-work political shenanigans in Canberra typically take place in Kingston, a leafy suburb that comprises one third of Canberra’s attempt at a self-styled urban fine dining experience after Manuka and the newly revamped Canberra centre. After peeling back the layers of existential ACT guilt, desiring something, anything it’s not hard to see similarities with an upper crust shopping village like Wahroonga or Middle Park. But with nightclubs. Yeah!

Festivities are split between the infamous Kingston Hotel, former trashy mecca Holy Grail and the well-heeled and augustly named Kennedy Room. The Kingo, a longstanding haunt of Labor operators, is fitted out nicely in white-collar bistro decor, with a little potemkin working-class bar tucked out the back to keep the staffers happy. I rocked up there at 10pm to have a drink with a mate before heading up the road to the gig proper. Tony Windsor, the much maligned Independent for New England, was tucked in the corner of the bistro, relaxed with his coterie.

In order to avoid looking like too much of a rubbernecker, I plop down next to my mate on the other side of the room. He’s a staffer for a party neither you nor I would dare vote for. That would be excusable if he hadn’t bought a bottle of wine, which portentously whispers to my grape-averse subconscious: Adam, prepare to be a hungover person tomorrow morning.

Back to rubbernecking: In comes Oakeshott, who joins Windsor and co. He’s wearing one of those zip-up Kathmandu fleeces, and his broad grin pokes out of the top. He looks like a suburban Dad. They leave, we polish off the wine and are hustled out by staff.

Holy Grail is something of an institution among Canberra political types, because it permits the intermingling of young spivs and the people who will inevitably give them jobs. In much the same way as a public swimming pool involves dodging the odd bandaid, the arrangement entails some occupational hazards. The rumour that recording devices are secreted under the bar tables is, I fear, an invention of people who wish anyone would listen to the kind of fatuous conversations that take place there. More dangerous are the hungry looks and occasional chunders of the young staffers in too-sharp suits who prowl  the place. Not to mention Justin Timberlake on the jukebox.

Despite having been the standard for pollies and their hangers-on, Holy Grail isn’t particularly well attended when we get there around 11:30. We share a couple of cigarettes with a few NGO types, who were down from Sydney for shits, basically, having not even attended the lock-up.

At this stage the main gig is going on at the Kennedy Room, which looks something like a genteel aircraft hanger with wooden tables, but here’s the catch: the bouncers, obviously having misinterpreted the idea of a "lock up", are refusing entry. A flight of errant unionists gleefully report having seen a Tory staffer all but tossed onto the street by the bar’s henchmen. The young spivs are getting restless. We have another bottle of wine.

At 12:30(ish) we make it around to the Kennedy Room, which by this stage is bereft of a line and most of its punters. Paul Howes, looking like a serious middle-aged man for all his 29 years, is having a powwow out front. The Victorian Young Liberals, dressed like young Tories and drinking staunch, conservative scotch and Cokes, anchor one corner of the room, I chat to one at the bar, but don’t get far when I admit I don’t know the State MP he works for. The News Ltd crowd are starting to peel off: George Megalogenis and Stephen Lunn grin to some bright young things and then head off too.

At this stage I’m definitely exercising my lifelong skill to be wherever the best parties aren’t. Someone mentioned there might be something going on back at the Kingo. Bugger that. We saunter back to Holy Grail and I see my staffer mate off.

By this stage of the night, somewhere around 1:30am, Holy Grail is living up to its reputation. Like dogs sniffing arseholes, people constantly ask where you work, who you work for, which MP, which paper. I proudly say, New Matilda dot com. One faceless man in training asks: "Isn’t that basically just leftie bullshit?" Someone from the Fairfax stable applauds the site for being one of the "few voices of truth and justice left". Most people sit somewhere in between, and I’m punting them off the fence, winning readers by cracking off-colour jokes about Marrickville Council. Go team!

By this stage there are a lot of staffers swarming the place too. Howes is smoking his way through another powwow, the queen bee in the hive.

Lindsay Tanner’s book Sideshow is the newest fashion in the chattering classes, and like Holmes on Media Watch, some wear it like Christ wore the stigmata. But if the media really is shallow and uninterested in the big picture then at least for a few hours at the end of the night it wasn’t so. It probably wasn’t as raucous as previous years, it never is, and the young crawlers with their skinny ties and brothel creepers might be poised to take over what’s left of the family business, but there were some real, genuine conversations to be had with people who care deeply about their trade.

Former writer for the Oz and current Seven reporter Mike McKinnon was holding forth on FOI and Wikileaks, extracting assurances from the group that he wouldn’t be quoted (so I won’t). Megalogenis, looking like he stepped off the set of a spy flick, talked about Gen Y’s exclusion from broader cultural and political narratives. These are people who love their craft, and after a few beers, they were keen to talk about it. Sometime around 4am they dissolved, leaving the skinny ties to boogie in front of the big screen. I left too.

Oh yeah, and there was a budget released. But who wants to talk about that anyway?


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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.