NEVER DISCUSS POLITICS (OR RELIGION)
With the prospect of an election not too far away, memories of my first election in Australia came to mind recently. How different things were way back then.
At a point between the sex-and-spies scandal that brought down the British Government and the rise of Margaret Thatcher, I ignored the inner voice that screamed, “No! Don’t do it, you fool!” and handed the Australian High Commission £10. I was leaving England’s dark, satanic lands, swapping the inconvenient business of industrial disputes and rain for a land of sunshine and cars with names like ‘Cedric’.
I had no concept of how I would survive without the altitude and jet fuel that had formed the major part of my existence for some eight years, but I was nothing if not optimistic as I headed into the great unknown: a vast red, dusty Western Australia. From high-flyer to sand-groper in one death-defying swoop!
Between bouts of unstoppable sneezing (I arrived with the wildflowers, you see) I tried not to be terrified by the enormous hairy spiders which hadn’t featured in the brochures and, before long, I began to do battle with a varying number of small, smart-arsed station children in a dusty corner of the verandah called “school.”
Contracted for twelve months, there was little I could do but get on with it. The experience would look good on my CV, I thought, and who knew where it might lead? Some experience it turned out to be!
I extracted shirt buttons from the nostrils of little Koori children, removed aborted kittens from my bed, mice from my suitcase, lizards from my shoes and Cuisenaire rods from behind, beneath and inside everything else… and did I mention the giant ants?
It was so easy to forget the dark grey days of strikes, but it wasn’t so easy to forget the altitude and the heady scent of jet fuel.
After a short time, while trying to accept that snakes, hey, they’re really nothing to worry about, an election was announced.
My acquaintance with elections up to that point had been somewhat casual. If the options were significantly different it might be worth tramping down to the polling booth but otherwise… well, why bother? I mean, there were 55 million other people to do the worrying, the arguing, the voting, but… in the land where cars were called Cedric, things were different.
The fortnightly mail deliveries to the station rarely brought anything exciting for me, but one day an official letter arrived informing me that not only was I now entitled to vote, but I was obliged to do so, or lightning would strike me. I had been warned.
“You know I have to vote at this election,” I mentioned to the boss one afternoon while the kids sat around the radio listening to the Argonauts club. “Have you got time to talk to me about it, please?”
“What for?” He looked at me rather oddly.
“Well, I didn’t like to ask before, because I was always told never to discuss politics, but I need to know something about this… I don’t know anything about the Australian political scene, the candidates or what they stand for and…”
“Nothing to discuss,” he said. “You vote Country Party, same as everybody else.”
Clearly all the best advice of my youth still held good, even here in the middle of nowhere, perhaps I should have known better. Never, never discuss politics.