Thursday, May 24, 2007

The older you get, the more apples you have to compare with the oranges

If my arithmetic is correct, there are people in this country who were born the year of the Dismissal -- and therefore turning 32 this year -- and have never voted in a Federal election that John Howard didn't win. Not many, mind. But a few.

This would be even more mind-boggling if not for the history of the Menzies stranglehold (1949-1966, after a false start in 1939-41), and there are also many people in the country who lived through that. As a nation we're imprinted with a cultural memory of having the same person in charge for decades at a time, and with the idea of its normalcy.

So I was astonished when Wilson Tuckey, a man considerably older than me though not noted for his capactity to think logically, put a mischievous burr under his leader's already unsteady saddle yesterday by suggesting that it wasn't too late to change the leadership and citing the example of Bob Hawke, shoehorned into the Federal Labor leadership a matter of weeks before the 1983 election and surfing into office on the wave the drover's dog could have ridden.

When I heard the announcement that Bill Hayden had been dumped as leader and Hawke wheeled in to replace him, I was sitting in a basement kitchen of a London hotel, eating my breakfast egg and listening to their radio. Very little Australian news was thought of sufficient note to get a guernsey on the English news, but this was headline stuff.

And it wasn't because it was about a political switch somewhere in the wretched colonies; it was because it was about Hawke. The Poms had probably never heard of Bill Hayden, but they knew all about Bob Hawke. And as soon as I heard it I knew that Labor would slide effortlessly into government, which, a month later when I was back home in Melbourne, they duly did.

I think a lot of people have forgotten, if they ever knew in the first place, what Bob Hawke in his heyday (and personally I place his heyday before his Prime Ministership) was actually like. He was nothing like the media contruct of his later career, the Silver Budgie*, sliming up to sportspeople, wearing horrid jackets, engaging in mortal combat with PJ Keating and publicly abandoning his valiant Aussie wife for the glamourous, sexy and gorgeously named Blanche d'Alpuget.

Before reinventing himself in the sort-of-statesman mould, he was a wiry black-haired hard-faced heavy-drinking ratbag with an Oxford degree, a short fuse, and a mind like a steel trap. He had long experience in politics if not in parliament itself, and an extraordinary gift of achieving -- in all kinds of situations -- the sort of genuine consensus that stuck, rather than simply papering over the cracks. By the time he became Prime Minister he had been generally regarded as the most popular man in the country for nearly a decade.

And he was indeed staggeringly popular, in a way that contemporary Australians probably find hard to imagine or remember. Parachuting him into the leadership was the obvious thing to do. The hole -- the great gaping abyss -- in Wilson Tuckey's suggestion, at least once he started to draw parallels with the Hayden/Hawke situation, was the notion that the Libs have anyone even remotely comparable to Bob Hawke as he was in 1983.

*UPDATE, 4.20 PM: Fiasco da Gama points out (see Comments) that Hawke was in fact a Bodgie not a Budgie. I can only plead error by association, as my dad has always called him the Silver Budgie, wilfully getting it wrong partly as a play on his name, partly as a Kylie joke, partly as an allusion to the fact that Hawke did in fact remind him of a budgie, and partly because my father has been an anti-Union man all his life but actually admired Hawke very much, a contradiction he resented and for which he chose to blame Hawke.

16 comments:

Fiasco da Gama said...

Hawke was the silver Bodgie. Oh, what a difference a letter makes!

Pavlov's Cat said...

Clearly I am getting him confused with Kylie the Singing Budgie. Also, my father (apparently a victim of the same confusion) refers to him to this day as the Silver Budgie. Apparently it's contagious.

Daniel said...

In my opioion, the topic"The older you get, the more apples you have to compare with the oranges" makes sence. one of friends on EbonyFriends.com told me that this is the live's meaning.yes I think so the older you are, the more feeling you have.

Eleanor Bloom said...

"The hole -- the great gaping abyss -- in Wilson Tuckey's suggestion... was the notion that the Libs have anyone even remotely comparable to Bob Hawke as he was in 1983."

Yes, a few of us lately have been woeing the dearth of great leaders in our midst. I'm afraid we'll grow accustomed to mediocrity and forget the possibility of an inspiring, or at least enigmatically charming, politician.

I was born in the year of the 1st oil crisis by the way, so thanks for the reminder. :)

Fiasco da Gama said...

You know, the Silver Budgie kind of has a ring to it. A trill, perhaps.

Perry Middlemiss said...

Here's another stat for you PC: I'm 51 and the first election in which I was old enough to vote (I think 1974) was the election in which Howard was first elected to Parliament. I've been weeping tears of rage for 34 years. Not for all those years but for a lot.

I'm holding an election night party this year. If the Coalition wins I've told the other half that I'm getting plastered. Actually I told her that if Labor wins I'm getting plastered as well. Might as win one way or t'other.

Pavlov's Cat said...

A Don's Party party!

Have you got a swimming pool?

Anthony said...

It was that incredible popularity of Hawkie that set him up as the antithesis of the cold, patrician Fraser. Hence his pitch at the 1983 election about 'bringing the country together' which, I think, Max Gillies used to proclaim while drawing his hands apart. The amazing popular fervour surrounding Hawkie was wonderfully captured in Gillies' performances from that period (I recall one of his shows was called 'A Night of National Reconciliation')

Where did it all go? I thought when he made his concession speech on losing the leadership to Keating he recaptured some of that amazing spontaneous love affair with his audience that had defined him earlier, but by then it was too late.

And by the way, my image of Fraser from those years of the late 1970s/early 1980s lives on, despite his attempts at reinvention. Ashamedly, I'm not one to forgive and forget.

feral sparrowhawk said...

I'm too young to remember Hawke pre-government (although I do recall being described as an "apprentice Bob Hawke" when I managed to convince two friends who had fallen out to reconcile, so it was certainly part of the popular culture).

However, I think there is another gapping hole in Tuckey's comparison, one even less commented on than this. That is that dumping a Prime Minister is a much bigger deal than an opposition leader. Labor dumping Hayden had some cost "how does it feel to have blood on your hands?" but the ructions it would cause to dump a four-time winner are unimaginable. Even if Howard went voluntarily, the Liberals would have to put in some pretty hard yards to convince some of his more fervent supporters that this was indeed the case and to get behind whoever they replaced him with.

lucy tartan said...

I suspect the Silver Budgie slip is quite a common one - I allowed it to sneak into this post at LP some time ago. http://larvatusprodeo.net/index.php?s=silver+budgie

I hadn't thought of the Kylie connection, though now you say it, it's perfectly sensible.

lucy tartan said...

There's this, too.

Kate said...

I was born under Fraser. Hawke claiming victory is one of my earliest memories. Keating saw me through high school and I've been trying to vote Howard out my whole adult life. I suppose I'd be more successful at that if I lived in a marginal electorate...

My friend was born on the day after the Dismissal after a very long labour. His parents, then True Believers, had the radio on in the birth suite. They kept that day's Age, with the KERR SACKS PM headline, for him.

meggie said...

I remember our employer, from NZ, came to Australia for a conference about Hotels, & Unions. He returned to tell of Hawke's incredible charisma & presence, & declared he 'would one day be a great powerful person on the political stage of Australia'. He was proven correct in his prediction, but died before it came to pass.

Zoe said...

While we're sharing ... when I was in fourth class, I got the afternoon off school to sit in the back of the car while my mother drove Bob Hawke around for an afternoon of meetings.

Anonymous said...

Enemy Combatant sez...

anthony,
When Hawke was singing his Silver Budgie song for Hazel he was like Colin Friels in Bastard Boys. ACTU to the last shout. By the time he began publicly palling around with Bondy, Big Kezza and celebrity biographers, he'd long forgotten how to chirp Joe Hill's song.

I too, loathed Malcolm Fraser for a long time after 1975. His relentless speaking out on behalf of systematicly oppressed human beings during the Rodent's Regime has turned me around. I'd shake his hand and say "keep it up, Malcolm" on a chance encounter.

elsewhere said...

We had a discussion along these very lines on the weekend. Hawke was like the Messiah -- albeit a naughty boy Messiah. Even in my teens (wot, 25 years or more ago), we speculated about him becoming PM when he was still a rank outsider.

There is no one comparable in the current Howard cabinet, but who's to say he wouldn't pass the poisoned chalice over to Costello just so he wouldn't lose the election personally?