A few days ago, Jonathan Nolan - who had an amazing experience last election after informing Webdiarists of a little Turnbull scam in Wentworth - asked me to authorise some posters he'd designed, and offered to include the Webdiary logo. OK, let's do it, I replied. And how about a post on why you're going for it? Great piece, Jonathan! Webdiarists who'd like a poster can email me their postal addresses and Jonathan will send one to you. firstname.lastname@example.org. Click on the small posters to see a bigger copy.
I reckon the zeitgeist changed in September last year when the Stern Report came out. You know, that feeling in the air that everything's up for grabs again, all of a sudden. Time to get active, to ride the moment. You never know what will happen, and if you don't get out there there's less chance it will move your way.
UPDATE from Jonathan: It's all go here! I've been busy distributing posters by hand and by mail. Friends from all over the city and country have been asking for them. You, and all the addressees you sent me, should have them delivered tomorrow or Thursday. We've also dressed up the front of the house in Bondi - see attached. Hopefully we'll get some press!
Why I'm spending my dosh to get rid of Turnbull
by Jonathan Nolan
Why do some posters and print and distribute them with our own money? Because I am angry..
I came to Australia for the first time in September 1993; for a holiday; the opportunity to see the land of my Australian boyfriend, Stephen; and to see his family in their home environment for a change. In short, it blew me away. We went from Sydney to Canberra, and from there to Melbourne, taking a leisurely drive through the countryside, and then made a trip to Port Douglas in Queensland with Stephen's parents. I felt as if my mind was being re-awakened - the big skies, the open spaces, the weird vegetation, the coral reef, the friendly faces - after twelve years under Thatcher and Major in England I had a tremendous feeling of newness and hope and optimism.
Of course, this was September 1993 and the whole country talking of how welcoming, egalitarian and multi-cultural it was. Why? Because Sydney wanted the Olympic Games. I swallowed every word eagerly. I couldn't believe how open and inclusive the culture seemed. There were photos of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras being used to promote the Games bid, multi-coloured smiling faces stared at me from posters and the whole country just seemed happy and comfortable just being itself. I had always been a sucker for the Olympic Games - the whole humanity coming together thing, the striving for the ideal, it's not the winning, it's the taking part, etc. Of course, Sydney won the bid, and we were here to join in the celebrations.
I didn't know it then, but something was galvanising inside of me. I broke down in the airport when we were set to return. I couldn't explain it but I was a blubbering wreck. I realised later that I was being presented something new and invigorating and I didn't want to let it go: a whole new way of life in a new world. My years of learning Italian, and dreams of ending up living in Italy, were soon forgotten. This was obviously the best country in the world, and we'd be back to join it again one day.
Three years later, in February 1996, we did a short work reconnaissance trip to Sydney, and surprised Stephen's father Barrie by turning up at his retirement party in Canberra. Barrie was in the federal police and had been a bodyguard for Gough Whitlam, Sir Zelman Cowan and others, names that meant nothing to me then. I knew and loved Paul Keating, but I didn't understand or register the huge shift that occurred on that night of March when we were at the Sydney Mardi Gras. John Howard, a man I had never heard of, had won the election. In my naivety the name of the Liberals sounded promising: they must be liberal!
We emigrated here in September 1996 (well I emigrated, Stephen returned home), having obtained my Australian residency in London ("What a wonderful country", I thought "they recognise my relationship with Stephen."), and shortly afterwards I was appointed Image and Design Manager for Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Here I was, in a country I loved, being asked to design the graphics, and frame the image, for Australia's Games. I saw my appointment as another manifestation of all that I loved about this country, that an Irishman could be given this job. If Manchester in England had won the bid, I was sure there was no way an Irishman would have been appointed to such a role.
Life was good. My foreign eyes helped me see things that Australians had long took for granted: the bizarre sight of people at a surf carnival standing for the national anthem on the beach in their cossies (the Governor General was present), the incredible and bizarre mix of cultures (Greek Yum Cha anyone?!), sport as the only true religion - in short, a love for life, and it was wonderful to try and distil all this into my work for the Games. But I have to admit now that I was very naive. Here I was travelling around the country, visiting the IOC in Switzerland, speaking at conferences and inducting new staff into SOCOG, all the time expounding about the marriage of the ideals of Olympism and the wonderful values of Australia. I still don't want to believe that I was speaking rubbish, but the country was not all that I thought it was, and the bits that were, were changing fast. To read your book Not Happy, John! is to re-live the horrors of the Howard years, and I need not list them again here, but to me they were (and are) an abuse of democracy and a personal affront to the rights of all individuals - the complete antithesis of Australianism.
Before the Games, and on the edge of a new millennium, I could not believe that the republican referendum was botched so badly. I still thought people would vote for the flawed system that was proposed, but I think it was when we lost the vote that I finally realised what Howard was doing. He was trying to make us feel inferior, to put us all down. We were not good enough to have one of our own as our head of state. We were meant to be subservient. Again, it was exactly the opposite of what I had felt on coming to this exciting vibrant country. I felt then that this was the country to show the world how we could all live together in peace, without any relentless belittling perpetrated by religion, or class, or any other individual.
I suppose I feel this even more strongly because I am gay. Howard simply does not believe that I am as good as the next man. In his eyes, I do not deserve equality. To this day, my friends back in Ireland don't believe me when I tell them that the rights of gay people in my good old Catholic homeland are better than in a Mardi Gras hosting Sydney. They cannot believe that in Australia, after eighteen years with my partner, I do not have the same rights as everybody else.
To 2004 and that election. We live in Wentworth, so 2004 was when we got Malcolm Turnbull as one of our candidates. Despite the mess I think he made of the republican referendum, I still liked the guy who I thought had been screwed by Howard. But I was shocked (yes, I was still naive) to see him as the Liberal candidate. If he had been the Labor candidate I wouldn't have been at all surprised. (In fact, I think Malcolm probably realises now that he could have been big in Labor. He could have promoted the signing of Kyoto, the rights of same-sex couples, the republican cause, etc. quite easily! Now, with any luck, he'll be consigned the dustbin of Australian politics.)
Anyway, to revive a story I brought to you in 2004, I met Malcolm in Hall Street in Bondi one day while he was canvassing for votes. Initially, I was speaking to a Liberal worker and explained that while I had liked Malcolm when he was head of the Australian Republican Movement I could not vote for any member of Howard's government. The worker then revealed that Malcolm was around the corner and I should go and speak to him. I did, and explained the same thing to him. That's when Malcolm told me I should still vote for him because Costello was a republican and Howard would be stepping down in two years, i.e. 2006. This surprised me at first but I suppose it was just a way to woo me and get my vote.
I reported it to the Webdiary. All hell broke loose. The Labor Party candidate, David Patch, contacted me and wanted further details. Then I had calls from political journalists at News and Fairfax, and did an interview (that was never shown) with Jana Wendt for her Sunday programme piece on Wentworth. Then, somehow, Malcolm got hold of my mobile number and called me when I was in a meeting at work. He was livid. I explained that I was in a meeting and I could call him, back but he was having none of it. He called me "mischievous and dishonest" and denied totally that he had said anything about Howard stepping down. I felt a bit threatened by Malcolm, I have to say. He was angry, loud and abusive and he was (is) powerful, rich and litigious. Anyway, that's where it stopped but Liberal workers on the streets on Bondi continued with the line about Howard stepping down. They even fed me that line again, after all this was in the papers.
To today, and the promise I made after the 2004 election that I would something (anything!) to help change the government. The main people (besides Stephen, family and friends) that have inspired and buoyed me for the past years, when my Olympian idealism was crushed, have been Philip Adams and you Margo. You and Philip have enunciated, much better than I ever could, the thoughts I have had about where this country was going under this government. More than that, you have done so without gagging debate from the other side. You respect and value people with different opinions. That seems to me to be the true Australia.
How to help? Well, my business partner, Patrick, and I run a design company, Coast Design, so it seemed natural to use graphics and revive the old fashioned political poster. The particular subjects, apart from Work Choices and AWAs, are just some that I believe are being lost with Howard's spin that everything is about the economy. Have we forgotten about the Iraq war, the AWB scandal, and the republic? Whatever happened to all those people who marched against the war through the streets of our cities? Are we meant to forgive and forget all the mistakes of Downer? Should we let Costello rant on about the economic management and not hold him accountable for other government decisions? And Malcolm, poor Malcolm....all the money in the world, yet he can't buy votes or principles. As the grandson of a Irish Republican (the good ones, not the latter-day IRA) I had to do a poster on the republic. To me, having an Australian head of state is about believing in the potential of this county, and in ourselves. I still believe.