This election, I'm a candidate. A minor one, to be sure; some in the party wanted me to run at number two on the ticket, but I declined in favour of one of our bright young blokes who really wants to be elected. So I'm number four, which means there's no chance whatsoever of being elected, unless the voters of this region have a collective epiphany and decide that the Greens should rule the world. Fat fucking chance - this is one of the most conservative electorates in the State. It's so conservative that the local council is almost always made up of about three-quarters comatose god-botherers, real-estate agents and dodos from the Liberal Party, and one or two "progressives", including a good mate of mine, also a Green. And, anyway, I'm not really interested in being elected. I prefer to be one of those scheming, back-room party hacks (practises fiendish snigger and sideways glance).
I've got all my election paraphernalia - leaflets, badges, corflutes (which are just corrugated and plasticised posters), sunscreen, t- shirts, hat, condoms (well, you never know) - already packed in the Volvo, and I head out for the fray.
I get to the first booth at about six; I'm going to set up a few of these so the workers can just rock up at eight, when polling begins, and start handing out. Most of the polling-booths are at local schools, so you tie your corflutes to a handy spot near the front gate, get the card table out, put the box of gear on top and all's ready.
I pull up, and, as usual, the Liberals are already here. Now, I've got to tell you that six o'clock in the morning is really, really early for an old muso to get out of bed, let alone be that organised to actually do anything other than shuffle around the kitchen making triple-shots and smoking cigarettes. So I always feel despondent at election-time, after seriously disrupting my natural diurnal rhythms (and feeling mighty chuffed that I've actually managed the early rising thing again), to find these ratbags already there, with about a hundred corflutes monopolising all the real-estate, looking so fucking chipper, as if a six-o'clock rise is a bit of a sleep-in.
I carry the gear over and size up the situation. The two Liberals, old retirees in ridiculous yellow t-shirts, are involved in earnest conversation about superannuation and investment portfolios, using a vocabulary which to me resembles a sorcerer's incantation. I mean, what the fuck is a "levered fiscal brokerage", or whatever it is that the idiot's talking about? And besides, how can anyone be polysyllabic at this time of the morning?
They've already put a line of eight corflutes on each side of the fence adjacent to the gate.
"Er, fellers," I interrupt them, "are you gentlemen interested in the concept of equity?"
They look at me as though I've invited the Devil to a funeral. "What're you talkin' about, son?" says one.
"Well, there's about five political parties going to be handing out today; don't you think it would be equitable for each of us to have just a pair of corflutes surrounding the gate?"
"Well if you Greenies got out of bed a bit earlier, you'd probably get a space." He gives his mate a wink as though he's Billy Connolly, and they both crack up.
"Do you want me to take your posters down, or will I just staple mine over the top of yours?" I enquire.
"You won't touch anything, pal," the larger of the two says in his best "Fuck you" voice.
"Well, I will, mate, or we'll all go in and have a word with the returning officer." They're a bit unsettled at this, because they know that the returning officer at the booth can make whatever rules she likes about behaviour at the polling-place, and most returning officers like equanimity at their booths. They look at each other, and one of them goes to remove the signs furthest from the gate.
"No, I'll have the second spot," I say. They acquiesce; round one to me. I put the corflutes on the fence, set up the table and stick the box of leaflets on top. "Now, be good chaps and keep your eye on that gear for me. I've got to go and set up some more booths."
They're in a bind, and they know it. If they disturb any of my gear, it amounts to tampering with election material, a criminal offence, and they've been around long enough to know that any stupidity won't do them any favours. I'm pretty confident it'll remain safe, and I jump in the car, give them a cheery wave, and head off. You crafty bugger, I say to myself.
I set up the other booths without incident, and it's eight o'clock. Voting time. In Australia, it is compulsory to vote if you're over eighteen and a citizen. This is a very good thing, in my opinion, although not without its problems, for instance ensuring that a sizeable proportion of the voters come to the booth with no fucking idea what they're doing. Oh well, at least they get a kind of a picture about just what the word "democracy" means. And, maybe one day, they'll take enough interest to do enough research to make an intelligent choice. On second thoughts - nah.
I'ts the early rush, and I'm handing out and chatting to the woman from the Labor Party. An old geezer in a cardigan, shiny pants and sensible shoes walks past me and I offer him a leaflet and say something like "Greens for a healthy planet, mate." He stops, squints into my face with rheumy eyes, and says "Fuck off."
A middle-aged matron is complaining loudly to one and all that this "voting business" is an imposition on her Saturday. She does the rounds of the table with all of the party workers, then fixes me with a stare and says "And youse greenies are the worst."
I size her up and reply "Well, if I give you a hundred bucks, you can use it as a down-payment on a one-way ticket to North Korea, madam. Then you won't have to worry about voting ever again." Lame, I know - but these ignoramuses don't realise just what they've got. My Labor friend chips in: "Your vote's not a right; it's a privilege, sweetheart. But for all of our sakes, just write 'I'm an idiot' on your ballot paper and pop it in the box."
"Nice work, Sheila," I say to her after the idiot has gone. "Chalk up another vote for Labor?"
Towards the middle of the day I get relieved, and now my job for the next few hours is to run around the booths making sure that the workers have got enough leaflets, give them some cold water, relieve them for ten minutes, etc. I'm one of the organisers for the party, so I give myself this job most election days. It involves about 150 k of driving, but that's OK - I get to see all the workers, and resolve any conflicts. We're all on mobile phones, and occasionally our workers get some flak from other booth workers (almost invariably Liberals - which is part of the reason I hate their guts), so sometimes I have to sort out a problem.
I get to one of the booths, and one of our workers, who owns a crane truck, has parked his vehicle right outside the gates to the school with the crane up, completely festooned with Greens signs and streamers. It's a work of art, completely dominating the landscape. There he is, handing out, and I go up to him and say "You're a fucking genius, Shamus!"
"Gotta be worth a few votes, just for the lunacy of it, Laurie," he replies, with a great big grin.
The rest of the day proceeds without any major difficulties, and at six o'clock I start packing up a couple of booths. I've got a feeling that we might have done well. It's time for the after-party.
Most of the workers roll up, in dribs and drabs, to the Greens councillor's place, who just so happens to be Leigh, my mate from the road adventure. (I thought I'd leave that little bit of information until now, just for the sake of theatric surprise. Aren't I good to you, dear reader?)
Apart from being a great travelling companion, Leigh is a committed Councillor. An excellent public speaker, who can deliver superb, articulate and passionate speeches off the cuff, he is also a voracious political animal. Oh, and he lives in one of the most beautiful homes I've ever seen; mud-brick and huge, old hardwood beams, based on an octagon - all designed and built by himself.
And you thought he was just a drunk. Shame! (Oh, all right - it was my fault. But I do enjoy creating his character in the tales of our road trip, and I only have to embellish it a little.)
Leigh has easily got back into council, and we gather around the computer to see if our second candidate will get up. The night goes on and our fortunes wax and wane. By the end of the night's counting, we are on a knife-edge. We won't know for days if the second candidate gets in, so we sit around drinking beer and doing plenty of speech-making that becomes more and more disordered and ridiculous as the night wears on.
If nothing else, the Greens know the true meaning of political "party".