Archive for October, 2008

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right
– Stealers Wheel, 1972

There’s nothing like an election to make you realise that Australia is not necessarily one country (or one nation, if you prefer).

Berrans went to the polls a week or so ago after five weeks of being officially beaten about the head with electoral puff; unofficially the puff began well before I arrived in the Berra.

And of course, things are different here. Some different things are actually familiar, such as the Hare-Clark voting system, complete with Robson Rotation – I learned about that stuff in the Tasnarnia, for the state election that occurred five minutes after I landed there (sense a pattern emerging?). But other things make the Berra stand out.

For example, unlike every other state or territory in the land of Oz, there is no system of local government here. They make do with the one Assembly for everything from building power stations and closing schools through to collecting your rubbish and fixing potholes. In a practical sense, this means that any sensible discussion about politics can quickly degenerate into a harangue about the placement of public toilets  – not very productive for public debate, which is often quickly hijacked by non-sequiturs. On the other hand, a single level of government is certainly a more efficient use of taxpayer funds for governing a small city.

Secondly, the past four years of majority ALP government have been an historic anomaly – every previous parliamentary term since self-government was introduced has been minority government. Minority government is much remarked upon in other states as unworkable and dangerous; here the Berrans seem to want it back with a vengeance.

But despite these quite large differences, politics as a practice (or ‘paradigm’, or is it ‘narrative’?) is really no more edifying here than anywhere else. All the same words are flung about like so much mud: arrogant, divided, unrealistic, broken promises, loonies, can’t manage a budget. You know the tune. They dance to it here as well.

There are a couple of diverting small differences. In the Berra, it’s perfectly legal to post political signs on crown land, including along roadsides where they’re most likely to distract motorists and cause accidents. It’s not unusual to see clumps of signs belonging to an array of competing candidates at busy traffic points; sometimes you may even see the candidate standing by his or her signs, waving to passing drivers. Really.

How-to-vote cards are a point of some contention that I still don’t fully understand, but here they’re certainly not piled upon you as you run a gauntlet to the booths. At my local polling booth, the  neighbourhood primary school, a few relaxed-looking volunteers politely made as if to offer electoral material as we passed but there was nothing very organised about it.

The school was of course running a fete. This is not so much sporadic opportunism, as a widespread Berran custom. (Even at the tally room housed on the CIT campus in town the students there were running a sausage sizzle, besieging passing pollies, staffers and media late into the night. Huh – as if by this end of the campaign any of the political types had spare change.) The flea market at my local school yielded a couple of results, including the book Boned by Anonymous ($2) (…it’s a novel about women in Australian commercial TV, not whatever you were thinking!) and a Sportscraft silk shirt in brown and black (50c).

Curiously, the school fences were festooned with a kind of bunting that turned out to be a last-minute tactic by the Liberals to discourage casing one’s vote for the ALP. I don’t know if this type of advertising is new to the Berra but it’s new to me. I heard later that at some voting booths the banners and their attempted removal by rival party supporters caused scuffles and perhaps even blows.

From early last week, it’s been clear that Berrans opted to return to minority government, with swings against both Labor and the Liberals. The Greens soaked up much of that electoral dissatisfaction, firmly  snagging an historic three seats and securing the balance of power (the party has only once held two seats in the Berra, in the very first Assembly, and thereafter only one seat per term). And as I write, the 17th and final seat has been decided: a fourth for the Greens. It’s causing quite a stir amongst those who care. As for the two main parties, some might say they look like clowns and jokers now that they’re scrambling to do deals with the party they both roundly derided before polling day. Stuck in the middle, indeed.

So the members of the Assembly are decided for the next four years, even if the minority-rule party hasn’t yet been crowned by the Greens (who only managed to elect an actual leader for their own party today); we continue under caretaker administration. And what an interesting Assembly it will be. Because it’s here that the Berra has shown some new differences from other states and territories. Seven of the seventeen are women – closer to gender balance than any other state government. And a good proportion of them are under 40 – the Liberals leader is just 31.

Oh boy, am I feeling ooooold.


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Well I know my little baby, she’s gonna jump and shout…
Lord I’m trouble, trouble on your mind.
– Harry Manx, 2001


All it takes is an open gate.

Have I described to you my little house in the Berra? It’s a weatherboard cottage, renovated some time in the past 15 years, oddly arranged on a corner block (as so many corner houses are here) so that all the yard is either front yard or side yard. One’s business, like my washing line, is out there for all to see. And like all rental houses, it has quirks the tenant finds hard to understand: like the way the house is enclosed by a pool fence.

It looks funny, but I suppose it’s an efficient way to keep rugrats or pet dogs in, and there’s evidence of both in this house’s recent past. It’s also a good way to keep passers-by out – if one closes the gate.

Well, after driving home from lunch, we didn’t close the gate. Caro, Ricky and Dom are recently back in the Berra after Caro’s 12-month tenure in Slobart expired, and they are as happy as Larry to be back on the mainland, not to mention in their own home. Happiness of course is best celebrated by stuffing one’s face, and we did just that at yum cha for Sunday brunch.

One of the curious things about the Berra is some inexplicable cultural cross-cultural cross-polination. Apparently the three or four best yum cha restaurants are to be found in culturally specific clubs. We tried the one at the Croatian Club in Deakin. Yum cha with the Croats? Don’t shit me.

My scepticism was busted – the fare was a pretty good example of its genre. The carts held a broad selection of steamed and fried dumplings and miscellaneous items, the best of which were the fried calamari tentacles and stuffed eggplant; even chicken’s feet were offered (we politely declined). Lunch was a flat rate of $16.85 per adult head, a price which both gives license to gluttony and acts as an incentive to the competitive. What value.

This has but whetted the appetite, of course. In about a month (or, when we finally feel hungry again) we’re heading off to the next yum cha on the list – I believe it’s at the Hellenic Club in Woden…

Anyway, a long brunch later we rolled home and didn’t bother to close the gate behind the car. Which was fine until a couple of hours later when we heard the sound of chaos on the front deck. I went out and found a large Irish setter loping down the steps, in pursuit of a streak of white lightning. I shooed the ugly thing away – it was collared and tagged but did not have an owner nearby – and rescued Schroeder cat from the top of the back fence, to where she had retreated, clearly unhappy.

It wasn’t until a few hours later when she came out from under the bed that we realised the dog had scored a bite. Schroeder was limping and bleeding freely from her left flank. Being about half past nine on the Sunday evening of a long weekend, I was resigned to cleaning her up and consulting the vet during daylight, but noooo, the Bald Man (Schroeder’s best friend and greatest apologist) had to find a vet TONIGHT. And after cruising the Yellow Pages we found one which took emergency cases until 10:30pm, and was just a few streets away.

Needless to say Schroeder was underwhelmed by our Good Samaritan efforts. She didn’t like being in the cat box, she didn’t like the car, and she didn’t like the vet. At the vet, she didn’t care for the painkiller injection, she didn’t like having the fur shaved away from her flank and tail (there are at least two wounds from a dog bite), and she really didn’t like having the punctures irrigated with disinfectant. When the vet had us hold her down to shove an antibiotic capsule down her throat, Schroeder decided she had had enough and bit down – on my left thumb.

I yelped, pulled free of her fangs and took a look. There was a substantial cavity to one side of my thumbnail, which had a wad of white fur jammed in it; I pulled the fur out and the wound began to bleed freely. More dark blood dripped from the pad of the thumb (there are at least two wounds from a cat bite). The vet grabbed my hand and dunked it in a kidney basin of disinfectant that had recently been servicing the cat; as she pressed a cotton pad to my bloody hand the surgery went all funny colours and I had to go sit down with my head between my knees.

Schroeder felt very sorry for herself. Not at all sorry for others.

Schroeder felt very sorry for herself. Not at all sorry for others.

The vet eventually dosed the cat with the help of The Bald Man, and she also got a bite for her efforts, so the vet and I bandaided each other while Schroeder sulked. She’s not a biter, The Bald Man pleaded, which is true, but the vet glared at Schroeder and told her that better animals had been put to sleep for less. I totally understood.

We took the cat home and began cruising the Yellow Pages for medical centres open at 10:30pm. And you know what? There aren’t any. In the Berra, pets in pain are better serviced than people. If you aren’t at death’s door and prepared to front up to Emergency, then you go home and wait.

Now I don’t want to sound too much like a sook, but my hand really hurt. It actually required painkillers with codeine to get to sleep. So the next day, we found a doctor open on the public holiday, a good 20 minutes away in Belconnen. He looked at my swollen digit and prescribed antibiotics and a tetanus injection. As he rolled up my sleeve and swabbed my arm, I remarked that the last time I had a tetanus shot I got a localised infection that caused my upper arm to swell up into an angry red balloon, requiring more antibiotics and greatly exciting my then doctor who said it was a once-in-a-thousand occurrence.

Rubbish, said this doctor, as he jabbed my arm. He flapped the used disinfectant swab at me. These don’t do a thing except make the patient feel better, he said. Certainly don’t stop an infection.

How did he explain my arm, then? Probably allergic to the tetanus shot, he said, depositing the used syringe in the bin. I goggled at him. So what am I supposed to do about that? I asked. He shrugged; stop taking more tetanus shots. Then he gave me a half smile and said, doesn’t matter what happens now, this one’ll last you for ten years.

It’s about 36 hours since that unedifying experience; as I type, my thumb is still swollen and throbbing, and my upper arm is starting to swell too; looks like the doctor was right, I’m allergic to tetanus. What a stupid thing to be allergic to. Why not peanuts, or seafood, something sensible like that? And the antibiotics are either taking their time to kick in, or they’re not the right ones, or I’m resistant, or I’ve got a terrific multi-resistant-cat-bite-tetanus-shot case and will have to be put in a tent and shut away from humanity for my own survival…

… watch this space.

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