As Australia careers back into the 19th century, and as Mr Downer is about to be translated to London, I think it’s high time for some more historical satire from Malcolm B Duncan. As a special treat, here are Chapters 3 and 4 of The Scion, the Wheat and the Cabinet.
(Image Credit: Phil Bray)
The Chronicles of Nadir
As told from the grave by Tom Lewis
Tale the First
The Scion, the Wheat and the Cabinet
Chapters III & IV
“Wheat?” asked little Lucy, “Why ever do you want to know what I know about wheat?”
The Cabinet Secretary looked at her gravely and said, “There is no wheat in the land of Nadir anymore and the Inner Cabinet and the White Witch are sorely troubled.”
“I heard she’d got over that” said little Lucy.
“Hold your tongue, child, and answer my question.”
“Well, if you don’t mind me saying so, I think that presents a certain logical difficulty, unless you mean it literally in which case you might not understand the answer because a lot of the syllables might get lost and…”
“You’ve been in local government, haven’t you?” said the Cabinet Secretary.
“Well, yes, I have. I was Lord Mayor between Frank Sartor and Clover Moore.”
The Cabinet Secretary turned an interesting shade of puce. “There are some things we don’t want to contemplate, even in the land of Nadir,” he sputtered.
“I meant in between, temporally.”
“That’s a relief,” said the Cabinet Secretary.
His colour changed again, this time to the shade that old parchment has after it has been scraped back by obliging novices in a convent. He shuddered and a moment later, his face changed back again to the normal colour of Cabinet Secretaries, finely lined by thin red veins pumping port and other spirituous liquors.
“What’s the matter?” asked little Lucy.
“Something has happened,” said the Cabinet Secretary.
“What?” asked little Lucy.
“I don’t quite know,” said the Cabinet Secretary slyly as a piece of paper emerged from a strange machine just by his left elbow. “No one told me.”
“What’s that?” asked little Lucy as the Cabinet Secretary took a piece of paper from the machine. “Nothing,” he said, “I haven’t read it.” He glanced at the paper on both sides and fed it into a box on the other side of his armchair. There was a whirring noise as the piece of paper was shredded into thin ribbons.
“What was that piece of paper?” asked little Lucy.
“What piece of paper?” asked the Cabinet Secretary.
“That piece of paper you just put into that machine.”
“Machine? What machine? There are no machines in the land of Nadir ever since the great Emperor Keating, may his name always be revered, dismantled all manufacturing industry and we moved to a modern economy without bananas.”
“Bananas?” asked Little Lucy. “You mean there are no bananas here?” (Bananas were a particular favourite of all the children and Lucy was distressed to learn that they were not available in the land of Nadir.)
“Yes we have no bananas,” said the Cabinet Secretary. “But, more to the point, my mistress, the White Witch, will want to know what you know about wheat.”
“Well, really, all I know is that, like bananas, we grow it. Apart from that, no-one tells me anything. You’d be better off asking Alexander. He’s in charge of wheat. He was telling us only the other day how hard it is to export in competition with the Canadians and the Americans and what a sophisticated commercial network filled with the very best brains one needs to ensure one is paying the best price on offer but still within limits. Or was that getting the best price? And even if he doesn’t know because someone hasn’t told him something or something like that, his friend, the Boy Dweeb, is sure to know.” (Little Lucy didn’t know exactly why the Boy Dweeb was called the Boy Dweeb. There was a rumour that the name had been given to him by Doug Anthony but since no-one knows who Doug Anthony is any more, it needn’t detain us long.) “Do you get Yes, Minister here?”
“We get a lot of Ministers here,” said the Cabinet Secretary “but they are mostly the double-negative type rather than the Yes type. Do you think I might be able to have a chat to Alexander?”
“Well, I don’t know whether he’s made it through the Cabinet yet,” little Lucy replied. “I could take you to see him.”
“Oh no,” said the Cabinet Secretary, “that would never do. My place is here. There is much to do in the Land of Nadir: press leaks to plug, rumours to set running, scandals to paper over, the Dwarf to be kept happy, and the White Witch appeased all with no-one being told or knowing anything.”
“Sounds like Alexander is your man,” said little Lucy. “Perhaps I should get him for you.”
Unknown to little Lucy, as she had been warming herself by the fire, two terribly important things had happened. As we shall learn, the Cabinet was not the only way into the land of Nadir. There were many and varied entrances and incantations which could transport people (even bi or trans-sexuals) into the land of Nadir.
The first important thing which had happened was that Alexander had found the Cabinet and made his way through it. Just as he did, Little Johnnie and Jeanette arrived at Nadir airport after lunch with the Victorian backbenchers. As soon as they entered Nadir airspace, a miraculous transformation overcame them. The aeroplane they had been traveling in miraculously transformed itself into a sleigh, Little Johnnie sprouted the most enormous beard and Jeanette was transmogrified into a very, very tall, beautiful, white-faced, radiant red-lipped creature covered from head to toe in various furs of various animals who had been sacrificed to serve her whims (one of them was said to be Barry Jones). Were it not for all the fur of all the different creatures covering her hands, it would have been apparent that the White Witch, Queen of Nadir, aka Jadis, was red both in mouth and claw. The sleigh crunched into the hard-packed snow and turned into a curving path just as Alexander reached the smart pole. Being an art lover, Alexander’s attention was captured by the kaleidoscope of colour and did not at first notice the sleigh bearing down on him until it came to an abrupt swishing halt.
The Queen said to Alexander, “What manner of creature are you?”
“I’m a Downer,” said Alexander proudly.
“No doubt of that,” piped up the Dwarf.
“Hold your tongue, Dwarf,” said the Queen.
“Yes Dear, er, Your Majesty,” replied the Dwarf.
“That’s better,” said the Queen, turning again to Alexander. “Are you a son of Adam?”
“Er, no, Papa was another Alexander, Sir Alexander, actually.”
“Where are you from?” asked the Queen.
“Well, actually, I’ve just sort of come out of a sort of closet really. It’s very cold here and I didn’t bring anything to eat.”
“Perhaps …” said the Dwarf looking slyly at the Queen.
“Yes,” she said. “Bring forth the Fruits of Office. Would you like to eat of the Fruits of Office, Alexander son of Sir Alexander Actually?”
“Wot you got?” said Alexander in a sort of Billy Bunter pose.
The Dwarf brought out a box of delightful-looking Darrell-Lea confectionary, each piece topped with a little fez labeled variously: overseas trips accompanied (wife); overseas trips unaccompanied; overseas trips accompanied (not wife); Com Car; Drinkie Poohs; State Dinners; postage allowance; office equipment; ministerial loading; backbencher (female); backbencher (male); backbencher (surprise assortment). That was just the top layer. It looked as though the box was almost bottomless.
Alexander’s eyes went wide as he reached greedily for a backbencher (surprise assortment), defezzed it and popped it into his mouth. He groaned with delight and eagerly reached for another of the top layer almost before the backbencher had fully passed his gullet. “It is still rather cold,” said Alexander around yet another of the Fruits of Office.
“Come and sit by me and I shall warm you under the Dwarf’s beard. Bring the Fruits of Office with you.”
Alexander slid up into the sleigh with a sense of considerable (and unbeknown to him, justifiable) foreboding. The Dwarf immediately whipped it into action. “Giddy up, Corder” sad the Dwarf. As Corder had a tendency to dress to the right, the sleigh would only go in circles which, after all, was the only way anything in the Land of Nadir went and after a while, they met themselves coming the other way.
Neither the Queen nor the Dwarf had told Alexander that eating of the Fruits of Office sometimes came at a very heavy price. There was a very nasty inquiry about and Alexander was about to be summonsed to appear before it and would have to swear on the Beard of the Dwarf to tell the truth on pain of never being in the Cabinet again.
As they whizzed along, Alexander finished the second of the layers of the Fruits of Office with a large intern and eagerly attacked the third. Here he met his first defeat in the Land of Nadir: there was nothing in any of them, it was simply a layer of fezzes labelled “Wheat.”
* * * * * * *
(Image Credit: Rocco)
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Cabinet, Peter and Amanda had found an illegal immigrant and were torturing it. Peter was taking money out of its pockets while Amanda wrapped it tightly in razor wire so that it could not move without cutting itself.
The disheveled CLERK came along and said, “Are you colour-blind? Put that immigrant down at once – it’s Papuan. There may be an inquiry.”
“What immigrant?” asked Amanda.
“What would there be to inquire into?” asked Peter “We don’t know anything.”
“Nonsense,” said the disheveled CLERK. “We may even have to send you to the Coleface.”
Peter and Amanda went white. “But it’s only Alexander and the Boy Dweeb that have to go there.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure, if I were you. These things have a habit of taking on a life of their own, you know. The Dwarf was there only yesterday,” replied the disheveled CLERK.
Just then, Lucy and Alexander walked up. “Where have you two been?” asked the disheveled CLERK.
“Tuck shop,” lied Alexander without blinking, then he belched.
“We’ve been in the Land of Nadir,” said Lucy proudly.
“Don’t listen to her – she’s naf,” said Alexander.
“Ooh, fibber,” said Lucy. “We really have been in the land of Nadir – it’s been winter there for 10 years and there’s no wheat and it’s full of strange creatures and a nasty White Witch and they’ve got no bananas and…”
“What’s that around your mouth?” the disheveled CLERK asked Alexander.
“Nothing,” said Alexander sheepishly.
“That’s the remains of a first-class domestic air flight, isn’t it? You’ve been eating of the Fruits of Office, haven’t you, boy?”
“Might have had one,” said Alexander pulling out a dirty pink handkerchief and wiping his mouth.
“You children have been inside the Cabinet haven’t you? The SPEAKER must hear of this at once. I must send a message to the CLERK OF THE ASSEMBLY. Now, where did I put that black rod?”
“Are you going to beat us?” asked Alexander just a touch too eagerly.
“I’ll beat him if you like Mr CLERK. I just have to get rid of this immigrant,” said Amanda.
“Yes, well there’s that too. But as I say, it’s Papuan, it’s got a visa,” said the disheveled CLERK.
“Well, I didn’t give it a visa,” snapped Amanda. “No-one told me.”
“Can I go now?” asked the immigrant.
“Yes,” said the disheveled CLERK. “Have you applied for your newstart allowance? The rest of you come with me.” He handed the immigrant a mobile phone and after dialing a 1800 number, left him on hold.
“But it’s stateless,” grumbled Amanda.
“No it’s not, it’s Indonesian. Give it to Brendan then, and he can push it out to sea and the Navy can deal with it. How old is it?”
“About 5,” answered Amanda.
“Problem solved,” said the disheveled CLERK. “Brendan will have it overboard in a trice. Now hurry up and don’t tampa with it.”
“But how’s it going to pay?” asked Peter.
“Don’t worry about that now,” said the disheveled CLERK. “Brendan can extract some body parts or something – he is a doctor after all.”
“Well, just so people know that I’ve got a budget to balance,” said Peter.
They all trooped off to see the SPEAKER.
By this time, the Papuan, who was a really nice fellow called Bruce but very short for his age, had run up a mobile bill of about $283. Finally, he got jack of the whole thing, flashed his visa at reception at the Hyatt, booked a suite and settled in with Foxtel and the room-service menu. As he was ordering, he asked the concierge, “Where’s Fyshwick from here?” Bruce had been around but he didn’t really think of himself as an Indonesian.
As the children trailed behind the disheveled CLERK, little Lucy said, “It’s so sad. I really don’t know how they manage for breakfast in Nadir. They don’t have any wheat.”
The disheveled CLERK rounded on her and said sternly, “You mustn’t mention the wheat.”
Peter said, “That’s export dollars that is – wheat.”
Amanda, going against the grain, said, “It’s imports I worry about.”
Alexander drew himself to his full height and walked into a lintel. “I’m supposed to be in charge of wheat.”
To be continued. Sometime.