I HAD MY SPEECH ALL PREPARED. It was cutting, sarcastic, and devastatingly effective: a knock-out punch. Starting out at about 20 words, I’d honed it down to just 11. You don’t want it to get too complicated when you’re shouting at someone across a camp ground in the middle of the night.
Up north, along the Lakes Way, paradise is routine. But at 3.30am this night, across Sandbar old-style caravan and camping, tension ran high.
The bastards across the way had been up all night, talking. After 15 minutes, it seemed like they’d been at it all year. I lay there listening to them, getting progressively pissed off. They were two couples in their forties. I heard about his prostate examination. And the other bloke’s trip to Bunnings with his son-in-law. And her girlfriend’s new boyfriend (a dickhead, apparently). The other one’s wife had a marinating trick she did with chicken breast. There was endless talk about camping gear – fridges, cookers, LED lights, tents. It went on and on. Every now and again one of them would say something glimmeringly clever … and they’d all laugh, chortling their way into my sleep. You could tell they were droogs. The Australian flag strung up on their Oztrail pergola proved that.
The Argentinian guy in the next tent was snoring loudly, too. That didn’t help. But you can’t wake someone up in a camp ground just for snoring. Putting up with snorers is a way of life when you go camping. Like bull ants and hungry kookaburras: part of the territory. Besides, HI had told me she’d heard me snoring the night before. She kindly said they were “only fairy snores”, more like sweet-nothings than foghorns in the mist, but snores just the same.
I felt alone in the dark. I asked the eternal question: “Is it just me?” I lay there, tossing, rolling, squeaking the vinyl of my blow-up/fold-out camp cot, hot, claustrophobic and bothered, while everyone else was fast asleep, oblivious.
But I’d had enough. Three times I’d gotten out of bed, ostentatiously unzipped the tent as loudly as possible and made to deliver the night-time oration of orations. I had the big Dolphin torch in my hand at one stage. I planned to shine its beam in their faces, telling them what I thought of them and their banalities. 3.30am? “Get a life! Go to bed, fuckwits!”
But each time I backed off, worrying that instead of shutting them and their droning excuse for conversation down, I’d wake the camp instead… the campers would hate me, instead of them. I do have a loud voice that carries (or so I’m told… not sure if that’s correct – you’ll have to ask Fiona). That, and the fact that I was dressed only in a T-shirt and bright, indeed iridescent orange underpants, held me back. Why, oh why, did HI buy me orange underpants that glow in the dark?
Then, as we segued from urology to “Commodore versus Falcon” – Jesus wept, it was quarter-to-4 now – I heard it:
“OI! …… SHARD-UP!”
The command rang out over the camp ground. It came from a loud, confident voice. A man’s voice, clearly unafraid of a punch-up in the wee hours. Someone not wearing orange underpants too, I’ll warrant.
“Whatever….” came the weak reply from Offending Wife No. 2.
“I SECOND THAT OPINION,” came another boisterous male voice… astonishingly, mine. It wasn’t as good as my speech would have been, but it did the trick as a coup de grace. Backup!
The enemy’s camp site went into reluctant silence. After a few more defiant whispers they went to bed. The mission had been accomplished.
The Argentinian hadn’t given up snoring. Now blearily awake, somehow I dragged myself out of the cot and got into HI’s car. Wound up the windows. Putting the driver’s seat back, I finally went to sleep. I checked my watch: 4.15am. Waking at 7.30, my neck felt like it had been put through a bread mixer and forgotten about. The new Barinas are great for driving and most other “car” things, but not for sleeping.
Next morning I did a round of the tents, casually bringing up the subject of the night before. Contrary to my fears, I had not been alone at all. Over their bacon and eggs the whole assembly was talking about the Australia Day yobbos in the corner site.
Everyone had been awake, except the Argentinian guy. They celebrated the “OI! ….. SHARD-UP!” line, but left room for appreciation of my follow-up. “Oh? Was that you? I felt better about myself and my underpants. But I still wanted to shake the hand of the man who had said, in two words, what we’d all wanted to say. It had been the best Australia Day speech ever delivered.
Three campsites down I found his wife. I think she thought I was one of the yobbos, looking for revenge. After I established my bona fides, she told me he was out surfing. I never found out his name, but he’s a hero in my book. When he came back later that morning I shook his hand, and was proud to lend him my jumper leads.
Working politics into the conversation, I reflected that perhaps the whole country needed a jump start. “With that boofhead in charge, it needs a whole new donk,” he shot back with a resigned snigger. “There’s another reptile,” I observed, as one of the camp monitor lizards slithered up a tree near us. “Not as big as snake as Abbott,” he countered. I couldn’t top that. He’d beaten me to it again.
Which brings me back to that “Is it just me?” feeling. Well, as far as Tony Abbott is concerned, it’s not. In my 9 days in paradise, I couldn’t find one person to defend him. Not one. I went out of my way. Most just rolled their eyes and talked in that way people talk about a household pest. Best disposed of quietly. A dud. Not quite up to being Prime Minister.
No-one said they wished they’d never voted for him because no-one dared admit they’d once liked him, cast their ballots based on budgie smugglers, or stopping the boats, or axing the tax… so long ago now. At Sandbar camp site – and it was full to the gunnels – Tony Abbott had no friends at all, certainly not the kind that stick up for you. Only the barnacles are sticking to him.
THE LOLLIPOP MAN sees me coming, eyes me up, and deliberately switches his sign from “SLOW” to “STOP” just as my car reaches him. It’s 7am and Great Lakes Council are building a contraption, consisting of dozens of wooden bollards along the side of the road, to stop pedestrians from being run over outside the Smith’s Lake Bowlo as they totter home up the hill.
Our eyes meet and hold. I come to a stop and wind my window down. I think he thought I was about to berate him for being so bloody-minded. He has the look of someone who was used to that. Instead, I say we may as well talk, as we’re going to be neighbours for at least a few minutes. As a conversation starter, casting my eyes down to the SMH headline on the passenger seat – “Abbott says: Don’t desert me” – I repeat the words to him, more for something to say than anything else.
“Abbott?” he replied, “The bloke’s a fuckin’ dickhead.”
“What do your mates think about him?” I asked, pointing to his fellow workers stuffing bollards in post holes.
“I’m the kind one,” he assured me. You had to laugh.
WE’RE DOWN AT THE LAKE. I’m flying my drone helicopter. I have it up to a couple of hundred metres. The altitude’s permissible I think, as we’re not in controlled or urban airspace. Then again, maybe we are: FA-18s from Williamstown RAAF base fly training runs up and down this coast at zero feet, spectacularly and loudly so. I wonder whether that altitude ceiling applies to flying over the lake? Whatever… my drone’s being tossed around by the wind up there (which is different from the wind down here). I’m worried about losing it, to be honest. An interested stranger from a nearby campsite comes up to me, asking how much the drone cost.
“More than even Tony Abbott earns,” I reply glumly, struggling with the controls, but still committed to my holiday chore of finding an Abbott defender.
“That idiot? I wouldn’t feed the bastard.” Just like that. He wasn’t embarrassed at all.
Two pelicans paddle by. I wonder what they think of their Prime Minister?
WE ARE AROUND THE CAMPFIRE. It’s a camping tradition. You do all kinds of things camping that you don’t do when you’re at home: like marshmallow roasting, getting a good night’s sleep (Australia Day yobs excepted) and not having Crook Gut in the mornings.
The birds wake you up, not an alarm clock. Kookaburras, lorikeets, magpies, whips, and (if you’re lucky) in the distance you’ll hear the lonely cry of Australian bird life’s proudest nomad… the black cockatoo. Black Cockatoos don’t steal from campers, won’t eat bird seed (no matter how “authentic”) and they stay in the tree tops. They pass through a forest, a town, a life, but never stay. They wander freely, eating bush tucker, and then move on. I haven’t read it anywhere, but I like to think they’re untameable.
The kids – Australia’s Future – find bamboo sticks upon which to first impale and then to roast their marshmallows. The boys and girls are bright, sassy and full of the important things of life, like which bikini to wear and whose bike is better. As skinny kids always do, they love a sugar hit, and the parents delight in watching their children put off growing-up for one more precious day. It’s a good arrangement.
Beautiful girls and handsome boys, too soon to be men and women, economic lifters all… camping gives them a chance to be kids without the embarrassment. We are all in this business together: parents, children, grandparents and grandchildren.
So why do politicians have to invade this one last private space and time? Why is there an election in Queensland now? Why has Abbott been on television, in a dark suit, with his hair coiffed and his words measured (but no less insane), every day for as many months as anyone can remember? We were told he was going on holidays. Why won’t he go?
“OI! … ABBOTT! …. SHARD-UP!”
And leave us alone.
CELLITO BEACH. It’s hot, but the water is as clear and cool as gin. My younger grandson has shown me The Secret Path. He says anyone can take the rainforest boardwalk, but he’s found a more exciting way to the surf. His big brother has been picking on him. The little guy’s feeling alone and vulnerable. He needs to know something that the other boys don’t. He needs to know that I know he knows. I don’t want to disappoint him so I follow, sounding enthusiastic, but getting less so as the path narrows. I tell him anyway: I’m proud to be part of his secret. I promise not to tell his brother.
But why is Abbott so brazenly breaking his promises? Why is Abbott doing what he is doing? Does he realize that you can’t treat a whole nation as a lab for your brainfart ideas? Does he know that his captain’s picks are sapping confidence daily? Ruining businesses? Demoralizing a country? Hasn’t he grown up or moved on from his uni days, where annoying your opposition was the aim of the exercise? Why would he rather have a fight than a feed? And with the people he’s supposed to be governing?
Why won’t the cowards in his party DO something about him? They must know he’s mad, and getting madder. There’s a nation at stake, yet its future industries are being closed down, or starved of development funds in favour of coal, gas and iron ore, whose prices are tanking, leaving Australians stranded with nothing to do but sell houses to each other.
The kids on their bikes, around the fires or on the beach have more nous than he does. They have better values. Yes, they grow up, but I wonder whether Tony Abbott has? Now he wants to annoy a whole country. You can’t keep a rabble-rouser down.
THE FATHER FROM THE TENT NEXT TO OURS, invited down by us to attend the final night’s beach fire, starts talking.
The day before, upon his arrival, we had shown him the camp ropes, passed on some inside information about where to go and what to do. He tells me he doesn’t usually go camping. He mostly takes his family to America or Europe for the skiing. But this year times have been tough for his business.
As we ask our own kids to share out their glow sticks with his kids, he tells me that he’s never seen it so tough. But here this night, he swears he doesn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. It’s such a beautiful place, somewhere that everyone can pretend is their little secret, a corner of paradise that only they know of.
The man is from Sydney’s Castle Cove, an upbeat wealthy borough of expensive houses and bushland streets, with Middle Harbour as a boundary… Joe Hockey territory, but just across the water from Abbott’s Warringah. He is scathing of the government. He says that Australia has become a drifting ship of fools, run by sloganeering halfwits. No-one is sure of anything anymore. You can’t trust any policy, because it’s gone the next day. It’s no place for investors. I think to myself, “If Abbott’s lost Castle Cove, he’s gone.”
SYBIL THE PIG DOG IS ON DUTY AGAIN. It’s our last swim before leaving, and – like on every other day – Sybil waits for her master, Mick The Chippy, to come in from surfing Cellito Beach’s almost perfect left. A few days before, Mick told me that his sole-trading business had just about dried up. Construction around the Great Lakes district has been dire since the days of Julia Gillard’s BER, but now it’s poison. So Mick tells us he goes surfing instead, to while away the time between jobs.
As Sybil stands there waiting and looking, I wonder to myself how long can a nation wait for its sick joke of a Prime Minister and his haphazard government of braggarts and bozos continue to treat the country as morons? After I arrive home the latest example – pinning even more heavy metal and ribbon to the withered chest of the old Greek philanderer – is even now causing derision in every corner of the country.
Even the Murdoch spivs have given up finding excuses for Abbott’s mental state. When your last defender is Professor David Flint, then things are crook. As the conversation turns from “If” to “When” how much more waiting time is required before someone puts Abbott out of his political misery, and us too?
The man from the next tent’s business is failing. Mick The Chippy is out of work. The “Battlers” on the road gang think he’s a fuckwit. No-one will defend Abbott, yet he lingers on, a fool among fools. He got to where he is today by selling stupidity and viciousness as the staple diet of politics. In the best anarchist tradition he trashed our Parliament and our institutions, reminiscent of his “never trust a politician” mantra during the Republic debate. Then he begs others not to do as he does. He pushes the envelope with crazier and loonier policy doodles. He believes (or seems to believe) that a new haircut, some Botox and sharper suits one size too small can disguise the naughty boy within, seeking forgiveness, but rarely permission.
If this year’s camping crew is any guide the man is toast and his career as a professional antagonist is over. Will someone please yell out “OI! …… SHARDUP!” and rid us of him and his gang of schoolboy hecklers once and for all?
In case anyone’s wondering, the photos were taken by me using a combination of Nikon and Go-Pro cameras, over the last week or so.
If you want to know how to get to Sandbar Caravan Park, along the Lake’s Way… in the words of Can-Do Campbell Newman, “Google it”.
It’s one of the last of the old-fashioned holiday camp grounds… paper-bark trees for shade, a 10-minute rainforest walk to Cellito beach. Bush turkeys, kookaburras, ducks, monitor lizards and dingos for company. And if you’re lucky you won’t get bitten by a bull ant, and you might even get to hear black cockatoos in the morning.
Bring galoshes if you want to play golf at the 9-hole course. Smith’s Lake Bowlo puts on a remarkable Chinese feast on Friday nights and the beer is always cold. Watch out for the Lollipop Man. He is without mercy.