Today I write you from a different Australia--John Howard and his sneering cohort have been converted into men again; in a strange way, by loosing this national election, they have regained their humanity. Howard is simply an aging man who lurches forward on daily walks, his assurance stripped. Overnight, the glitter of power has gone from his eyes, his wife interrupts his resignation speech with a fragile inappropriate touching of his hand, a half whisper of wanted reassurance that his use of the past tense did not include her. One political reporter summed up the Liberal party leaders, here, as people of privilege and punishment. Once there were three: the demented (Blair), the driven (Howard) and the delusional (Bush)--and now only the last remains and so does our work.
When La Professora first brought me to her shores, she would regale me with stories of how Australia used to be--a fair go, solidarity with workers, women's projects flourishing, affordable housing--lending itself to the wonderful tradition here known as shared houses--groups of active, lusty, creative young people living together, collectives each having its own reputation, its own sexual dramas, its own political banners. I laughed at my first tour of Melbourne in Di's aging car, FiFi, as Di would stop at almost every corner and say, "see that house, that is where I lived with Beth and three other names, that was the garden I started" and then two streets later, "see that corner house, that was where we lived in the 70s and I built that bench under the gum." I would peer through overgrown bushes and look into the youth of my new lover, trying hard to see the young lesbian women in their fedora hats deep in discussion about how to secure the squat for a women's refuge.
Then the Howard years, 11 and half years of free market conservatism, economic rationalism, foolish parodying of America, little by little stripping from the public face of this wide brown country so much that had softened the hardships of working people and of the citizens that struggle to live under the glow cloud of the "well-off." As the Howard years went by, all the worst characteristics of Australia's national character became social policy. Racism, a particular virulent Australian version, disfigured the government's refugee and immigration policies, prevented Howard from saying "sorry" to the first Australians who still wait for inclusion in the much vaulted wealth of this country, a wealth ripped from their lands--the gold, copper, uranium deposits hauled to the surface--China, India waiting for these riches--and Indigenous people live 25 to a tin shed, flies studding the eyes of the children so glaucoma is a young person's disease. But we have never been so rich, Howard and his ilk boasted at every dinner party for the very rich while public schools and public health and public dreams of equity went begging. Howard who lied about desperate asylum seekers on a sinking boat--they threw their own children into the ocean, we don't want these kind of people in Australia--like the lies propagated by his beloved Bush, weapons of mass destruction, any lie in the service of consolidated power, consolidated narrow nationalism. I came to understand more about the cringe shadow on the Australian psyche that Di had told me about as Howard would boast, Bush just called me, the great man spoke to me, I have my cowboy hat ready for that invitation I know will come for me and Jeannette to stay at the ranch with my buddy and Laura. Like he believed in the monarchy, Howard believed in the American empire. Lost men these are.
The night of the election we went to lesbian gathering in one of those famous houses only we were of a certain age and a couple of long standing were generously sharing their home as they often do--bottles of champagne stood ready if truly the unimaginable happened. The polls had tightened, perhaps Labour was not as far ahead as everyone had thought just a week ago and so we gathered around the tv, sharing food and worries, except for me, old time friends each one. Film makers, writers, sex educators, teachers, carers--all glued to the small band of red and blue that ran along the bottom of the ABC screen, watching slowly the count of seats falling to Labour, pushing--76 was what was needed for a victory. Pattie sitting next to me with pencil paused over The Age's guide to the electorate, ready to tick off the acquired seats. I heard words I did not know all through the night, place names that meant nothing to me, but that brought shouts of delight from my comrades--Eden-Monaro, Lindsay, Deakin, Bonner, And all night, Bennelong, the Sydney seat from which Howard's power emanated for over 30 years. I watched, a stranger, as long suffering citizens hung on every flick of the numbers chart--so much depended on this outcome for these women who had known another Australia, one that had made their dreams possible, that had shaped their young adulthood with social commitments to fuller, more compassionate national visions. And I could witness the almost exhausted shout of victory when the numbers finally gave the answer, Howard and all who fed off his arrogance were out of power.
Now I know that Rudd represents the conservative branch of the Labor party, but his deputy Prime Minister, a red head named Julia Gillyard, hails from the left reaches of the party--struggles lie ahead of course--but just when I thought the Right in this country and in my own could never be made to retreat--a little like housing costs in New York--the majority of people in this country proved me wrong--what the Bushes and the Cheneys present as destiny can be refused. Here in a time of unheard of prosperity for many, many looked beyond their own comfort and peered into what their country had become. Two down, one more to go.