When Politics Was Fun

Reading about Australian politics the other night prompted me to think about Paul Keating’s ‘Placido Domingo’ speech, supposedly off the record, to the National Press Club many years ago. Someone made an audio recording of it. His comments included likening himself to Señor Domingo, in Australian political terms, and saying that Australia had never had a great leader. He labelled World War II prime minister John Curtin a “trier”. This wasn’t meant as an insult to Mr. Curtin’s legacy; as a Labor Treasurer he possessed an appropriate measure of respect for the man his parents relied on when Australians felt they had been abandoned by the old country, and the Japanese threat was being felt very acutely indeed. What he was doing, in part, was directing a jibe at his boss, Prime Minister Bob Hawke. (“And you aren’t great either, mate” – that sort of thing.)

I fist heard about this while working at my uncle and auntie’s pharmacy, vacuuming and cleaning, and the news came on the radio. I missed the significance of it. This was twenty years ago and my critical faculties weren’t as razor sharp as they are now. Or something. It seemed to a teenager that Paul Keating was being funny again, and I wondered what all the fuss was about.

Fast forward a year, and perhaps my political education had progressed in an onwards and upwards kind of trend. Perhaps. My parents had promised that they would buy me a cricket bat and some other gear, and I had travelled with Mum to Kingsgrove Sports Centre, at the time the best cricket equipment shop in Sydney, and now even better, it seems. The bat I had most liked the look and feel of was a Symonds Star Waughs – both Steve and Mark had Symonds contracts then – it was a bit lighter than other bats its size and seemed to fit with my ideas about batsmanship being about gliding and deflecting the ball as much as it is about brutalising it in the direction of the boundary. (I might have thought of myself as a Charlie Macartney or Archie Jackson, but I was just getting to know the greats of the early 20th Century then, and hadn’t encountered the artists yet.)

We got home to find that Paul Keating had successfully challenged Bob Hawke in the Labor Party Caucus and thus was Australia’s new Prime Minister. I vividly recall sitting on a beanbag and eating Mongolian lamb from a container on a Stable Table tray and be enraptured. This would be exciting, I thought. Politics would be fun. It would be inspiring and different.

I used to know the date when this happened. It was December 20, 1991.

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