The curious case of the new Prime Minister and the missing seven-year-old

Posted by Ruth Brown on June 25th, 2010

So the most exciting and dramatic event in Australian politics since the Whitlam Dismissal has just taken place. And I was about 13,000km away.

For the past year-and-a-half, I have lived and breathed Australian politics as a journalist at Crikey. My day would begin by frantically trying to ingest (and digest) the contents of all the nation’s major papers and news outlets. At work, one eye or ear was always tuned in to APAC, another monitoring the ABC News, and yet another on real-time news and views from the Twitter and the blogosphere. Out and about, I was constantly checking my iPhone to stay plugged in, and my evenings usually ended by watching Lateline or tapes of The 7:30 Report. My regular Sunday brunch date was with Barrie Cassidy and the Insiders team.

Theoretically, I can still do most of those things from the other side of the world. The internet means I can stay up-to-the-second on all the wonky goings-on from back home. But it’s not the same as “experiencing” them. Following the political news cycle was as much about keeping abreast of the news reports and analysis as it was getting a “feel” for the public and pundit sentiments behind them, and the national narratives to which they were contributing.

So I’m left feeling curiously lost today. I know intellectually that a huge major big super crazy political coup just took place. I know that we now have our first female Prime Minister, and the most left-wing leader the country has had in quite some time. I know that this has totally turned the upcoming federal election on its head. I’ve read all the editorials, op-eds and news reports. I watched the live-stream of yesterday’s Question Time, and sat uncomfortably through Rudd’s excruciatingly emotional farewell speech (shame it took this to get a genuine performance out of the guy).

But I have no idea what’s going on.

In Portland, the big, all-anyone-can-talk-about, front-page-of-every-newspaper story is Kyron Horman — a seven-year-old who went missing three weeks ago. There are posters and billboards everywhere, candlelight prayer vigils, a 50,000-strong Facebook group, and everyone has an opinion about whether it was his child-molesting uncle or allegedly lying step-mum.

They’ll probably string me up in the middle of Pioneer Courthouse Square for saying this, but I don’t particularly give a shit about Kyron Horman.

I mean, I feel sympathetic towards the boy and his family and friends, as I would for any human being and their loved ones in this situation. And it’s sad and tragic if he’s been hurt or killed. But I’m equally saddened and sympathetic towards the millions of kids around the world who are being enslaved, abused and killed every day.

And yet I “get” this story. Even if I don’t share it, I get the public fascination and sentiment. I understand the media narrative. I’ve watched it unfold, experienced and observed how it has captured the city.

A kid who I heard about for the first time a few weeks ago feels far more real to me than a woman whose career I’ve been following intently for years. An event which only a month ago would have possibly been one of the most exciting things to take place in my lifetime (because yes, I’m lame) feels largely meaningless.

I grew up hearing my parents recount their experiences of the Whitlam Dismissal countless times — the shock, the drama, where they were, how they felt. Thirty-five years after the event, they still speak about it with the same passion, emotion and sense of occasion.

If someone asks me in thirty-five years what I was doing when Australia’s first female Prime Minister came to power, my honest answer will be “talking about Kyron Horman”. And they’ll say “Who?” but there’ll be no point explaining. They couldn’t possibly understand.

  • Sam Downing

    Oh man. You missed out bigtime. Wednesday night was SO SUPER EXCITING – we were glued to Sky News (whose journalists were clearly having an awesome night), then the ABC. Fantastic, and better drama than any of the dramas on the commercial networks. Thursday morning was EVEN MORE EXCITING, especially in the hours immediately preceding and after Rudd's press conference.

  • Ruth

    Rub it in, whydontcha?