Adventures in democracy

Posted by Ruth Brown on August 21st, 2010

I’ve written before on how disconnected I feel from Australian politics here.

Suffice to say, I’ve had huge difficulty following the Federal election campaign from halfway around the world. Not because the news isn’t accessible — I watch the ABC News in 90 Seconds most mornings over breakfast, still subscribe to Crikey (though heh, mostly for the cartoons), try to read The Age (though the home page is so full of football and celebrities, I tend to tune out) and I receive plenty of updates from my family back home — but the political scene changed so dramatically after I left with the ascent of Julia Gillard as PM that it was all just so hard to comprehend and relate to. I must admit, I have a newfound respect for writers like Guy Rundle and, yes, even Germaine Greer who manage to comment on domestic Australian politics from the other side of the world.

I have, however, at least tried to keep abreast of the goings-on in my home electorate of Melbourne. I  lived in this electorate most of my life (although it was Batman until the boundaries were redrawn), and have had a bit to do with the local Greens branch over the years. This seat was always safe as houses for the ALP, but in recent years, it has only been the left-wing and likeable sitting member, Lindsay Tanner, that has kept the local watermelon left from revolting and voting Green. With Tanner’s resignation a few months back, the seat has been thrown wide open for the first time in a long time, and I’m keen to see how it will all wash out. Even from halfway across the world, it’s far more exciting to feel like your vote could actually make a difference in the outcome.

Election day for us actually happened on Wednesday. Our ballots arrived last Saturday, but we kind of put them to one side and forgot. It wasn’t until Wednesday that I was sitting at work and decided to check the AEC website to see exactly when we had to mail them in by. The website said we had until 6pm on the 16th to get our forms in. Oh shit, that didn’t leave a lot of time.

I jumped on my bike and cycled home to grab our ballots and headed over to The Boy’s office.

But first, I had to find a sausage.

Now, to explain for the non-Aussies: traditionally on an Australian election day, everyone heads to the local primary school to vote. With such a captive audience, the local primary school usually takes the opportunity to do a bit of fundraising. Those Parents Who Always Volunteer (you know, the ones who cut the orange quarters for footy and heated up pies in the tuck shop and coordinated the trash and treasure stall at the school fete and came to all the working bees) wheel out an old BBQ and a card table and the dads run what we call a “sausage sizzle” (burnt sausages donated by the local butcher, served in cheap white slices of bread, covered in tomato sauce and grilled onions) while the mums run a cake sale (every kid is given a paper plate, a piece of ribbon and a some of clear cellophane to take home. Their mum must then bake something — or in my non-baking mum’s case, buy something from Coles — to put on said plate, wrap in said cellophane and tie up with said ribbon to sell. Traditional items include honey joys, chocolate crackles, vanilla, hedgehog of Mars Bar slice, or the most ubiquitous of them all, lamingtons). Procuring your sausage is an essential part of the Australian voting experience.

photo by bootload

SO, bearing this in mind, you will understand why it was very important that I find sausages. I’m not even sure your vote counts if the ballot paper isn’t smeared with a bit of Rosella.

There are plenty of hotdog carts around town, but a few blocks away from the office, I passed a big barbeque and a sign that said “sausages”. It turned out to be this gourmet sausage place, which specialises in weird sausages from all over the world, like reindeer, brats, and polish sausages. Fortunately, it also had beef (for The Boy) and vegan sausages (for me). While the guy at the cart grilled our snags, I tried to explain the vital role he was playing in the democratic process. He didn’t quite seem to appreciate just how important it all was. The sausages came on a grilled bun (not bread), and were “butterflied” (split down the middle), but they came with heaps of grilled onions and a huge range of free sauces and toppings. Tomato ketchup was as close as I could find to tomato sauce. It wasn’t completely authentic but it would have to do. I wrapped the sausages in foil and cycled over to the office.

I pulled The Boy out of a meeting and thrust a ballot and a sausage in his hand. “But I just had lunch…” he protested. I forced him to eat it anyway. You just don’t mess with tradition.

eat for democracy!

We filled in our ballots (with the time constraints, I’m ashamed to say we both voted above the linewithout checking the preference flow, too) and checked the AEC website to see how we could submit them. “Wait, this says application form…” said The Boy. “It’s just to apply for a postal ballot. We still have until Friday to submit our ballots. Didn’t you read this properly?” Oops.

Ah well. We witnessed each other’s votes, sealed our envelopes and finished our sausages (really freaking good — a little too good for an election day sausage, really, but I’m not complaining). I cycled over to the post office, bought two 98-cent stamps (I can’t believe we had to pay for our own postage, tight-arse AEC) and bid our votes adieu.

Then I went back to work and shared a pack of Arnott’s mint slice I found at World Market with my workmates to celebrate (though I forced them all to say “chockie bikkie” before they could have one, because I’m a parochial jerk).

Fast forward to tonight. In my family, which is full of politics nerds, election night has always meant an election party. My parents invite family and friends round to eat and drink and watch Antony Green on the ABC. The magic of the internet has meant I haven’t had to do without this tradition, either. I dialled in on Skype and said hi to everyone who was gathered in my folks’ living room with glasses of wine and mini spring rolls, while watching ABC News 24 like I’d never left home shores.

Now it’s 2am, and the election is still super tight, although it’s looking like the Greens may have actually pulled it off in Melbourne.

When I wake up, Australia will either have either elected its first female Prime Minister, or a vile bigoted wing nut.

If it’s the latter, I won’t be rushing home any time soon.

  • Elsa

    Best description of Tony Abbott ever.

  • Cafuego

    Can you guys get the spare room ready? I have an urge to leave.

  • Devlyn

    You know you can get TimTams here now, right? Well, at least chocolate and caramel. I shrieked with delight when I saw them at the store. I hope they stick around.
    Still waiting to hear on the official PM situation…

  • Ruth

    Yeah, that’s what I went to buy when I got the Mint Slices, but World Market were all out (they only get them in once a month or so and they sell out super-fast). They also had a couple of very battered looking packets of Family Assorted, but I realised those are kind of shit biscuits you eat because your nan or office has them, not because they taste that good, so I declined.

    I believe Pepperidge Farms also sell Tim Tams here (which are apparently made in the same Australian factory but with a different label), but only at Target, and there’s no Target anywhere near me.

  • Devlyn

    No no, you can get them at Fred Meyer right on W Burnside and 20th! And yes, they’re labeled Pepperidge Farms, but I checked, and they are the same thing as one gets in Oz. The Arnott’s one finds at World Market tend to be … tasting old. At least to me, and more often than not, I’ve found multiple Tim Tams melted together, as if the packet got too warm in the warehouse.

  • Stewart

    I voted below the line, which was also an exercise in explaining Australian political parties and nutjobs in comparison to US parties and nutjobs to a bunch of Americans. Amusing all round.