I was seven when I was sent out of the classroom for drawing a picture of Pauline Hanson being decapitated by a guillotine, John Howard standing in line right behind her, with a caption that read ‘You’re Next’. My teachers were old lefties, but they (rightly) believed I’d penned in too much blood and viscera, that it was ‘excessive’.
To this day I maintain it was the appropriate amount.
But youth, unlike falling off a balcony, is not an excuse for inappropriate cartooning, and I spent another afternoon on ‘the naughty bench’. I liked it there anyway. My friend Ben and I would sing our favourite ad jingles, such as the one for the ‘Aqua Duck’, a pool floatie made for backyard pools we did not have.
Quack quack, quack quack.
I grew up weird. The son of a state backbencher and grandson of John Curtin’s secretary at the Daily Worker, my childhood was one spent door-knocking, picketing, soapboxing, and chook raffling. It was the waning days of the Whitlamites – the self-taught radicals and the lineage Leninistas (hello mum) who rode a free education out of jobs like ‘fitter and turner’ (hello dad) into the faction warring, Governor General loathing, self-crucifying cluster-buggery that is a life of Lefty politicking.
Being born into that life will munt your head up a bit, though I’d argue for the better, mostly. Unlike the Right, whose icons and mythopia have the limited scope of ‘bloke who wore spats to parliament’ to ‘Sheila who beat asbestosis victims in court with winning strategy of letting them drop dead’, the Left comes with a built in set of legends, tall-tales, and folk-heroes. From Joe Henry swinging his hammer to Chiffley’s little pipe, from Jack Lang opening the Sydney Harbour Bridge, to Vincent Lingiarri’s Wave Hill walk off – we are gifted with a bundle of songs, moments, and symbols that both other and empower us as response to our Country Club counterparts.
To be a lifelong progressive is to embark on a lifelong quest. But the light on the hill must cast a shadow, and there be monsters.
Pauline Hanson and Mark Latham are political villains. Watching them finally team up feels like the filler sub-plot of a 23-season anime finally reaching its tedious and inevitable third act. They are a troglodyte Team Rocket, lucky enough to land in a nation of gawping Wobbuffetts.
It is mad to me that I have had to spend two decades of my young life loathing the both of them, constantly in awe at their utter inability to simply fuck the fuck off.
They are The Unflushables, floating in an Australia whose dunny piping is well and truly clogged.
Quack quack, quack quack.
Hanson and Latham – to me now more conceptual than ‘human’ – are the toxic avengers of the Howard Years’ barren wastes. Hanson lurched out of Howard’s nativism and lured the Coalition down its two decade highway of reactionary culture wars and angry white nationalism. Her extreme ravings allowed a country ever prone to racism to slip what it accepted as ‘subtle’ bigotry into hilariously barefaced high-gear hatred. Latham was a body in a barrel – an acidic congealing of things once human, dissolving at a sickening rate. For the last ten years he has been a stack of fetid deli meats dumped on the curbside, wafting his odours towards any stray dog too hungry to turn up a free meal, no matter the used by date.
Latham was an odd reckoning for the old guard of the ALP. I remember how excitedly The Elders spoke of this brash meathead’s effect on a wavering Howard. Thump the little geek, was the vibe. The only person who doubted his staying power was my dad, who shrugged and said ‘he’s as mad as a cut snake’. But dad hadn’t received proper learning, and was ignored.
I met him during the campaign at a party function, he was a towering figure, but not in the sloping pompous way of Beazley, but in the all-star way of Shrek. I was 12, so Shrek = good.
But ogres are like onions, and onions have layers.
For me, raised in a household where Labor was part religion, part cult compound, and part Jedi Order, Latham had the aura of a Chosen One. The mark of The Kingslayer was upon him. A feral berserker wheeled out in front of our army to lop off the head of Howard (be it already close to the ground) and squash it in his mighty paw like a rotten grape. Imagine our surprise when our champion broke loose, bit his carers, and kicked a small dog to death.
Who could have seen it coming?
At the same time Hanson had gone full Gollum. Howard and co. had made her irrelevant by eclipsing her extremism. Without social-media there to lend her a new virality in the softened mind of baby boomers whose miniature train sub-Reddits had hyperlinked them to the new fascism, she was adrift. She was banished, busted for tax fraud or selling dodgy vitamins or screaming at a nun in a Wentworth IGA or something. Who can remember? Who cared?
As Latham broke free of his shackles and jumped the wall of acceptability into the shrubbery of our polemical outback, so to did Hanson. It was there, gnawing on the dry grass of their ‘common sense for the common punter’ branding, that they met with a black monolith. It handed them a club and asked them [in the voice of David Koch]: “remember when you used to crack skulls? Gee, that was great television.”
Suddenly Hanson is on Dancing with the Stars goose-stepping to Wagner, and Latham is at Festivals of So-So ideas displaying the horrors of wine sweats and dropsy to aghast onlookers.
They were on Q&A and somehow the only questions weren’t ‘why are you here?’ and ‘can you please go away?’.
For 25 years the Australian media has insisted that the way to end Hanson (and then Latham) was by giving them a stage for their famous ping-pong ball trick, the simple horror of which will put voters off forever. The Wonk-Wanker-Wonka Tunnel feedback loop is singularly hellish in Australia, and despite the efforts of a desperate few to de-platform these orcs, they have been allowed to talk, cosplay, and run for re-election time and time again.
Get the snake, get the Drain-O, I’ve been staring into this bowl for most my life and I think I’m going to be sick.
It is easy to link them by history and ideology but the simple thread that links them is their base incompetence: a pair of two-bit hucksters who met in the same exercise yard, peddling similar snake oil. One thing I learned interviewing One Nation candidates in WA last year is that these are people caught up in a pyramid scheme, one I’m excited to see Latham violently thrash around in.
The idea of these two co-operating with each other is the only nice thing in the unending torrent of malarkey that is OzPol 2018. It’s the first political alliance with a 35% chance of ending in murder-suicide, according to SportsBet.
The light on the hill is as dim as ever, and the shadows are drawing long. You don’t have to look further than the Prime Minister to realise that the turds are floating to the top.
And so I find myself googling the Aqua Duck jingle, the one I sang on the naughty bench at White Gum Valley Primary School twenty years ago:
‘… a duck is a duck
quack quack, quack quack
and that is that.’
And that is that.