The clock radio went off to herald a wintry Melbourne morn and many catalysts for memory’s crucible, still full with dreaming’s little threads and fragments. Outside it might have been 1963, because this is the way winter was back then, or so an older Bunyip’s recollections now attest. The weather is cold and wet and London damp, the hole outside the bedroom, where the new fish pond will go, a soggy pit. If John Batman had arrived on a day such as this, he would have cut his throat. Today, though, we have the footy for comfort and distraction, and there is hope of a better world as well, for Kevin Rudd has sent those illegal aliens packing to New Guinea.
Well, “all” to the extent that women and children may or may not be included and “solved” only to the immediate satisfaction of the Fairfax press and ABC. The rest of us can only be baffled, and not just those still fuzzed with slumber in our sheets’ cosy fug.
It is a year-long deal, and what then? It will cost how much? Can it withstand the courts’ scrutiny? And what will stop Manus inmates hopping in canoes and paddling across the Torres Strait, claims for asylum a good deal stronger for their stays in the country where they quite likely ate a Rockefeller. A Chimbu with an axe and a bone to pick – a standard hazard of PNG life, apparently – makes a very handy argument for the urgent need to live somewhere else. If the post-announcement footage of locals bemoaning their soon-to-be neighbours’ arrival is any indication, it may well be more than Chimbus on the doorstep. Two weeks ago the military rampaged through the university in Port Moresby and beat students senseless with iron bars. While this represents a sound response to the tertiary sector in just about any nation you might care to name, it also testifies to a definite volatility in the local temperament. In a country where the broadcast of last week’s State of Origin contest prompted a riot, a pub burned and a teenager shot dead, the simple fact of being an outsider can reasonably be expected to incur somewhat higher insurance premiums.
That radio by the pillow, however, was burbling with grim resolve. Somehow, in the time between Rudd’s deal with Peter O’Neill, and the skies breaking once again over the Billabong, time had been found to record a series of stern public service announcements, all warning that it would be the height of folly to tempt Australia’s resolve and turn up uninvited. As far as is known the only current victim of political persecution in the greater Port Phillip Bay area is Julia Gillard, and she has indicated her intention to seek asylum not at Christmas Island but at her mum’s Adelaide home (it will be such a comfort to have Tim living on her couch). Even before the coffee kicked in one could only wonder why this urgent need to blitz Melbourne, of all places, with these messages. Jakarta, certainly, but Mentone, Ashburton and Bentleigh?
Unless, of course, Rudd & Co are more keen to assure voters that the queue-jumping crisis is over and solved. That would be putting the public advertising budget at the service of one very cheeky politician’s latest sleight of hand. All the magician needs now is an audience prepared to be duped and a court decision that is not brought down until after the election.