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Time Gents

By John Longhurst A cigarette cloud hovered above the burning fury of the mob. The auditorium of the Workers’ Club was packed to the rafters and the anger was palpable. Empty schooner glasses, rimmed with stale froth, some containing cigarette butts, adorned all spare space, window ledges, the seldom used club piano and the odd one lay unconscious on the heavily stained carpeted floor. There was the odd argument about ‘Who shouts?’ but a universal commitment to speed drink whilst the happy hour lasted. The remnants of the club’s eight dollar ‘all you can eat’ Chinese smorgasbord were scattered throughout and half eaten plates of special fried rice with sweet and sour pork or lemon chicken vying for space with chomped spring rolls and dim sims oozing oil. It was all now feasted on by flies, chancing survival with the intermittent air conditioning battling the outdoor summer heat, while the Chinese Australian cook, with scotch glass in hand, leaned unsteadily against the kitchen doorway and surveyed the carnage. Body odour mixed with fumes from both human orifices, the stench of beer and the fog of the omnipresent cigarette smoke churned the mood of discontent. The walls were adorned with large posters of the local member of parliament suited up and on a background of local surf club colours, above tiny print stating his party allegiance. A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hung crookedly on the wall, half smiling down on her subjects. The noise level went down a notch or two, with the loudspeaker announcing the winner of the meat tray raffle, or the repeat of ‘The driver of the red Torana license plate number FCK M80 you’ve left your lights on in the car park.’ Dizzy, ludicrous tunes and the very infrequent coin jackpot drops, emanated from the pokie machines in the adjacent room. A beer-bellied giant of a man, dressed in stubbies, cigarette burned singlet, splashed with sweet and sour sauce and all of him atop dirty feet, precariously squeezed into overburdened rubber thongs. He held an angled half finished schooner glass of Tooheys New in one hand, and his fist strangled a dim sim in the other. From the middle of the mob he swayed and roared ‘’Bring the prick on! Bring on the prick!,’. The mob repeated the chant. Stage left and behind the curtain, the local politician was sweating profusely. He had door knocked every house in the electorate and was proud of his three percent personal following, against the national trend, at the last election. He had followed up every local concern with representations to the relevant minister, had a weekly spot on the local radio, regularly lunched with the editor of the regional newspaper and attended every significant school assembly over the past twelve months. Local party supporters solidly supported him, swinging voters begrudgingly approved of him but hated his government and his opponents were respectful of him but passionate in their contempt for his leader, the Prime Minister. The local member mopped the sweat from his brow and exchanged glances with the Prime Minister. With the auditorium baying for blood, the Prime Minister stretched his shoulders, rubbed his chin, lowered and fixed his eyes on his shorter colleague and stated, ‘Comrade. I would never have agreed to come to this rabble if I knew you were this unpopular.’ The local member shook his head and entered the stage. The booing subsided marginally as the former English teacher began a Shakespearean speech of Mark Antony persuasion. On every major local and national issue, he outlined his favourable local facts and statistics compared to the struggling national data. With each policy point he completed with the sentence ‘With your support I have achieved this outcome at a local level.’ With a not too subtle switch from first to third person he would then state ‘The Prime Minister will address the national position.’ The odd but audible ‘hear hear’ from the ardent supporters, was subdued by the repeated roar of ‘Bring the prick on!’ From the beer-bellied giant. ‘I now introduce the Prime Minister of Australia.’ And the local member scurried to the left of the stage. The roar and the boos were deafening as the Prime Minister strode out, emperor like, and took up position at the lectern. He scanned his notes and waited for the noise to subside. ‘Men and women of.....’ and he paused to brush off a persistent fly. From deep inside the gut of the beer-bellied giant a roar went up ‘Oi.... leave our bloody flies alone, mate.’ The mob erupted into laughter and the Prime Minister continued his pause. No sooner had he restarted and the heckler swayed forward and boomed ‘ Oi....oi..... ‘Ousing. ‘Ousing is a bloody disgrace in this country. Fix up ‘ousing.’ The Prime Minister looked up from his notes and scanned the room. His shiny forehead lifted his eyes above the crowd, scanned passed the crooked portrait of the Queen teetering on the wall and sought some temporary solace in a rising moon in the dirt stained window at the back of the auditorium. He pursed his lips and began to outline a wide ranging social agenda and skilfully articulated a new independence for the nation. It would be an awakening of a country long dormant, in the post WWII years; with the abolition of university fees, support for equal wages for women, land rights for indigenous Australians, funding for the Arts, promotion of a multi cultural Australia and an end to involvement in the Vietnam War as platform initiatives. There were nods of approval from the committed party supporters and even the odd clap from the back of the auditorium. But the booming voice again went up ‘Oi....... ‘ousing mate. Bloody ‘ousing! ‘Ousing is crap in this country. What are you gonna do about ‘ousing?’ The Prime Minister now fixed the beer-bellied giant in his sights. ‘In the very short term we are going to put an aitch in front of it.’ A murmur of laughter drifted amongst the crowd and a couple of the heckler’s mates shifted slightly away to his side, but the beer-bellied giant bared his gapped teeth and with a noticeable slur, hit back with ‘Yeah...... who’s gonna pay for that eh?’ He wiped his mouth with the back of his stained hand and his blurry eyes measured the room for reaction. The Prime Minister raised his eyebrows and then moved onto his final, signature policy on health care. He outlined the failings of the current system and detailed and compared the access of health care for the rich sick in the wealthy suburb of Vaucluse against the reality of the poor in Rooty Hill. He then proposed a sweeping reform that would provide universal health care for all Australians, regardless of income, suburb, city or region and all paid for by a modest one percent income tax increase. There were now audible murmurs of approval from the crowd but the beer-bellied giant twigged at the mention of health care, swayed markedly, and with his greatest roar of the night, spewed out ‘Oi...... abortion eh? What are you gonna do about abortion?’ The Prime Minister put his notes to one side. The mob was silent now, and the Prime minister paused for a very long moment and fixed the beer-bellied giant firmly in his gaze. ‘In your case’ and again he paused, with the crowd now surprised and expectant at such direct engagement with the heckler. ‘In your case.............. I am going to make it retrospective.’

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