The Poisoned Chalice

Chapter 8: The Unbearable Burden of Borrowers


Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth rent asunder the quietude of the countryside as waves of terrified tenants fled their properties before the malevolent might of the mongrel moneylenders. Word spread like wildfire: the Big Four Visigoth vandal tribes had invaded our shores once again.

The legendary propensity of these marauding mercenaries to rape and pillage has been handed down through history and the little people know full well they are defenceless against the invincible might of The Four Pillars. Protest is pointless and pleas for pity are pooh-poohed when the usurers unleash their umbrage.

This latest shock-and-awe assault on our senses hit hard as the mists of Melbourne Cup cleared and it became apparent that we had been sold out from within. The mendacious Motherdollar Bank snuck under our guard and smote us mightily. It was as if the gnomes who govern it were offended by our flutters and proceeded to punish us for our propensity to party. In the cruellest justification for their excessive show of force, their prognostication was that they foresaw prosperity in the distance. “Mining is magic and it will make us a motza,” they intoned intolerantly. “You who live by borrowing need to be reminded of the ballad of boom and bust. It foretells that what goes up might keep going up and so it is with inflation. We will not have this demon creature bedevilling the country so we have launched a pre-emptive strike. Yes, there will be collateral damage that will lay waste to many but they should be proud of their sacrifice for the greater good. Have a nice Christmas!” And on that cheery note they opened the drinks cabinet to discuss cycles.

Rumblings of discontent were heard hither and yon and this was the signal for Jovial Joe the Genial Giant to launch a strike of his own. Unfortunately his first shot had not allowed for the wind and it back-tracked like a boomerang catching him fair in the coits. But a quick hands-on massage of the damaged appendage restored his vigour and he returned to the fray. This time he caught the wind and his message went far and wide: “The banks are bastards. The banks are bastards,” he extolled gleefully. None would argue so he developed his refrain: “They should be brought to heel. Let loose the leash and we shall birch the free markets with a cane of regulation.” Now some libertarian contrarians could not stomach such repression and they protested. The sullen peasants muttered darkly and grumbled: “Naff off. The pricks deserve what’s coming to them”.

This emboldened Jovial Joe even more and he went after The Duck With An Abacus, challenging him to confront the vandals. The Duck weighed the odds and gambled that he could swing a haymaker and scoot off to The Great Wall Restaurant in Beijing before the vandals could inflict reprisals on him. He filled his lungs and bellowed: “You are a bunch of very naughty boys and your behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. I’m thinking of reporting you to the headmaster and recommending detention. That will serve you right.” Well, the guffaws from the Visigoths made the ground rumble. They hadn’t had so much fun since the last pillaging of the vestal virgins. The Duck strove mightily to maintain his dignity but it was fruitless and he exited stage right.

The Visigoths by this time were smarting and decided to give back as good as they got. “You stupid peasants,” they had their flacks pronounce, “You are so indescribably insular you have no idea how the real world works. You think the cost of living is a burden but you have no idea. Try coping with the cost of finance, you fickle fools and see how much sleep you get at nights.” This mystified the peasants who could not see a connection. So, the vandals vented once more: “You unspeakably useless units. Can you not understand that you are not borrowing enough? How can we possibly survive in the global jungle if our profits are not phenomenal?” And to prove their point they revealed that destitution was verily at their door with their quadruple bottom line amounting to a miserly 22 billion. Hardly worth keeping a set of accounts for such paltry small change.

The peasants, though, were stunned at such a number and gave the spokespersons short shrift. “You are a slimy bunch of snakes in the grass and if we could, we’d euthanase you.” Whereupon the damsel recently dubbed one of the ten most powerful women in the world strode into the footlights and opined in Afrikaans: “You still don’t get it, you fools, do you? Do you think we do this only for ourselves? Do you think it is easy cleaning multi-million dollar mansions? Do you realise the cost of servant labour? Do you have any idea how much tax I have to pay The Duck on my deca-million annual salary? You have to understand: we do it only for the shareholders. They are what gets us out of bed in the mornings and who make us strive so mightily to maximise returns. You damned mortgage-holders are only good for one thing: whinging and whining and moaning and groaning. It’s time you all had a cold shower and woke up to yourselves.”

Which is where we find ourselves in this never-ending recurring saga of deja vu. Somewhat the worse for wear and as frustrated as ever. But that’s our lot in life, isn’t it? It wasn’t meant to be easy for the little people: sip from the poisoned chalice or go thirsty.

Chapter 7: The Legacy of Lazarus

Just when we had grown accustomed to not feeling relaxed and comfortable, an apparition emerged from the murky mists of the swamps of Bennelong. As we peered fretfully at this eminence gris we soon saw it was the track-suited strider himself. Yes, with the nation’s First XI languishing in a fifth-placed limbo, Wee Willie Winston marched purposefully forward – as ever – to the crease to remind us of former glories.

Forget finagling tea leaves to fathom the future, Lazarus has bequeathed us some 700 pages of portents. Have we not been warned that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to relive the lessons over and over again? So, unless we want another 13 years of middle-class melodrama, we’d better run the rule over this tome pretty damned carefully. And where better to start than the title. A propitious prognostication, perhaps? Lazarus is back. Yes, we get that. But Lazarus Rising? Holy shit, Batman, we might just be in trouble. This Boy Robin’s got a whole other costume he wants to fill out. Dear, oh dear, oh dear!

With Rudd run over, Gillard gasping and Abbott in abeyance the leadership lobby is languishing. Yes, Malcolm is mulling but that, truly, would be like a peacock rising three times. Does our former Dear Leader discern a dearth of adroitness; a vacuum that only a tried and tested titan could vanquish? Perhaps there is something even more Machiavellian afoot? What should we read into the photos of the eminence blue rinse, Janette, standing resolutely over his shoulder? Or the Cherie Blair photo op at Chequers with Janette brandishing, as only a former champion could, a massive cutlass quite capable of flensing any fink foolish enough to fall foul of her? Are there moves afoot to have her contest preselection against Tennis Elbow? Now that the glass ceiling has been ground underfoot for the very top job and the one just below it perhaps the former First Matron wants to assume the monarchy? These are vexatious vibes, indeed. Enough to give us the vapours.

But there are many other aspects to this autobiography that warrant attention. Payback is to the fore and The Smirk took a red hot poker to the derriere as Wee Willie refused to let bygones be bygones. And they say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Goodness gracious, what are we to make of this little spat, then? Are gender issues to the fore or just bitchiness? Given that the history books will for eternity record Wee Willie in the ascendancy, why did he feel the need to stick the stiletto in? Hard not to discern some insecurity there. Magnanimity generally accords with comfort but Wee Willie is clearly still discombobulated by what transpired between these two. Hard to escape a niggling nag that the one person who seriously claimed throughout Wee Willie’s career that he welshed on an agreement was The Smirk. And Wee Willie did like us to think that his word was his bond – even in the face of rancour over core and non-core and other minor wrinkles in the sheets.

Interesting that The Smirk played a fire hose on his no-doubt flaring frustrations and displayed a discipline that warranted plaudits for truly he could have commanded the airwaves for weeks if he had wanted to indulge in some Keating-Hawke rivalry, for example. But however one judges his failure to challenge for the crown, his contribution to the cause can never be denigrated. Forsaken promise perhaps, but a scintillating record nonetheless. And still mindful of the greater good. Go, you good thing, Smirk.

Wee Willie makes it very clear in his own words that he was the sole arbiter of his decision to remain as leader. Yet perhaps we can discern Lady Macbeth outing damned Spot as she saw daggers afore her eyes and urging that The Smirk be done down. In which case are we to dare ponder that the fury of the woman scorned was not Wee Willie himself but his consort? Oh, be still our beating hearts as we ponder such naked notions.

The climactic cadence which appears to have missed the microphone in this lengthy work is the ironic retribution of the electorate in not only dismissing the Wee Willie administration but ensuring our protagonist played no further part in the nation’s governance. And this from those who cherished his character for so many years. Remarkably, the people have a rare ability to discern hubris. They tolerate foibles and they forgive follies but they never nurture those who think they truly know best. Elevate you to the very tip of the totem pole, they will, but the mere moment you think you are there as of right they will dash you to the dust and stone you for good measure. And a measure worth pondering is some seven hundred pages of laudatory lather, justifying the anti-Fabian jihad. Such a flawed beast is democracy and yet the people so often get it pretty right. Those who seek miracles should ponder that at length.

Meantime those Fairfax fiends sowed a seed in the anti-Christ SMH that one of Emperor Murdoch’s family franchises had stumped-up some $400,000 to Wee Willie Winston for his thoughts in this stupendous saga. Perhaps the snide suggestion we were to assume was that such a payment was akin to Alan Bond’s offering of a similar 400,000 pieces of silver decades ago to the Hillbilly Dictator in the Shady State as settlement for a defamation action? A dreadful notion, of course, and quite beneath contempt. As if politicians and businessmen and large sums of money ever go hand in hand. Simply outrageous.

Chapter 6: Of sanctity, saints and sinners

He’s not bad that Death’s Head, eh? You know, for a bloke who rather stands out in a crowd he has a capacity to fly under the radar that would do credit to a stealth fighter aircraft. So low was his profile this past wee while that some were wondering if Senator Faceless had slipped-in a stiletto so that the next day’s media might report: “Death’s Head done like a dinner”. But all 14’ 6” of him was scrunched into a little ball somewhere (though who knows where?) as the Auditor-General released the report into the incredible insulation imbroglio. It was hard to tell whether canonisation, cauterisation or merely obfuscation was the go.

The A-G swears it was the department’s fault concluding, sympatico with the harsh lens of media coverage, that those dimwits whose role in life is simply to shuffle papers could never master the nuances of ceiling spaces and had not a hope in hell of pulling-off a challenge more difficult than a Fabian victory in the Failed State next time around. The First Rudd Imperium was given a sideswipe by the A-G for forcing the department to do it in half the time it needed to take but has not recommended prosecution. Pity! There are sinners in the Cabinet who should do penance. The A-G concludes – does he wish to keep his job perhaps? – that no blame should attach to Death’s Head. It’s a miracle! His own government ensured this would be a multi-billion dollar farce because of incompetence and the public servants get it in the neck while the Minister remains unscathed. Is there a catechism that teaches responsibility? Please forward multiple copies to the Cabinet Secretary.

No prissy platitudes, though, from Shades of Gray from WA. That lad may not need anger management any more for he surely excoriated any excrementatious sentiments lurking deep within his heart (that black thing in his chest) by unburdening himself to Bazza The Insider in his new tome. Boy, if Rudd the Rover thought Arbie and Shorty didn’t take to him too well, he now knows just how deep a level of contempt can be. Not since the time of Spanish galleons has a broadside carried so much shot and lead. It was all Our Kevvie’s fault, cried Gray, and that lovely lanky one was entirely innocent, he proclaimed, absolving him of all sin. Some strange nuances in that little contretemps but they do say politics makes for strange bedfellows. Hmmm . . .

The Poisoned Chalice caught a few sippers this week as those two fabulous Fabian bedfellows, Queen Julia and Krispy Kornflakes, fell out of love over the evergreen party game of who’s up who and who’s paying the rent. An unholy row erupted over our de facto Boadicea’s boast that uniform national workplace safety laws were one of her famous achievements. But in a style lacking all sanctity, Krispy crowed: “Naff off, knave! My rent is paid by those vandalous Visigoths who threaten to tear my little house down if I don’t enshrine them above the law. You might call them Luddites but I call them luminaries.” What she didn’t say out loud was all the more telling and went like this: “God help me, there are only two groups left in the community who suggest they might vote Labor next time: Life Members of the ALP (damned shame Gough’s not well coz I was hoping he’d bolster the numbers) and a bunch of unionists who reckon they ought to be above the law because we live in a capitalist system that conspires against them. Aaagh! Why don’t I just take my accent back where it belongs?” Poor Krispy. Truly she has her very own poisoned chalice from which all others refuse to drink but which, for her, miraculously remains brimful.

Now the Queen, who used to sidle up to those red-ragging rascals with blue collars, now finds none of them have washed in months and they are all a bit odoriferous. And whereas she used to find the greens somewhat on the nose she now regards them as pals. Truly, supping from the chalice does change one’s entire outlook. The monarch has, however, reaffirmed her commitment to a basic system of justice which allows a presumption of innocence, even for capitalist employers! For a Fabian this is quite a leap of faith (note how Krispy baulked at the barrier) and it will be fascinating to watch this saints versus sinners scenario unravel.

Sanctity, of course, is where one finds it. A rare few find it nowhere and, rather than pity, we should be very wary of them. A disturbing number find it everywhere (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) and while the more cynical among the flock might allow pity for them to spring to mind, we should at least be grateful some have such a positive outlook. The rest of us stumble around catching glimpses hither and yon of blessedness and are grateful as and when it shines upon us. Which makes the extraordinary explosion of sanctity bathing the great southern land recently somewhat of a mystery – which appears to be pretty much stock-in-trade for churches. The good maiden MacKillop was by all accounts a very decent human being. Subsequent efforts to elevate her to immortal status, however, appear to speak more of the attitudes of the beatificators than the blessed herself. The desperate quest for miracles has yielded results which appear miraculous in themselves. No doubt faith unshrouds such mystery and good luck to those who have it. The rest of us can only look on bemused. The one truly disturbing aspect of the week of celebrations was the attempt to draw a comparison between maiden MacKillop and Queen Julia. The basis apparently is their shared enthusiasm for education. Now, truly, is there any mere mortal among us who could draw such a long bow as to make that particular arrow fly? Methinks not.