Friday, 4 March 2011

Eeeny Meeny Miney Mo

After hearing about a poll in the electorate of 'key independent' federal MP Rob Oakeshott, in which one per cent of those interviewed had never heard of him, I was reminded of something that happened to me last year.

It was the day before the federal election in August, and I had stopped at a petrol station in Victoria. A truck with the name of Australia's biggest trucking firm along its side pulled in to the station just ahead of me. After I filled my tank, I went in to pay for my petrol and found the truck's driver in front of me in the queue. When his turn came to be served, he slapped a tabloid newspaper he was buying down on the counter. Needless to say its front page was dominated by the election.

'Which of these mongrels are you going to go for?' he asked the petrol station attendant.

'I'm sick of the both of them,' she answered, 'I think I'll give those Greens a go this time.'

'Yeah, I reckon that's what I'll do too,' the  truck driver answered.

Yes, that's right - a petrol station attendant and a truck driver were proposing to vote for the Greens.

Australia is the only country that has compulsory voting, and I totally support the concept - compulsory voting, that is, not us being the only country that has it. What I wonder about occasionally though is universal suffrage.


  1. Democracy, what's it like, eh? There must be some way to deselect a proportion of the electorate. The Athenians classed two thirds of their populace as 'non-citizens', which must have helped a lot.

  2. I support compulsory voting too. It gets us all out of the house and down to the local school, or hall, or wherever it's being held, and then there's a sausage sizzle or a lamington drive, which I enjoy, and all the children are running around, you have a chance to stare at the people from the next street over (who at every other time are incognito behind the walls of their house), and someone brings a dog, and someone else observes that it's sunny, which, in my memory, it has been, almost always; and one of the kids spills a fizzy drink. The leaves in the playground blow and the school gym floorboards echo and the woman or the man looks up at you earnestly as they ask you for your surname and "Have you voted in this election before?" and then they cross you off with a ruler and a pen. I come away charmed. Now that I'm in the US I'm looking forward to the next American election because I want find out what they do instead of the sausages. Nothing, I'm told, but I don't believe it.

  3. Gadjo, I thought everyone who was considered a human was given the vote in Athens - it was only the helots, who were scummy slave-types, knuckles dragging along floor who were out? I used to wonder how they could call that democracy but, after the above episode, I'm beginning to see that in this, as in so much, the Ancient Greeks were wise.
    Umbagollah - We were shocked, when they had an election in Britain while we were there, to find that, not only are there no sausages, but they don't even have it on the weekend. And I quite agree with you - your picture of an election outing is beautiful and exactly matches my experience in every detail.

  4. Apparantly the excluded types were slaves, women, foreigners, debtors, and men not having completed military training. I particularly like the 'debtors' part, which maybe could be used to disenfranchise everybody except the very unambitious.

  5. Well obviously women shouldn't vote - apart from anything else it breaks into my housework schedule

  6. Reading Noel Malcolm's Kosovo: a Short History I discover that the Ottoman Empire divided its subjects into, roughly, 'people who pay taxes to support the army' and 'the army.' Also I discover a perfect addition to Australian democracy.

    "We know that it has long been the practice of Serb folk-poets to turn events almost immediately into poetry. (One memorable example of this was given by the poet-peasant Ante Nesic, who was a member of the Serbian National Assembly in 1873-4: he would emerge each day from the Assembly and convert the entire debate on the Monetary Reform Bill, and the Budget, into blank verse for an admiring audience.)"

  7. I may have become jaded, having lived in Belgrade for three years, but I can't help feeling that Noel Malcolm has swallowed quite a large chunk of Serb self-promotion there, Umbagollah.

  8. Ain't sure if you mean the first sentence or the second one, but he cites the anecdote back to a book by one Helen Rootham: Kossovo: Heroic Songs of the Serbs. (

    "Among Serbian masses poetry is in general so closely connected with life that it is impossible to separate them : they sing while working, they sing when they are joyful, they sing when they suffer.

    A typical illustration as to what curious aspects this habit can assume, we may find in the following reminiscence of Mrs. E. Lawton-Mijatovich : — "During the winter of 1873-74, happening to be in Kragrjevatz during the meeting of the National Assembly, I had the opportunity of hearing a certain peasant, Anta Neshich, recite in blank verse to numerous audiences outside the Assembly Room the whole debate on the Bill for introducing the fresh monetary system into Serbia, concluding with the final acceptance of the Bill. The poet put the debate on the Budget into the same taking form, to the great delight of his many auditors. Anta Neshich, from Ripany, a village about fifteen miles from Belgrade, was himself a member of the Assembly, and this fact, of course, did not make his recitations outside the walls less interesting to his auditors. ...""

  9. Hmmm. I never, ever encountered a Serb who could recite poetry - although, I am sorry to say, many, many who seemed very, very pleasant and civilised until the subject of Kosovo and the Albanian population there came up, when they almost always, (not always, but very, very nearly always), revealed themselves as out and out bigots (resorting to extremely colourful language, but never, in my presence, achieving the feat of expressing their appalling thoughts in blank verse). On the other hand, in the Soviet Union, it was absolutely startling how many people could reel out Pushkin at the drop of the proverbial hat - not a skill that has been preserved, from what I've seen of post-Soviet Russians. Which definitely doesn't mean that I supported the Soviet Union.