Monday, 23 April 2012


True story. No, it really is.

The year is 1968. A long, languid and very dry summer in our nation’s capital. The sprinklers clatter away against the backdrop of yellowy hills and blue skies. The Beatles top the charts with an Australia-only release of Ob-la-di-Ob-la-da. My parents, as they do every summer, have allowed us to hire a black and white TV for the duration of the holidays. ‘Bonanza’ and ‘High Chaparral’ are the highlights of the week.  Holt is still missing, snaffled up by the CIA, in a Palmeresque plot of dastardly fiendishness - or was it a Huawei-built submarine? Gorton is PM, and my Mum, a popular local artist, has painted a portrait of Ainslie Gotto.

I’m just ten years old, and leader of the pack – undisputed boss of the neighborhood gang. Well, not entirely undisputed. Virginia, my next door neighbour and passionate rival also sees herself as rightful head honcho of the Red Hill Gang in this brave new world of women’s lib and burning bras. Our battle of wills extends from Forest Primary, where we vie for the role of class captain, to the Deakin stormwater drain where we steal away for the occasional daring kiss.

Across the road, a new family with a five year-old boy has moved in. He’s a cute kid, with piercing blue eyes and an egg-shaped head. And sharp as an arrow. To our despair, he's desperate to join the gang. He wanders over every morning and hangs around all day, until it’s time for those activities that we definitely don’t want him around for. Like sneaking out the back to smoke “bush fags” (straws of grass shoved into curly pieces of bark and inhaled ‘til your lungs start bleeding).

So to keep the kid at bay I start making up outlandish tales; a skill I later turn into a career in advertising.

“Campbell,” I say, "I’ll tell you something but you've got to swear you'll never tell a living soul!"

Eyes bulging out of their sockets, the boy agrees to my terms.

“What you don’t realize is that there’s this ghost of a dead Indian who lives up on Red Hill. We’ve all seen him! He sneaks around at sunset and if you’re not in bed by then he comes out with his bow and arrow and shoots you and then he eats you! Alive!”

It does the trick. As one hot, sunny day rolls into another, I have the boy eating out of the palm of my hand. Literally. “Hey, Campbell. Go home and steal some more of your Mum’s chocolate crackles. We have to make another sacrificial offering to the dead Indian up on the hill."

After several days of indebted servitude, Campbell begins to get suspicious. "You sure the ghost of the dead Indian really exists?" he says late one afternoon, hoping he can stay up with the gang till after dark. "Of course he does, " I snap, annoyed at such perceptiveness in one so young.

The next afternoon I get my best friend Simon to dress up as the dead Indian with a singlet cunningly concealing his face, and hide in the bushes. Just on sunset, with Campbell yet again stubbornly refusing to go home, Simon comes rushing past, making a terrifying wailing sound. Campbell is safely tucked up in bed every night at 7 from there on in.

Until one afternoon a week or so later, when Campbell's Mum appears on our doorstep and has a quiet chat with my Mum, who in turn has a slightly less quiet chat with me. Campbell, it appears, has been wide awake every night refusing to sleep and terrified about some crazy dead Indian he swears he's seen up on Red Hill. His Mum is beside herself worrying about the psychological trauma. So in the end I come clean and admit it is I, with Simon on back-up visual effects, who is to blame. And then I have to go over the road and tell Campbell that it was all a great big lie.

I suspect it was the last time anybody pulled the wool over Campbell Newman’s eyes.

Come the COAG meeting, Campbell will find himself once again the new kid on the block in Canberra, with a whole new set of bullies, myth-peddlers, tricksters and great big lies to deal with. Somehow, this time, I suspect he's ready for them.
Already, my former foot soldier has shown he’s not afraid to confront the biggest furphy of them all; the carbon tax. I can’t have been alone in being impressed by the brilliant logic of abolishing a whole bunch of Queensland’s green subsidies on the basis that now the carbon tax was coming to town they were unnecessary. In Bonanza (and Duntroon, for that matter) this clever ruse is called “turning the baddies weapons onto themselves.”

Equally entertaining, in the light of Anna Bligh’s smears on Newman’s family, was his ploy of offering the job of dismantling climate change policies back to Greg Withers, Anna Bligh’s Head of Climate Change who also happened to be her husband.

It’s wonderful what a large majority can do for one’s self-confidence. Yet the contrast between “Can Do” Campbell and “Won’t Do” Barry is increasingly impossible to ignore. Although O’Farrell’s cautious approach has been a welcome antidote to sixteen years of Labor’s spin, Newman’s decision to hit the ground running is exhilarating. Compared with O’Farrell’s bizarre post-election snubbing of Mike Baird and thus far unproductive use of Nick Greiner, Newman has shown that things really can happen when there’s a new sheriff in town - pinning marshall badges on Springborg and Langbroek, sticking to his guns on Caltabiano and Edwards, staring down Tony Fitzgerald and getting Costello back in the saddle are all impressive actions.
The dead Indian up on Red Hill must be proud.

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