Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Painefull Election

Every four years an event comes around that requires preparation, commitment and steely determination.  I’m speaking of course about the Olympic Heptathlon.  But for those of us who don’t quite make that grade, who find the idea of trying to jump over something backwards hilarious, but who still truly believe that without Paine there is no Gain there’s another happening that (thank god) doesn’t require you to wear a two-piece bathing suit.

Instead, it requires you to wear this

I speak of course of that beacon of democracy commonly known as the local government election.  That one day where we tell everyone that their voice counts in their community, that what they want for their children matters and, most important of all, that there’s a sausage sizzle set up by the exit from the voting booth.

Mother Painefull has been bringing her brand of maternal wisdom to the Hawkesbury for over 20 years now as a vital and outspoken member of the local city council.  So when I say I’ve been working the poll for my mum every four years since I was in Kindergarten, you know I mean it.

No Paine, No Gain!

Mum has been shaking up the system, and terrifying the political conservatives for as long as I can remember.  Of course, if memory fails, there will always be the photographic evidence – like the image of Mother Painefull getting a mammogram on the front page of the local newspaper.  And I don’t need to struggle to recall that one, because it’s been framed and hung on a wall in the parental House of Paine.

And for as long as mum has been dolling out front room talks to the local community, I have been handing out ‘How To Vote’ leaflets on voting day.

My original election day shirt, from back when I was cute

If life’s treating you too kindly, if you seem to be getting your way a bit too much, I recommend handing out to voters.  It’s constant, unerring rejection like that that can really put your feet back on the ground.  Plus, after a while being called a ‘%#$!’ is almost soothing.

A week ago today I was doing just that.  It’s days like those you can see mum’s decision to have so many children really paying off.  It goes like this – I stand at a booth for 10 hours, Elspeth stands at a booth for 10 hours, Mrs Ryan stands at a booth for 10 hours, everyone’s spouses stand at a booth for several hours, and Mrs Woog… makes some sandwiches.  I believe Gaddafi had a similar model of burden-sharing.

In all fairness, Mrs Woog also sat in a car for 4 hours delivering those sandwiches to booth workers.  From everything I heard from the people that got them, apparently they tasted great.  I don’t begrudge Mrs Woog the workload, I simply admire her ability to outsource.

But then she’s probably jealous of us poll hander-outer-ers.  It’s a special, weird, life-affirming experience spending 10 hours side-by-side with people, many of whom have inexplicably decided to hand out for dickheads.  It says something about the battle-hardening experience that despite the fact that they can’t stand my mum, I can’t stand their facial hair, and between us all a general pall of body odour is on the rise, that somehow we end up bonding.

Except Australia First.  You don’t find yourself bonding with Australia First, not even by accident.

Perhaps what brings us all together is the sheer effort of being there.  By showing up to hand out at a local election of all things, we must all invariably acknowledge within each other a commitment to the sacred importance of being allowed to vote at all.  By being there we’re saying, above all else, that we really, really give a shit.  That people make a difference just by deciding to, that apathy, not paperwork, or parking fines, or the queue at the check-out, is the devil’s handiwork.  And if you don’t give a shit, then I forbid you from complaining.  Because you gave up the right to whinge the minute you proudly stomped passed the sweaty, sunburnt maul of people while declaring ‘I’m just here to mark my name off!’.

Of course, some people were handing out because they were promised there was going to be a party afterwards.  Or because they lived in the candidate’s womb at some point in the distant past.  These are also valid reasons.

Except for Australia First hander-outer-ers.  I still don’t know why you were there.

And so we stood, we sweated, we yelled out things like ‘Vote for an Independent Woman!’ (while, in my case, trying not to break into a Destiny’s Child song in the process), and we bonded.  And then we were tempted to kill each other, because if I heard ‘Group F, a vote for Farmers, Food for Thought!*’ one more time my head would explode.  And then we all got so delirious we bonded again.  And then a man came through and asked us whether we supported Asian slums in his backyard, and we stared at him blankly.

The Australia First people had gone by then.

Of course there were many memorable moments, many of them quotable.

Some of the highlights included:

“What are you going to do about gun laws?” – um, nothing.  This is local government.  Do you know what local government does?  Same goes for the guy who asked about cannabis legislation.

“Clearly she’s just hired some attractive girls to hand out for her.” – uttered by a fellow hander-outer-er to one of the friends I conned into helping mum out.  Some of my other friends were enthralled by pollster gossip about wife bartering.  Cause that’s how we role in western Sydney.

“You don’t know what love is.” – perhaps the most phenomenal rebuttal of the day, from one of the opposition hander-outer-ers to one of my Aunts.

“If you guys start singing again at 3am, I am going to wake you up at 6am by playing my guitar in your face.” – Elspeth’s husband to my friends.  Clearly he’s still traumatised by our home made karaoke from the Easter long weekend.

“Four more years!” – the chant when Mother Painefull romped back into council with the highest individual vote in the district.  It was all a bit like my own private West Wing.

And so another Olympian effort by Mother Painefull & Co was brought to a close.  Mum promised this would be her last time.  She promised that for the last 2 elections prior to this one, so our collective breath is not currently being held.  Still, fun was had, and there are many things worse than a Painefull Election (such as a ‘Painefull Erection’… which is what mum called the gathering when we helped her to erect a shed in the backyard).

It was an exhausting weekend but, like they** say,  No Paine, No Gain.

Painefull Out

* = This is an abridged version of the ‘Food for Thought’ spiel.  The full text will be published over 28 pages in an expanded handout.  As I have it memorised, theoretically I could write it myself.  Sadly.

* = 'They' being ‘all the kids’, ‘everyone’ and ‘those bitches handing out the pink How To Vote leaflets’


  1. Oh thank you for a laugh I desperately needed after a crap day at work!!
    Have tripped over here thanks to Mrs Woog and am loving your writing style & ability to crack me up.

  2. This is golden. I heart you Jeff.
    Where can I get one of those t-shirts? And will your mum sign it for me?