Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Dibley Branch of the NSW Labor Party: A Memoir

By offering this memoir of her life as political spakfilla in the Dibley Branch of the NSW Labor Party, DH hopes to be right there in the rearguard behind such influential party reformers as John Button, Rodney Cavalier, and John Faulkner.

Dibley Branch rank and file.
The good old days when
we still had a quorum.
She can think of no better background reading for this searing expose than Button's 2002 Quarterly Essay, Beyond Belief: What Future for Labor?  Cavalier's  Power Crisis: The Self-Destruction of a State Labor Party, and Faulkner's Neville Wran Lecture

The above works may give the impression that the ALP consists of Dibley branches all the way down, but such is not the case. DH's branch must take the honours, being generally considered to be, arguably, the very grandaddy of all ALP branches in our great state.

So how did DH's career as a backbrancher, doorknocker and how-to-vote leaflet-thruster begin, and why did she abandon ship?

It's easy to answer the latter. As a houso, DH is already a member of a despised and stigmatised minority. To compound the odium by easy identification as NSW Labor branch memeber is more than any one human being can be expected to bear.

As to how DH decided to join the party: It certainly was not that she was "A True Believer", which she came to see as a rallying call for working-class Catholics devised by middle-class Romantics. Not being either of the above, DH doesn't believe in belief.

It all began when she got the offer of public housing far away from the worst block of flats in the worst street of the silvertail suburb she would have liked to have grown up in. Deposited with DH Junior in the wilds of the Inner West, for the sake of sheer survival, she needed to plug into the local goss toot sweet.  

The quickest route to being-in-the-know was obviously to join a party: the Greens, Labor, whatever. Well, not the Liberals. There were still limits in those days, now sadly hard to distinguish.

Her quest for the good oil began with the local ALP. Come the nth Tuesday of the month, donning a fetching red bandanna, she poked her nose around the corner of Dibley Town Hall's Small Meeting Room.

Well, friends, DH found herself gasping. "OMIGODDDDDDDDD!!!! THIS is Australia's major political party??? This round-up of the red-nosed denizens of the Tiddler's Arms? This feeble handful of bearded loons from the local mariner's rest? These hairy ladies? No, sorry, that last was DH spotting her own reflection mirrored in portraits of aldermen gone by. But let's not overlook the party's youth wing: a thug or two in reverse base-ball caps, casing the joint for the possibility fetching up in a safe Labor seat.

And presiding over all, the new Member for Dibley, a smart babe with a bob-cut and saint-like reserves of patience.

"OMiGod", thought DH, "if ever an assemblage was ripe for the picking by a consortium of white-shoed mafiosi and property developers, this it!  Why, our major party is seriously at risk of being totally white-anted from within!!!”.   Being totally clueless and out of touch with contemporary politics, she did not realise that it had already happened.   And so it came to pass that without a moment's hesitation, DH threw to the winds all thoughts of taking the moral high ground by joining the Greens!  Her country needed her!  She would single-handedly, if needs be, wrest back the ALP for the underprivileged!

Of course, things were not always as they seemed. The bearded loons, on the whole, turned out to be erudite and charming. The young thugs were, to a lad, idealistic children of the middle-classes, and who could begrudge them their romantic fantasies of being working-class heroes? And as for the tipplers, DH diagnosed most of them as self-medicated aspies, trying to get through a life made difficult by too much intelligence married to an insufficiency of social front. As a sometime Asperger's advocate  DH is allowed to say such things.  

And there was not even any point lying in wait with a rolling-pin for the whiteshoe brigade. They never ventured into Dibley, which was earmarked as a play-pen for the remnants of the Left, a necessary escape hatch that allowed them to dream on.

Fortunately, the branch had only two factions, the Droners, and the Bletherers.

So DH never got to be in the know. If texting hadn't been invented she would have slept through most of the meetings. Interminable hours were taken up debating technological matters that practically no-one present was competent to judge. Who was she (or anyone else lacking an engineering or economics degree), to evaluate the need for a desalination plant, the intricacies of the national electricity grid (or was it market?)... Actually DH does have a part economics degree, but it was only in Political Economy, useless in any practical sense, when you consider it's the same education that Michael Costa and Antony Albanese had.

It was not always thus. Believe it or not, DH is no longer the smart young thing you see cradled in the arms of a raw prawn on your right. No, way back in the seventies, she was already a member of this selfsame branch until rising rents forced her out of the 'hood. Way back then, each branch meeting was stacked to the rafters with ambitious 30 somethings: bristling with barristers, slithering with silks. The halls echoed with economists and tottered under the sheer mass of Trotskyite entryists. The rule-book was used like a football. Pre-meeting strategies were drawn up, lawyers took up positions on the playing field and controlled the meeting by passing points of order to each other at breakneck speed. With such brilliance on display, mere teachers, academics, and public servants rarely managed to get a word in edgewise.

And always there were the queues, those g-ddamn queues,  snaking around the corner and upstairs for credentialling:  Peter Baldwin's leftie army of gentrifiers jostling against joblots of the right's bully boys rounded up from the local pub, the Branch-Stackers Arms. It was all about saving Dibley from High Rise Developments. Or anyhow that was how it was explained to DH, who being a clueless young stackee, had absolutely no idea what was going on. It all culminated on that infamous night when the meeting room lights suddenly went out,  something heavy crashed through a window in a shower of broken glass, and ...

... to be continued

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