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Smoko: PMs present, past and perhaps

By Ern O'Malley - posted Friday, 24 January 2003

We're running late for smoko today. Just back from a month's hols, and the van hasn't shown up. It's good to see The Good, The Bad & the Ugly have all safely returned to work. After all, Blondie is the brains of the operation, Angel Eyes provides the muscle, and we keep Tuco around purely for his good looks!

Your raging correspondent has kept his ear to the ground during the silly season, trying to ascertain for On Line Opinion how the holidaying worker rates our nation's leaders.

First, the current PM, John Howard. Carmen Lawrence was spot on when she described Honest John as being "the most deeply ordinary person that I've ever confronted in Australian politics". And there lies the secret of his success, as Matt Price tells us in The Australian (So ordinary, this man's extraordinary). The blue-collar battlers are very comfortable with him: they feel Little Johnny is no better than any of them. They hope he stays on for a while yet, as the current crop of pretenders do not impress.


What of our former Prime Ministers? As I was born during Black Jack McEwen's brief term, I can only remember back to the days of old Hawkey spontaneously giving us a national holiday after sucking too much champagne from his shirt when we won The America's Cup. But my colleagues are mostly children of the Menzies-Holt era, with one going all the way back to Joe Scullin! So I picked their mildly inebriated brains about our recent PMs while on the party circuit.

They remember the Robert Menzies era as being "when time stood still. Australia was stuck in the 50s for over 20 years." Harold Holt was a "Menzies clone" whom they hated for his "sucking up to LBJ". They still argue over his disappearance, with shark attack and suicide being the prevailing schools of thought. No one remembers McEwen, but they all loved John Gorton:

"A man's man, with a woman on each arm!"
"A bloody great larrikin."
"Stood up to the Yanks."
"Top Aussie bloke. Didn't he knock that journo up?"

My workmates are far less agreeable about Gorton's successor, Billy McMahon. Indeed, they seem embarrassed simply by the mention of his name:

"He was a poon, a complete moron!"
"A dwarf with big ears."
"Yeah, but his wife had great legs!"
"What did she ever see in him?"
"Didn't her son marry a Minogue?"

They could not explain how a man of his limited abilities ever became Prime Minister: "I think the Libs knew they were going to lose to Gough, so they put him up to be the bunny."


What of Whitlam? They remember Gough for his style, not his substance:

"Great speaker."
"Something was always happening."
"Pulled the troops out of Vietnam!"
"No, you dolt, that was Gorton!"
"I thought it was McMahon?"
"Well I knew he had to be good for something!"

When I pressed further, they could only remember one lasting achievement of the Whitlam government - the purchase of Blue Poles.

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About the Author

Ern O'Malley works in a mechanical repair shop in NSW. Of course, this is not his real name.

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