Some of the more colourful political news of the past few days jarred my memory about something from over three decades ago….
In the mid 1980s, the Melbourne University Student Newspaper Farrago occasionally ran an ‘Op-ed’ piece by a fictional character called ‘Ces Bludgett’. As I was never a student at Melbourne University, my readership of Farrago was rather sporadic, so I am unaware of how many times Ces Bludgett graced their pages, except that I am certain his utterings were published at least twice from 1986 onward.
The first time we readers were introduced to Mr Bludgett, he was number 6 on the Queensland National Party’s Senate ticket for the next Federal election (a usually unwinnable position – except in a one party system), and his published thoughts were along the lines of what unreconstructed 1980s Melbourne undergraduate leftists would have thought a conservative Queenslander in the National Party would have believed, particularly in relation to university students, non-farmers, and socialists in general. [To put it in historical context, it was the penultimate year of Sir Joh’s reign as Premier of Queensland: Sir Joh had not yet embarked on his Quixotic run for Prime Minister, the Fitzgerald Inquiry had not yet revealed the rampant corruption of Joh’s regime, and it looked like Joh might still rule Queensland with his iron fist forever.]
A year or two later, I recall reading another column by this deep thinker in Farrago. The election had come and gone, and he was now Senator Ces Bludgett…. As such, he had more homespun wisdom to share with privileged university students in the southern states, particularly on such matters as user pays education.
Senator Ces Bludgett was a caricature ( or pastiche, if I want to be pretentious) of what the educated student left saw as a cave dwelling conservative Queenslander – a straw man to hold up to ridicule whilst still the stuff of nightmares for them: intolerant, reactionary, ignorant, puritanical, and selfish. After all, I suppose Sir Joh and his merry men had given people much material to base such caricatures on.
Fast forward almost 2 decades, to 2004. The Federal Election that year saw the Coalition winning four out of the six Senate seats up for election in Queensland – something which is a mathematical near impossibility. As a result, a new candidate whom few expected to win was elected to the Senate from the number 4 position on that ticket. From that point, with his homespun and outspoken views, including his willingness to criticise the Nationals’ Coalition partner on economic, finance and trade policies, as well as take on the leadership of the Nationals for any signs of pragmatism or compromise.
We saw this character move up through the Nationals’ hierarchy, and into the lower house, ending up for a while as Deputy Prime Minister, before the duality of his private life and his publicly stated views resulted in his exile to the backbench, although not into political oblivion.
This week, observing as this formidable politician defies various elements of his own party on issues which he claims to feel strongly about (and which would fit in well with what his constituency probably believes), I cannot help but to feel almost that Ces Bludgett has come to life in some unreal way, and that Word Has Become Flesh, to borrow from St John.