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Tony in the Telegraph

Images from ‘Tony Abbott as seen in the Daily Telegraph’ Tumblr.
Images from ‘Tony Abbott as seen in the Daily Telegraph’ Tumblr.

Last week, while a catastrophic fire warning was in place for southern NSW, Tony Abbott announced on Twitter that he was going on standby with a volunteer fire brigade. Federal Labor MP Brendan O’Connor was quick to retweet the opposition leader’s statement, but not before adding the snarky hashtag “#standbystunt”. Abbott was deployed to Nowra, where he assisted his local brigade, of which he has been a member since 2000, in back-burning and hazard reduction. Meanwhile, O’Connor hastily deleted his tweet and issued an apology, putting out his own spot fire.

Of course, there are plenty of volunteers who assist their communities without first issuing press releases, but the real stunt here was pulled not by Abbott but by The Daily Telegraph. The newspaper’s online coverage of the fires was led by a photo montage of Abbott in full firefighting regalia, superimposed over images of burnt-out houses and firemen at the front line of the blazes. Before long, a Tumblr appeared, ‘Tony Abbott as seen in The Daily Telegraph’, with Fireman Tony photoshopped into various historical scenes. The Daily Telegraph’s imaginative reporting hasn’t been the only inspiration for Tumblr. Among others, there is ‘Tony Abbott Looking at Things’, in which he is shown looking at eggs, looking at apples and oranges, looking at workers in high-vis gear, looking at water, looking at you.

‘Memes’ have become my generation’s most significant form of political activism. Our predecessors used leaflets and picket signs as their tools of protest; we use likes, clicks and tweets. We’ve been told that we’re ‘slacktivists’; armchair activists who are too lazy to take to the streets. This is largely true, with the glaring exception of the Occupy movement.

We ‘millennials’ are a cynical bunch, but we have grown up without any real political heroes. I felt proud of Kevin Rudd’s apology and cheered during Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, but John Howard was prime minister for almost half of my life. I was in primary school when the National Firearms Agreement was made. The videos of Paul Keating in full flight that I’ve pored over as an adult were filmed before I even knew how to tie my shoelaces.

If Tony Abbott wins this year’s election, no doubt we’ll be left staring forlornly at our computer screens, reminiscing over photos from a happier time when the guy wearing the budgie-smugglers wasn’t also running the country. But, for now, while we have a prime minister who opposes same-sex marriage, and policy debate has been dumbed down to the point that ‘Tony Abbott Looking at Things’ passes for keen political satire, we’re probably going to stay put in our armchairs, waiting to be inspired.

About the author Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.

@michaelamcguire