December 6, 2012

Editor’s Note

December 2012 – January 2013 Editor’s Note

By John van Tiggelen

In August 2010, just 10 days before the federal election, Pauline Hanson’s former Svengali, John Pasquarelli, attempted to bring down the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Fifteen years earlier, police investigating an alleged fraud within the Australian Workers Union by Gillard’s ex-boyfriend had found the case too weak to prosecute. Pasquarelli, who would write Hanson’s maiden speech to Parliament just a year later and knew a number of AWU leaders at the time, decided to breathe life into the story. He convinced an aggrieved former AWU official who lived near his hometown, in central Victoria, to renew the murky allegations. Pasquarelli drafted a stat dec on his friend’s behalf and immediately hawked the statement to at least two Liberal Party headkickers, Eric Abetz and Nick Minchin. Both declined to run with it. He handed it to Alan Jones, a man with a hatred of Gillard at least as unbridled as his own. Jones elected to pass, too. Finally Pasquarelli gave it to Michael Smith, then Jones’s stablemate at 2UE. Smith jumped at it, interviewing the official at length. But the accuser was known to have a mental condition. The station declined to air the material and suspended Smith over his monomaniacal pursuit. The shock jock and the station eventually parted ways, citing “editorial differences”.

And there the matter might have ended. As the Australian’s Hedley Thomas wrote on September 17, 2011:

“The Weekend Australian has examined thousands of pages of documentation and conducted numerous interviews to test long-standing allegations, referred to in last year's statutory declaration, that Ms Gillard – as a junior partner at the Melbourne law firm Slater & Gordon – was involved in wrongdoing by her then boyfriend, Mr Wilson.

“None of the material examined is capable of supporting the claims that Ms Gillard was a beneficiary of ill-gotten funds or that she knew at the time that Mr Wilson was involved in alleged fraud.

“On the material available, the most that could be said is that Ms Gillard and Slater & Gordon provided legal advice to Mr Wilson at the time and that she was unaware he was simultaneously involved in alleged fraud.”

Thomas evidently changed his mind. Almost daily for the past three months, Thomas, egged on by the likes of Smith and the Australian’s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, has been targeting the Prime Minister with similar allegations that at no stage looked likely to amount to anything. When the rest of the media failed to join him in his campaign, Thomas castigated them until eventually – and rather gormlessly – many did. These journalists, too, now look like fools. The most that could be said in September 2011 about the affair remains pretty much all that can be said today.

And so to a story of no less national import. Twelve years ago, the women of Chillagoe, a merrily moribund mining town at the base of Cape York, three hours west of Cairns, stripped off for a nude calendar. Sold solely across the bar of the Post Office Hotel (which is also where all the models were sourced), 2001: Chillagoe Chicks paid for a shade canopy for the hospital ambulance. The following year, it was the turn of male drinkers (Chillagoe Blokes) to fund a hospital project. For 2003, 24 locals, of which two, curiously, were one-armed, volunteered for a third and final calendar shoot. At the eleventh hour, the hired photographer couldn’t make it, and an attending journalist was roped in instead. That was me. Chillagoe Couples went on to raise $15,000, enough for a defibrillator and an ECG machine.

A few months ago, I got a call from the Chillagoe publicans, John and Donna Burton. There was to be a 10-year reunion: one last calendar, for posterity. A few of those leathery bodies from 2002 had dropped off the perch – emphysema, cirrhosis, that sort of thing – but happily no more limbs had been lost. Would I be able to help out? Once again, it was for a rousing cause: the money raised would help fund flushing toilets to replace the long-drop at the rodeo ground.

Of course, as a branding exercise, the benefits were questionable. Cowboys don’t read the Monthly. Chillagoe is Bob Katter country – the hatted one’s political hero, Red Ted Theodore, hails from the town. Indeed, Chillagoe has a pedigree second to none: John Pasquarelli, who runs a sideline as a Pro Hart wannabe, has painted its sun-blasted streetscapes; and Ian Plimer, Gina Rinehart’s favourite climate sceptic, did much of his geological work there.

Yet Chillagoe’s community spirit is a thing of beauty. Black and white live side by side; people leave their doors unlocked. I didn’t actually need to think twice about returning.

2013: Chillagoe Cheekies can now be ordered from the Post Office Hotel in Chillagoe. Call Donna on (07) 4094 7119 or email her on [email protected] The calendar will handsomely fill a stocking – almost as handsomely as a six- or 12-month gift subscription to the Monthly would. And on that note, our team wishes all readers a very merry Christmas break and a happy election year.

John van Tiggelen

John van Tiggelen is a freelance writer and the author of Mango Country.

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