THE SURPRISING TONY ABBOTT
Surprise is a delight in politics. But there is no surprise in a caricature. And this is what our politicians have become.
Julia Gillard: unionist, lawyer, political staffer, Western Bulldogs fan, unmarried and shock, horror, once interviewed in her own house with no fruit in her fruit bowl.
Tony Abbott: conservative Catholic, apprentice priest, married with three daughters, Rhodes scholar, boxing champion, anti-abortion, a hard man with a hard line.
We want to know the identities of our politicians more as policies merge closer together. We want to know their character because we can’t believe they will deliver their promises. We hope to get a handle on how our leaders will frame policies in the three years in between elections when we have no control.
But how well do we know anybody – in public or in private? As a political reporter, I have been part of boxing our politicians and public figures. History and politics are not served by ambiguity. Everyone wants a pronouncement. Is he right or wrong? Is she black or white?
Identity is a little more nebulous than that.
One of the more interesting characters kicking around Macquarie Street in the 1990s was Malcolm McGregor. Talk about black and white.
He lived politics 24/7. He was renowned as ruthless, like the rest of the NSW Right. He worked for former NSW Labor leader, now foreign minister, Bob Carr. McGregor shared Carr’s love of history and had an amazing knowledge, spanning Australia, the US and the military.
He could quote ground breaking political speeches and some obscure ones besides. He was funny, charming, and did a mean impersonation of Paul Keating. A reformed alcoholic, his was a life lived at 1,000 miles an hour.
He shocked us all by switching to work for the Liberal Party, including John Hewson as Opposition Leader. He would not be put in a box. And then, he returned to the Australian Army. He has been a platoon commander, an infantry soldier, a teacher of his beloved history and most recently as Lieutenant Colonel, speech writer and advisor to the Chief of Army, David Morrison. He was made a member of the Order of Australia for exceptional service to the Australian Army.
For all his other talents, McGregor was ever the cricket nut. He has that beautiful capacity to write cricket for non-believers. So it was that he began writing a An Indian Summer of Cricket (Barrallier Books, 2012). As the creative process began, so did a gender dysphoria first diagnosed in the 1980s.
Back then, McGregor had chosen to ignore it and “man up”. But as the writing and despair continued, McGregor decided he would make the biggest change of his life. He would become a woman called Cate. It was like mate, she said.
The overwhelming response to her sex change from the triumvirate of Macho Industries – politics, army and cricket – was surprise. And immediate support. Morrison refused her resignation twice, telling Cate: “I’ve got your back covered”.
Malcolm (left) and Cate (right) McGregor. Image via The Herald Sun.
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