The best time I ever met Australia's Prime Minister

"Gillard was a mere few metres away and probably has the ears of a jungle cat."

"Gillard was a mere few metres away and probably has the ears of a jungle cat."

It’s very unnerving to receive an invitation to take tea with the Prime Minister at her official residence. I would know, because it happened to me last week. Naturally, I forwarded it to everyone I’ve ever met and enjoyed the avalanche of WTFs that came my way.

 

Because I have a robust and porcine ego, it didn’t take long for my surprise to morph into the kind of understanding that seems particular to last-born children with an unwavering faith in their own vital importance. Of course the Prime Minister wanted to meet me. And now that the issue had come up, it seemed obvious that it had really only been a matter of time. She’d probably read some of my work and admired my pluck, reading bits aloud to Tim over breakfast while they guffawed at my ability to be both withering AND passionate at the same time. ‘Prime Minister,’ I practiced saying to the mirror, ‘I would be delighted to join your taskforce on the lackluster representation of women in the media. Head it? Well, you’re right. That probably would make more sense.’

Author photobombs the PM and Chrissie Swan.

Author photobombs the PM and Chrissie Swan.

My gut instinct that it was an unconventional job interview was tempered somewhat by the realization that at least 20 other women would be there, many of them in the hideously categorized bracket of ‘mummy bloggers’. (And let us all take a moment to reflect on how revolting that title is, and how it diminishes the work of leagues of women to a kind of hobby they indulge in between preparing biodynamic breakfasts and bronzing their child’s first potty poo.) Evidently, my taskforce conversation would have to wait. Still, one should never turn down the opportunity to gaze out across the waters of Sydney Harbour from its best vantage point, particularly when petit fours are involved. I discussed the possibility of sneaking in a hip flask of gin with my friend Marieke, but we decided against it in the end. Loose lips sink ships and all that.

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Reader, I accepted.

It didn’t turn out to be too different from most parties I attend. I spent it hovering near the food table so as to properly maximize the social awkwardness that comes when someone speaks to you just as you’ve shoved too much of something that produces a lot of crumbs into your mouth. From this point, it was easy to observe how people lose their cool when in the presence of someone exceptional. Her arrival was heralded by a cacophony of squeals not dissimilar to seagulls patrolling the beach at sunset. Cameras were pulled out, photos were requested, furiously typed texts to friends announcing their new acquaintance were sent.

I am of course referring to Chrissie Swan.

It’s difficult to keep your cool in Swan’s presence. If she were a spice, she’d be paprika. If she were a Greek goddess (and I’m not entirely convinced she isn’t) she’d be the lovechild of Halia and Alectrona. She is like a wave of warmth and charm and ribald humour, and in that light you just want to bask.

But still…it was a little awkward to hear people loudly announce they were more excited to meet her than the Prime Minister – particularly since Gillard was a mere few metres away and probably has the ears of a jungle cat. Just because the whole thing was a transparent PR move on behalf of the Prime Minister’s office doesn’t mean you have to forget your manners ladies.

And herein lies the conflict. Jokes aside (and we had a jolly old time with those, photobombing the bejeezus out of our memorial snaps), there was a reason these women were invited to Kirribilli that day, and it was a very savvy move on Gillard’s part. Women are the biggest producers and consumers of online content – if the Prime Minister’s looking to get people onside, female online media producers are an excellent place to start.

But the politeness of the event made it very difficult for those producers to exploit the opportunity back. I have a great deal of respect for many of the Prime Minister’s attributes, and I’m appalled at the treatment she’s endured from the more revolting entities we’re forced to share human status with. Yet I disagree with her on many of her platforms, in particular her diabolically strange opposition to same-sex marriage. While I was honoured to be invited, I found the tea party to be overwhelmingly restrictive in terms of appropriate conversation. It wasn’t a roundtable, or research for a taskforce or any of the things that might actually be able to make a difference – and when I finally had the opportunity to speak to Gillard that day, so crippled was I by the formal informality of the event that the only thing I felt safe mentioning was her fondness for vampire films.

Since then, a number of posts have appeared online raving about it, delivering a humanised version of the PM to a not insignificant number of voting readers. I’d say from her team’s perspective, it was a huge success. Objectively, I think it was a brilliant move. But while the guests were undoubtedly chosen for their influential sway over online media, social propriety made me feel like we were unable to wield that directly with her lest we break the kinds of codes my grandmother might refer to as ‘non-negotiable’.

Perhaps Marieke and I should have brought that gin after all. Loose lips might sink ships…but they make for one hell of a battle story.