Looking Down On Lake Burley Griffin

Once upon a time there was a man living in a small town called Franklin, sitting opposite Egg Island on the Huon River, and whose name was Stan Lay. This man was known far and wide as a political nut, that is, a man who went around the streets talking to Democracy, who hears its voice, and speaks through it. And those who know him dismiss him by saying he is merely talking to himself. Anything Stan Lay said he believed would come to pass, since he could only speak the words Democracy had given him. The magnitude of his conversations with Democracy is great, and soon he will meet the fame he never dreamt of.

Not everyone in the town laughs at him. John, his only friend, will say to anyone who is open minded, that Stan is he who he claims to be, a Prophet, and it would be a little foolish not to believe one who knows about Democracy better than most. And all should hear what Stan has to say because he is greater than all the politicians; for he provides abundant wisdom; he is greater than the rule of law; and, he is Democracy’s ultimate revelation to Australia, known colloquially as the lucky country. Someday everyone will see Stan in the fullness of his glory and compel others to be like him and become beloved. All citizens are children of Democracy, only they must wait until it appears to them as it should be.

And as if to prove itself, Democracy said to Stan, that although it would like Stan to see it face to face, he can’t, but as a compromise it will show him its back. They arranged a meeting for one week hence. A week later Stan went to the top of the town, and Democracy descended on a blue cloud. And it passed by in front of Stan, with its hairy back turned toward him. And it proclaimed to Stan, ‘I am Democracy, compassionate and gracious, slow to change, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; which has elections available for thousands, which doesn’t understand brown nosing, corruption, back room deals, and vote rigging.’ Then Stan fell to the ground and Democracy rose up into the sky.

The word about Stan Lay, Democracy’s whisperer, eventually reached a Prime Minister, the current king of Australia and of Tasmania the island where Stan Lay lives. Curious and in need of inspiration so that he may defeat the Opposition, he sent Canberran bureaucrats to Stan Lay at his home by Egg Island, with great presents.

Stan lived in a one room shack on John’s property, and the fine suited bureaucrats, upon arriving at Stan’s, soon realised the informality of life in Franklin. They had to remove their shoes, jackets, ties, belts, hair pins and other accompaniments before they could enter.  After the formalities and the giving of the presents they all sat down together on ragged couches in Stan’s living room.

They said to Stan Lay:

“We have come down from Canberra, because we are particularly interested in what you have to say. You say you speak with Democracy. Well the way this country is heading, with the Opposition closing in, there’s only this Democracy you talk to which can save it”.  They promised a great reward, perhaps an advisor’s position, if he would go with them to Canberra. And Stan Lay answered them, “Stay here to-night, and I will ask Democracy what to do.”

And despite the discomforts, cold water showering, unwashed bed linen, old food and the like, the bureaucrats had no choice but to stay overnight.

That night Democracy came to Stan Lay in his sleep, and said to him: “Who are these people in your hovel? What do they want from you?”

Democracy knew who they were, and what they wanted, for Democracy knows all things. But it wished Stan Lay to tell him. And Stan Lay said:

“They have come from Canberra, on behalf of the Prime Minister, and they ask me to go with them, and to call on you to save the country from political oblivion.”

And Democracy said to Stan Lay, “You must not go with these bureaucrats; you shall not save Australia, for this is will always be the lucky country.”

So the next morning Stan Lay said to the weary bureaucrats of Canberra, “Go back to the capital for Democracy will not let me go with you.”

When they brought back to the Prime Minister Stan Lay’s refusal, he still believed that Stan Lay would come, if he might offer him a greater reward. So he sent other bureaucrats, of similar high rank, fresh faced and naive, with similar gifts. And they came to Stan Lay, the same way as the previous entourage, and said:

“Our Prime Minister says that you must come. He will give you an Australia Day honour, and all the parliamentary privileges you could imagine. Come now, and save Australia.”

And Stan Lay said:

“Even if the Prime Minister gave me his house full of antiques and collectables, I cannot say anything except what Democracy gives me to speak. Stay here to-night, and I will ask Democracy what I may say to you.”

And again the usual discomforts were offered, and accepted with little grace.

Now Stan Lay knew very well what Democracy wished him to say; but Stan Lay, though he saw himself a prophet of Democracy, also wished to be better off than he was. He wanted to go with the bureaucrats and get something back, but he did not dare to go against Democracy’s command. And that night Democracy said to him:

“If these bureaucrats ask you to go with them, this time you may go; but when you go to see the Prime Minister, you shall speak only the words which I give you to speak.”

At this Stan Lay was very glad, and the next day he went with the bureaucrats of Canberra, which was far to the north of where he lived. Democracy was not pleased with him going, for Stan Lay knew very well that Democracy had forbidden him to save Australia; but he hoped in some way to get some greater reward.

And to show up Stan Democracy sent the Opposition Leader to meet him on the way. The Opposition Leader appeared first to the Commonwealth driver with whom Stan was travelling. The driver saw the Opposition Leader spitting his fiery rhetoric in the way of the driver, but Stan could not see him. The driver turned to one side, off the road, and into an open field; and Stan got out of the car, abused the driver, pushed her around, and got her to drive it back into the road.

Then the Opposition Leader appeared again, in a place where the road became narrow, with a stone cutting on one side. And when the driver saw the Opposition Leader, she suddenly stopped causing Stan to bang his head on the dashboard. They drove on and he was looking at the driver very darkly.

Again the Opposition Leader appeared to the driver in a place where there was no place to turn aside; and the driver got frightened, and suddenly stopped the car. And Stan proceeded to bully the driver.

Then the driver said to him, “What have I done that you are bullying me?”

And Stan Lay was so angry that he never thought how strange it was for a Commonwealth driver to speak, for she had not spoken a word so far; and he said: “I abused you because you keep driving in a dangerous way.”

And the driver spoke again to Stan, “Am I not your driver, who is conveying you to the doors of the Prime Minister of Australia? Why do you bully me?”

And then Democracy opened Stan’s eyes, and let him see the Opposition Leader in front of him. Then he leaped out of the car, and fell down upon his face before the Opposition Leader. And the Opposition Leader said to him, “Stan Lay, you know that you are going in the wrong way. But for the driver, which saw me, I would have dismissed everything about you. The road that you are taking will lead you to ignominy.”

And Stan said, “I have done Democracy wrong; now let it forgive me, and I will go home again.”

But the Opposition Leader knew that in his heart Stan wanted to go on to meet the Prime Minister, and he said:

“You may go with these bureaucrats; but be sure to say only what Democracy gives you to speak.”

So Stan went on, and came to Canberra. He was feted there and enjoyed the pleasures that any visiting dignitary would get.

The Prime Minister was very welcoming, and after Stan had met the cabinet, the two went into the Prime Minister’s office for a private meeting.

And The Prime Minister said to him: “”So you have come at last! Why did you wait until I sent for you the second time? Do you not know that I will give you all that you want, if you will only do what I wish? Remember you are here to help me save the lucky country. But first I must deal with the Opposition.”

And Stan said, “I have come to you as you asked; but I have no power to speak anything except what Democracy gives me.”

The Prime Minister thought that Stan Lay only spoke about Democracy to get something for nothing out of the lucky country. He did not understand that a true prophet could never say anything except the will of Democracy. He took him up to the top of the Parliament building, from which they could look down upon all of Canberra, as it lay with its suburbs spread on the plain, and the Lake Burley Griffin, shimmering in the sunlight.

Then Stan thought: I know the Prime Minister has brought me here to get Democracy to curse the Opposition. But how shall I curse those whom Democracy values? How shall I speak against those who are Democracy’s own people? From the top of Parliament I see Democracy at work, in the lucky country which is like no other country.

And the Prime Minister said:

“So that I may save the lucky country you must put a curse on the Opposition, so that they are powerless for they are of no use here.”

And Stan answered, “But have I not tell you beforehand, that I can only say the words that Democracy puts into my mouth. And Democracy does not say to put a curse upon the Opposition.”

But the Prime Minister knew he must keep at Stan to have a curse put on the Opposition. He brought him to the House, where he could look down on where the Opposition sits. And again Democracy gave a message to Stan he said:

“Rise up, Prime Minister, and hear. Democracy is not an ideal, that it should lie, or that it should reinvent itself. What Democracy has said, I will do. It has commanded me to bless the Opposition; yes, and blessed shall they be. Democracy is yours and their ideal, and both will save this lucky country.”

Then the Prime Minister said to Stan:

“If you cannot curse the opposition, at least don’t bless them, just leave them out of it!”

And Stan Lay said again, “Did I not tell you, that what Democracy gives me to speak, that I must speak!”

But the Prime Minister was not yet satisfied. He brought Stan to still another place, the Parliamentary Offices, and showed him around the Opposition’s quarters. And again the Spirit of Democracy came to Stan Lay. Looking around, Stan said:

“How goodly are these buildings and offices! And the dining areas! Democracy has brought me here; and Democracy shall give me something to look forward to. The major parties together will rise like a great kangaroo and save the lucky country!”

And the Prime Minister got very angry with Stan Lay the prophet.

“I called you,” said he, “to curse the Opposition; and you have blessed them over and over again. Go back to your own home. I meant to give you great honour and riches; but your Democracy has kept you back from your reward!”

And Stan said to him:

“Did I not say, that if you the Prime Minister gave me your house filled with antiques and collectables, I cannot go beyond Democracy’s command, and say good or bad for Democracy! What Democracy speaks, that I must speak. Now let me tell you what your party shall do with the Opposition in the years to come. You will get together, not bicker, and work to save the lucky country. You will not score points off each other, you will not belittle, you will have the people of the lucky country in your hearts, and work only for their interests, not your own.” At this the Prime Minister shook his head.

But for Stan, Democracy didn’t really speak through his lips, because in his heart he was no true servant of Democracy. Although he could not speak a curse against the Opposition, he still longed for the goodies that the Prime Minister was ready to give him. So he hatched an idea, thinking that Democracy would not understand it.

Stan told the Prime Minister that the best plan for him is to make the Opposition his friend. The Prime Minister was at first taken aback by this suggestion. Then he realised that his Party and the Opposition were not that much different. Most of the party members on both sides already shared one brain. The incumbent party and the opposition were so alike that at times the members found themselves sitting on the wrong side of the house.

Over time, and over many elections, his Party and the Opposition became to think exactly like each other. The Opposition long ago had a few good ideas but it didn’t matter because any idea was a good idea. And they secretly agreed that they should swap places at election time.

The minor parties were left to do the bickering. And a disillusioned Democracy filtered in a system of torpor into Parliament, so that nothing would change. And idealism’s gaps were filled by many interest groups with very loud voices. They came to be heard more often in the parliamentary halls, and there came open warfare. Grievances were heard by a Human Rights Commission, a new curse brought on by Democracy. The stagnation of ideas, and a lack of political vision had become the norm, and the ordinary people duly suffered. And yet the two major parties will always say that Australia is still the lucky country.

It would have been better for Stan Lay to have stayed home and not to have come when the Prime Minister called him; or it would have been well for him to have gone back to his home when the opposition Leader met him. He might then have lived in honour. He knew Democracy’s will, and tried to test it, and Stan died an old lonely man and in disgrace. Only the bureaucrats who came to see Stan when he was alive attended his funeral, but John his only friend did not.





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