Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Some Election Stories

Voting at the recent election reminded me of the time I was a polling clerk at the historic 1972 federal poll. As a young teacher at the time, I often did this work, as it paid fairly well, and wasn’t difficult. At least, it wasn’t difficult at a conventional booth. I made the mistake of putting my name down for work at a booth operating in the then Greenslopes Military Hospital in Brisbane. The reason for choosing this booth is lost in the mists of time, but it may have something to do with discovering that an attractive teaching colleague of the opposite gender was also working at Greenslopes.

This was an interesting situation because amongst the more conventional tasks, I had to take a ballot box on wheels (a hospital trolley in fact) around the wards so the bedridden veterans could vote. As a new veteran myself in 1972, I felt eminently qualified.

My colleague and I, (with two scrutineers from the major parties who followed us around ensuring fair play) were at the bedside of one eighty year-old veteran who had lost the ability to speak as the result of a major stroke. His wife was by his side. She told us that he communicated by blinking once for “yes” and twice for “no”. With the agreement of the scrutineers, we began to work our way down the ballot paper, to establish his first preference vote. His wife said that he always voted Liberal, so we really didn’t need to check – but of course we did. He clearly blinked once when we got to the ALP candidate. His wife became very angry – insisting that we were making a mistake. We repeated the exercise, got the same result, and also got a firm two blinks when we indicated the Liberal candidate. The lady wasn’t happy, and went off muttering darkly about “bloody men who tell you one thing and do another”.

Apparently they had been married for nearly sixty years, and she had always thought he voted the same way as she did.

Later in the day, just before the poll closed, one very inebriated chap came in demanding to vote for Billy McMahon. After getting over the disappointment of being told that he couldn’t (wrong electorate), he took a ballot paper and staggered away in the general direction of the voting booth. In those days, they were solid wooden structures – not cardboard – which was fortunate, as he was falling all over the place and would have brought down a row of cardboard booths like a row of dominoes.

Before putting pencil to paper, he decided he needed to meet an urgent call of nature, and wandered off to the toilet. Someone had to make sure the whereabouts of the ballot paper was known, so he had to be followed, and being the youngest present, and the correct gender, I got the job.

When I arrived in the toilet, all I could see was a row of cubicles, two of which were occupied. I ascertained which was his, mainly by the sound of snoring emanating from the second cubicle on the right. I decided to wait – but five minutes later the booth closed, so I went out to ask my supervisor for advice as to the next step. I was told in no uncertain terms to retrieve the ballot paper. There was no suitable answer to the “how?” question.

In the end, I had to peer under the door, and could see the paper on the floor. I reached in and retrieved it, grateful that the task was simple. It was marked, so I put it in the box.

This bloke eventually woke up about two hours later when we were well and truly into the count, and wandered off into the night. I guess he got home safely.

Another voting story took place back in the late fifties, when my father was principal of the then two-teacher school in Carmila, central Queensland. (My mother was the assistant teacher). As such, dad was the polling clerk whenever there was an election, as the school was the local polling booth.

Just before Christmas one year, there was a Federal election. As people came in to vote, they would say first their surname, then the Christian name, and be crossed of the roll before taking the ballot paper. My dad was doing this part of the process when a middle aged woman, whom my father didn’t know, came in to vote.

“Name please,” said dad.

“Maher,” replied the voter.

“Christian names?” asked dad.

“Mary Christmas,” responded the woman.

“Oh, and a happy New Year to you and your family”, replied dad, a trifle confused, “but I need your name for the roll”.

“Are you a bit deaf, it’s Mary Christmas,” she answered.

The penny dropped, and dad located her name on the roll. It was indeed “Mary Christmas Maher”.

Apparently she had been born on 25th December, and her parents thought the name was entirely fitting.

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