Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 7 September 2013

War Stories

The Labor candidate in Maranoa had all his signs systematically destroyed - fair comment on the mentality of his rivals.
Apparently there's some kind of election happening today.

At last count,  I've voted in 15 federal polls, and approximately the same number of state elections.

That makes me a veteran voter, and entitles me to tell a few war stories about elections in general, and voting in particular.

As a kid growing up in the Queensland bush, I was very familiar with polling day. This was on account of my father being the chief polling clerk at both state and federal elections.

As the local schoolie, dad was always employed on voting day by the Electoral Commission, and being the Principal (or Head Teacher as it was called back in the day), he was in charge.

From memory, it was a pretty long day, because I recall seeing very little of him once voting commenced.

He was always up at the school before I got out of bed,  and didn't get home until all votes were counted, usually in the early hours of the morning.

One year,  the election was held in December, close to Christmas. I don't recall whether it was state or federal. A middle aged woman turned up to vote, and dad asked her for her name.

Now this lady had been born on Christmas Day, and her parents, exhibiting a perverse sense of humor, had christened her "Mary Christmas". Her surname was Maher, which title she duly offered when dad asked her.

When he requested her christian names, unsurprisingly she said "Mary Christmas".

My dad,  being the consummate gentleman he was,  replied "and a happy new year to you and your family, but I do have to have your name before I can give you a ballot paper".

Those were the days.......

I occasionally got a job as a polling clerk, once I started teaching. On one notable occasion (1972), I was a polling clerk at the Repatriation Hospital at Greenslopes.

This was also the first time I got to vote in a federal election, because at the time of the 1969 poll I was at Canungra JTC and the army refused to allow me off base to get to the polling booth at Canungra State School.

I remember feeling very peeved about this at the time. I was, after all, being conscripted to fight for my democracy, but was denied the opportunity to participate in the process. The irony in this was completely lost on the battalion clerk who said "Don't worry, you won't get fined".

But back to 1972 and Greenslopes.

I had a few different jobs on the day. One of them was to take a mobile booth (perched precariously on a hospital meal trolley) around the wards, so the diggers who were bedridden could cast a vote.

There were two of us on the booth, and we went into a ward where there were a number of WW2 veterans, one of whom recovering from a stroke which had taken his speech away.

We had to work out how he wanted to vote, and his wife had come along to mark his ballot. We had two scrutineers with us, one from each major party, to ensure fair play. He had developed a method of communication, whereby one eye blink meant "yes" and two meant "no".

As I had learned by this time (after teaching non-verbal kids with cerebral palsy for a year) you can go a long way with "yes" and "no".

Anyway, he made it abundantly clear by judicious eye blinking that he wanted to vote Labor. His wife was horrified, saying that they had been married over forty years, and he had never voted Labor in his life.

That's what he'd given her to believe for all those years. She was very surprised. I remember wondering whether there were any other secrets and deceptions in the relationship.

Just before the polls closed, another old digger staggered into the room where the fixed ballot boxes where, and demanded a vote. I say "staggered", because this bloke had been on some sort of day release from the hospital, and had spent the bulk of the day on the turps.

To say he was intoxicated was an understatement, but he was entitled to vote, so we gave him a ballot. He wobbled over to a booth, and voted. It was a good thing that those portable cardboard booths weren't around in 1972, as he used the wooden (and substantial) booth to keep himself upright.

Unfortunately, he felt the call of nature just as he finished marking his ballot, and instead of putting it in the ballot box, he blundered out the door in the direction of the toilet.

The chief clerk summoned me (possibly because I was the youngest and most biddable person available) and told me to follow him and retrieve his ballot paper. I did as I was told, but not with any level of enthusiasm.

When I went into the toilet, he was nowhere to be seen, but snoring noises were coming from one of the cubicles. This cubicle was locked from the inside, but there was a gap under the door. Reluctantly, I got down and looked under the door. He was passed out on the toilet, but mercifully, the ballot paper was on the cubicle floor. I reached my arm under the door and retrieved it.

Incredibly, it was a valid vote. I went back to the polling room, and in the presence of the chief clerk, dropped it in the ballot box.

I didn't get a bonus, nor did any of my fellow workers shout me a beer. Ungrateful sods they were......


1 comment:

cav said...

A fine tale.

WE voted on Friday, no need for a stat dec or anything, we just lined up.

I voted for one major party, my wife voted for the other.

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