Another instalment from The King’s Tribune special investigative reporter, who braved the dangers of the untamed Canberra streets in search of truth.
It began with rumours. Lurid whisperings and wild speculations shared among the insiders of Canberra. Dark murmurings at Aussie’s Café. Friends of friends of friends who swore blind it was true and their cousin’s neighbour had seen it themselves. Nothing concrete, just a swirling maelstrom of scuttlebutt and insinuation.
As a journalist, I felt compelled to dig deeper, to find out if there was anything behind these rumours, or if it was simply the ephemeral smoke of parliamentary gossip. Was it true? Was there, indeed, stalking the streets of Canberra, a mysterious creature known as “the Opposition Leader”? Or was it a tissue of fictionalities? I girded my journalistic loins and set forth to find out.
My first port of call was Australian Labor Party headquarters, where the receptionist gave me a shifty look, mumbled something into a phone, and then disappeared under her desk. A few seconds later I was met by Shufti Amberson, general undersecretary of the ALP super-federation of sub-branch commissions. Amberson greets me amiably, but becomes terse when I mention the “Opposition Leader”.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he snaps, attempting to distract me with a dancing marionette in his left hand. “I’ve never heard of this so-called Opposition Leader!”
I press him. “There are reports that the Opposition Leader has been seen in this very building, Mr Amberson,” I begin, but before I can get an answer Amberson hurls a smoke pellet to the floor and vanishes.
Labor Headquarters would seem to be a dead end: they’re sealed tighter than a blackmailed oyster. I need to find someone more forthcoming. In a dark Canberra alleyway I hand over fourteen cartons of Winfield Blues and am told by a small figure in a black cape that I should “follow the cat”.
I have no idea what this means, so instead I head to the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, where I meet with the PM’s chief of staff Peta Credlin in a midget submarine kept in the Parliament House basement.
Credlin tells me that the Opposition Leader is an urban legend. “Credulous peasants will believe anything,” she laughs imperiously. “If there was an Opposition Leader, don’t you think we’d have caught him by now?”
I tell her the theory I have heard, that the Opposition Leader is a master of disguise and lives in a cave in the hills outside Canberra, where civilisation has yet to penetrate. She laughs again. “It’s very easy to make up stories about mythical beasts, isn’t it?” she asks. There is an awkward pause until I realise she is waiting for an answer.
“Yes?” I venture.
“Exactly!” Credlin exults. “Anti-government forces would love it if there were an Opposition Leader out there, uniting their resistance. But sooner or later people have to realise that nothing will save them from this government. This legend is just a red herring. Here, I’ll demonstrate.” She hands me a red herring, and shows me out.
Fish in hand, I pound the pavements of the national capital, searching for just one clue that can conclusively confirm or refute the existence of the Opposition Leader. At a dank, ramshackle bar in the rough part of town, I find a one-eyed hunchback who tells me that he once saw the Opposition Leader standing atop Black Mountain Tower, howling at the moon. He shows me a photo on his iPhone, but it’s a photo of his penis and sheds little light on the matter.
I am just about to give up on the search when I receive a telegram. “COME TO THE WAR MEMORIAL AT MIDNIGHT STOP MEET BESIDE THE CANNON STOP BRING SNACKS STOP”. Suddenly my reporter’s blood is alive and fizzing like lemonade. This is it! But what “it” is I couldn’t say. Questions fill my mind. Is the Opposition Leader real? Who am I going to meet at the War Memorial? How do you even send a telegram, and why was it delivered to me on a bus? I hope all the questions will be answered.
At midnight I am at the appointed place, shivering in the Canberra chill and feeling the foreboding presence of the cannon looming beside me. Was it I who would be in the firing line? Of course not, that’s silly, the cannon is clearly non-operational, what the hell was I talking about? Investigative journalism can make a lunatic of a man.
Just when I was convinced my mysterious correspondent would not be showing up, he, to put it bluntly, did. A shadowy figure in a bright red trenchcoat and enormous sombrero, he sidled up in the moonlight and rasped in my ear, “What do you know about the Opposition Leader?”
I explained that I knew nothing, but had only heard the stories: how he moved like a ghost in the night to work his mischief against the government; how he commanded the Labor caucus via a special intercom on the desk he kept in his underground lair, a desk carved from the bones of Jack Lang; how sheep and goats had been discovered drained of blood in and around Canberra; how Bronwyn Bishop was said to be surviving on a diet of nothing but Sard Wonder-Soap; everything.
The strange man listened, and when I was finished, removed his flamboyant hat with a flourish. “Behold!” he cried in a dread voice. For a moment I was silent, stunned by just how anti-climactic the reveal was. Finally I found my voice.
“Excuse me?” I said politely.
The man gestured wildly at me. “You fool! I am the Opposition Leader! I am he who stalks Abbott! I am he who plagues the corridors of power! I am he who holds all in power to account!”
I couldn’t believe it. Could this strange, banana-shaped fellow, with a face like a cereal box and hair like a peccary hide, really be the source of all the wild mythology? A million questions flooded my brain, but one was shouldering its way to the forefront, longing to be asked.
“What’s your position on aviation deregulation?” I gasped.
Five hours later I was alone, as the cold fingers of dawn crept over the horizon, the red trenchcoat fading into the fog. I stood, amazed, more knowledgeable about aviation deregulation than I ever had been. But more than anything, I was suddenly grateful. Grateful that somewhere, out there, unseen by the public, unnoticed by the media, unobserved by anyone who actually matters, there is someone fighting for people like me, for the ordinary voter who simply wants a fair go and decent representation from a man whose identity they have only the haziest conception of. Long may he continue to hold the government accountable in ways which nobody is aware of.
For more information on Opposition Leader mythology in different cultures, visit your local library.