I acknowledge those proud Quadrant contributors past and present, who ask despairingly what the lone individual can do when the enemy circles.
Josie hurled her knitting across the room and followed it with the remote. She hit the ABC reporter right smack in the face as intended.
The television spluttered and went dark.
“Smarmy bitch,” she muttered. Her cat, Cat, gave her a belligerent look and stalked into the kitchen. “I’ve had enough of this nonsense, Cat,” she said loudly. “I may be old but I’m not stupid. How dare they do this to my country.”
She sat quietly for a minute. The room was gloomy and cold and the hot water bottle on her lap was clammy. Josie had survived war and depression, worked hard and paid her dues. She loved Australia but now it seemed to be falling apart. Sometimes she felt as if she no longer belonged here, like a piece of detritus. That new little Prime Minister was prancing around parroting on about enshrining his precious voice in the Constitution so that 3 per cent of the population could tell the remaining 97 per cent where to go. That was obviously as ridiculous and damaging as his push for net zero, or men giving birth through their penises.
“You’re all a bunch of bloody drongoes,” said Josie as she poured herself a medicinal G and T.
Her Bob had always said if you don’t like what’s happening, you get off your butt and fix it, or you shut up and move on. But Bob had been dead for years. Josie thought for a bit. It was time to take a stand. There must be something she could do. She decided that she could only fight one battle at a time. “I reckon I should have a bash at the oldest culture in the universe, because once that lot mess up our Constitution, everything else is cactus.”
She had another G and T to clarify her thoughts. Then she sat down at her keyboard and typed in “bumper stickers”. Up came many choices. She selected Aussie Stickers because she liked the name. Apparently, she had to do some art work, fill in a form and send it off.
“Too easy,” she exclaimed. “And only four dollars each! And free postage!” After checking that Aussie Stickers was really Australian and not some devious Chinese mob, Josie designed her first sticker. It had a beautiful big Australian flag and read:
Constitutional change? NO WAY!
The ten stickers arrived two days later as promised. They were perfect. Josie stuck one on the window beside her front door and another on the back of her little yellow car. She felt better already.
The next evening there was a knock at the door. Josie was puzzled. She rarely had visitors. It was Dave, the plumber from down the street.
“Sorry to bother you, Mrs D,” he said, “but I was following you home and saw that sticker on your car.”
Josie’s heart sank. She didn’t know him well. What if he were one of those Aboriginal activists who looked white but were really black—snowballs or was it lamingtons? Something edible anyway. She checked that her personal alarm was in her cardigan pocket, just in case.
“I’m wondering where you got it because I’d like one for my ute.”
Josie blinked. “So you’re not angry?”
“Course not! Best thing I’ve seen in a long time.”
“I made it up and ordered it online. I’ve got a few spare if you’d like one. They’re only four dollars.”
“Here’s a tenner. I’ll take a couple so my wife can put one on her work car.”
Josie stared at him. “You’re serious?”
“You bet! We’ve both had an absolute bloody gutful of this never-ending crap about voices, statements from the heart, dialogues and truth-telling and treaties and maracas, whatever the hell they are. Stuffing up our Constitution is a bridge too far, Mrs D. Everybody already has a vote so what’s the fuss about? Those wankers ought to get a job like the rest of us.”
Josie sold him two stickers, feeling a little bemused. Maybe she wasn’t alone after all.
The next afternoon, Dave’s teenage daughter Annie knocked on the door. “Hi, Mrs D. Could I have some of those stickers like you sold Dad please? Thing is, some of the kids at school get scholarships just because their parents say they’re indigenous, which you’d never guess, by the way. Blond as effing blond, if you know what I mean. And they never, ever fail! How strange is that! They already have more rights than the rest of us without changing the Constitution, so I’ll take four and here’s twenty bucks.”
Josie was driving to Book Club the following day when she noticed a policeman on a motor bike close behind her, flashing his lights. She pulled over carefully and lowered her window with some trepidation.
“What’s the problem, officer?”
“It’s that sticker on your back bumper.”
“Oh, sorry, what’s wrong with it?”
He grinned. “It’s too small!” And with that he was back on his bike and away.
“That’s a bit weird,” Josie thought.
Annie and a tall young man were waiting for her when she got home. “Hey again, Mrs D. I need some more stickers, please. And this is my friend Jacko.”
Jacko gave a half-hearted flip of one hand which she took to mean hello. “We reckon you need to increase your range,” he said. “You’ll never do any good with one wimpy old-lady sticker like that. You’ve got to be more aggressive.”
“First you should rip into those race shifters and box tickers,” said Annie. “And you need one about the puffing smoke welcome thingy. We’re so over it. I got two days suspension for laughing at that BS last term.”
“Okay,” said Josie slowly. “But I’m a bit concerned about offending people.”
“They don’t care about offending us,” said Jacko. “And they’ve been ferreting around for years trying to work out how to get a special deal in our Constitution. Toughen up, think of the words, and sock it to them.” He handed over two crumpled five-dollar notes for Josie’s last two stickers.
As they were leaving, Josie called, “How come you teenagers know all about the proposed Constitutional changes?”
“My Mum works at Quadrant,” said Jacko. “She insists I read every edition to make up for the cavernous holes in my education.” He grinned. “And then I give them to Annie.”
“And then I give them to Dad, who takes them to work,” finished Annie.
After they’d gone, Josie sat down and looked at the notes in her hand. This was a strange turn of events indeed. Maybe she could turn the heater on an hour early.
The phone rang. It was Margot from Book Club.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you, Josie, but we had a vote after you left today and we’ve decided that you’re getting too political for our friendly little club. It would be better for us all if you went somewhere else.”
“What! You’re kicking me out of Book Club! Can you actually do that?”
“Don’t take this personally, Josie dear, but the other girls don’t need your sort of negativity.”
“Don’t you mean honesty? For heaven’s sake, Margot, that latest book, The Silence, was exactly what I said it was—yet another in the predictable ‘white bad, black good’ genre. And as for that seriously biased piece of rubbish, The Yield, well, it deserved everything I said about it.”
“Josie, that book won the Miles Franklin so you’re really out on your own with those nasty racist comments. We just cannot have this sort of unpleasantness creeping into our group. It’s not nice.”
“I thought Book Club was a place to share ideas and have interesting discussions, Margot, but I see I was wrong. It will give me great pleasure never to attend your priggish little Book Club again.” Josie hung up, defiantly turned the heater to high, and poured herself a G and T with a double shot of gin to celebrate the interesting new direction her life was taking. Then she drew up four new stickers.
DON’T welcome me to my own country
THIS is the Australian flag
The Voice Divides Us By Race
She ordered ten of each, plus twenty of the original one. It was a lot of money to outlay but the phone bill wasn’t due for a month and she still had half a bottle of gin.
The stickers sold quickly. Dave needed eight for his work mates. Her hairdresser wanted one for the shop window and three for her children. The mechanic who fixed her car bought ten, to hand out at the pub. Josie sent a sample to her cousin in Perth and soon had orders for fifty from the West. She became more creative.
Aboriginal Nation? NEVER WAS NEVER WILL BE!
TRUTH TELLING Aboriginals were cannibals
Annie made a video of her standing at the front door leaning on her walking stick, selling stickers to the postman. It went viral on YouTube, which caused her son to call from his work at Australia House in London to ask if she was okay and what the hell was she up to, selling bumper stickers.
“It’s not a good look for me, Mum. Why didn’t you tell me you were short of money? I’ll transfer you some right away.”
“Don’t you dare, James! Everything isn’t about money. This is a matter of principle. I’m having fun for the first time since your father died and I’m doing something important. I am saving Australia, one bumper sticker at a time.”
Annie set up a blog and a website for Josie, and registered her for Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. Updating these was her job, which she approached with alacrity.
Early one morning, when Josie and Cat were still in bed, a loud knock came on the door. An intimidatingly large policewoman was standing there. “We’ve had a complaint about your stickers, Mrs Donovan.”
“Oh dearie me. I’m sorry to hear that. Which one is causing the trouble?”
“All of them. The complainant says they’re racist. He advises that he won’t take the matter further if you stop selling them.”
Josie glared at her. “Who do you think you are? The blooming Race Police? I will continue to sell my stickers and there’s nothing anyone can do about it because this is a democracy, with free speech. They are not racist. Changing the Constitution to please Australians of a certain race, now that’s bloody racist. Go and do some research before you come around here upsetting me so early in the morning.” She shut the door firmly. Her hands were shaking as she put the kettle on.
Peta Credlin wrote her up in the Australian, describing her as the “hitherto ignored voice of Australia”. Josie quite liked that, but James didn’t. “You’re too naive for this game, Mum,” he warned her. “Certain people will not be happy if you get between them and their next round of grants.”
Andrew Bolt praised her for her common sense and bravery, and bought an assortment of stickers to show his viewers. He said it was shameful that Labor had done nothing to publicise the No side of the debate, leaving that vital discussion to one senior pensioner. Josie struggled to keep up with the demand after that and had to employ Annie two afternoons a week to help.
Suddenly, for the first time in her life, Josie had some clout. Radio hosts sought her opinion, she appeared on television talk shows and in glossy magazines. The stickers almost ran out the door! Josie even spoke to Ita at her ABC and persuaded her that the craven business of mentioning indigenous country names at every opportunity was seen as grovelling, and alienated the public.
“To put it another way, Ita, most of us out in real Australia think the so-called oldest culture in the world is having a lend of you. And we all know that there was never an Aboriginal nation so you need to stop insulting us by using the term ‘First Nations’. You want truth-telling? Stop spreading lies.”
“There’s nothing special about being old,” she announced on SBS News. “We all get old. But when a culture gets old without improving, advancing—well, I reckon that’s nothing to crow about. In fact, I’d say it’s something to be ashamed of. Let’s be honest, clapsticks and bark humpies aren’t all that impressive.”
She had a chat with the boss of Australia Post and convinced him that a pre-printed line for traditional country names on his stationery was really annoying and most customers crossed it out with the thickest texta they could find. “Just don’t do it,” she advised. “It makes you no friends at all. In fact, young man, it gives us all the shits.”
James didn’t like that either, especially as Annie put it up on Twitter. “What’s going on, Mum? The Ambassador says you told the CEO of Australia Post that he gives you the shits. You just can’t go around saying things like that.”
“Oh, do shut up, James. You haven’t a clue what’s happening here. It’s a war zone. There’s the good guys who want the Constitution left alone, and the bad guys who want to stuff it up. Not too hard to understand, I would have thought. Sorry, dear, have to rush. Ita wants a special mixed order for her re-education program, as long as I avoid sending the cannibal one. They’re not quite ready for that at the ABC but I still have hopes, and my secretary’s just arrived …”
“You have a secretary? Why do you need a secretary?”
She did Zoom interviews with council mayors. “Here’s what I think,” said Josie. “Flag confusion is indicative of a Third World country, one that’s falling into anarchy. That’s not what we want for Australia, is it? So get rid of that flag which is not our national flag. It’s a cuckoo flag, a divisive construct. And while you’re at it, get rid of that other one you’ve started flying lately which always reminds us of somebody’s backside. Next, stop that phony ‘welcome to country’ nonsense. It’s virtue signalling at its worst. Finally, never, ever mess with Australia Day and Anzac Day.”
A small car pulled into Josie’s drive one afternoon and a smartly-suited woman with an expensive briefcase knocked on her door. “Good afternoon Mrs Donovan. I’m Amanda, from the Tax Office. I’m here to sort out a small problem.”
Josie leaned heavily on her walking stick, trying not to fall. Somebody must have dobbed her in.
“Are you all right, Mrs Donovan? Perhaps we could go inside?” Amanda pulled her jacket around her and shivered as they went into the lounge room. “We’ve had a report that someone is running a small business from this address. We have no records of this, and you have not responded to our correspondence.”
“Well, I’ve been unusually busy lately.”
“I must inform you that you have one month to return the appropriate forms.” She winked and tapped a finger on the side of her nose. “But I’m inclined to believe that what you’re doing here is just a little hobby of no real interest to us. If your friends sometimes give you tiny cash gifts, well, it’s nothing to do with us. It’s not as though you’re making a fortune, is it?” She winked again.
Josie got the hint. “Gracious me! If I was making any money, I’d have the heater on twenty-four-seven. Bloody renewables! A hobby you say? Yes, absolutely.”
“Good. I’m glad we’ve got that out of the way,” Amanda said briskly, pulling a ziplock bag stuffed with notes out of her briefcase. “Now, I need twenty assorted stickers for the staff back at the office. Here’s a non-taxable gift of $100.”
Amanda made a cup of tea for them both while Josie counted out the stickers. “Are you happy with the cannibal one?” she called. “Some people find the truth a bit too confronting so I keep that for special customers.”
“Perfectly fine with me.”
After she left, Josie and Cat sat quietly. “Life is full of surprises isn’t it, Cat?” she said.
Before long, Josie’s stickers were seen on vehicles, shop windows and suburban homes from one side of the country to the other. Caravans up in the Kimberley sported them. Road trains were covered in them. Little kids plastered their bikes and skateboards and school bags with them.
The One Nation Party came out strongly for the No vote, producing an excellent series of their own stickers. Josie was delighted. The message was really getting out now. It was as if a huge groundswell of rage had been released. At last mainstream Australia had a voice!
Josie had an unexpected call from America. “Is that the lady selling stickers?”
“I represent the media arm of the Duchess of Sussex and she’s keen to interview you for her upcoming series, ‘Senior Women Making Change’. You won’t be paid but naturally it will be a great honour for you.”
Josie thought for a second. “Is she the dodgy one or the nice one?”
There was silence, then he said stiffly, “The Duchess of Sussex is Ms Meghan Markle.”
“I was afraid of that. Please tell her I can’t possibly do business with anyone who supports those BLM Marxist loonies. And I don’t care for the way she upset our Queen. We’re very fond of Her Majesty down here, you know.”
James rang again. “Mum, I heard on the diplomatic grapevine that you refused an interview with the Duchess of Sussex.”
“Of course I did. That woman needs no encouragement. None at all.”
James sighed. “Please tell me you didn’t say that she gives you the shits. I have to work with these people, you know.”
Josie thought it wise not to mention BLM loonies, Marxist or otherwise.
The librarian from the local primary school asked if Josie had time to talk to the children about truth-telling. Did she ever! They’d never heard such truth-telling! Afterwards, she led the school in a Truth Rampage, which entailed finding all the Bruce Pascoe books in the school, ripping them up and tossing them in the recycling bin. How the kiddies loved it!
One night a brick came crashing through Josie’s front window. She was rather flattered. The police arrived with sirens blaring, which was very exciting. Josie appeared on the television news (on every channel!) wearing her nightie and fluffy slippers, and the orders came rolling in. Dave replaced the window, which was paid for by a whip-round at the pub. Then he built Josie a flagpole near her front gate, so she could fly the one and only Australian flag. Soon, almost every house in the suburb was flying it. NITV predictably presented the glorious sight as the “ugly creep of colonialism”, which so enraged the insulted locals that some put up a second flag. Tourists began taking selfies outside Josie’s house and eBay had a collector’s set of her stickers for sale for $4000.
Aussie Stickers branched out into a range of shopping bags with the Australian flag on one side and “Vote No to Constitutional Change” on the other. They sold like hot cakes. “We’ve never been so busy, Mrs Donovan. Everyone’s getting in on the act, designing their own stickers, some of which I have to say are most inappropriate. There seems to be a lot of anger out there on this subject, that’s for sure.”
Josie received a brief but poignant letter one day. “We are a small community in the Tanami, 25 houses only. This voice business is not our business and no good for us. Please send 25 stickers.”
“Do you see what this means?” said Annie excitedly as she posted it up on all Josie’s social media sites. “We have an ally on the Dark Side. Put your lippy on, Mrs D, because the press will be onto this as quick as rats up a drainpipe.” She was right. Josie gave virtual interviews for six media outlets across Australia, and four live interviews before day’s end. Jacko answered the phone and made cups of tea with extra sugar. Annie’s mum brought a casserole around.
Josie Donovan became a household name that day, when she stood at her front door and said, “I am a proud Australian and this is my statement from the heart. We Australians can smell a raw prawn a mile away. This push for Constitutional change is the biggest, smelliest raw prawn ever and it’s been shoved down our throats for far too many years. We know it won’t help those who need help. We know it is divisive. We know it is racist. It’s time for us to unite and say NO!”
This became known as the Raw Prawn Speech. The Press Club voted it the best political speech ever, leaving Gillard’s petulant misogyny whine for dead.
Bowing to immense pressure, and inspired by Josie’s biting criticism in which she called them “more gutless than fish fillets”, the Opposition at last came out to fight on the No side. Their popularity soared. It soared even further when Torres Strait Islander elders demanded their own voice from the heart, then claimed sovereignty as a separate nation and signed an agreement with China. Once that cat was out of the bag, no desperate linguistic contortions by the PM and his cronies could put it back.
Well-known Aboriginal activists working in universities started checking their superannuation entitlements. Two of the Teal clones resigned to spend more time with their families, and one went on stress leave. Three Independents joined One Nation. The Greens refused all interviews unless the subject was renewables.
The new little PM wasn’t quite so bouncy any more and some thought he was losing his hair. His government was forced by a High Court decision to make an eye-wateringly large sum of money available to the No side, to equal the amount already spent on the Yes side. All publicly-funded media outlets were legally obliged to give equal time to both sides. What a laugh it was to hear certain journalists talking through tight lips and gritted teeth about the weaknesses in the Albanese amendment! It was almost worthwhile watching The Drum to see it.
James called. “Just between you and me, there’s some serious discussions going on behind the scenes about cancelling the referendum, because there’s no way it will pass now.”
“That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time, James.”
“I am proud of you, Mum, but I was wondering, is there any chance you might be taking up knitting again?”
“Not likely! I’ve got to sort out this net zero rubbish next.”
Joanna Hackett wrote “The Night the Leaves Fell from the Bullshit Trees” in the October 2020 issue and “The Amazing Bruce Pascoe: Australia’s Leonardo” in the July-August 2021 issue.