Three Billboards outside Batman, Victoria
It all started when I was driving home in the Tesla from a meeting of the Reiki Healers’ Collective in Fitzroy and had just come under the bridge before you pass the Anarchist Bookshop and turn into Northcote. To be honest, my mind was less on my driving and more on the lentil and mung beans that I knew Tristan, my long term partner of three weeks, had waiting for me at our bijou workers’ cottage in Gallipoli Parade (a steal at $1.7 m, the average price for a house in the electorate of Batman). Tristan was quite a find, I can tell you; I had met him in the Cherry Bar, and he turned out to be a little wiz in the kitchen, and like me a confirmed vegan and a Green but, boy, did he have a big carbon footprint! As I was saying, I was coming into Northcote, and there at the side of the road, were these three old billboards. I had sub-consciously noticed they were there and that in the past they had had signs on them, but the signs were now really old and faded. One had advertised tyres that used to be made at the local factory, the second blared out ‘Cooking With Gas’ and the third was for cars that used to be made at the Ford factory in Geelong. All very boring industries and very carbon intensive, so we were better off without them. Fortunately, the three factories had closed down and were now just empty shells; one was used for raves, another was a women’s refuge and the third was a sort of farmers’ collective. Naturally the men had lost their jobs, but it was in the interests of a cleaner environment and, anyway, they had not been thrown on the scrap heap as Howard or Abbott (ugh!!!) would have preferred. Oh no, they were all re-trained with government grants, mostly as social workers, disability carers and stakeholder relations consultants, so they ended up with far more useful and productive jobs than just working in a factory making things. At first, I was a bit worried about the cost of all this training. But then a friend of ours who is the economics correspondent for the ABC explained that you could spend money first and then ask for more, as the ABC always did and, anyway, it had been proved by research at the Australia Institute that money grows on trees.
Anyway, after a good meal of lentils and mung beans and helping Tristan with his homework, I got to thinking again about the billboards. Suddenly, it hit me. The billboards, I mean. Why not use them in the Greens’ by-election campaign? They were so prominent that the punters in Batman could hardly miss them, so all we had to do was put up giant posters of our best three policies and we would really get the message across. But which three? We have so many great policies (my personal favourite is abolishing ableism) that it is hard to decide on the three most important ones and ignore the others.
Our campaign committee talked it through for the next day or so to get a consensus. Fortunately I could take a few days off from my job as Diversity Outreach Officer at the Department of Human Rights; things were a bit slow in the office because our main project had been put in a couple of filing cabinets that the boss had locked and then sold at the local junk shop for $2 each (‘keys missing’). We were still trying to get them back, but what with the inquiry having taken three years already, we were not counting on a quick revival of the normal working week. So I took a few weeks of family violence leave (after one of Tristan’s tantrums over the hair dryer) and half of my companion pet welfare leave. Some of the committee wanted the billboards to be used for policies on schools, health, transport and similar things of the boring genre (as we call it at the Living and Learning Centre). But, even if I say so myself, I persuaded everyone that as we only had three billboards, they must carry our three stand-out and pivotal (another word we use at the Centre) policies, policies that define us and say what we stand for. After that, it was easy. We soon had three giant signs knocked up, all reflecting our core beliefs. First, the real danger with mining coal is that it creates jobs and generates power for more jobs, and it must therefore be stopped at all costs. So the first sign said STOP ADANI! Then we want the whole country to be flooded with Arabs and Africans, so let them all in, I say, even if there are umpteen million. So the second sign wrote itself: FREE ALL REFUGEES! But the cause closest to our hearts is to hand the whole country back to the aboriginals, and we have to start by getting rid of nonsense like Australia Day and its connotations of colonial oppression. So the third sign said: CHANGE THE DATE. You would have to say that they covered the field; there was something for everyone in our diverse electorate.
I was still worried about the money, but we passed the hat around and before you could say ‘hedge fund’ we had $4m from Geoff Cousins, another million from the Qantas Spirit of Inclusion Fund and yet another million from the Oxfam Fund for Diversity and Anti-Bullying. Thank heavens for guilt; without it, we would be broke; with it, we have money coming out of our ears, with millionaires clawing each others’ eyes out to give money to the Greens and find forgiveness for their sins.
I don’t know if we will win, but our three billboards have certainly put Batman – and the Greens – on the map. I hope no-one burns them down.