Friday, 30 January 2015

The Reluctant Political Candidate (Part 1) - Getting involved


This story of my political involvement spans 1985-1988 including the New South Wales (NSW) State election when Nick Greiner became Premier.

At the time I was passionate about the need for a change in government. Today, sadly, I barely bother even following the political news. It seems to me that there are few members of Federal and State Parliaments, on both sides of the house, who are anything more than career politicians. Please note that I do say few. I believe my current NSW Member of Parliament is an honourable and caring representative.

I always believed that you shouldn’t complain about a situation unless, subject to time and resources, you were prepared to contribute to change no matter how minor.  I was very concerned about the direction the country was going under the Whitlam Labor Government and while it was beyond my control as an individual to change the situation I thought I might contribute in some small way.

One evening politics in 1985 while we discussing politics my sister in law, a member of the Camden Branch of the Liberal Party, suggested I also join. I saw this as the answer to how I could make some contribution to changing the government.

Between 1985 and 1987 I served as branch delegate to State and Federal Conferences and as campaign secretary at local, state and federal government levels and also transferred to the Picton Branch (in the Shire of Wollondilly).

A State Election was to be held in early 1988 and part of the Wollondilly Shire was now in the new Electorate of Burragorang considered to be a safe Labor seat.

Safe seats of either political party have no trouble getting several members keen for nomination as election candidate. Even marginal seats often have two or three or more members to choose from as their candidate. When it is a safe seat for the opposite party the local branches struggle to find a candidate or even justify the cost of a campaign.

This was the situation that faced the Picton Branch of the Liberal Party in 1987. Do they run a campaign and throw fund raising time, and the resulting money, at a campaign they couldn’t win? Should they run a campaign so at least Liberal supporters in the electorate had someone to vote for? Who would be willing to spend their own time and money campaigning for a political seat they couldn’t win? Enter, ‘never do things by halves’, me.

When the Liberal Party ads were shown on television saying "We're Ready" - I was answering Nick Greiner back saying "No we're not – not in Burragorang!"

It became evident that if we didn't act soon we might end up with no candidate at all or someone from another area who was just looking for some electoral experience.

Burragorang would be far from easy to win, but there were good reasons why we needed a candidate:
  • Those voters in the electorate who will only vote Liberal - deserved to be able to voice their political preferences.
  • If there was to be no independent or minor party candidates we would be handing the seat to the Labor Party on a silver platter
  • For every vote we gained for the Liberal Party it would most likely to be a vote for our candidates for the Upper House.
    The Federal seat of Macarthur was considered unwinnable, but through the members efforts the swing needed had been pulled back over the two previous Federal Elections so it was considered marginal - this is what we needed to work towards in Burragorang.

It was suggested that I should nominate as candidate. I did not take it seriously as I had no political ambitions but I had already promised my time and effort to the Burragorang campaign, as Secretary. With the trust of my local branches behind me I accepted nomination in November 1987 for an election to be held in April the following year.

The electorate of Burragorang was very strange and considered a major gerrymander by the then Labor Government. It took in Warragamba, Oakdale and The Oaks, Picton (but not Tahmoor), Appin (in Wollondilly) and the northern suburbs of Wollongong. It was like a big banana with Liberal voters in the north and Labor voters in the south. Two thirds of the population of the electorate was in the south and a very much a Labor stronghold.  To win Burragorang, or at least make our presence felt we knew we had to concentrate our efforts and make our presence felt in the coastal area.

This Liberal Party campaign for NSW was led by Nick Greiner.

In Part 2 of The Reluctant Political Candidate I cover the experience and fun of the campaign itself

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Accidental Dog Breeder (Part 3)

I promised in my last blog of this series that I would tell you more about Beau and there is oh so much to tell but here I will focus on his show career (or should I say lack of)

As I mentioned in Part 2 of The Accidental Dog Breeder, Beau came to us at three months; house trained and show trained. We enthusiastically started showing both Beau and Sassy and even went to country shows taking the advantage of having a short break with our beloved Groenendaels.

They both did pretty well in the show ring. Sassy gained her championship title and Beau took out several Minor Puppy in Group awards.

All was going very well until one day Beau starting quietly grumbling about being in the show ring (OK he was growling – but just a little!)

We couldn’t work it out. Why was our loving, cuddly bear behaving like this?

We persevered. Sometimes he would behave like an angel and others like the devil himself.

At the same time my husband’s son, Carlo had been having a battle of wits with young Beau. Beau thought he was boss and so did Carlo. Carlo also thought Beau was nothing but a spoilt brat. They had no time for each other but Carlo had to persist working on the relationship to dominate him.

In time Beau grew to respect Carlo more and more and by the time Beau was twelve months old they were the best of mates. They adored each other.

This didn’t mean that we had solved all Beau’s problems. He was still a problem in the show ring but not consistently good or bad. There were still times Beau and I were even ordered out of the show ring. Me with my head down in embarrassment and Beau with his head held high proudly stating “I beat another one”.

Over time we came to realise that our Beau had an ‘idiot alert’. I’ll give you two examples but first some basic info. 
  • Belgians Shepherds are working dogs. (OK so you knew that)
  • You should never look an unfamiliar dog in the eye because a dog interprets this as being challenging.  (How do you feel when a stranger stares at you?)
  • Not using direct eye contact with a strange dog combined with correct body language will diffuse what could be a dangerous situation.
  • With working dogs this is even more important. They are tuned to using eye contact with sheep and cattle to control a herd or an individual animal making them even more sensitive to a stranger wanting to control them.

First example
Beau’s breeder (we’ll call her Jane) was also a show judge and I was fascinated watching her one day in the Working Dog ring.

Each dog and handler enters the ring separately, runs a circuit then the dog stands for examination. As Jane approached each one for examination I noticed she did not look at the dog at all. She would smile and look at the handler as she approached then, while exchanging few words with the handler, gently touched the dog. No challenge, dog relaxes and can be handled, everyone enjoys showing.

Such a pity so many judges missed this part of their training.

Now, picture the other side of the story.  Beau enters ring, impresses judge with movement and stands to perfection showing what a handsome specimen he is. Little old lady (they almost all are) bends over; hand outstretched staring straight into the eyes of my beautiful, dominant, alpha male. Yep, he growls, little old lady is frightened (oh why didn’t she stick to judging the Toys Group?) Idiot alert has signalled.

Example 2

We loved taking Sassy and Beau out with us. It was great for their socialisation but we were also very proud of our two beautiful shepherds.

One outing was a local fair, crowded with people and lots of noise from the crowd and the vintage cars and bikes on display. I confess I was often nervous about how Beau would behave but Carlo confidently walked around with him and Beau seemed to be enjoying himself. (Especially after Carlo treated him to his favourite food – fairy floss)

My husband and I got separated from them at one point and when I turned around to see where they were a young child was walking towards them. I nervously watched, while still confident Carlo could handle the situation if Beau growled. 
The child would not have been more than three years old and stood the same height as Beau. He walked straight up to Beau, grabbed him on both sides of his neck (Beau had a lovely thick main so it would not have hurt him) and rocked Beau’s head back and forth. To my amazement Beau just stood there!

The child cuddled into his thick fur then happily walked away. My 'vicious' dog, as he had been termed by some judges, was as gentle as a lamb. The child was no threat. In his excitement to meet Beau he had not looked straight into Beau’s eyes but viewed him overall just wanting to cuddle our handsome dog.

It wasn’t just with children that we discovered Beau had immense patience. He was he same with elderly people (not the idiot judge types) and those in wheelchairs.

We finally had to admit that although we had purchased Beau as a show dog his career was over. He became a very much loved pet and he and Carlo continued to adore each other and were the very best of mates.

Beau did however go on to father our first litter. More in the next part of this series.