As a politician who lost her seat by just 14 votes, former Labor MP Elizabeth Harvey can tell an entertaining political story. But rather than pen a memoir, the ex-member for Hawker has written a juicy novel about life as a marginal member in the 1980s — and she’s publishing it online for free.
“A memoir would have been fairly boring; I fictionalised so I could liven it up a bit,” Harvey told Crikey. “It’s based very closely on my experiences and what I did and what happened to me. It’s not a memoir because it has dialogue and detailed descriptions of things that didn’t actually happen.”
Each week Harvey publishes several chapters from her novel Snowflake’s Hope (“I kept getting told I had a snowflake’s hope in hell of winning the election”) on her blog. The novel’s protagonist is Alice Perry, a newly-elected MP from South Australia, and although it’s written as an easy-to-read political romp, it does also offer some goss on our most famous ’80s leaders. Keep an eye out for Prime Minister Bob Hawke:
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“He made a funny off-the-cuff speech, the kids cheered madly, the vegetable garden was positively bursting with produce, the science experiments all worked, the choir was in tune and the afternoon tea was delicious. Guest-of-honour even joined in the footy training and proved to be quite a deft hand-baller. His last activity involved attending a Year 7 English lesson where a number of students read aloud a poem they’d each written on the theme of ‘Spiders’. He was delighted with their verses and, after some prompting, agreed that he would write his own spider poem and send it to them.”
Later the poem Hawke apparently wrote, a new version of Little Miss Muffet, appears:
Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey.
There came a big spider,
Who sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
“Woe is me,” said the spider,
“She won’t be my bride. A
Sad end to my hopes, so it seems.”
But he blinked back his tears,
Downed a couple of beers
And crept back to his web with his dreams.
Paul Keating pops up as treasurer (from the first time Perry encounters the intimidating Keating: “She gave a silly little wave although his back was to her, and returned the way she’d come, breathing out a silent ‘whew’. Before she reached the end of the corridor she’d started to run.”); John Howard in his opposition leader days (“Because, to use a term I learned from John Howard, men are up themselves.”); plus former ministers John Button, Neal Blewett and Barry Jones.
But not all the names are accurate. “I’ve changed some to baffle the guilty,” said Harvey. She’s been trying to get in contact with Keating about the book, and has contacted some of the ministers included, particularly if the reference was a bit sensitive. “No one has complained, they are quite interested,” said Harvey.
While Harvey says she doesn’t expect many individuals to be offended, senators as a whole are not well portrayed. As she writes in the first chapter:
“The diametrically opposed species to the marginal member is the Senator. In other words, if you meet someone in the Glass House who is overweight, relaxed, well-read, flush with funds and who can expand on a subject at considerable length with clarity and perception, he or she is most likely a senator. Senators are paradoxical in that, although they represent the entire population of a state or territory rather than the mere 80,000 or so electors under the wing of a lower house member, they rarely move about at the same frenetic pace since their personal efforts have little or no bearing on whether or not they are re-elected.”
“It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there’s an element of truth when I talk about the ‘do-nothing’ senators,” said Harvey. “That’s a bit that might make someone upset but I don’t care.”
Newspaper clippings from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Bulletin appear, as does quotes from Hansard and letters from ministers. Chapter three covers the issue of preselection, while other chapters describe ministers losing support of their colleagues, what it’s like to ask a Dorothy Dixer or the arguments pollies have with their own side.
When Harvey lost her seat back in 1990, she elected for the national archive to keep all her notes and she dug back through them to write the book. “My time in the Parliament always seems to be a source of fascination for friends and acquaintances,” she said. “With all the anecdotes and quotes from that time, I thought it was good material to write something.”
She decided not to seek a publishing deal after trying — and failing — to get another novel published years ago. With nearly half of the book already online, it’s a good time to start reading.