'The Happy Land' - The Life and Times of John Winston Coward - Part 1

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Was John Howard's Australia the place admirers like Tony Abbott promote? 'The Happy Land' is Graham Jackson's satirical alternative reality. This challenging work, illustrated by Gee, consists of thirteen Papers written by the major players in a dark period in Australia's short history. IA will be publishing all of them over the next two weeks.

The Life and Times of John Winston Coward

The Prime Minister who pushed Children Overboard in His Pursuit of Electoral Victory: A Reconstruction


1:    ‘His Scottish Ancestors’ – Emeritus Professor P. Costello
2:    ‘His Love of Cricket’ – Emeritus Professor P. Costello
3:    ‘My Mum and Dad’ – John Winston Coward
4:    ‘The Happy Land’ – Extracts from an Interview with ‘Opening Batsman’
5:    ‘The Coming of the Iraqis, Afghans and Fins’ – Emeritus Professor P. Costello
6:    ‘The Martyrdom of Minister Reith’ – Emeritus Professor P. Costello
7:    ‘My Dream’ – a Transcript of ‘Sea Captain’s’ Evidence before a Select Committee
8:    ‘An Address to the Australian People’ – John Winston Coward
9:    ‘Ruddock Replaces Reith’ – Emeritus Professor P. Costello
10:  ‘His Favourite Sayings’ – Emeritus Professor P. Costello
11:  ‘The Unveiling of the Scottish Thistle’ – John Winston Coward
12:  ‘The Death of a Conservative Leader’ – Emeritus Professor P. Costello
13:  ‘Postscript’ – ‘Wicketkeeper’
Paper 1:  ‘His Scottish Ancestors’ – Emeritus Professor P. Costello

As a child, John Winston Coward, the future Prime Minister of Australia, was gratified his ancestors came from the north. His parents were Wimmera wheat farmers and early in their youngest son’s life became an embarrassment. In order to block them out of his view of the world, which was affected by his shortness of vision and height, he retreated to an alternative reality in which his family were northern tribesmen who could pronounce the letter s. Southern tribes had trouble with the letter. He spent hours speculating on the significance of s. He had a bolt hole under a sheet of corrugated iron near the bag shed. There were few private places on the farm, but no one came near the shed, which was infested with mice and smelt of shit. For years his brothers and sisters called him mouse dropping, but because of the impediment in their speech it sounded like mouth dropping. To the extent that he allowed himself to be amused by anything, John Winston Coward was amused by this. He hadn’t inherited the disability, which meant he was a true heir of his ancestors.

In the reality he invented, he was the son of a Scottish chieftain who sent his only child south in a time of upheaval. Far to the north, the lands of the Scottish tribes were being invaded by barbarians seeking asylum. They arrived in small boats, on a wing and a prayer, bringing women and children. They brought no arms. It could be said that they threatened by sheer persistence, for whenever one of their boats vanished from sight the keen eyes of a northern tribesman would pick up the wake of another. And if the sentries saw nothing, they heard rumours of sightings, disappearances and landings further down the coast. There was never an end to their coming.

Like the keel of an upturned vessel, the sheet of rusty iron protected John Winston Coward as he lived out his reality amongst the refuse of rodents. He manoeuvred the large droppings as if they were barbarian boats tossing on distant seas and around them he placed small droppings, the seekers of asylum. They were so vile he could imagine them throwing their children overboard, to improve their own chance of survival.

He frowned in his stinking bolt hole. No one dared come near him. It might have been at this moment he had his first political thought — that if you smell bad enough no one comes near you. It was his first lesson in government.

He learned to read early. Whenever he was favoured by the light and weather, he took books out to his hole and learned how his ancestors first came to Australia and found it uninhabited, except for Indigenous people. At first the ancestors felt kindly towards them, then impatient and intolerant, as John Winston Coward became later. It was enough that one should be devoted to the study of one’s ancestors, without also having to take on Indigenous Australians — lost, stolen, or strayed. He drew a line in the sand to mark their departure to a remote place in the middle of the continent. When one of his sisters poked her head under the iron, he told her she could piss off too.

Because he grew slowly, many years passed before he left his iron shelter behind, and the idea of bunkering down became part of his thinking. His Scottish ancestors had invented a game called golf, in which bunkers were used. They were at once hazards and comfort zones at which the best players aimed in a tight situation. Although the game never appealed to him as cricket later did, he learned its lessons. The word bunker entered his vocabulary.

At much the same time one of his sisters fought her way into his bunker. He tried to repel her with a volley of dung, but she was so persistent he had to make room for her.

“What do you do here?” she asked.

“Sink ships,” he said, “sink them with spit.”

He demonstrated on the invaders at his feet.

“Why do you use so many s words?”

“Because it’s the most important letter.”

She believed him. Their parents often spoke of her brother’s intelligence. As the Wimmera sun beat down on the corrugated iron, she wondered if heat had anything to do with it; if her brother could think of things no one else could because his brain was on fire. She touched the hot iron with the tips of her fingers. For the first time she noticed the perspiration running down her brother’s face, before it splashed in the northern sea. The surface exploded with the violence of the impact, rocking the fragile dung boats, but it might have been her head starting to swim. None of the asylum-seekers were still swimming. They seemed to have drowned.

Scottish chieftains stood high on a cliff overlooking the carnage. One had a face like John Winston Coward’s and was clearly his imaginary father. Squinting in the sea-spray, he asked those around him what they could see. While some saw one thing and others saw another – and those with seafaring experience saw nothing at all – they were all caught up in the excitement.

Then the boy swept it all away with his hand.

“Why did you do that?” his sister asked.

“I like to smooth things over,” he replied, “pretend they were never there.”

She nodded as he patted down a circle of sand.

“That’s the same as lying,” she lisped.

He ignored her and wrote on the sand with the pointed end of a stick.

“What does that say?”

“Youngblood… The name of my ancestor.”

“You’d need another one to make a baby,” she said. “You could call her Fullblood.”

He stared at this curious sister through bloodshot eyes. The heat in the hole was intense and his eyes were red with perspiration rubbed in with his dirty hand. He had muddy patches on his shorts where drops had fallen from the end of his nose. His whole appearance was stunted, from his moon-like face down to his toes. When he walked he gave the impression he might topple forward, as if his toes were too short to get a grip on the earth.

His sister stared back. “You could be Halfblood,” she said. “Or Halfpint.”

“Some of the kids call me a halfwit,” he said, doodling in the sand. “They say I suck up to the teachers.”

“You’re the brainy one,” she explained.

He didn’t know what to do with her sympathy. It made him uneasy, as if his sister were getting inside his body. It was almost as bad as physical contact. His mind shied away and he began to feel sick.

He rubbed out Youngblood and drew a large S in the sand.

She backed out of the shelter.

“Mum’s calling,” she said.

It was the closest John Winston Coward ever got to his brothers and sisters. Resuming his inquiry into his ancestors, he wrote a list of significant s words, beginning with Scottish and sporran – which he’d recently looked up in his father’s dictionary – and ending with sneaky and superior. Shrouded with secrecy appealed to him, too, like sleight of hand and smoke-screen. Insincere and dissemble were honorary s words. Sophism he came to appreciate later, when he had to persuade the People that it was important to kill asylum-seekers on their native soil, before they had a chance to set sail for Australia.

Father and son consulted the dictionary together. The farmer looked up the meanings of words he wanted to use at local religious and political meetings, while his son soaked up knowledge as readily as the asylum-seekers’ boats soaked up the sea before sinking.

From his bunker, John Winston Coward had a vision of future events. He had a great destiny in the cycle of history. It began with brave Scots risking everything to come to an unknown, uninhabited land. And it would end when John Winston Coward stood on a high place, like the father of his imagination, and led the resistance to another invader. There would always be asylum-seekers, he realised. Look! There, and there! The boy gathered up mouse droppings and arranged them in international waters. He sneered at them.

He spat on them. He called the men spew-spawn, the women sluts. Their children were shits and had to be thrown overboard. Gathering up more droppings, he hurled them down at the tossing boats, like a wrathful God. The one true God was a vengeful God. The sermons his father preached told him so. This God could search out any secret, however deeply it was buried. The boy wondered if he should put Him to the test.

He gathered a mouthful of saliva. It was the most effective way of turning back the invader. The sheet of iron was too close to the ground to let him stand and take aim, but by sitting cross-legged he could line up the enemy and let him have it. As the spit bomb left his mouth, he watched it fall in slow motion on the frantic boats. They had nowhere to hide. Between Christmas Island and the Australian coast, the ocean was vast and empty. The bomb would engulf several boats at once, if they clung together for support. As the explosion of the sea’s surface settled far below, he could see people struggling and sinking.

Wiping the dribble from his chin, the boy wondered what secret he could bury so deep God wouldn’t find it. Again he saw the vision of a Scottish chieftain surveying the sea’s wreckage. Again he saw himself leading his People against their foes—against, perhaps, the dictates of destiny, of God. Might that be his secret? That he’d rule forever, even against the wishes of his People, if that was what the future should bring? A formidable secret! He’d dare God to discover it, and lay him low!

He smoothed the sand.

“Mum’s calling,” he said.

He wrote a large S in the sand, for Secret. He was only a boy, after all. His hands were dirty and would have to be washed before dinner. He smelt strongly of mice. He rolled some of their droppings around in the palm of his hand. Some were so big they might have come from rats, or sheep. But there were no sheep left on his father’s Wimmera acres, only wheat, in a good season, and the mice. At times they became a plague, so the ground around the bag shed was alive with them, scurrying this way and that like seekers of asylum. John Winston Coward had to chase them out of his bunker with a stick. But it was all good training and in time these early experiences would make a significant contribution to his success as a conservative leader.  
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