Naylor's Canberra
freshly squeezed pulp noir

Wednesday, July 02, 2003  

Instalment 21: pages 85-88 [Elliot chats with Eva about the Minister's past]

Eva muted the television’s gleeful home renovators with a deft wrist-flick, her attention falling on me with spotlight-intensity. The gossip-hound awakes, I thought. She whistled.

“Hold the phone - Marina’s boss and her Dad are old pals?” she asked rhetorically. “What’ve you got there?”

“Background and bios,” I said, passing the Minister’s entry to Eva.

Who’s Who provided the facts in its telegrammatic abbreviations and double-column, close print. It boiled down to this: The Hon. Milton Michael Dawes; AM 1990, LLB (Hons) (Sydney), BCL (Oxon), QC; Federal Minister for Justice and Customs since 1998; Member, House of Representatives for Gunning, New South Wales since 1989; son of: Garfield Dawes (1914 - 1958) and Libby Morris; b. Sept. 14, 1946, Yass, New South Wales … there were details his education at Monaro Grammar, Sydney University and Oxford (New South Wales Rhodes Scholar of 1965), a career as a solicitor (and later, barrister) practising in Sydney and Canberra, then various posts with an overseas bank. A career that just kept peaking, cresting height after height. Then a sudden return to Australia and a bizarre career-switch, becoming Mayor of his hometown Yass. Yass, both small farming town and seat of squattocracy, just over Canberra’s border. The move coincided with the birth of last daughter. From the Mayoralty he enjoyed a steady ascent through the party ranks to Federal Parliament and the Ministry. His hobbies include car restoration and golf. He was a member of the Royal Canberra Golf-course.

“And Carmichael?” she asked.

“It’s all here,” I said, tapping the other page. “Born in Canberra, 1946; attended Monaro Grammar and the University of Sydney, honours in law. Went through private schooling and law school alongside the Minister. From his young days brought up with him and all that. They’re both golfers, both Royal Canberra members - the one decent course in Canberra, and on weekends David Carmichael lives there. It’s all a hell of a coincidence not to be related.”

Eva, face thoughtful, regarded me silently. I passed Carmichael’s entry to her and continued my ranting: “Why didn’t David just wave the old school tie and tip me the wink? Give me the real reason he doesn’t want the Minister embarrassed over Marina?”

Eva sipped her gin and tonic: “Other people from your year 12 class did law at the ANU. You’ve kept in touch with all of them, have you?”

“Fair point,” I conceded, “but I don’t employ their daughters, and we don’t belong to the same golf-course.”

“Maybe David just didn’t want you thinking Marina got the job through cronyism,” she said. “Still, the Minister’s career’s a bit interesting, isn’t it? High flier returns to country roots and slogs his way up through the hard graft of party politics? Local government has to be about the hardest path to a federal seat.”

“Yeah,” I said, “if he’s as good as his early CV, it’s a wonder he’s not Attorney General. He’s done well in the media out of justice and customs with the sex-slave trafficking taskforce, but it’s -”

“Strictly a second stringer’s portfolio?” mused Eva. “If he was that crash hot as a banker, he wouldn’t have come back at all – let alone to Yass. He’d still be offshore somewhere, making squillions. Why’d he do it?”

“Just before the birth of his third daughter, maybe it was a family thing? Lower-stress lifestyle?” I suggested.

Eva shook her head. “Your thinking from the wrong generation’s perspective. This guy’s a classic early-born, front row seat, white, male baby-boomer. Greediest generation ever spawned. Three daughters to raise like princesses, put through private education and marry off. How’s he going to afford the ponies and foreign schools and everything else if he’s labouring away playing mayor in Yass? No way is he going to slip out of the fast-lane by choice. I scent a scandal.”

Enjoying to her pop-psychology, Eva moved in for the kill.

“Then there’s his mother,” she added.

I blinked.

“What?” I asked.

“If her name’s in bold she’s got her own entry right? And his father died when he was only twelve. If she didn’t remarry, the fifties would have been a tough time to raise a kid alone in a country town. If she’s got her own entry, though, she was successful at something. Think about, he loses his dad, mum does it tough: this guy knows something about struggle, he’s seen his mum get on with her life through sheer determination. With her watching, how’s he ever going to choose family time over his career?”

She pulled up with a flourish, ending both her flight of fancy and the illustrative hand gestures that threatened to douse the lounge in gin.

“Pure speculation,” I said. “Her name’s Morris. Looks to me like she remarried.”

“You’re just jealous of my detective work,” she parried smugly. “Look into it, librarian. I bet you I’m right: a scandal, and a fatherless man trying to live up to the expectations of a successful mother.”

“Hmmm,” I conceded, generously, gears turning over in my mind.

“What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking I’ve seen the name Libby Morris somewhere already.”

“Where, exactly?”

“No idea. It’ll come to me. Anyway, it’s time I made some calls. Marina’s mates in Melbourne and other ex-boyfriends. Should’ve done it by now. Guess I didn’t want to admit Stephen might’ve been some help.”

“Because you accept help so graciously,” she muttered, filling our lounge-room once more with the exuberant sound of women stencilling floral patterns around skirting boards. I ignored her, and padded into the kitchen to find the phone.

We weren’t a married couple, we just skirmished that way.



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