Thursday, June 02, 2011

Flat drinks with His Excellency

So just as I was falling sick on Tuesday evening, I was obliged to attend a reception at Government House in honour of the 50th birthday of Amnesty International. I changed into my suit at work, and went over to the taxi rank. The first vehicle was a van. I went and hopped into the normal cab behind, which wasn't easy as the metal railing along the rank seems designed to prevent this. I asked the cabbie if it was OK - I felt it would be weird to hire a van for just myself. I didn't even have a bag I could consider as "freight". He indicated that I should get in the van. So, I arrived at Government House looking like I had come to clean the pool.

Nevertheless, I joined a knot of shivering strangers outside the castellated clock tower, assuming they must be other Amnesty members. The word had gone around that at six o'clock we would be admitted to the tower, where a Braided Functionary would tell us what was required of us. On the Governor's turf, it's Governor's Rules. You queue up holding your invitation upside down so Braided Functionary 2 can read it and announce you, as you step in and shake hands with His Excellency and the Mrs.

A few years ago when we needed a new governor, the premier appointed Richard Butler, the international diplomat, who had spent hardly any time in Tasmania. He was an unmitigated disaster who offended everyone, and was essentially paid $650,000 to resign. He was replaced by the then Chief Justice, William Cox (shout out to his niece Anna!) When he retired the next Chief Justice, Peter Underwood, was bumped along to be Governor. You get the feeling that since the Butler Fiasco, only eminent local wiggy types are to be trusted with the keys to the big house.

So we filed in and shook hands with the gubernatorial couple, and filed into a large reception room. There were probably 100 Amnesty people there - lots of rank and file people like myself. The consensus was that they had just invited everybody. There were drinks - OJ, G&T or small glasses of flat-looking beer. For some reason I took the beer. The nibbles were just OK. His Excellency made a nice speech about human rights. At seven, a clock went 'bong', the fresh drinks were whisked away, and the food platters quietly disappeared. After a while functionaries began circulating, just quietly mentioning to selected influential groups that it was time to go, and let His Excellency and Mrs Underwood have dinner and watch Winners and Losers.

The rest of us got the message and joined the tide of human-rights-loving volunteers, who flowed out into the night, debating what to have for dinner and negotiating lifts home.

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