1 October 2008

Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Treasurer

I have an admission to make. I’ve recently been struggling with a compelling desire to find out all I can about Julie Isobel Bishop - not as a virtual stalker, mind; just in the way of some getting-to-know-her research. Luckily, she has a website, julie-bishop.com, on which are depicted flattering photographs of Julie in smart frocks and pearls.

Although you won’t find her birth date on her website – she must be shy in that regard – I can tell you that Julie was born on 17 July 1956 in Lobethal, South Australia, an historic German village 33 km from Adelaide and 410 metres above sea level.

Lobethal’s own website tells us that it is a pleasant and substantial village with its roots deeply embedded in the early history of South Australia. Aside from the curious ecological conundrum of a German village having its roots in the Adelaide Hills, Lobethal seems very boring, even by South Australian standards.

My research reveals that Julie was raised in the Hills as a daughter (like we were assuming a sex-change?) of a long-established farming family. What exactly do they mean when they say, long-established family? It makes them sound like a grove of fruit trees.

Yes, the Bishops first set their roots down in Lobethal in 1867, and haven’t required more than the superphosphate bounty and occasional watering for over a century.

Families are by definition long established. Do they just mean the Bishops haven’t moved around much? After all, even we urban peasants have a history. Do you know of any family that has suddenly sprung, sui generis, into existence in the last week or two? If you do, please alert the relevant authorities. These facts should be recorded.

But back to Julie, who, as you will know, is the first ever female Deputy Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party, and now Shadow Treasurer. This is v important.

Julie was elected to the House of Representatives as the Member for Curtin, Western Australia in 1998, and has been elected again and again and again since. They must like her in Curtin, and I’m sure it’s not just for her dress sense.

Despite its communitarian associations (the federal parliamentary seat, created in 1949, is named after the Australian Labor Party’s much revered wartime Prime Minister, John Curtin) it has always retained Liberal members. Look at the map and you’ll soon see why: the seat comprises the affluent and established western suburbs of Perth in the area between the Swan River and the Indian Ocean.

Centred on Subiaco, Curtin includes Mt Hawthorn, Floreat, Leederville, West Perth, Nedlands, Dalkeith, Peppermint Grove and Claremont Beach. These places even sound expensive, don’t they? It is in these locales that reside such emblems of taste and style as Alan Bond and Rose Hancock.

Julie, I think you'll agree, l
ooks comparatively young for 52 (I reckon she’d be a swimmer, and I hear she works out). Her electorate has the highest percentage of people aged 65 or more in Western Australia. So no wonder she looks young - everyone else in her electorate is beyond pension age.

And I note that, though born in SA, Julie first made her mark in Perth. Just like that famous political pensioner, Bob Hawke. I wonder if she plays around like Bob did?

To find out, I thought I’d examine her schooling. Her website tells us that Julie was educated at the St Peter's Collegiate Girls' School, an Anglican educational facility in the foothills of Adelaide's Eastern Suburbs.

I can reveal that St Peter’s was founded in 1894 by the Community of the Sisters of the Church. You may also be interested to know that, as girls graduate from St Peter’s, they become Old Scholars. (A bit different to my old school, Cumberland High in northwest Sydney, graduates from which were referred to as Truants.)

Trivial Pursuit question: What other former federal Liberal Party Minister is also an Old Scholar of St Peter’s? Answer: No, not Alexander Downer; it’s Senator Amanda Vanstone! Who’d have guessed? She is older than Julie, and not nearly as svelte and pretty. I bet Amanda was the goalkeeper in the hockey team. I wonder did they get on at school?

The school website says the Sisters who opened the school (St Peter’s, not Cumberland High) were Englishwomen who had joined the Anglican Sisterhood founded in 1870 by Miss Emily Ayckbowm, who originally taught at St Trinian’s…(OK, I made that last bit up).

The website also notes that Julie’s Alma Mater provides five personalised buses to pick up and drop off your daughter from your door. Personalised? What, so the girls get to spray their own Tags on the windows and body panels? Cool.

The destinations and routes are West Lakes, Tea Tree Gully, Southern, Golden Grove and the Adelaide Hills. (I wonder which one Julie took: Adelaide Hills? Or was she picked up? Picked up, I would guess.)

School bus tickets for St Peter’s can be purchased from the School Shop.

This is nice, isn’t it? For St Peter’s girls, there’s no lugging a backpack or, as I did, a Samsonite case 4km home after missing the sole Harris Park Bus Company death trap, built circa 1946; the one from which all student passengers had to disembark if it were to manage the climb up Bettington Road, North Rocks.

Do you think they might let a middle-aged atheist male who attended a state high school in Sydney on for a ride with the girls in a St Peter’s bus? Purely for research purposes, mind. No, more likely just Old Scholars, I’d say.

And maybe Alexander Downer. He’d be considered safe.

As well as an excellent school bus service, current facilities at St Peter’s include:
· A heated Swimming Pool (outdoors – 25 metres)
· Six Tennis Courts and an Oval (approximate size: two soccer pitches)
· A Multipurpose Sports Courts, Fitness Courts & Gymnasium
· Art Spaces (with spray cans?), Music Studios and the School Hall
· A Chapel, School Museum and Boardroom
· A Lecture Theatre (seating 140)
· A Health Care Centre (with three beds; but only for the girls, OK); and
· The School Shop, selling 2nd hand textbooks & uniforms (for the scholarship girls)

No Pony Club, alas. But the school can host Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals for Old Scholars. While there is no public record of Julie marrying at St Peter’s, it must be a comfort to know she has somewhere welcoming to go to when she dies.

A most entertaining and informative history of the school, Not Saints, But Girls (just in case we were wondering), was written by Dr Janet Phillips and published in 1994. Copies are also available from the School Shop. Goodo.

We can tell Dr Phillips, senior lecturer in History at Flinders University, is a serious scholar, as she has also published (with Peter Phillips), 'History from Below: women's underwear and the rise of women's sport', in the Fall 1993 issue of the Journal of Popular Culture.

Speaking of garments, the school makes it very clear that all St Peter’s girls are required to own a blazer. In Terms 2 and 3 the blazer must be worn to Chapel and assembly. And the jumper may not be worn as the outer garment outside the school grounds at any time.

Quite right, too. Wearing their jumper without a blazer is something those state high school girls would do. I wonder if Julie still has her school blazer? Does she still occasionally dress up in it? I hope she does. Without the jumper. Or a frock.

* * *

Right out of school, Julie attended the University of Adelaide, where apparently she was elected secretary of the Law School Students' Association. There she had a direct role in organising the essential events in the Law School calendar, including (and I quote) "the pub crawls down Hindley Street and Rundle Mall, the Law School picnic at McLaren Vale and the Law School ball at Burnside Town Hall".

Oh yes, she could be a rager, blazer or not. After completing a Bachelor of Laws in 1978, Julie practised law, joining an Adelaide law firm, Mangan Ey & Bishop.

Was the Bishop bit a coincidence, I wonder, or was it added when she became a partner of the firm at just 26?
It wouldn’t have been a family law firm, by any chance? Surely I detect here no whiff of nepotism or filial privilege …

In the Sydney Morning Herald of 7 September 2007, Mark Davis wrote of Ms Bishop that,

‘Julie reported for her first day's work in February 1979 as an articled clerk at a small city law firm with ribbons in her hair and stars in her eyes.

The young lawyer in the Liberty print dress was sent straight to the Supreme Court, where one of the firm's partners was defending a man accused of murder. Nearly three decades later, Bishop still recalls every detail of that first assignment as a 22-year-old.

The defendant, she said, “was accused of shooting his wife seven times in the back with a pump-action rifle on a Sunday morning in full view of suburban Adelaide." And how did it feel to walk into Adelaide jail to take instructions from her client? “It was terrifying. I found it to be the most soulless, heartless place I could ever imagine.”

Gee, and there I was expecting South Australian prisons to comprise inviting brick and timber buildings with charming courtyards gardens; sort of like St Peter’s, just with higher walls.

Mark continued, “From the family orchard perched in the hills to the bleak stone walls of the old jail down on the city's plains, the contrast between Bishop's upbringing and the reality of criminal law was marked.”

Would that be because of the Liberty print dress, or the ribbons in her hair?

“But”, Mark concludes, “It did not dissuade this young lawyer on the move.”

Gosh, no. Primed after a few years for the legal and social whirl of the west coast, in 1983 Julie took her frocks and bags and accessories and moved to Perth where she practised as a commercial litigation solicitor with Robinson Cox, now Clayton Utz (no yucky criminal law, there). She became a partner of Clutz in 1985, and managing partner in 1994.

In 1996 Julie attended Harvard Business School (yup, the one in Cambridge, Mass) and completed the Advanced Management Program for Senior Managers. Then she was admitted as a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management. The ribbons had gone, but the print frocks remained.

Over the years Julie has held a number of positions, including Chair of the Western Australia Town Planning Appeals Tribunal, member of Murdoch University Senate, member of the board of the Anglican Schools Commission (qu’elle surprise), and a director of SBS.

She has twice participated as an Election Observer for the Commonwealth of Nations in recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Zimbabwe. Encouragingly, on these trips there is no mention of frocks, printed or otherwise. Not even alligator-skin handbags.

Of course, Julie served in the Cabinet of the erstwhile Coalition Government as Minister for Education, Science and Training and as the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues. Before that, she was Minister for Ageing.

Now she has become the Shadow Treasurer. And as soon as she’s appointed, what do those nasties on the Treasury benches do, cheered on by media meanies? They poke fun at Julie because she doesn’t know the current interest rate. Well, why should she? She doesn’t have a loan. Next they’ll be expecting her to know the price of bread and milk and petrol. But c’mon, she’d have a housekeeper for all that.

I mean, really. She didn’t go to the Harvard Business School to learn that stuff. Julie can’t help it if she’s rich and privileged and out of touch. And her constituents obviously don’t mind. Look at her CV, they say, it must run to more than a dozen pages - 8pt, narrow type.

Prior to her appointment to the Ministry, Julie was Ambassador of the Muscular Dystrophy Association in WA, on the Council of Governors of the Lions Ear and Hearing Institute, a patron of CanTeen, and vice patron of Westcare Incorporated.

Julie was also on the Board of the Cancer Foundation WA, and she remains a patron and active member of many business, cultural and sporting organisations in her electorate. It just goes on and on and on. The civic service and social whirling never let up.

The NNDB website helpfully notes the following essential information about Julie:
· Gender: Female (Yup, definitely no sex change)
· Race or Ethnicity: White (bread)
· Sexual orientation: Straight (Tick, for hetero guys)
· Occupation: Politician (No doubt there)
· And her boyfriend is Peter Nattrass, Mayor of Brisbane (Cohabiting).

Hey, what? Cohabiting! But, even worse, Rottentomatoes.Com says she is married to the current Lord Mayor of Perth, Dr Peter Nattrass.

Hold on. Is this the same Peter Nattrass? How many are there? Could there be a pair of them, mayors of different cities? Is she two-timing doppelgangers across the continent? Or did he move?

And what else happened? Have they married? I didn’t know anything about this last bit. I’m sure she doesn’t wear a wedding ring. I’m, I’m, devastated

Actually, NNDB, an American website that clearly wouldn’t know Brisbane from Barbados, got the city wrong (it is Perth, so I guess there’s only one Peter Nattrass after all).

Rottentomatoes.com got it wrong, too – Mr Nattrass is an ex-Mayor, and it appears the married bit was also incorrect. They’ve been partners for about 13 years. Phew.

And I’ve heard Mr N is way older than Julie, like about 104. So she’d be getting a bit bored with him by now, wouldn’t she? Yeah, I reckon he might be struggling to keep up.

* * *

I know what you’re thinking: this guy just needs to get over the Adelaide Hills family; the high church religion; the private girls’ school; the law firms; the Harvard bloody Business School; the Liberal Party membership; the excessive good works; the frocks; her sleeping with an ex-Mayor; and come to terms with the fact that he fancies a (slightly) older Tory woman.

Oh yeah. Sure, it’s easy to say. But you don’t know how hard this is for me. I have issues; and my partner has even more issues. And not because my partner’s a man. She isn’t.

My partner is blond, like Julie; she is attractive like Julie (no, what am I saying!! She’s way more attractive than Julie); she is smart and accomplished like Julie (but in a quiet way); and she’s three years younger.

So what issues could my partner have with Ms Bishop?

Don’t start me. My partner’s never met her - she doesn’t even know I have feelings for Julie - yet already, like Tatie Danielle, she hates her.

Actually, hate might be a bit harsh; its more that just seeing Ms Bishop on the TV news or current affairs sets her off.

What could the source of this enmity be? After all, both attended private girls schools (although my partner’s was Catholic). Each is a university-educated, middle class Anglo-Celtic woman with good teeth, stylish hair and a pleasant disposition. They’re both socially integrated. No obvious dysfunction – no history of abuse or drugs, no criminal record.

I’m sure, like my partner, Julie would make a polite and engaging dinner companion. Surely their similarities exceed their differences?

Ah, but here the similarities end. See, just as with a lot of lefty women, what my partner can’t tolerate about the first female deputy leader of the Federal Liberal Party is not Julie herself, but the things she stands for.

First, Julie should understand that the point about going to a high church girls’ school is to repudiate it. This is the only fair and decent thing to do.

Second is just her general, all round smugness. One should learn not to wallow in one’s advantages. It is unseemly.

Third is the shameless advocacy for WA wealth and privilege. That is tacky.

Fourth is her Alligator-skin handbag approach to nature and the environment.

Fifth is the calculatingly Protestant CV full of good works.

Sixth is her public adoration of the irksome reactionary, Sir Charles Court – former Liberal Premier of Western Australia - with whose death, Julie writes, ‘the State lost its greatest visionary’.

Seventh, the Harvard effin’ Business School.

Eighth, perhaps Julie’s eyes are set just a tad too deep for her to be thought truly beautiful…

Oh, how can I admit I fancy a woman, even from a safe distance, who is a prospective object of loathing of my one true love?

What’s the solution? Forget her?

If only I could. But in quiet moments my mind wanders off without me, my fingers drift back to type in ‘julie-bishop.com’, and I’m lost again in a sea of smiles and print dresses and agreeable community events in West Perth. Wishing I could counsel her, over a dinner in Peppermint Grove, on the simple joys of a middle class, left-of-centre life.

Or what about a quick drive down to Canberra for a ‘chance’ meeting, maybe in the members’ pool of Parliament House, my clutching a bunch of yellow roses and a bottle of Pol Roger, (Cuvee Winston Churchill, mais non)? But how would I gain surreptitious entry at precisely the right time? I don’t have a pass to Julie’s life.

Anyway, I’m sure there would be a bevy of guards and attendants keeping an eye out for all the potential, pathetic, middle-aged Julie stalkers. God, I think I might even be beginning to understand the allure Maggie Thatcher had for the likes of Clive James. Weird. And more than a trifle embarrassing.

Hell, I’m not coping with this. Either I’m going to have to get over it, or publicly reveal my peculiar attraction. Just give me some time to think about how, OK? I’m still struggling.

And there’s a cranky blond lefty in the house to consider. Fortunately, I have a bit of time. I just heard the front door slam. I think my partner’s just gone out to buy some bread and milk.


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