Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Darwin daze

Five years since I was last in Darwin I feel the hot air curtain as I step off the aircraft.  It's a welcome contrast to the 9 degrees Celsius I left behind in Melbourne.  I was in town for a day's work but went up for the weekend before so I could acclimatise and enjoy a tropical mini break.

I was met at the airport gate by a former colleague, which was impressive because the flight has arrived twenty minutes early.  She had seen some backpackers walking (a substantial distance) to the airport and picked them up.  They were French and they were chefs and they were out of money and on their way to Bali.  So there she was.  I was the only one whose "people" were there to meet me.  I felt happy.

As we drove to her place, I was dazzled by the lush green jungle that lazed casually by the roadside.  I remembered how much I'd loved the place.  The halo of frizz was already taking hold of my lustrous locks and I remembered how much I hated the place.

I had come to Darwin on Territory Day in 2007 to lead the "Your Rights at Work" campaign for the CPSU (Community and Public Sector Union).  My focus was the Darwin centred seat of Solomon which was held by the Country Liberal Party (CLP) on a wafer thin margin.  The seat was seen as essential to Labor's federal electoral success.

Six months later my work was done, the Labor candidate victorious, and I returned to Melbourne happy to escape the build up to the wet season.  I'd worked hard, but somehow the tropical lifestyle gave life an air of permanent holidays.  I'd made friends and embraced life.

My host had invited me to the trades and labour council's (Unions NT) annual May Day dinner on Saturday night.  I accepted with some dread initially.  The world of organised labour seemed a long way away and I wasn't sure I really wanted to go; but I was staying at her house and good grace dictated that I had to accept.

My dinner ticket with the slogan "Secure Jobs, better future.  Every Territorian deserves a secure job"
(c) divacultura 2012
In the end I was really pleased I did go.  I reconnected with people I had campaigned with five years ago and I met the next generation of young organisers and delegates who don't even know my name.  It was great to see this.  It's an election year in the Territory and time already spent in government is going to make it difficult for Labor to return to power. The dinner speeches were heavy on politics and it was great to reach the awards part of the evening.

My favourite awards are about workplace delegates who volunteer their time and often stick their neck out to support their colleagues.  It's where I started and I know how hard it can be.  A long standing delegate from one of the blue collar unions was recognised with a lifetime achievement award.  The story of his contribution was told by a fellow delegate with good humour and respect.  He was described as turning up to meetings with his legendary bag.  That bag carried every document relevant to every determination, decision and agreement covering workers in his workplace.  He knew the history of every issue and why certain agreements had been struck.  He knew the purpose and intention sitting behind every line in every document and could produce these documents at a moment's notice - complete with notations and coffee stains.

The room erupted into applause as a man with long grey hair and beard, wearing black pants and a black shirt took the podium and accepted his award.  He made his way to the microphone to make his acceptance speech and couldn't speak.  He was overwhelmed at the recognition and managed to just say "thank you" as his emotion spilled over.  These two words carried so much meaning in their humility.  It was a wonderful end to the formal part of the evening.

The dinner was held at Sky City Casino.  The view at dusk from the picture windows was wonderful.
Darwin city skyline at dusk - from Sky City Casino, third floor.
(c) divacultura 2012
The room looked wonderful too, with union banners on display all around the room.  Here's the old PSU Northern Territory Branch banner:
The traditional PSU banner depicting the various occupations of members.
(c) divacultura 2012
I didn't make it to the May Day march on Monday afternoon.  I was resting in my air conditioned hotel room.  The sound of bagpipes pierced my cyclone proof windows (what would a march be without the bagpipes?) and I went down to the esplanade to enjoy an evening walk and take in the festivities.  There was an air of celebration and family.  A combined union band was playing funk and blues and they were fantastic.  So was the sound.

It's interesting to revisit not only a place, but a time of one's life.  Some former colleagues recoiled when I told them that I am now a business owner and it's my company's first birthday this week. As though my values that I slaved in support of had been surgically removed and I was now a member of a different class, an enemy class.  That was disappointing and I wanted to scream at them.  Instead, I took my complimentary $5 chip and made quite a bit on the money wheel.

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