Books, Non-Fiction

‘Double Dissolution – Heartbreak and Chaos on the Campaign Trail’ by Lee Zachariah book extract

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Lee Zachariah is a writer who has worked across film, television and journalism and has written on politics and the arts for Vice, Junkee, The Age and The Guardian. He co-hosted the ABC2 film comedy series The Bazura Project, and has written for The Chaser, The Checkout ,The Hamster Decides and Mad As Hell.

His new book, Double Dissolution – Heartbreak and Chaos on the Campaign Trail, sees him following the recent Federal Election trail in the wake of a relationship break-up.

He writes: “I spent two months driving around Australia, meeting politicians and voters, navigating big cities and hidden towns, and having some of the strangest encounters of my life. If you want a snapshot of Australian politics in 2016, it’s that. If you want an emotive journey of painful introspection, it’s that too. If you want a road trip journal, it’s absolutely that. If you want a bunch of jokes, then I’ve got you covered”.


19 June 2016

In old animated features and animated shorts, studios would save money and time by repeating backgrounds. Road Runner would speed past the same blurred background, or some character would walk down a hallway with the same table, the same painting repeated over and over again. I am now convinced Australia ran out of money before it got to the Sturt Highway.

I’ve never travelled the specific trip west from Canberra to Adelaide, so this is a corner of the world I’ve not seen before. I am, as ever, filled with awe at how Australia can be so beautiful yet so fucking dull.

After a couple of nights back in Canberra, I climb back on the road bound for South Australia. It’s going to be about fourteen hours of driving in one hit. The day before, my cousin Natalia tells me that I should really stop putting off dealing with everything, and all this driving isn’t the cathartic undertaking I think it is; it’s just a delaying tactic. Today’s journey is 1200 kilometres. Yeah, but what a delaying tactic.

I romanticise the hell out of the remote towns spotted along the motorways – the strange qualities they all share, from the abandoned water slides to the anachronistic palm trees lining some gaudy pastel motel with an uninviting but ostentatious swimming pool. The over-lit roadhouses that look like gigantic ceilinged oases, petrol stations with diners attached, big enough to allow road trains to maneouvre about, but also big because there’s nothing else around. Real estate is not the commodity here that it is in the city.

I’m smart enough to top up the tank at every opportunity, knowing that it could be a while before the next one. But I’m also picky enough to dismiss the food at one diner as looking too greasy, not realising that it’s several hundred kilometres to the next food outlet.

I make the journey by the signs of candidates that sporadically adorn the highway, affixed to a pole or a fence. I drive through Minister for Health Sussan Ley, through Minister for Workforce Participation Sharman Stone, through Nationals MP Andrew Broad and Liberal MP Tony Pasin. We rarely have anything complimentary to say about our elected officials, so I feel compelled to point out that they are all very picturesque. Particularly Tony Pasin. He’s definitely had some work done.

I manage four states/territories in a single day. After leaving the ACT, I pass through New South Wales until I hit the northern edge of Victoria. The highway takes me across to Mildura, a town I visited about a decade ago with an ex-girlfriend. Although, at the time she was a current girlfriend. Otherwise it would have been weird.

Shorten isn’t looking too bad. They’ve clearly worked on his image a lot, and I heard someone say he does an hour of speech coaching each day.

Everyone else in the world seems to have figured out how to deal with the changing nature of relationships, but I’m convinced my brain has been wired in such a way so as not to cope with such a concept. It’s not that I expect every relationship to exist in a static, permanent state, but there is an elusive emotional vocabulary I don’t possess. I don’t understand how friends become strangers, how intimacy becomes distance. And aside from one Fiona Apple song, I’ve not seen any indication that anyone else in the world has this problem. Is this one of those things that we all have but don’t talk about, or is this such a unique problem that it’s going to be named after me in future medical textbooks? Look, a legacy is a legacy, I can’t be choosy.

The one hope I have, the one hint that I might actually be healthy enough to be able to move on from things, is that I’ve been able to surgically remove the memory of that Mildura holiday from the relationship it’s associated with. The distinct lack of trauma in that particular relationship break-up may be a contributing factor, though. I can’t rule that out.

I want to take advantage of being here and locate that maguffin of sanity, but my timing is off and the sun sets right before I get to the town. I see familiarity in the main strip, but I can’t remember the location of the resort we stayed at, and I’m not going to start hunting around for the wineries or restaurants we went to. I foolishly assumed that passing through the town would provoke some sort of answer, an easy key, like picking up enlightenment via a drive- thru window. But just like back on the Gold Coast, the place I’m thinking of exists only in my memory, and whatever it is I’m driving through now is wrong. I’ve come to it in the wrong year.

The next four hours are mostly a straight line, with dark clouds obscuring what I assume is the horizon. I do the thing I’d always do as a child and convince myself they’re mountains, and marvel at their height and width. It’s soon pitch black, and I can’t see the scenery, and this may be the only time in my life I ever travel this road, so I have a sense of misplaced frustrated urgency about everything I’m missing. How do people cope with life being so crushingly finite?

There’s just enough moonlight to glint off the tapered western tail of the Murray River and Lake Bonney, just enough to tease me about the view I’m missing. Haunting dead trees stick up out of the water, silhouetted and sinister.

I stop at a fast-food place to use the bathroom, and see the evening news reporting on Labor’s campaign launch. Bill Shorten shakes hands with Bob Hawke, hugs Paul Keating, and kisses Julia Gillard. Thank God Kevin Rudd isn’t there, or the escalation of affection would have given this campaign an alarming tone.

Shorten isn’t looking too bad. They’ve clearly worked on his image a lot, and I heard someone say he does an hour of speech coaching each day. This is clearly going to be the most successful election loss Labor’s ever had.

It’s very late when I enter Adelaide. I’ve never entered the city from the north, so this is all unfamiliar. And the election is on here like it’s on nowhere else. Every single electricity pole along every street is plastered with candidates. And if you think by ‘every single electricity pole’ I mean ‘a high number’ or even ‘three, the minimum threshold to call something “every single”’, then allow me to stress that I really do mean every single damn one.

Labor’s Penny Wong, and the Liberals’ Christopher Pyne, and the Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young, and Nick Xenophon Team’s Nick Xenophon, and a lot of faces I don’t recognise, all beam down at me with smiles powered by the electricity their 12-metre wooden spines are propping up. The streetlights are merely a tangential function of these poles, now solely here to prop up the candidates until the early hours of the 3rd of July.

This is an edited extract from Double Dissolution: Heartbreak and Chaos on the Campaign Trail by Lee Zachariah (Echo Publishing)

You can buy the book here


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