Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

Limbo dancers

Soon after Julia Gillard called an election, back in July, she predicted that the contest would end in a photo finish. At the time I thought she was mad. Surely the Australian people would not nearly-elect Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition?

Since when, a lot of proverbial water has flowed over the dam, and voters have done just that. As I write, the ALP and LNP both have 73 seats in the House of Representatives: one of them needs 76 to govern. Labor's 73 includes a Green, and the Liberals' 73 includes a Nationals Western Australia, ostensibly a member of the Liberal/National Party Coalition but one who is threatening to be a crossbencher.

Then there are four Independents. One of them, from Tasmania, always seems to be set apart from the others, who are described as the 'rural' or 'country' Independents. This may be because Tasmania is another world - and a very beautiful one by all accounts - or because he is eccentric in a different way from the others. Two of the rurals are from New South Wales and they may well be good men. The third is from Queensland and... how can I put it... speaks forcefully on behalf of the socially and politically remote communities of the far north.

The election was held on 21 August. Today is 1 September and Australia is still in limbo. There may be no conclusion for at least another week. And still all the votes haven't been counted, only 80-something per cent. The counting is complicated by the Two-Party-Preferred system of voting. (If you want to understand exactly how this works, go to australianpolitics.com.)

The past week and a half has seen an elaborate tooing and froing and sidestepping of Indies, first to Ms Gillard's offices or her government departments, and then to Mr Abbott's and his cohorts'. Each has been wooed in turn by politicos desperate for their particular party to acquire another seat here or there to enable it to reach the magic 76. Then they have put their Independent heads together. And I daresay they've consulted their constituents, the Queenslander valiantly trekking from Canberra to Charters Towers and back, deftly demonstrating to the media as he did so the 'tyranny of distance' (
The Age).

And in the meantime the Australian people are on tenterhooks. Actually, the vast majority of them have probably totally lost interest in an election they were never very enthusiastic about in the first place. The election campaign was variously described as a soap opera; as having little substance, consisting of a series of often-repeated, and certainly irritating, sound bites ('stop the boats', 'moving Australia forward') rather than substantial discussion of important issues such as climate change; and as being all about personalities rather than parties promoting considered policies.

The parallels with the UK election experience back in May are obvious: the first potential hung parliament in goodness knows how long; and the limbo-land following polling day while deals are wheeled out and back. But, whatever you think about the Liberal Democrat MPs' choice of the Tories as Parliamentary bedfellows in the UK, at least there were quite a few of them (62), and their party has consistently polled a not insignificant number of votes (22% this year) in elections as far back as I can remember. They have long argued, rightly, for proportional representation.

I know what I would think had I voted for the ALP or the LNP and then a handful - a small handful - of characters suddenly assumed the role of 'kingmakers' and held guns to the leaders' heads in the form of 'no mining tax', 'no carbon tax' or restrictive import tariffs, or even made more acceptable demands such as a nice new hospital here and there or anti-pokie (poker machines) legislation. I would want Ms Gillard to 'go to the country', as we say in the Old Country, and call another election.

I leave you with the prospect of this man calling the tune in a minority government...

Roadtrip 3: Into the outback

The Magpie family