xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage

Friday, 17 September 2021

Horses for courses. Political parties and voting systems.

The Western Australian government has introduced a "One Vote, One Value" system of voting for the Legislative Council, the state's Upper House. No electoral system is perfect, whether it is First Past the Post, Preferential Voting or Proportional Voting. These different systems all have positive and negative aspects. What is certainly true, however, is that governments, of every political persuasion,  favour the electoral system that provides them with the most chance of gaining and retaining political power. 

That was the exact reason why then Australian Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, and the leader of the newly formed Country Party, Earl Paige, introduced preferential voting in 1920. It meant Hughes' conservative United Australia Party and Paige's conservative Country Party, could both safely run candidates in elections against Labor, without splitting the conservative vote.

 If one conservative candidate did not win, then the preferential system of voting allocated the losing conservative candidate's votes to the other conservative candidate, effectively giving some conservative voters two votes. 

Proponents of Preferential Voting argue that this is a more democratic system than the "First Past the Post" voting system because it ensures that the winning candidate  always has more than 50% of the popular vote...even if a lot of those votes are recycled votes that were first cast for a defeated candidate. 

For instance, an election could result in votes being allocated as follows: Labor 45%, United Australia 35% and Country Party 20%. Labor would win the First Past the Post contest, but with less than 50% of the vote. However, in the  Preferential system, most of the Country Party's 25% would be recycled to the United Australia candidate, giving him or her eventual victory, with 55% of the total vote. (with 25% of votes counted twice)

What preferential voting definitely did do was favour the two Australian conservative parties. So much so, that, under various names, these parties have operated in coalition for most of the last 100 years, most recently as the Liberal and National Parties 

Today, though, some conservative politicians are not quite so happy about preferential voting. It enables Greens voters to allocate their preference votes to Labor, if the Green candidate loses...as most of them usually do. 

 Premier McGowan's proposed system gives every Western Australian voter an equal vote in electing members to the Legislative Council. This is an objective Labor has actively promoted for over a century. It is similar to the whole of state voting systems that already operate to elect members of the upper Houses of New South Wales and South Australia.  Of course, Queensland dispensed with its Upper House altogether many years ago. 

Some of McGowan's critics claim his One Vote, One Value system will favour the city, where most of the voters live. However, there is  no doubt that senior  parliamentarians, elected under this system, will be given Ministerial responsiblity for various regions of WA. It will be in their interests to promote and protect regional interests. If they do not, voters will vote accordingly in future elections.

To compare McGowan's "One Vote, One Value system' with the proportional voting Australian system used to elect politicians to the Senate, where each state is given the same number of senators regardless of population, is like comparing Granny Smith apples with cow pats. 

Based on population, NSW would be entitled to many more senators than WA or Tasmania. If that was the constitutional model put forward before the referendum on Federation, it is certain that all  the colonies with smaller populations than NSW and Victoria, would have voted strongly against the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia. 

Under the Constitution, each colony/state is regarded as an equal member of the new Commonwealth, which means each colony/state is entitled to equal representation in the Senate, which was originally named the States' House. Sadly, it did not turn out that way. On many occasions we have seen senators vote as their party dictate, against their own states' interests. That is the nature of party politics.

 Members of the non Labor Party are now arguing strongly against Mr McGowan's "One Vote One Value" system. We may be sure that this is because they do not think the new voting system will be as politically advantageous to them as the regionally weighted previous system was.                                    

 That too, is the nature of party politics. It has been ever thus.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

A Night In Bourbon Street

Basin Street is the street where the elite all meet.                                                                                        Not anymore they don’t. A curvy barmaid is my source of reference. We were seated at a long bar in a noisy, boozy joint on Bourbon Street. It was August 1963. I was in  New Orleans with friends Tony Jones and Murray Paddick. Earlier, we had walked the pulsating streets of the French Quarter, seeking jazz music and a cooling drink or two. It was a steamy, humid summer night. We had made a couple of dry runs past various Bourbon Street bars featuring jazz music  and strip parlours. However there were huge queues outside places advertising such luminaries as clarinettist, Pete Fountain and trumpeter, Al Hirt. Even less luminary jazz musicians  had crowds outside, waiting to get into their venues. So, it is not surprising that in order to quench our thirst, we entered a neon lit bar that boasted as the star attraction a Miss Fifi La Rue, Paris’ Sweetheart. There were no crowds waiting to get in.

We ordered some cold beers.  After a brief chat about the sad demise of “Basin street” with the bar girl, who said she had never heard of it, we settled back as the lights dimmed and the show began. It was a long bar, mirrored at the back. Where a normal bar would stock its booze, this one had a mirrors and a narrow runway. In other words the performers came out and entertained at eyeball level with the patrons. The mirrors gave us cold cash patrons a bird’s eye view...and then some.

 Fifi, the sweetheart of Paris , was not the first act to come out. What came out was old enough to be Fifi’s mother, make that grandmother. The bumps and grinds came out in time to a very scratchy recording of Stormy Weather. By the second chorus, some of the barflies began to express their displeasure at a strip that was mostly tease

Finally, the needle jumped the last scratch at the same time as the lady was making her exit. One man clapped, twice. A couple of drunks jeered. The lady prefaced her exit with a very unladylike sign. At this the two drunks applauded enthusiastically.

After some conversation and few more beers, the lights dimmed once again. Fifi was on her way. Out she came in red, whit and blue shorts, top coat and top hat. The music started. Fifi made her way along the bar, removing some of her accessories as she did so. The drunks yelled. She smiled sweetly at them. As the record player scratched to a halt, Fifi grabbed a hand microphone and, in what we were expected to believe was French accented English, greeted the bar with, “Hi, Y’all. This here’s goin’ to be a swell evenin. Sure glad you all could make it here, this evenin’.

Oh yes, Fifi was French alright. Just like the Tower of Pisa!

The rage of Paris was about twenty years old with a youthful, but experienced figure. After a couple more typical French ballads  like “Bill Bailey” and “Don’t fence me “, Fifi once more strutted along the bar. This time though she was throwing her body into the music, throwing various items of clothing to the floor and making very flirty passes at the drunks, of whom there were many.

At last, she was left wearing just a G-string and black mesh stockings. The rest was Fifi’s  pure, creamy complexion. Unlike the other strippers, though, Fifi did not finish her act with a climactic unveiling. To her that was  just the beginning. The music started again. Fifi shook, shimmied, bumped, vibrated, gyrated, contorted and cavorted for the next twenty minutes. She finished up dancing on the bar  wearing only her New Orleans tan.

Sweat bubbles on her chest began flowing southwards. It was obvious that Fifi was tiring. So were we. As Fifi  started up another bracket of “French Favourites”, dressed only in her birthday suit, we left the bar and made for the exit. As we left, a bleary eyed connoisseur of fine French dancing yelled at the inexhaustible Fifi, "Take it off! Take it off!"                                                                                                                                                                       Well, we had to laugh. Whatever else Fifi had to take off could only be removed by drastic surgery.

Ah, yes. New Orleans, the land of dreams.

NOTE: I travelled overseas with  friends between 1962 and 1964. While I was travelling I kept a journal. In all, I wrote over 86 000 words about my three year long adventure.                                    Strange as it may sound, I have not read that journal, in full, since it was written nearly sixty years ago.                                                                                                                                                               I have certainly glimpsed through it occasionally, usually after I came upon it when I was looking for something else.  That's what happened last week.I glimpsed through it and came upon the Bourbon Street story above.                                                                                                                                                                     Maybe I'll do some more glimpsing in the days to come.



Sunday, 25 July 2021

The intriguing story of Madame Brussels.

Sad to learn that Madame Brussels, that quirky upstairs restaurant at the top end of Melbourne's Bourke Street is closing its doors.  Covid restrictions have affected its daily patronage and the people who opened the restaurant about sixteen years ago have decided to it close down. My wife, Lesley, and I enjoyed dining at Madame Brussels a few years ago. We were cruising on the Queen Mary 2 from Fremantle to Sydney. When we called in to Melbourne to meet  some friends they took us top Madame Brussels for lunch.  

 Madame Brussels had a rather risqué menu and an interesting drinks list. They serve jugs  of  many of the most popular cocktails. A Jug of Pimm’s seemed to be the drink of choice. The young people serving on the tables all wore sporting attire.  Our charming young waitress, wore tennis attire and the muscular hunk who brought us the Pimms wore a Richmond football jumper and black footy shorts. Its advertising brochure promotes the place as Kooky, Kitsch and lots of fun. The inside lounge is fitted out with old world chairs and lounges while the outside deck sits between the tree tops of Bourke Street.  

I was keen to find out more about the lady after whom the place was named so I did some internet surfing. Madame Brussels was actually a notorious brothel madam of the late 19th Century. Her well-appointed brothels were situated in Lonsdale Streets, close to Melbourne’s Parliament House and the political and legal fraternity, from whence came many of her clients.                                                                                                                                                                        In fact, her brothels were referred to as Gentlemen’s Clubs and attracted the city’s political, judicial and police elite. It was said that her business thrived because of the formidable support she had from people in high places. Very high places.

Madame Brussels was born Caroline Lohman in Prussia in 1851. She travelled to England and married George Hodgson, a member of a noble family who was not favourably regarded by some family members. It was probably for this reason that the couple soon sailed to Melbourne where George became a policeman.                                                                                                                                                                              In those goldrush days days Victoria needed policemen and was recruiting enthusiactically to bolster its police force. The one condition was that upon graduation, e newly appointed constables had to serve in a rural area. George became a policeman and was appointed to Mansfield in Ned Kelly country near Beechworth in northern Victoria. He went there on his own.  His wife, the 21 year old Caroline, stayed in Melbourne.

Living alone in Melbourne, the young Caroline had limited choices. She decided to think big. By 1874,  the 24 year old Caroline was known as Madame Brussels, and successfully running a number of brothels, which she continued to do until 1907. 

Why brothels? It was a matter of the choices available to her. She was a young woman in a strange land, with little financial support. She had very restricted job prospects, especially, with her poorly paid policeman husband living so far away from home. Perhaps, running a brothel was by far the best paying job open to a woman in those days.                                                               

 The respectable alternatives were teaching, nursing, secretarial work or even lower paid jobs in workshops or domestic service. It turned out that Caroline was quite skilled at running a brothel, or two, and they proved to be very successful and highly profitable.

Almost twenty years later,  in 1893, husband, George, died of TB. Caroline, who had placed him in a nursing home during his illness, arranged his funeral and wrote a loving death notice in the newspapers about the sad loss of her beloved husband. In the notice she also pointed out that George was connected to the British aristocracy. She continued to put notices in the paper on each anniversary of his death.

In 1895, two years after George  died, she married a much younger man, Jacob Pohl. She was then aged about 44 and Jacob about 30. However, the following year, young Jacob mysteriously disappeared in South Africa when the couple were en-route to visit family in Germany. They were re-united in 1898, when Jacob just as mysteriously showed up once again, only to divorce in 1907 on the grounds of his desertion. Definitely some funny familybusiness going on there.

In her later years, Madame Brussels was vigorously attacked by members of the moral and righteous community as “an accursed procuress”. She was taken to court in 1907. However, she won the sympathy of the court as a benevolent old lady (she was 56), reciting eloquently how she had been wronged.                                                                                                                                                       

No doubt she felt quite comfortable defending herself in the witness box in that Melbourne court house. After all, the Judge, Senior Council, several distinguished jurors and some members of the press were all members of her Gentlemen's Clubs. She was acquitted, but closed her business down that same year and died of diabetes and pancreatitis a year later, in 1908, aged 57 years.

 In a coincidental connection with her first husband’s stint at Mansfield, where the bushranger, Ned Kelly and his family were well known, her lawyer in the 1907 court case was David Gaunson. In 1880, as a member of the Victorian parliament, Gaunson had been one of the leading lights at the large public rallies to have Kelly’s death sentence overturned.                                                                                                                                                                         Surely, someday, someone will write a novel or make a film about the remarkable Caroline Lohman who, as Madame Brussels, rose to wealth and power in Marvellous Melbourne in the second half of the 19th Century. If I was the Casting Director I would be trying to sign up Scarlett Johannsen or Charlize Theron in the starring role.

 It is sad that this saucy, kooky, kitsch and 'lots of fun' cafe is closing down. Hopefully, some courageous, enterprising restaurateur will take it on and keep  Madame Brussels saucily serving customers in upper Bourke Street. Hopefully too, an enterprising author and talented film maker will make fuller and more permanent records of the very colourful and intriguing Madame Brussels.