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Julia Gillard's 'bungalow politics'

Nick Bryant | 11:40 UK time, Monday, 5 July 2010

Abraham Lincoln had his log-cabin. Julia Gillard has her bungalow in suburban Melbourne. And already one of the defining images of her brief term in office was her return there over the weekend, when Klieg lights illuminated its red-brick facade as she fumbled in her handbag for the door-keys and then let herself in.

It looked like something out the 1950s, like someone returning from an afternoon at the bingo hall. But perhaps that was the idea. It is hard to think of how her arrival home could have been more successfully choreographed to portray the new prime minister as part of mainstream Australia.

There's been a lot of commentary here about how Julia Gillard is not married (her boyfriend since 2006 has been Tim Mathieson, a hairdresser whom she met in a salon in Melbourne), and how she is open about her atheism - both of which arguably might make her unelectable in the more conservative states of America. But here, neither has caused much of a stir.

Since she had conviction when talking about her lack of religious convictions - and was respectful of compatriots who have a faith - the debate stopped there. Ditto the boyfriend factor. There's been the suggestion that she has delayed moving into the PM's residence, The Lodge, until - and if - she wins an electoral mandate because of the fear that Australians are not yet ready for an unmarried couple living under the same prime ministerial roof. But again, you wonder how many people would truly care.

At least she has now taken up residence in the prime minister's office, and again you sensed the hand of her image-makers when she added her own personal touches - a Sherrin football, the type used in Aussie Rules, her Western Bulldogs scarf (the Bulldogs are her Aussie Rules team), a Melbourne Storm scarf (a nod perhaps towards the rugby league-loving states of New South Wales and Queensland), some gumboots and an Akubra hat. You can get the full list here

Admittedly, she did not bring along a barbeque or Victa lawn mower, but it's still a pretty good collection of Australiana. And again an attempt, you sense, to make Australia's first female prime minister come across as the Australian everyman.

Over the weekend, she went further by saying that Australians who were worried about the arrival of boat people, the most paranoiac issue in Australian politics, should not be labelled intolerant or racist. She also said that "political correctness" should be "swept out of the way" in the national conversation about immigration.

While it may strike some urban Labor supporters as a strong blast of the dog whistle - as opposed to a fair shake of the sauce bottle - it will doubtless have resonance in some of the suburban seats, like Lindsay in Sydney, which are always seen as a bellwether on contentious issues like immigration. She'll unveil a new asylum seeker policy later in the week, and appears to be preparing the ground for a shift to the right.

To end where we started, with Lincoln's log cabin, the Americans have always loved their presidents to personify a uniquely American story. The strength of a personal narrative has often been the key to their political success. From her pride at her immigrant "Ten Pound Pom" roots to her Western Bulldogs scarf, from her red-brick suburban bungalow to her Akubra hat, Julia Gillard is presenting a quintessentially Australian story - and therein lies much of her appeal.


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