The first bloke
- 13 June 2011
- From the section Asia-Pacific
The simple fact that we have never before spoken about Australia's "first bloke" is, I suspect, telling, and highlights the more laid back and uncensorious sides of the national personality.
For those unacquainted with the love life of the Australian prime minister, I am referring to Tim Mathieson, her long-term boyfriend who lives with her at The Lodge in Canberra. On Sunday night, he appeared alongside Julia Gillard on Channel Nine's Sixty Minutes, their first joint television interview.
Were I reporting from Washington, a president living in the Executive Mansion with a girlfriend or boyfriend would almost define that presidency. Not quite up there with the first Catholic president or the first African-American, but certainly heading in that direction.
One could easily imagine the more devout television evangelists rushing to the airwaves with apocalyptic warnings that the District of Columbia had become a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, and that the president's moral lapses would cause the mighty American eagle to shed all its feathers. As for Middle America, a "first girlfriend" would still be a hard sell.
Were I reporting from London, I suspect the response would be much more gossipy. The tabloids would have a field day for a start, and scour Tim Mathieson's past to see if it yielded up any skeletal riches. The broadsheets, meanwhile, would be witheringly snooty. Doubtless they would seize upon the fact that the prime minister of the day was dating a hairdresser, and that Julia and Tim met in Heading Out, a salon in Melbourne.
The Australian press has certainly seen the soap operatic potential of the relationship, and there's regular conjecture about when they will tie the knot. They saw the comic potential of his hairdresser roots, if you forgive me that dreadful pun. In the main, however, Aussie journalists have been kinder and more gentle than their British counterparts would have been. That kind of snobbishness does not play so well here.
It says a lot about Australian attitudes on the subject that Ms Gillard's image-makers clearly saw the sit-down interview with Channel Nine as a plus rather than as a negative. With the first anniversary of her prime prime-ministership approaching, and with her personal popularity slumping in the polls, they clearly saw this interview as a way of helping halt her decline. "Just what the spin doctor ordered," was how veteran Sixty Minutes correspondent Charles Wooley jovially introduced his scoop.
The interview remained fairly faithful to this televisual genre. You know the kind of thing. A few prime-time professions of love, a walk around the garden, a quick glimpse at the table where they have breakfast and even a sneak peak inside Tim's tool-shed in the grounds of The Lodge. You can tell a lot about a man by the way he maintains his tool-shed, and the first bloke appears to have declared something of an exclusion zone around his. While Tim took the cameras inside, Julia remained resolutely outside, which will no doubt appeal to a certain demographic - the members of the Australian Men's Shed Association for a start, of which Tim is a patron.
The first bloke is a good listener, we also learnt, which the prime minister attributed to the years he devoted to shampoo and set duties. He also still does her hair, especially early in the morning. He's become an advocate of men's health, and become something of a trivia hound when it comes to the history of The Lodge. They greatly enjoyed attending the royal wedding in London, and declared that they would not marry for political gain.
But I would contend that the most newsworthy thing to report about the interview, from a global viewpoint at least, was its un-newsworthiness. For the response from most Australians to the sight of a first bloke in The Lodge seems to be pretty much the same: "No worries, mate."