Chapter 1

About two weeks before Christmas I received a thick report from Canberra. It was the decadal review of the EPBC Act. I resolved to actually read it by the time I got back to the office on the fourth.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government's central piece of environmental legislation. Section 522A of the Act requires it to be reviewed every 10 years from its commencement. On 31 October 2008 the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts commissioned an independent review of the Act. The review, led by Dr Allan Hawke and supported by an expert panel, was undertaken during 2008—09. The department provided secretariat support for the review. The review assessed the operation of the EPBC Act and the extent to which its objectives have been achieved. The interim report was released in June 2009 and the final report will be presented to the minister in the latter half of 2009.

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts; Annual Report 2008—09

Christmas season was a mad house. My parents had shipped a ton of toys and clothes for Patrick and Sarah; Rob and Mary delivered a ute-load; the Evanses sent a scale model Mooney for Patrick; and, of course, the locals had invaded. I was relieved to be at the office on Monday. But Tuesday brought another disruption.

"Look at this, Gordy!" Mona said as she came in.

"What is it?"

"A Platinum overnight from Canberra for you. I signed for it." [a kind of special delivery]

"I've never received one."

"Nor have I. It's got a Ministry seal on it. Should I open it?"

"No, I will. I've got an opener here somewhere." I found it and slit the pouch open. Inside was another envelope. "It's a puzzle. There's most likely yet another inside." But there wasn't. It was a single sheet of heavy paper with the seal at the top.

"What does it say?"

I read the text, then read it again. "I'm not sure. It seems to invite me to make comments. But that can't be it. You read it." I handed the sheet to Mona.

Effective March 1, 2008 you will assume the duties of CSIRO Liaison for the EPBC Act (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts). As such your primary tasks will be:

a) coordinate Departmental activities with appropriate sections of the CSIRO;

b) resolve problems that occur in the course of commenting on the forthcoming Hawke Report;

c) other duties as assigned by the Minister.

"A promotion, that's wonderful!"

"I don't think so. I feel like Banquo."


"In Macbeth. After Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches on the heath, he says: 'Oftentimes, to win us to our harm/ the instruments of darkness tell us truths;/ Win us with honest trifles, to betray us/ In deepest consequence.' This may look good, but..."

"You're too suspicious."

"No. I don't think so. Politicians are certainly 'instruments of darkness.' Let me call Weena and see what she thinks." Mona left and I phoned.

"Hi. Can I read you something?"

"Of course." I read the letter. "That's it?"

"Yes. I don't like it. I told Mona I felt like Banquo after the encounter with the witches."

"You don't want to be thane of Cawdor?"

"No. Nor a ministry liaison."

"Does it have a number?"


"Call Janice — she should understand the implications. Then call me back."


I called Janice and, after the required chit-chat, I read her the letter.

"Well," she said, "I'll be glad to have you around again."


"Well, they'll be moving you back."

"It doesn't say that."

"Yes it does. Where are the CSIRO offices? Black Mountain. And where is the Ministry? Downtown. They're moving you back to Canberra. That's what it says."

"Oh. Oh no. Can I say 'no'?"

"They haven't asked, they've told you. But you can always say 'no' — but it'll be a blot on the old escutcheon."

"Yeah. Thanks. I'd best call Weena."

I called Weena and told her what Janice had said.

"Damn!" was her first response. "Do you want this?"

"Not at all. I didn't like the ACT before; I'd hate it now."

"Let me think. We'll talk when you get home. Go for lunch with Chaz. See what he says."

"Okay. Love you."

I called Floreat and arranged to meet Chaz at the wool shop. He was there before me, for a change. We found an outdoor table and ordered lunch. When we were done, I took the letter from the pouch and handed it to him. He scanned it and looked at me.


"What do you mean 'and?'?"

"Oh. Do you want to sell us your house? Do you want me to be Acting Director? That sort of 'and?'"

"You read it that way, too."

"I guess so. They're moving you."

"And if I don't want to?"

"That's a very different and."

"Yes. Look at that letter! Everything you hate most about the word government! No request. No options. I like it here. Weena likes it here. I lived in Canberra for three years and hated it. Okay. I'll cool down. But tell me what I can do." I was really getting worked up.

"Well, I presume you could say no. Rather, 'decline the opportunity.' Family reasons. Something of that sort. Someone in the ACT will be annoyed. They all think they're right next to the Celestials. Phone Mona and say you're going home now. You and Weena have got to talk this through."

"You're right." I called Mona. Chaz went to pay while I was engaged. Damn! This was really bad.

I was still out of sorts when I got home. Weena was feeding Sarah while Patrick was reading The First Sunrise, the third book of Aboriginal myths by Mountford and Roberts. Re-re-re-reading it, most likely. "Hey, people," I said as I went to get a cup of coffee.

"Hi, daddy. I'm reading about Nurunderi."

"Great." I put the pouch I'd been carrying on the table and sat down.

"That bad?"

"Yes. That bad." I fished out the letter and handed it to her.

"Hmmm," she said, shifting Sarah. "What Janice told you sounds reasonable. They're telling you to move to Canberra."

"Right. Chaz thought so, too."

"What do you want to do?"

"I want to stay here. I don't want to live in the ACT. But I don't know what you think. What you want me to do. And I don't know what I can do."

"Are you angry, daddy?"

"Yes, I am angry."

"Some of those are easy to answer," said Weena.


"Yes. I want you to do what you want. And you can do what you want."

"What are you angry about, daddy?"

"Someone wants us to move away from here, dear."


"They want daddy to work in Canberra."

"Is that far?"

"Very far."

"You should tell them that I don't want to go. I want to play with Rachel."



"That's what you tell them. Your wife and son don't want to move."

"Can I get away with that?"

"What can they do? Fire you? They'd have to bring you up on charges."

"Minimal pay increases and no promotion, maybe."

"So what? We'll cope. Or — if you want — call your friend Sue. She'll know what to say."

"Let's think about it till after dinner." I looked at Patrick. "Don't worry, I won't move you away from Rachel."


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Story tagged with:
Coming of Age / True /