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Simon Hunt, AKA Pauline Pantsdown, on politics and cultural intervention

This guest contribution to the Jura blog comes from Simon Hunt, AKA Pauline Pantsdown, who gave the following short speech at the Sydney launch of How to Make Trouble and Influence People, at Jura Books on 26 September 2013. In it, Simon talks about his politicisation, his cultural intervention as Pauline Pantsdown in 1997-1998, and how to use humour to confront the dark policies of racism and cultural bigotry in Australia. We encourage you to follow Pauline Pantsdown's great organising and amazing exploits at facebook.com/paulinepantsdown666

Pauline Pantsdown

When I was 9 years old I saw a black-and-white TV image of my school teacher, Mr Watson, being thrown into a police paddy wagon for protesting against the presence of the South African football team – the Springboks – in Australia. Mr Watson never returned to school, and it all seemed very confusing. Although I’ve learned more about it since then, it was only reading about it in Meredith’s Burgmann’s fascinating account in this wonderful book that it was really brought to life. Imagine former member of NSW Parliament Meredith Burgmann, together with her sister, in their 20s, spending the day dressed in the drag / disguise of older Afrikaner women watching the football, before leapfrogging their esky over the fence, invading the playing field and setting off flares.

Reading also of the later antics of the Order Of Perpetual Indulgence, the gay male nuns, and their political performance in the 80s and 90s, I was reminded of a friend telling me about Mother Inferior – Fabian Loschiavo saying that he likened his role in society to that of the traditional fool in the English court – the person who could use his costuming to criticise the king’s actions. That image stayed with me in my idea of what comedy could do, of the power of comedy in politics.

After a few years in Berlin, I returned to Australia in January 1988, right in the midst of white Australia’s nationalistic orgy of self-congratulation known as the Bicentennary. The first graffiti that I saw, in Glebe, was “Girlcott the Boycentenary”, three words that in their simplicity broadened the discussion around the powers behind decreed celebrations. Like boycotts, it seems that girlcotts are soon to become illegal under the review of the Consumer and Competition Act by the new government of Prime Minister Toned Abs.

I did my first digital voice cut-up in 1989 – I took the voice of notorious anti-gay campaigner Fred Nile, and made him give a sleazy pro-gay rights speech, discussing his enjoyment of visiting lesbian couples and watching them embrace in their homes, and how he’d had to watch “Caligula” three times just to make sure he’d seen all of the lesbian sex scenes.

At the time, Fred had just organised a Christian cleansing march up Oxford St, to end in a rally at Taylor Square, a provocative act.

I had a small army of people play the piece from hand-held boomboxes throughout the march, broadcast it loudly from a warehouse overlooking Oxford St, and had an ultimately unsuccessful attempt at replacing Fred’s voice on his own PA system at Taylor Square with the piece.

My memory of the day is of a vastly outnumbered group of sad Christian protestors being confronted with humour : Street signs and parking meters wrapped in glad wrap to aid the cleansing, chants of ‘2-4-6-8, are you sure your priest is straight’, and then just as Fred reached taylor square, a mob of bearded nuns rolling out a red carpet in the middle of Oxford St, before being quickly bundled away by police. My favourite image from the day is in a photograph by William Yang. Fred stands on the podium, a scowl on his face. Behind him a male nun holds up a placard that reads “People who have wet dreams should be castrated”.

The section about me in this book covers my intervention as the character Pauline Pantsdown in 1997-1998. I think of this now as the last pre-internet period, the internet not being fully in use across society at the time - where in order to intervene in the public political discussion I needed to compete with Pauline Hanson in the mainstream arena she had chosen – mainstream news press and entertainment television – because I always saw her presented imagery as that of a pop culture figure. So I needed to undermine that.

My banned song “I’m a Back Door Man” and my hit single “I Don’t Like it”, alongside my campaign for the NSW Senate in the 1998 federal election were essentially, underneath the makeup, attempts to isolate the dark policies of racism and cultural bigotry by deconstructing the façade that Hanson and her minders built around them. Anyway I’ll leave that there for you to see in more detail in the book.

Since speaking at the launch of the 1st edition of this book in 2009, I’ve only made one traditional media appearance, in a one-hit-wonders segment on the Morning Show on channel 7 last year. I agree to appear as I thought it was a moment for possible intervention, despite the relative non-importance of Pauline Hanson in the then political climate.
I dutifully performed my hit as the funny drag queen, then in the last 30 seconds ripped off my wig and then my blouse, to expose a T-shirt with a horrible caricature of Tony Abbott and the phrase “Abbott is inside me”.

I resurrected Pauline about six months ago – on Facebook, because that is where Pauline Hanson reappeared, and I ran an intense graphic-based campaign leading up the recent federal election, from my laptop with a three-day growth and no drag.

After 15 years of letting Pauline Hanson take over my rightful role as a fading B-grade celebrity, slithering from reality to show to reality show, pizza hut commercial to occasional Today Tonight guest reporter gig, I thought it was time to bring her back. I was disturbed by an early June report that she had engaged Glenn Druery, Australia’s sleaziest preference dealer, to coordinate her senate preferences. This to me gave her a chance at getting back into government. As it turned out, Druery double-dealed with several people, and Hanson also ended up two places behind the eventually successful Liberal Democrat , due to the power of the donkey vote, and this was averted - so she was unable to join the army of kangaroo poo throwers and car enthusiasts who benefited from the preference process.

Over the course of the campaign I broadened my focus to wider and more important foes than Hanson – both those who had injected the Hanson DNA into their veins over the years, and ultimately parties across the political spectrum who had preferenced Hanson and other racist groups high on their tickets.

I did intensive primary research on this preference-the-right phenomenon, and ended up arguing with some party leaders in radio interviews as Simon – in the end it unexpectedly felt like the 2nd election campaign I had run.

It was fascinating to work entirely with visual meme construction to simplify some complex ideas, and for this type of work I owe a debt to Australian interventionists from Deborah Kelly all the way back to BUGA UP in the 1970s, and going, as this book shows, even further back.  

I hope that as this wonderful book shows, as we continue to be battered by new waves and methodologies of conservatism, that we continue to see the importance of the role of the clown in regulating the business of the never-ending circus. Thankyou.