THE SECRET BALLOT – Confessions of a Brownie Guide

1.45am 3/12/06

Confessions of a Brownie Guide


I could easily step out, through the fly screen where the ebony luscent beetles are belting themselves against the kitchen light, lay my hands on the verandah beam and howl, but I’d wake the neighbours, set the dog off and probably my husband who has to be up at 5am for a 6-2 shift.

I’d howl like a ‘Woman who Runs with the Wolves’ in the Brisbane Valley balmy air, then laugh outrageously, but as I do when I watch a bloody funny comedy there is a rush of cathartic release and the physical and emotional pain hits me with force and I end up tragically crying uncontrollably, generations of tears.

If I was a drunk, Billy Holiday would be my companion. As I soaked in her voice from ages ago I’d consume most of a packet of menthol cigarettes, wishing the night away, and weep, then laugh once again at life’s absurdity, drifting into a wallowing self-pity.

Tonight though, I am cool as a continental cucumber, breathing in and out dangerous fumes of pain and pleasure, as if I am on some strange narcotic that could have me hallucinating supernaturally heavenly experiences through my senses or if I lose control, a descent into hell.

In the first, clinically recorded psychosis, the psychiatrist described me as histrionic; to be precise, the notes read, "displays histrionic traits". Darling, Moi? Where did they come from and why did I never pass all those auditions? What a wasted talent! Freedom of Information allowed me to be enlightened as to my "fatuous" verbiage; add some insight into my internal disorder and an increase to my vocabulary.

According to an astrologer, it was Mars in Leo making me an exhibitionist, so it is very likely that this tract won’t remain in my diary as it will be released on a journey to my new psychiatrist so he can get to know me better, because he ought to…and then I’ll scribe it onto my blog. I hate to admit I could be a Narcissist, but I can see their point because right now I have an inkling this could be easily turned into a performance piece where I bare all before an audience, like I’ve done before. It’s not long before a reality alert pops-up, reminding me of the cognitive mishaps that occur as my body and mind close down after a short burst of social engagement.

This weeked there is a leadership spill of the Australian Labor Party so I knew it would be a stimulating branch break-up! I did experience a slight cultural shock within a short time of our social intercourse as my husband and I discovered that most members were practicing Roman Catholics. Like many Poms, the Irish is strong in the genes and the other half is keep your head down and be baptised C of E just in case. Most of my friends over the years have been lapsed Catholics, mainly because they were outcast for adolescent misbehaviour and couldn’t be constrained. These were the best mentors and friends of my life; creative, strong, compassionate and in my mind, Divine to the core.

If I was raised a Catholic I would be harassing a Priest, rather than a Psyciatrist! Unable to keep to a monthly confession I’d be devoutly attending Our Ladie’s Chapel, lighting candles with my wishes. Next, would be to pop in a cubicle to tell the Cleric I had sinned yet again, articulate each dramatic detail to keep his attention. What I have been leading up to, I’d say, is to reveal a childhood story which has raised its ugly head recently as I have increased my political activism.

All the middle-aged women along the trestles wore a gold crucifix, and to unstick me from my mesmerisation, and ennable communion with these loyal Labor folk I told how I grew up being the only Proddy family in a street of Irish Catholics. Even the Avon Lady thought mum was Irish and would bring my strident anti-Catholic mother, who was born and brought up by nuns in an orphanage, tiny bottles of holy water from Lourdes to bless herself with.

The Priest would stop her in the street and ask why he hadn’t seen her in Church, because he knew she had the look of the Irish; all Auburn hair, fair skin and freckles but mum didn’t know her lineage. She found out her mother was Scottish, but now we know that was a quick trip over the Irish Sea. Mum often broke out into an Irish Pub song of course, but who doesn’t? The lady from Leichhardt who admitted to an addiction to the Communion wine and having a deal with the priest to give her the leftovers from Sunday Mass was keen for me to start a sing-song. I would if I’d learned the words, so instead I captivated my comrades with the recollection of the time I took a phone call from a man who said he was going to throw a bomb through our front window, because he knew we were the I.R..A.

I peeped through the net curtains and mum said, "Who is it?" and I replied that a man said we were the I.R.A. and was going to throw a bomb through our window!

Mum was a warrior woman, but not political, as they were as trustworthy as priests, and in her usual "how dare they?" stance, got up from the chair, opened the front door, stepped up to the front gate and with her embarassing rumbling rave, dared any bleeder to come and threaten her home! It was all a hoax. We found out the bloke had the wrong number. The "Birmingham Evening Post" had a misprint – the police raid which found weapons and bomb making equipment, had been at the house opposite to the church hall where I went to Brownies. A man,was aged 26 from Exeter Rd. was arrested, not from number 26 which was our house. That was my first dealings with the press and how one slight mistake can change your life… or end it.

Saint Wulstans Church hall was on the corner crossroads a few houses up, opposite the Cypriots fish ‘n’ chip shop. I was a committed and enthusiastic Brownie Guide from ages 7-10, and I hate to say now what I did back then; how I fixed the vote, but its time to ‘fess up. It’s been a long time since I’ve been reminded of that stain on my character! I still can’t believe that such a bright child who had ran down the hill after an evening rehearsing as Mary for the Nativity, and been captured by the immense white light and love of Jesus at her garden gate, could also do such a corrupt thing as fix a secret ballot!

There were six groups in our pack. I can’t remember now, whether I was a Pixie, an Elf or a Gnome, but what I did want to be was leader. Brown Owl asked us to put ourselves forward if we had the qualities to lead and I didn’t hesitate. Surprising was the fact another girl was going to compete. With swift efficiency I swept the folded papers into the tin and announced I would go and count the ballot. Nobody challenged me as I marched through the swing doors into the kitchen as though this was the way things were done, but there I discovered I hadn’t won!

I obviously knew better than those girls. In a moment I had decided to steal two of my opponents votes, stuffing them in my pocket until I could destroy the evidence of my treachery. I quickly replaced them with similar sheets of paper with my name upon them, folded fast and returned declaring myself the leader of the little brownie pack, and thanked them. I lay the papers out to show everybody the six votes to four or whatever and picked them up before anybody noticed the fraud and threw them in the bin, suggesting we set up our table for the badge activities we were doing.

I’m shaking bare foot at my computer. How on earth could I have done such a thing, so young? After I had been sworn in and given my leaders badge I swore to myself I would never do such a bad thing again, then got on with organising, delegating, enjoying the creativity, responsibility and the attention from the women who ran the group, that I so admired and learned from. If they had ever found out what I had done… but they would be dead now… I swear, I reformed my own character and didn’t cheat again ever, so why do I feel like I’m in Purgatory, thirty five years later?



Julie McNeill (nee Higgins)

(c)copyright December 2006

all rights reserved

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