Peter Bills: Gillard hasn't a cat in hell's chance

In my clubs in London and Paris, which date back to the 1800s ... women are welcomed regally ... Yet here in Australia, it is as though the spirit of the colonies still prevails. A general election is being held in Australia on August 21 and I have an exclusive, shock horror story for Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

You've got no chance, sheila; none at all.

Well, let me quantify that startling, breaking news story. Australia's current lady PM certainly hasn't got a cat in hell's chance of winning in the state of Victoria. I can personally testify that women are considered also rans, beyond the pale in Melbourne, the state capital.

If you doubt my word, I invite you to discuss the issue with my wife and gee, you ought to know that's a pretty terrifying prospect right now. If ever a woman were steaming, on the prowl for trouble, then she's the one.

I made the mistake, you see, of booking us into a private Melbourne club for a few nights on a recent trip.

Sounded okay, too. "A proud resident of a Collins St address since 1868, the Athenaeum is one of Australia's oldest and finest clubs, confident in its heritage and traditions, yet enlightened and contemporary in its outlook." The blurb seemed assuring.

But enlightened and contemporary? They had to be kidding.

I swear, news of Singapore's fall hasn't yet permeated the gentlemen's dining room. And please don't make a noise in the library - Hetherington died six years ago but no one has told him yet ...

Deep in the bowels of this august club lies a treasure trove of sporting facilities sufficient to shame a five-star hotel.

I casually picked up a 5-iron and smashed a few golf balls off into the Melbourne night, the netting catching my finest efforts. I smashed a metal wood at a ball and saw it soar high into the roof of the driving range.

That was enough, I got bored. So I investigated the steam room, tested the water temperature of the indoor swimming pool, peered inside the gymnasium, checked out the squash court and then retired to the grill room. Alone.

Because, you see, women are banned from every one of those facilities at this Melbourne club. See Gillard's problem? If she wants to drink a glass of wine in the library, don her cossie for a dip in the arvo or just sink a tinnie (beer), she has no chance in this institution.

Women are allowed to visit the general restaurant, or have a drink with a (presumably male) partner in the bar. But woe betide any skirt trying to gain illicit access to those other parts of the club.

After trying (and manifestly failing) to placate a wife who sounded more and more like Miss Piggy on a bad day as the weekend evolved, I began to ponder all this. What had we stumbled upon? It seemed to me like this must be the last outpost of the Empire.

In my clubs in London and Paris, which date back to the 1800s and which are among the best in the European capitals, women are welcomed regally. They are allowed to be members, can stay on their own and use any of the facilities offered. They have the run of the place and no one feels in the least bit uncomfortable with that.

Yet here in Australia, it is as though the spirit of the colonies still prevails ... "Oi sheila, where's the dunny; where's my beer" ...

I found all this bemusing. You'd have thought that Australia, the modern country, represented the future; tired old London and Paris, ailing Britain and France, the past.

But it seems those Aussies really don't want to let go of their ties to the Commonwealth, the mother country and Empire with all its connotations. Presumably, they reckon that keeping the sheilas in their place is all part of that process.

It amazes me that you can find such places still existing in the world. As to whether I approve or disapprove, I must remain neutral (my wife stands beside me at this moment in time wielding a rather large cooking pan).

But in Melbourne's Athenaeum Club, the ladies sure know their place ... presumably, in the corner keeping quiet or in a bedroom, ironing their mate's shirt or suit.

It reminds me of that old joke by Irish comedian Dave Allen, dressed as a South African Dutch Reform Church Minister, finding a black boy on his knees in the aisle of his church.

"What are you doing here, boy; can't you read the sign that says Whites Only?"

"Yes, baas," says the youngster, "but I'm only cleaning the floor."

"Well that's all right then," says the minister. "Just don't let me catch you praying, eh."

Is Australia really ready to elect a woman Prime Minister? Not in the Victoria I've encountered, I'm sure.

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