Saturday afternoon was a busy time for me. I had a friend coming to stay, and an apartment to tidy, and most importantly a brand new episode of Rake to watch. The last thing I wanted to do, or perhaps the second last thing after accidentally deleting the latest instalment of Richard Roxburgh’s antics from my PVR, was leave the house.
Then I remembered that it was election day, and I only had two hours until the polls closed. Under most circumstances I’m a bit of a political junkie, and even go to the trouble of voting below the line in Senate elections just to give myself the satisfaction of putting certain candidates last. But it was only for my local council. Perhaps this was the day to neglect my democratic duty and to risk the fine?
What would Cleaver Green from Rake do, I asked myself. He’d no doubt prioritise his own satisfaction, especially if there was a chance of a shag or of losing a bout of fisticuffs somewhere in the equation. Things were looking dim for my prospects of democratic participation.
But then I remembered the deal. The sacred compact at the heart of Australian democracy. The bedrock upon which our nation’s system of representative government is built. We turn up on election day, stand in line longer than seems in any way necessary and stand in a small cardboard booth scrawling numbers on a piece of paper. And in return there is a sausage sizzle on the way out.
Now, it’s possible to cheat at this process and have your snag on the way in. That way madness lies, my friends. If you get your slice of greasy deliciousness before voting, there’s a chance you’ll turn around once you’ve consumed it and head straight back out the gate of the local public school.
My plan was to would stand and wait and vote and then, as a reward, buy myself a charred sausage wrapped in a soft cheap slice of white bread, daubed with no-name tomato sauce. And as my teeth sank into it, I would be grateful for freedom. The freedom to vote, and the freedom to support community charities by consuming random abattoir offcuts ground up and stuffed into a synthetic skin.
To do this in style, I decided to visit the largest polling booth in the state, which would surely also have the largest array of sausage options in the state. And so it was that I made my way to the Sydney Town Hall. The queue was vast, hundreds of people long and snaking around three sides of the block. It was so long that I considered risking the fine just to save myself an extremely tedious hour. Then I remembered that the other end of the line, there would be a sausage with my name on it. (Not literally, because that would be slightly macabre.)
I joined the queue. I shuffled slowly forward over the course of the next half hour. I reacted with dignified forbearance when someone pushed in front of me, by which I mean I made sarcastic comments under my breath.
I voted. I won’t say for whom, because it’s a secret ballot. Let’s just say that I voted for democracy itself.
When I left the chamber, I was astonished to find that there were no sausages off whatsoever. Not one. Not even a lousy lamington stand.
I felt outraged, and wounded, as though I’d been punched in the guts, which is admittedly also the feeling I get after eating certain undercooked sausages. And it was then that I realised the direction of my life, which had arguably been somewhat lacking up to this point. I would draft a constitutional amendment so that compulsory voting was matched by compulsory charity sausage sizzles. The AEC would be obliged to ensure that there was as many sausages as ballot papers available, and the odd vego option to boot. If the people are required to vote, they should be fed. It’s only fair.
It wasn’t just the Town Hall, by the way – I complained on Twitter, naturally, and discovered from my replies that the sausage shortage was evident at several primary schools. Some locations offered only a cake stall, which is pleasant, but ultimately, in my view, just can’t provide sufficient grease.
As I trudged homeward feeling unfulfilled and resentful, I began reflecting on the joy of the barbecue. It was a lovely warm September day, the end of a long winter without much in the way of sausages and sizzling onions. Summer was around the corner, and with it the great Aussie social institution that is the barbecue. Though my day had proved sausage-free, summer would surely deliver further bangers and perhaps even mash.
I’ve never been much good at barbecuing – I once undercooked a steak so severely that I made myself sick. And I have to admit that this makes me feel like less of a bona fide Aussie bloke.
I don’t know what it is about men and barbecuing. Personally, I am committed to equality in all domestic chores, of course. But I don’t think that it’s unjust to my fellow males to suggest that for many of them, standing behind the grill sporting a novelty apron is more or less their only contribution in terms of cuisine besides beer runs to the bottle-o.
I’ve never fully understood why the average Aussie bloke prides himself on his ability to char a stick of plasticised pork, or perhaps a slab of steak or fish, but demurs from cooking anything else. Perhaps it’s the fact that barbies are often social events, and the grill is usually located smack back in the middle of the backyard, allowing mine host to be the life and soul of the party. Or perhaps it’s a strange throwback to tribal days when our forefathers would hunt for meat to bring back to the campfire? The modern equivalent of which is grabbing a vacuum-wrapped plastic tray from the local supermarket.
While admittedly many men have embraced cooking in the post-MasterChef era, time-honoured Australian male tradition obliges me to master just two culinary arts: carving the Sunday roast and barbecuing. And although I aspire to culinary excellence in other areas, last Saturday, I couldn’t help imagining myself behind one of those grills someday. If I ever become a father, I hope that some day I’ll be able to man – and I do mean “man” – the barbie at my local polling booth, raising money for my kiddies’ school while I sell every voter a perfectly-grilled slice of democracy wrapped in a piece of white bread.