On the Q.T.
The Last Chance Saloon was filled to capacity.
Herds of horses were tied up outside and the crowd was 10 deep at the bar. The piano man struggled to be heard over the ruckus, but no one had come for the music.
They were there to see the see the stand-off between Tony ''Tex'' Abbott and Real Julia Gillard.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard reacts as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott addresses AWU allegations against her in parliament. Photo: Andrew Meares
For years, the two had been sworn enemies. But since the AWU Circus had rolled into town, it had been out-and-out war. Tex and his sidekick, Julie the Bishop, were after Real Julia. They said she might have something to tell the sheriff about her work as a young solicitor.
Real Julia had been arguing she was no villain. She might have dated a bad union cowboy once, but as soon as she knew of his ways, she sent him packing, off into the sunset. There was no wrongdoin' on her part. No wrongdoin' at all.
This week, the Bishop had challenged Real Julia every day in the main street about her knowledge of the cowboy's slush fund.
Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop during Question Time yesterday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
But so far, three days of rapid-fire questions had yielded no result. That just left one final chance on the fourth day to confront Real Julia before the whole town.
Thursday, at dusk, the foes rode into Canberraville, slowly and separately from each end of the dusty boulevard. A hush fell over the saloon. People rushed to the windows to peek.
Pistol Pete Albanese was right by Real Julia's side, armed with a stack of documents he might table at any minute, along with John Wayne Swan. Tex was flanked by the Bishop and Calamity Pyne.
A year is a long time in politics
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott sat together at a Fred Hollows Foundation event in August. Photo: Andrew Meares
The crowd gasped as Real Julia rode out into no-man's land. But instead of drawing her revolver, she challenged Tex to another kind of duel: 15-minute speeches at 20 paces. Substantiate your claim that I've ''breached the laws of Western Australia'' or say sorry.
Quick as a flash, Calamity Pyne jumped down from his horse to reply: ''We'll grant leave for a debate on this very subject right now.'' Tex was known around these parts as a brawler, but his response was calm.
In measured tones, he said Real Julia was a ''dodgy and unethical lawyer'' and an ''untrustworthy Prime Minister.'' He called for a judicial inquiry (that'll perk the sheriff up), but as the clock ran out on his quarter hour, his gun was decidedly smoke-free.
''The Leader of the Opposition [is] handcuffed to the fact that he does not have any evidence,'' Real Julia shot back. ''A decent man would apologise.'' The crowd looked at each other as a tumbleweed rolled across the street.
Were Tex and his gang flogging a dead pony?
Was Real Julia really for real?
Maybe they were too punch drunk to care.