JULIA Gillard might be suffering a spot of bother with the polls, restive Labor factions and Tony Abbott's endless attack on the carbon tax, but nothing, surely, could compare with her travails involving Con the window man, Taugney the Swedish builder and Bill the Greek Bullshit Artist.
The Lodge, you may be aware, is to get a big do-over starting in December that is supposed to take seven months — a new roof, kitchen and all sorts of serious rebuilding.
Ms Gillard must be dreading it, for she has already gone through the pain of the home reno, and it proved to be a sorry saga.
The Abbotsford house that Julia Gillard renovated. Photo: John Woudstra
We know this because The Australian yesterday reported in detail Ms Gillard's revelation of the frightful tale. It came in the form of a transcript of an interview that took place in 1995 with a senior partner and general manager of Slater and Gordon, the law firm for which she worked at the time.
They were, it seems, interested in her former relationship with a dodgy AWU character named Bruce Wilson, for whom she had set up a legal entity into which had been deposited large amounts of not easily explained money that she confirmed amounted to a slush fund.
The Slater and Gordon chiefs, however, seemed even more interested in who might have paid for renovations to a house Ms Gillard purchased in Abbotsford in the early 1990s.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard — under fire on various fronts including a Melbourne house renovation and a union 'slush fund' — arrives at question time yesterday. Photo: Andrew Meares
The interview reveals she had proper receipts and detailed explanations for just about all the work, which the Slater and Gordon men accepted. But Ms Gillard made clear she was deeply unimpressed by some of the workmanship.
There was, for a start, the problem of water seeping into the foundations, requiring new paving and glasswork.
"I contracted with a glassworker/woodworker person called Athol James, who I found in the local newspaper, and contracted with a paving place that I got from the local newspaper," Ms Gillard related.
"I then got the floors done and I got Athol back to do that, so the front of the house, the old part, was the original Baltic pine floorboards. The back part was chipboard and I wanted to get the floorboards matched with old Baltic pine so I could get it all sanded down and polished.
‘‘I’m sure this detail is really exciting you.’’
Riveting. But Ms Gillard was just getting started.
‘‘Then what happened after that was I got the kitchen done. I purchased Ikea cupboards and stuff, purchased the actual appliances from a Radio Rentals place in Clifton Hill, and purchased a granite bench top from a local place near me called the Marble Centre, that’s also in Abbotsford, and then I had installers who were recommended by Ikea put it all in,’’ Ms Gillard offered her interrogators.
‘‘His name was Taugney the Swedish Builder, and he took a substantial amount of time to do all of that — though I was the envy of Leonie, I recall at that stage, for having a Swedish builder [we don’t know the full identity of the envious Leonie, but we know the type].
‘‘That left me with the kitchen functional but the, the kitchen had like cork in it, all of that had basically been ripped to shreds when they had taken the old cupboards out and put the new cupboards in. So it needed tiling ... on the splashbacks, you know around the sink and around the stove, it needed plastering work, kitchen ceiling, that sort of thing, and I had had a long-held plan to fix the bathroom and laundry. Both were a sort of ’70s renovation which amongst other things was red and yellow in colour and I therefore wanted to get it replaced.’’
Ms Gillard had then taken a holiday, and returned to new challenges.
‘‘By the time I came back,’’ said Ms Gillard, ‘‘the bathroom had been demolished so I had no option but to get the rest of the renovations done and a series of tradespeople who Jim Collins predominantly organised — Jim Collins being an organiser at the AWU, who he recommended through his local football club — a series of tradespeople came in and did the renovation which predominantly consisted of the bathroom, completing the kitchen, tiling on the kitchen floor, plastering work, replacement of ceilings and the like.
‘‘I don’t, I don’t recall their names. I have some of their receipts at home. There was a tiler, an electrician, a plasterer who had with him a general roustabout person and a plumber and they all knew each other and had worked together before, but it wasn’t like one of them was the builder who was organising everybody else. So they came in and did it and I paid each of them.’’
The Slater and Gordon sleuths, surely, were in thrall. They weren’t to be disappointed. The exterior was still not painted the right colour.
Enter Con, a fellow recommended by Bill the Greek, a union organiser from Western Australia whose real name was Vassilis Telikostoglou.
Ms Gillard wanted two Victorian windows replaced because their wood was rotting, and Con said he’d handle it.
‘‘Contrary to the directions I gave him about that he replaced them with aluminium sliding windows, which I was particularly unhappy about,’’ Ms Gillard related.
‘‘The verandah was slate and it was coming up and the posts which held up the veranda in part were rotting so I contracted with him to replace the posts and to tile the veranda. He did tile the veranda after a fashion, but the job is uncompleted. He did put in posts but he put in, ah, what’s the word, decorative posts chiselled out with patterns, rather than plain posts. Given it’s a Victorian weatherboard house I was pretty unhappy about that as well.
‘‘When I came home and saw the posts and the windows ... I raised it immediately with Bill the Greek in fairly vociferous tones and said this has just totally buggered up this job. This is just hideous, you know, you need to talk to Con about it.’’
Nothing got fixed. And greater horror was still to come.
‘‘Bill the Greek, whilst I was at work one day, built for me a low-level brick fence,’’ said Ms Gillard. ‘‘I didn’t ask him to do that. The result was truly hideous ... and everybody else who’s passed my house has commented on it. In order to try and make it look less hideous, part of the work that Con was to do was to mortar it and put pickets on it ... to try and stop it looking quite as Greek, dare one say.’’
Bill, Ms Gillard declared, had ‘‘obvious difficulties with the truth’’.
And what might they be, she was asked?
‘‘He’s just a big Greek bullshit artist,’’ she said.
Well, anyone would say that after such a trying experience. Wouldn’t they?