My neighbourhood is presently host to election corflutes and to echidnas, the first as ephemeral as anything (here today, dismantled and gone the morrow after election day), the second decorating this continent for tens of millions of years.
A neighbour walking her dog along our corflute-decorated street stopped and got into discussion with me. And with a corflute Senate candidate Katie Gallagher looking on (and perhaps even listening in as well, for one suspects modern corflutes of the big parties have sinister cyberspying capacities) she, my neighbour, rejoiced that she had just had an echidna in her garden.
In an eerie coincidence I had just been listening to an ABC Radio National Science Show segment about new research into echidnas.
This research shows that echidnas as we know them today are in the words of the Science Show's expert evolutionarily "extremely recent" and probably "less than 1.7 million years old". However today's suburban election-time echidnas have what the expert says is a "huge ancestry" since there have been kinds of echidnas shuffling and burrowing in Australia "for tens of millions of years".
"I wonder where Ian is going with this echidna theme?" the column's teeming millions of readers marvel.
"Not that we mind him discussing echidnas," I hear you chorus, "for they are wondrous creatures and a symbol of the uniqueness of our continent."
"Wasn't it the monotremes (the echidnas and platypuses) that moved the visiting, enthralled Charles Darwin to speculate that the Earth must have had two Creators, one creating the exquisitely strange wildlife of Australia, the other creating the more mundane creatures of everywhere else on the planet?"
Yes, dear readers, it was the monotremes. You're absolutely right. And thank you for your patience as, riding on echidnas, I shuffle towards what I am trying to say.
There is a strange and hard-to-define intelligence-insulting vulgarity about federal election campaigns. ('Life won't be easy under Albanese,' God give us strength!) But now I have just, at last, been echidna-assisted to put my finger on what that vulgarity is.
It is that a federal parliamentary election and a nation's obsession with it represent the sin of presentism (a narcissistic belief that one's own times are the only times that are of any consequence) at its most sinful.
Elections offer us a kind of presentism porn, with political journalism the great pornmonger.
The attention paid by us to this ephemeral orgy blots out all that has happened before it and all thought of what might be to come. But in The Great Scheme of Things an election is, really, only the kind of flibbertigibbety thing Shakespeare has in mind in The Tempest when he invites us to realise how much in life is just an "insubstantial pageant".
Yes, all this election feverishness, this staging of an insubstantial pageant, just to elect a government for the blink-of-an-echidna's-eye of a three-year term. Thoughts of echidna antiquity have helped me focus on the truly substantial pageant of the whole of Time.
And it may be that I have a personal guardian angel, guarding me against presentism porn's wiles, for, as well as the timely intervention of the echidnas I have just enjoyed another election-blocking reminder of Time's very, very big Big Picture.
One day last week a companion and I, walking in an unfamiliar-to-us niche of Canberra, chanced upon a nifty labyrinth in the grounds of a lakeside theological college.
At the centre of the labyrinth there is positioned a big flat rock said by the labyrinth makers to be 2.8 billion years old. The rock, hewn from the Hamersley Range in Western Australia, is intended to be a kind of bench on which those who complete the walker-teasing labyrinth can sit and congratulate themselves on completing their mazy ramble.
My companion and I, plonked together (sharing a tangerine) on a rock 2.8 billion years old, had a combined age (my 76 making by far the bigger contribution) of about 140 years. To do these pieces of mental arithmetic was somehow very grounding and satisfying. It was a reminder of how we (people, voters) are only such things as dream are made of and how our little lives are bounded by sleeps of billions of years.
Suddenly, there on this rock of ages (2.8 billion years!) the true, inconsequential, ephemeral frothiness and bubbliness of this federal election was revealed and the grubby porn of it all was vanquished by a pure, chaste, cleansing realisation of Time's everlasting apolitical stream.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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