Annabel Crabb August 26, 2012
Photo: James Davies
After years of conspiracy theories, it's a reno gone wrong and a 34-year-old woman having a bad year.
FORGET the Prince Harry photos. Forget Julian Assange's balcony address from the Ecuadorean embassy. The best thing published this week, by a country mile, is the transcript of Julia Gillard's exit interview from the law firm Slater & Gordon, conducted 17 years ago and printed on Wednesday by The Australian.
For years now, The Case Of The Dodgy Boyfriend has trailed our prime minister like a particularly fragrant junkyard dog, wafting fumes of intrigue; Gillard enemies both internal and external to the labour movement have thrilled to the whispered suggestion of graft-backed renovations, and fantastical bogan largesse from places with names like ''Town Mode Fashions''.
And for years, Julia Gillard's response has been pretty much the same - a rigorous and firmly delivered ''It's crap. Print it and I'll sue.''
But after all these years of whisperings and conspiracy and legal threats, and near-complete Gillardian silence, suddenly, there it is: the 1995 transcript, in which the story is told. A richly human tale of renovation hell, told contemporaneously and with sardonic feeling by a 34-year-old woman who's having sort of a bad year.
Her boyfriend Bruce has demolished her bathroom with a bunch of mates while she was away on holiday. To help fix the situation, Bruce's union mate Jim recommends some mates who can come in and rebuild. Another of Bruce's mates, ''Bill the Greek'', further recommends somebody called Con to replace the ageing Victorian windows down the side of her Abbotsford home, and fix up some rotting verandah posts.
Julia comes home from work to find Con has replaced her heritage windows with aluminium sliding ones. He has partially tiled the verandah. And replaced her weatherboard cottage's plain verandah posts with ''ah, what's the word - decorative posts chiselled out with patterns''.
Bill the Greek, meanwhile, has unilaterally constructed a low brick wall of limited utility and ''hideous'' appearance. In order to mitigate the visual assault of this freebie, Julia appoints Con to render the fence and put pickets on top of it ''so as to stop it looking quite as Greek, dare one say''. An impartial observer might regard this decision (considering the as-yet unrectified and, dare one say, distinctly Hellenic-sounding hash Con has already made of the windows and verandah) as rash, to say the least.
But worse is to come. Bruce turns out to be a no-account slimeball and grifter. Unbeknown to her, he has been using a union incorporated entity - an entity Julia, as his lawyer, helped him set up - to steal money. He's done a bolt. Con has come sniffing round the union looking for payment for the ''work'' on Julia's house, so now the story's going round town that her renovations were bankrolled by defrauded workers.
She winds up resigning from her job; her partners are understandably snaky because of the publicity, and the fact she hasn't opened a file note on the help she gave Bruce. She is, moreover, obliged to pay Con nearly $4000 for the uglification of her house; she resents this, and has not forgiven Bill, whom she describes in her interview as ''a big Greek bullshit artist''.
On this reading, it's easy to see why Julia Gillard is cross about this story.
Having woken up 17 years ago to find herself apparently cast in a Hollywood-style renovation nightmare/loser boyfriend movie, she now finds herself punished for life by the whole debacle.
Why didn't she tell this story earlier?
What jury of renovation-hardened peers would convict a woman whose tradesman has installed aluminium sliding windows in her home without permission? In some suburbs, and with the right lawyer, this sort of provocation would amount to a manslaughter defence. Or at the very least, a Conslaughter one.
More centrally, what has this flurry taught us?
For years, theorists on the Case Of The Dodgy Boyfriend have hinted darkly at untold riches accruing to Ms Gillard. And now we know exactly what she got out of it: a low brick wall that she hated. This tells us that even if Gillard was an orchestrated fraudster, which she is not, she was kind of a hopeless one. Does that make it better or worse? I don't know.
Some other impressions spring to mind from a reading of the transcript; the scope and ambition of Ms Gillard's terrible taste in blokes, for one thing.
The suspicion that the Prime Minister's electoral fortunes in her seat of Lalor, where nearly 10 per cent of constituents speak Greek, are in for a slight downturn, for another.
And a quiet sense of amazement that more didn't go wrong with Building The Education Revolution, given the future education minister's cack-handed project management of her own renovation.
This is not to suggest that the above conclusions themselves are not bothersome.
Given the option of calumny or foolishness in a prime minister, the only prudent choice is ''none of the above''.
■Annabel Crabb writes for ABC Online's The Drum, and tweets as @annabelcrabb