Once upon a time in far off land untouched by modern civilisation or basic amenities, there lived a young girl named Julia. Julia wasn’t like the other girls. While they played outside in the sun, brushing the hair on their dolls and baking cupcakes, Julia had instead chosen to foster an interest in industrial law and contract bronchopneumonia.
“Other girls don’t have bronchopneumonia,” her parents scolded, wagging their fingers.
“The political influence of trade unions should be curbed,” her sister Alison teased, sticking out her tongue.
Julia, however, persisted with her two interests, much to the despair of her family. Desperate, they turned to figures in the local community.
“What should we do?” they asked the local Priest.
“Go forth,” the Priest mumbled.
“What should we do?” they asked the local barrister.
“Take her to court,” the barrister intoned.
“What should we do?” they asked the local doctor.
“Move to a warmer climate,” the doctor said. “That should clear the bronchopneumonia right up. As for the interest in industrial law, young girls usually lose that when they turn ten.”
The family packed up their belongings, bade their friends farewell, and set off to a place called South Australia: a great, wide, untamed land filled with highly-flammable bushland, three churches per citizen, and a disproportionately high number of Germans.
The family waited and waited and waited, holding their breath and watching young Julia. Then, one day, the bronchopneumonia cleared up — The doctor had been right! Julia’s parents laughed and danced, and Julia’s sister celebrated as well, but young Julia herself remained discontent.
“I wish…” she would begin every night as she dozed off to sleep, dreaming of collective bargaining agreements and inflammations of the bronchioles.
She wished every single night up until the night before her ninth birthday, and as she grew, so did the wishes. She still dreamed of breaking industrial deadlocks, but had added to her prayers the thought of entering the world of politics. She could feel her birthday approaching, and was so excited by the thought of all the presents she would receive (then divide up equally amongst her friends), she did not notice that it was midnight before she begun to feel dozy. “I wish…” she murmured as the clock ticked over to midnight.
Suddenly, the corner of her room lit up with every colour imaginable! Blue, red, green, yellow, purple! Then some other colours burst out of those, colours so new that Julia had to invent new names for them immediately: cran, jillot, wubble, funt and kevin!
From the colours emerged an elderly woman in a perfectly-ironed white dressing gown. Her faced was creased with such perfect symmetry, and her silver hair rested oh-so comfortably on her strong yet feminine shoulders.
“Julia?” she asked.
Julia nodded again.
“Julia Eileen Gillard?”
Julia nodded so desperately, she thought her head was going to fly off!
The old woman relaxed. “Oh, good. I’m sorry, I have to be careful these days. I was supposed to inspire an infant named Paul Anderson to become a successful film director, but accidentally visited a five year old by the same name first. Now I have to ask for middle names before I get started.”
“Who are you?” young Julia stammered.
“I am your Fairy Godmother,” the old woman replied. “I am sent to those who will one day achieve greatness, who will one day inspire people to live greater lives. I am here to set you on the path that will take you to the highest office in the land! You’re absolutely sure your middle name is Eileen?”
Summoning up all of her courage, Julia sat up in bed and pulled the sheets up to her chin. “Am I to be a great person?” she asked.
“You are,” said the Fairy Godmother, choosing her words with the utmost care, “to achieve things that can objectively be referred to as great.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Julia. “What qualified excitement! What am I to be? Do I lead the workers of this country in a socialist revolution against the state? Do I return to Wales and help it secede from the British Empire? Will I be a ballerina?” she added hopefully.
The Fairy Godmother gathered herself up, and with as much grandeur as she could muster, intoned the following: “You are to be the first female Prime Minister of Australia!”
The words echoed in Julia’s head, and she began to feel dizzy. The first female Prime Minister? Could such a thing be possible? One hundred questions leapt to the forefront of Julia’s head, each jostling for attention. Julia stammered, trying to get them all out at once.
“How does it happen? When does it happen? Will I be a great leader? Do I get to go to war with anybody? Who is the British Prime Minister? Is he cute? Am I married? Is my husband deputy Prime Minister? Do I own a dog?” Julia sat up on her knees, tilting forward with every exciting possibility.
“Calm down, calm down,” said the Fairy Godmother. “I’m not supposed to tell you all that. I am simply supposed to set you on your path.”
“Surely you can drop a few hints,” Julia insisted, pouting. “There must be some advice you can give me! Tell me, how do I become Prime Minister? Is it a big, inspiration election? Am I overthrowing some horrible right-wing zealot?”
The Fairy Godmother bit her lip. As a Fairy Godmother, she was bound by law to not reveal too much about the future. But she had also invested heavily in BHP Billiton, and did not wish her stocks to take a dive in the early 21st century. She looked around, in case someone was listening in, then crept forward and sat on the end of Julia’s bed. She leaned in, speaking just above a whisper.
“Here is what happens,” she said. Julia leaned forward, her eyes wide and her ears even wider as the Fairy Godmother told her all about the 2007 election, and how the country would sweep the Labor Party to power, with Julia herself as its deputy leader. Julia sat in rapt attention as the Fairy Godmother described the events of 2008 and 2009 and then 2010. But then, suddenly, she stopped.
“What happens next?” Julia asked, barely daring to breathe in.
The Fairy Godmother pursed her lips. “The Prime Minister’s popularity takes a dive.”
“Well, that’s not so bad,” Julia said. “Lots of leaders have dips in their popularity. I’m sure the rest of the party will be patient enough to wait it out.”
The Fairy Godmother cleared her throat. “Some within the party think it’s time for a change in leader. After all, two and a half years is a very long time.”
“Well, no. Mostly for fruit flies and other creatures with short life spans. Time is relative,” she said, with a sudden and grand adjustment in tone that suggested she wanted to change the subject.
“He’s not going down without a fight!” Julia said, standing up on the bed. “I’ll stand by my leader! After all, he’s the one who appointed me deputy! What do I do to show my loyalty?”
“Er… hm. Think of it this way: your loyalty is first and foremost to your constituents, then to your party, then to your leader. He is, at best, third on that list, so you have to consider the first two first.”
“I suppose so,” Julia said, slumping back into her bed.
“There’s an election looming,” continued the Fairy Godmother, “and, let’s face it, you’re not getting any younger.”
“Even in the future? I thought we’d have age-reversing ray guns by then.”
“They’re still a little way off. But you have so many things to consider, especially your career. What would happen to your career if you didn’t seize this opportunity? If you lost the next election? You don’t want to end up like Peter Costello!”
“Who’s Peter Costello?”
Julia sat back in the bed and thought about this for a few moments. “So, am I good or bad? Do I save the party from defeat, or am I a backstabber?”
“Ah,” the Fairy Godmother said, “you’re asking about the narrative the press will paint. Well, news in the 21st century is twenty-four hours a day, so to fill that time, every possible narrative is discussed and parsed until there’s nothing but a cacophony of incompatible opinions.”
Julia scrunched up her face, confused.
“It’s a bit of both,” the Fairy Godmother offered. “There is some irony in the fact that you clearly have the capacity to be a great and inspirational leader, but the manner with which you got the job is neither great nor inspirational.”
“What does irony mean?”
“Well, you’re going to join the Australian Labor Party, so it might be best if you don’t understand that word.”
“What about the fact that I’m a girl leader? Does that inspire people? I bet it does!”
“Yes,” the Fairy Godmother said decisively, then: “Sort-of.” Then: “Not really. The fact that you’re the first female Prime Minister is a fact that is noted, then suitably ignored in favour of policies and politics. It’s one of the few things the press gets right.” Seeing Julia looking crestfallen, the Fairy Godmother perked up: “But it is a great time for women! If you live in New South Wales or Queensland, you have a state premier who is a woman, a Prime Minister who is a woman, and a Governor-General who is a woman!”
Julia couldn’t repress her smile. “That’s amazing! So sexism has finally been eliminated?”
“Uh, sure. Why not.”
Julia stared at her wall. A map of Australia with all the place names in bold black letters stared back at her. She thought about all she’d learned. She turned back to her Fairy Godmother. “So, I come to power just before the 2010 election?”
“That’s right,” said the Fairy Godmother, suddenly remembering another fact, “and you don’t move into the Lodge, because you want the people to elect you as leader before you take your place there.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Julia said, but upon recalling her social science class, added: “But that’s a bit silly, isn’t it? Constitutionally, I’m as valid a leader as the guy I booted out, right? In Australia we elect parties, not leaders.”
“Technically true, but try telling the people that. An overexposure to American politics has them convinced they’re electing a head of state.”
“Why don’t the politicians correct them?”
“Who’s the US President?”
“What about the Speaker of the House of Representatives?”
“I don’t know…”
“Who is the Senate Majority Leader?”
“Exactly,” said the Fairy Godmother. “Australian leaders, or anyone with aspirations to be a leader, all wish to one day be seen as the head of state, so they put forward that image instead of that of high-ranking government official. That’s why most of Australia will feel betrayed at what is essentially a constitutionally-sound coup d’é tat.”
Julia was beginning to get a headache. “But what about the 2010 election? If people are nervous about having a leader they didn’t technically vote for, then surely a decisive victory will clear things up!”
The Fairy Godmother again chose her words carefully. “That is true. A decisive victory would make things a lot less complicated.”
Julie scrunched up her face. “So, I do win the next election?”
“You are the next Prime Minister,” the Fairy Godmother said, with a tone of forced diplomacy that would have seemed over-the-top at the United Nations. Sensing Julia was about to interject, she continued: “All right, so you don’t win a majority of the vote, and the final decision is so murky it makes your overthrow of your former leader seem positively democratic by comparison, but you still edge your way into power. Isn’t that enough?”
“No!” yelled Julia, and if she’d been standing, she’d have stomped her foot very hard on the floorboards. “I want to inspire people and do great things, not edge into power on a technicality!”
The Fairy Godmother sighed. “Julia, dreams are often disappointing when applied to reality, but that’s just how it works…”
“No!” yelled Julia again. “I won’t do it. I’m going to become a vet and treat sick kittens and ponies. Why would anyone want the life you just described?”
“I’ve handled this badly,” the Fairy Godmother said, speaking more to herself than to Julia. “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to wipe your memory of this whole conversation. It’s possible I’ve just put the whole space/time continuum in jeopardy. Also, I could get fired.”
“Fired? You should unionise.”
“That’ll do, Julia. Now sleep,” the Fairy Godmother said, pulling a wand from her cloak and waving it over Julia. Fairy dust sprinkled out and Julia’s eyelid began to feel heavy. Slowly, she slumped back onto her pillow and fell into a deep and forgetful sleep.
The Fairy Godmother sighed. Hopefully her next assignment – teaching Sting to play the lute – would go more smoothly. As she gathered up her robes and readied her wand, she snuck a glance back at the girl. Julia was now in a deep, peaceful sleep, blissfully unaware that in just a few short decades fate had something horrible and unforgivable waiting for her: it would grant her wish.