Current Issue #478

Montefiore: The search for South Australia's next governor

Montefiore: The search for South Australia's next governor

How do you keep a North Terrace secret in Adelaide? It’s challenging.

In the Adelaide real estate game, location is everything. The worst shack in the best street will always be worth more than a villa on the wrong side of town. As readers know, Sir Monty’s permanent residence, his North Terrace club, makes a useful case study. Built in the 1860s, for some years it was the most prominent building on the northern edge of the square mile, other than Government House, immediately opposite. Offers to buy in the century-and-a-half that followed were occasionally received, but if the building were sold, where would members go? The obvious answer is across the road, but state governors past have always resisted overtures. Something about crown land, government responsibilities, parliamentary proximity, etc. Knees-up club shindigs over the years have sometimes seen wild, champagne-fuelled proposals by club wives to form a conga line, snake across North Terrace, and slip through the gates to gain access to the governor’s palatial ball room. It may be one reason why a wall was built around the site, with locked gates.

Nowadays, Sir Monty is less inclined to join the conga lines, more content to quietly sip the malt upstairs in his suite overlooking the governor’s vast garden. He’s of an age where discreet detachment marks his demeanour, and he’s learned that such detachment is a marketable feature. Diagonally adjacent to the club is state parliament, where since the 2018 state election repeated huddles have been formed to contemplate the filling of key state positions potentially to become vacant during the 2018–22 term. The job of state governor is one of them. It has been filled with distinction by His Excellency the Honorable Hieu Van Le since 1 September 2014. Adelaide’s record since 1836 settlement highlights 35 state governors – but only two women. The average period of incumbency over recent decades has been about four years, give or take a year.

Extensive polling of readers of The Adelaide Review reveals that most followers of Sir Monty’s career tend to read his columns behind closed doors, in disguise, behind locked doors, such is the highly confidential content often revealed. There is good reason for this, and here is another. Sir Monty can now reveal that future occupation of the governor’s job was late last year shortlisted with his name at the top, by a grateful, recently elected state administration (services rendered, etc). It was most flattering. Criteria for the role are demanding. Impeccable background. Notable career highlights. A passion for pomp and ceremony. Capacity to survive military bands at close quarters. Sound judgement. And most importantly, an ability to remain aloof from the uproars of the day, especially never to be tempted to use Facebook or Twitter to complain about trams incapable of turning right into North Terrace, or any other traffic turning right elsewhere.

The terms of the government’s advance warning to Sir Monty about the shortlist were that he must not breathe a word until the announcement. But had club members been more observant, their curiosity would have been aroused at the speed in which Sir Monty very suddenly pulled out of his bid to run for election at Town Hall. His posters had been ready to hang (‘Nothing shonky with Sir Monty’), and he had even penned a delightful brochure containing several controversial proposals for the city (renaming it West Melbourne was cheeky). Town Hall today has no idea of the significant loss to its elected member ranks, given the high probability of his winning based on the A-lister membership of his club and their connections.

The next challenge was to keep the shortlist secret er… secret. This turned out to be one of his great challenges. Many Adelaide residents are unaware that most of the great secrets of state are in fact well known around the parliamentary bar, and from there, like a heat-stressed blowfly, tend to flick quickly to portals in other places. Soon almost everyone who is anyone in Adelaide knows the secrets, but in passing them on, insists that the next person must swear on multiple bibles that they won’t tell a living soul. Which they swear, but bibles being rather short in supply in Adelaide’s hipster coffee joints, leaves them free to pass on the tip with the same caveat – as soon as a bible can be found.

You will not be surprised to know that Sir Monty experienced some sleepless nights over Christmas and January, awaiting the call. When it did, however, the news was deflating. The panel members assessing the list of potential future governors had disappointing news. Given that only two women have been state governors, the shortlist order had changed. This was notwithstanding Sir Monty’s CV, career path and psych test results. The fundamental problem was that Sir Monty is incapable of wearing a frock, skirt or twin set without falling off the high heels. Lipstick and nail polish don’t improve things. Moreover, his choice of perfume is too similar to the peaty aroma of a 50-year-old malt to be acceptable at fetes and ribbon cutting. As the panel discreetly explained, the paper dart of affirmative action had at last landed in the premier’s in-tray. The shortlist committee was plagued with equivocation.

Despite the disappointment, there was one upside. Since then, Sir Monty has been able to cancel all his advance-notice resignations as chair of the club’s finance, audit and entertainment committees. Who knows, there may be fresh temptation at the next masked ball to lead that conga line across the road after all. The ballroom may be as close as he ever gets to the governor’s study.

Header image:
DinoPh / Shutterstock.com

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