On an icy Canberra evening, your correspondent makes her way through excited Chinese students to ANU’s Copland Theatre where Chloe Shorten is going to speak about her just-published book, Take Heart – A Story for Modern Stepfamilies’.
The Shortens, of course, are a modern blended step-family; he is the former union man and now Leader of the Opposition, she his second wife and the daughter of former Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
This evening Chloe Shorten is ‘in conversation’ with Anna-Maria Arabia, who is introduced by the convenor Colin Steele, as ‘a former advisor in Bill Shorten’s office and a passionate social advocate’. So, no awkward controversial questions this evening, then.
Chloe, perched looking uncomfortable on one of Copland’s high white plastic stools tells us her research into blended families that showed that ‘step’ in High German meant ‘bereaved’ and ‘step children’ were thus often seen in this light, rather than, as she wanted them to be, ‘integrating losses and looking to the future, children facing the re-partnering of their parents.”
As an ‘educated, privileged, middle class’ woman, who had once had ‘a short and ill-advised career as a journalist’ Shorten is now passionate about women’s issues ‘Girls’ education is at the top of my priorities this year’ she had tweeted, but in the national capital, where the oblique glance and guarded comment speak volumes, she’s not cutting through.
As her audience shifted slightly restlessly, a couple of people furtively reading phone messages, Chloe ploughed bravely on. Her audience may, in fact, have thought back to what Gallery journalists were calling ‘Chloe’s gold necklace story’.
It occurred just before Bill Shorten rose to speak in parliament, when the gold necklace Chloe wore mysteriously disappeared from her neck, causing ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs, and debate about whether the necklace was perceived to be too opulent a look for the wife of the Labor leader, debate that was scotched from Shorten’s office giving the information that it was Lovisa, a chain store brand, it had been removed because of a broken clasp. Chloe tweeted Bill, “Happy birthday, darling. Sorry my $20 necklace caused such trouble.”
As she related her encounters with teenage indigenous girls who refused to meet her eyes, sitting beside her, wriggling their bare legs – here Chloe wriggled her own — she mentioned a small boy, half-brother to the girls, who wore her high heeled boots. The girls, in mentioning their half-brother, put her in mind, she said, of the remark made to her own son, that his sister was, in fact, his half-sister. The faces of her audience showed some bemusement, as they struggled to follow the narrative of the conversation.
At the conversation’s end, as your correspondent exited the theatre, she bumped into a former neighbour, taking the opportunity to ask, as we walked back past the noodle and sushi bars that feed ANU international students,
“So, what did you think?”
“She wasn’t wearing that necklace,” was the reply.
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