It was my decision to hoodwink my parents, in pursuit of a girl, which led me to devise an elaborate ruse involving Peter Dutton that scarred me for years.
Dutton was my Year 12 classmate at St Paul’s School, in Brisbane. It was the summer of ‘87. Sir Joh’s premiership was in its death throes, the Brisbane Bears were unveiled, Queensland’s capital was preparing for Expo and I was in love with Nicole Matthews, the most beautiful girl in school.
My unlikely coupling with Dutton occurred when I convinced my parents to unground me so I could attend a blue-light disco and hopefully win Nicole’s affections. They lifted the punishment after I agreed to run for school captain.
Upon arriving at the disco, there was a long queue at the entrance. “What’s going on?” I asked the boy in front of me.
“It’s Dutton, mate. He’s workin’ with the coppas and he’s frisking people before allowing them to enter! Can you believe it?”
I had a moment of clarity as Dutton patted me down, the hair on his crown already thinning. I told him that we needed to talk later. He looked at me suspiciously, then told the fat cop at the entrance that I was “clean”.
Inside, Nicole and her cute girlfriends were bombarded by spotty boys with bad haircuts and even worse clothes.
But it was me she was interested in. Run-DMC belted out Walk This Way and I was dancefloor dynamite (or at least that’s how I remember it) – a breakdancing badarse with a peroxide-blond flattop, Air Jordans, rolled-up jeans and a neon-green t-shirt embossed with an image of Rolf Harris leering.
Dutton wore a scout uniform and mingled with police.
At the end of the evening, Nicole and I kissed under a disco ball as Berlin sang Take My Breath Away.
Outside, I explained to Dutton, heavily scented with Brut, that I planned to run for school captain and wanted him to manage my campaign.
“I hardly know you,” he said. “Why would I do that?”
I pointed at Nicole and her friends and said: “Because I can introduce you to them.”
Dutton pondered the offer for a short while, then extended his hand and said: “It’s a deal.”
You’re probably wondering why I decided to saddle myself with Dutton. It was because the thought of being school captain had been as appealing to me as listening to Starship’s We Built This City for 24 straight hours, and I had figured that having Dutton as my campaign manager was certain electoral suicide. What could go wrong?
The disco was held on a Friday night, and on Monday Dutton arrived at school with what he confidently stated was the blueprint for my ascension to the top.
In explaining his strategy, he said parents had lost control of their children. And while St Paul’s was a fine institution, the teachers could only do so much to combat the rise in anti-social behaviour.
The antidote, he enthused, was someone the students respected and who was on their wavelength. “You,” he said.
He lightly squeezed my upper arm and said: “I see in you, Mark, a diamond in the rough; someone with the potential to become a political star. Trust me and not only will I get you elected but we will bring about real change that will be felt for years to come.”
“We will achieve that by weeding out undesirables and ensuring that only desirables are enrolled. But make no mistake: you will need to be brutal. Many of your policies will be very unpopular, even among the faculty. But I truly believe that you have the charisma to pull it off.”
This “man” in a 16-year-old’s tall, gangly body was more than I could have hoped for. I half expected him to rip open his shirt to reveal a big Bob Santamaria chest tattoo.
“Sounds like a plan,” I said, shaking his hand enthusiastically.
Two weeks later, at the conclusion of the campaign, I was so unpopular I had garnered one vote (presumably from Dutton), people threw food at me at lunchtime and a year 8 boy dacked me, grundies included, as I explained my ruse to Nicole – how things had got out of control and had backfired spectacularly.
I spent the remainder of the year an outcast, then observed, mortified, as Dutton became a political force as I faded into relative obscurity – my life high point that kiss under the disco ball.
Mark Bode is an ACM journalist. The events depicted in his writings are not meant to be taken literally. He uses satire and fiction in commentary.