Three years ago (or how I came to be in an elephant suit in the 2009 election leader’s debate)

Inspired by the current Queensland election I’ve decided to remind the world of the fact it will be three years ago tomorrow that I found myself under a table, secretly climbing into a ratty, stinky hired elephant-suit (which actually more resembled a koala) and then calmly climbing out from under the table and taking a place at a 12-person round-table full of dignitaries. Around me was this incredibly massive room full of the who’s who of politics in Queensland. Media, politicians, the influential, the party hacks.

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At the time I was horrified. Like a thousand degrees outside my comfort zone. I thought all kids of things would happen to me – the least of which was that I was going to be arrested.

I was “volunteered” for the job cause I arrived late at a meeting. It seemed like a joke to me – I just expected it to all to fall to pieces at some point and a “voice of reason” would sensibly put a halt to this ridiculousness.

Another day passed and at another meeting, which this time I made sure I attended in a timely fashion – it was further alluded to that I was going to dress up as an elephant in the Leader’s Debate. Apparently I was to be the ‘Elephant in the Room’ – the issue that was so obvious to everyone but not acknowledged. The point being the massive job losses in the public service under Lawrence Springborg’s plan for the public sector. He had invented a word to illustrate his point too: public servants would be “de-necessary”.

So later I was out doing work and came back and suddenly there was an elephant costume on my chair. I realised then and there that I just might have to do this. I got into the costume and did a few laps around the office. It was intensely hot and stank of a thousand, thousand BAD parties. It even had food stains on the paws. (Later I was informed the office got a discount cause it was so shoddy and unwashed.)

That night I began fretting. Surely they wouldn’t let a guy dressed as an elephant into the leader’s debate. Surely someone – that Voice of Reason – would call off this madness – like Superman would rescue some kid from from getting hit by a speeding truck.

I woke up to a frantic Friday. I was distracted by work and and somewhat buoyed by the decision that I would get into the costume once in the debate chamber. Someone put the costume into a suitcase and then I found myself at the Convention Centre in the hall outside the rooms, just wheeling my suit along, following Alex (my boss and leader of the public sector union).

It was massively crowded and I was towing this equally massive suitcase. I was actually calm.  Surely no security guard would let me into the leader’s debate (complete with who knows how many of Queensland’s most powerful and influential) with this dirty great big suitcase in tow.

I was wrong. I waltzed in, totally unchallenged and ushered to my table’s seat. Now this was REAL. It I was wearing my Garmin heartrate monitor – it would have registered my heartbeat spiked about 40 beats per second.

I slunk under the table and I slowly squeezed myself in. It took about 2 minutes and then I casually emerged in this elephant’s costume, resumed my seat and just sat there in a daze. Of all the 200-odd well-dressed and important-looking people only about 80% were actually important.

But just like the metaphorical “elephant in the room” – I was ignored. That was until I was chosen by my table to bid on Anna Bligh’s t-shirt. Then the media just swarmed around me. I’ve never been “interviewed” before but thankfully they mostly just took photos and video. They wondered if I was a koala. “No, I’m an elephant – the ‘elephant in the room'”. DER. And one guy actually asked me if I was gonna “do” anything. “No” I said. “I’m here to be ignored.” I hadn’t even had a chance to rehearse these lines – it just came out.

“Just like the fact 12,000 jobs are gonna get cut if Springborg is elected,” I should have added – but I really hadn’t thought of anything at that stage – not that my brain was in much condition to be lucid enough to articulate such stuff.

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The media then largely ignored me again. But for the next 2 hours I suffered in this sauna-suit. It was so hot. I pulled my arm inside the suit and then snuck glasses of water through a hole. It was incredibly surreal just having a cocoon around you. I had an opportunity to wander at one stage and even people I knew and said hello to had no idea it was me inside. They mostly freaked out, not really understanding the purpose of this stunt.

You can almost see me in this shot – I was literally sitting about 7 metres away – on a table directly behind

And eventually it was over and I got to walk out. I chose to stay in costume rather then suffer further indignity by revealing my secret identity.

I stood around while Stateline recorded their summation outside. I walked around in the background – just slightly getting into the task, pretending to be bored and restless: lots of hands on hips, playing with my trunk, tapping my foot, looking at my imaginary watch like I was waiting for a bus that hadn’t shown up and shrugging my shoulders. I was starting to get into character and starting to see I really had a calling being a modern Humphrey B Bear type character.

After that Anna Bligh emerged and a camera man from channel 7 indicated he wanted to get me into a shot with Anna but I dived out of the way heading to the bathroom to change and said “no” but then he SHOVED his shoulder into me trying to get me into his shot. Practically a shoulder-barge. It was fucking brutal. This is how the media behave. They don’t just document the story – they try to contrive it too.

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In the bathroom I was in the middle cubicle and it was tight in there. There were dudes either side of me. Getting out of an elephant costume is no easy task. I grunted with the effort and managed to bang each of the walls so many times the dudes either side must have been horrified – like I was doing a SERIOUS number two. I’m surprised no one asked for a “courtesy flush” ala Austin Powers.

But my dignity wasn’t quite salvaged. Walking out of the bathroom I was ridiculously sweaty and I guess carrying an elephant costume under one arm gives the game away.

A few days later we gathered at my boss’s house, sitting on his dining room couch, to watch Stateline – and I have to admit it kinda felt worth it watching me be stupid while Jessica Van Honden did her serious piece to camera. It might have made up for the fact that once – in the very same house, in almost the same circumstances, I jumped up when the Broncos scored a try and threw my hand into the ceiling fan above, destroying the fan and really, really hurting my hand. But that is another story.
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