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Last month, I promised I’d tell a story about my time at Duntroon. And since I like telling stories, here goes…

Once upon a time, I was working in the publishing area of the College. My job was to publish documents for the College. Things like exam papers, the little booklets they hand out to visitors at things like the Beating of the Retreat that we went to last month, that kind of thing
While working there, I was the only civilian in the office with 4 military people and the uniformed ones had some issues realising that being a civilian meant I didn’t live under exactly the same rules as they did. I didn’t have to show up at 7am for a run around the oval. I didn’t have to salute. I had set working hours, and when they were done, I was entitled to go home and unpaid overtime was something I could refuse to do.
As a result of this difference in status, there was some friction between me and my boss, Staff Sergeant Jacqui Van Beukering. So when I was told to do a publishing job that wasn’t for the College, but was a menu for a cafe run by the wife of a College staff member, my refusal to do so was taken poorly. We argued. I told her what she was instructing me to do was misuse of College resources, and I refused to carry out her orders.

Those of you who have worked for the Imperial government will know that refusing an instruction can result in disciplinary measures. I fully expected my actions to be examined and I was pretty secure in my position. I was also prepared to argue my case. After all, I was a union delegate at that stage, for all civilian staff in the College, so standing up to the hierarchy wasn’t something that overly concerned me.

Staff Sergeant Van Beukering’s boss, Captain Davis was called in. The issue was discussed. I stood my ground. The Captain instructed me to publish the cafe menu. I refused. So a union official was bought in. The union official backed my position. The soldiers wouldn’t alter their position, neither would I. A circuit breaker was needed. The Captain suggested the issue should be “investigated” and until the matter was resolved, I was sent home on full pay.

This may seem odd to those who have never worked for the government. But I was sent home. I was being paid. But I didn’t have to go to work. I originally thought this situation might last a day or two. I had underestimated the situation.

A few weeks later, while still on paid “leave” (although not actually using up any leave) I was chatting to a mate of mine who worked for the local MP. I told him that I was being paid, but didn’t have to go to work. So, since it was an election year, was there anything the Party could use my time for? He put me in touch with a chap named Justin who worked for Mr Beazley, the Leader of the Party at the time.

I met Justin and began to work a day or two a week in Beazley’s office. I loved the work though, so I expanded the days I was there until I was pretty much full-time. They weren’t paying me, but I was being paid by the College, so I didn’t care.

My role at Parliament House grew and grew until I was administering all the volunteer staff, using them not only for my role with Justin in media monitoring but also lending them out to Shadow Ministers like Faulkner, Latham, Evans, Lee and Kerr for research work – essentially the way a temp agency works. Only my volunteers weren’t paid more than their lunch money – they were just doing it because they loved it. But being uni students who were all passionate about politics, they were living their fantasies since every day they came to work, they were spending time with the Party leaders and MPs.

After several months, the issue of the refusal to follow instructions was resolved and I was advised I was able to return to work at the College. But by that time, I was working 115 hour weeks in Beazley’s office and so when I told Justin I had to go, he offered to add me to the payroll, so I could be paid to do what I previously was doing for the love of it. Naturally, I took up the offer.

So returning to Duntroon last month reminded me of how it was the stepping stone to a path that provided one of my great adventures. It was ten years ago. But I don’t regret leaving there. I guess even the smallest steps can take us places we never expect. We have to be prepared to take that step when it comes though.