Ballina. Beautiful one day, ‘purrfek’ the next.
Australia’s coastal highway is dotted with jeweled palaces risen Phoenix-like from the ashes of World War 2.
Conceived originally as venues for returned veterans of that ghastly but victorious conflict, the diggers soon acquired their own properties and established societies for ‘members and guests’.
We lovingly know them as "the local RSL," (Returned Services League) a place to get affordable grog, very-affordable hot meals, and great company – all paid for by the sad suckers who compulsively play the one-armed (now 10-buttoned) bandits (but that’s another story).
They proliferate across the country, typically one per town, two if that town has either an East, West, South or North locality – except Upper-Cumbucca West, a fictitious place, or West of the Black Stump, which no-one has ever found (except, nirvana-like, a few ill-prepped pioneer explorers of our lethally-hot outback).
Our gray nomads plan entire trips around this lucky country based on affordable food in the oft stunning surrounds of this welcoming social strata. There is just no safer, saner, simpler place to relax and eat than the RSL club, especially when the odd relatives who one suspects live nearby (in this remote town) are probably best avoided.
Thus in mind, as the blurb said, we tied up the Honda unda and wandad on in.
Now, it should be explained to the foreigner that times are a-changin’ in this wide paranoid polyglot land of late. Sedition laws, industrial dis-reform and terrorism alarm without tangible alert are all the rage – as is, too, like-named road manners.
The welcomes from safe quarters are also a-changing – as in disappearing?
Ballina RSL brought this slamming home in our sadly-mistaken faces.
I am, revealed by my mug shot, a gray, distinguished, veteran-looking sort of Aussie, but my Asian Bride could be mistaken for a very short Abbo. Even I occasionally mistake her so!
The tall, grayer, and even more-distinguished and veteran-like mustachioed gatekeeper greeted us from beneath his brigadier’s moustache, behind his concierge’s desk, with a startling "NSW government regulations now require photo-IDs a prerequisite of entry" whilst staring icily at my tinted truelove.
To be honest, he might have preceded this alarming proclamation with "Greetings folks" but that cold, heart-clamming stricture has stricken all verbiage that preceded it.
I don’t know quite why he chose to gray our day and neither did the opportunity arise (or did I feel restraint enough) to ask.
"Oh .. okay .. ummm" I replied, fumbling for one only driver’s licence. "When did this happen?"
Truelove innocently, naively, trustingly, belatedly, offered her Medicare card, being a driver not.
"Sorry, regulations just introduced (I’m guessing the words, that’s just the gist) stipulate photographic identification to enter any NSW licensed premises," clarified gray moustache. He was pleasant enough, but threatened uncompromising authority.
That’s OK, I forgive. It’s difficult tending door in a large club. I empathize. We like these guys; it can get quite nasty for them. But this was week-day lunch, not Saturday night footy piss up.
I was "in the door" already, having complied, but teetered on the edge of storming out. Truelove stood there blinking perplexedly.
"Hmmm" riposted Moi, "sounds rather like the Australia Card to me. Didn’t we vote NO to that?"
Flinchless, gray moustache parried "Yes, we did. Unfortunately."
Argument ceased there.
His moral victory seemed to disarm him so we signed in and I dragged darkie up the stairs to the pleasures of Ballina’s crystal palace, too emotionally disenchanted to relish oursuddenly less-inviting meal.
During sign-in the following had darted angrily through my mind.
If kosher, this inane, paranoid new regulation has just slapped massive constraint on citizens’ freedom of movement, directly attacking yet another aspect of life, destroying another little pleasure, the welcome mat of trust no longer out at these social clubs – for strangers at least.
Didn’t gray moustache fight for this country, to protect us from totalitarianism, to vigorously maintain those little freedoms that made it worth fighting for, worth living in?
Didn’t he understand what a frightful demand is: "photo-ID required"? (Yer lookin at me mug .. isn’t it good enuf fer ye?)
Would he like our fingerprints? Check my iris? Criminal record? Consult reception’s facial-recognition database? Drop your trousers, Sir, while I apply these nano-probes.
Maybe his last shift at the entrance involved some nasty no-hopers and he was a little tense.
Maybe he’s just bloody officious!
And no, dear foreigner, Australia has it’s share of criminals and corruption but this land still deals a childlike innocence and honesty amongst working folk. He was NOT asking for some folding, lettuce, skins, the color of my money. PS, and we still don’t bloody-well tip for service.
Ballina RSL Club policies fail to reflect any basis for our confrontation:
Bona Fide visitors residing outside the 5km radius are required to sign the visitors register before entering the Club, and will be required to produce proof of residence.
Guests of members residing within the 5km radius may be signed in as guests of members, providing they remain in the company of the member and vacate the premises with the member, and will be required to produce proof of identity.
Visitors are required to produce proof of their residential address.
So, here we are at Cooma RSL one day later:
"Hello luv, ‘ow are we? Out of town? Just sign here. ‘Av a noice meal."
PS: So, what’s the big deal anyway?
Well, in the land of Oz we might be a larrikin bunch with a much-touted disrespect for authority, but we’re really a bunch of cowards and roll over to any regulations the government foists on us – and they have foisted quite a few on us lately.
Not so in other countries.
So, this is where capitulation to small infringements of freedom leads. And if it doesn’t make your blood boil?