It is indescribable. Being surrounded by Australian accents, Australian sensibilities; Australians. From the first moment, it drags you out of the zone you are in.
‘Hi. Australian Embassy.’
‘Hi, we’re here for the Embassy to vote.’
‘How many are you?’
‘There are two of us.’
‘Okay, so there’s a bit of a line. Maybe if you come in and wait downstairs, and when a few come back down you can come up. Alright?’
‘Yeah, okay.’ The door buzzes and opens toward you, and you feel a change in the air. Was he putting on a strong accent, or is that just… how Australians sound?
We have approached the nondescript building, the familiar flag hanging low, almost hiding. The rooms all seem unoccupied.
The lift opens and a tall guy, clearly Aussie, with a cheeky smile and his long shirtsleeves undone, shirt unironed, ushers us into the lift as a bundle of students tumble out.
‘Here’yah, sorry about the wait,’ he says. We take the lift up to the second floor. The lift opens to wood floors and plants, spiky plants in the window. Most of the voters are students.
‘Bloody hell,’ says one of them, taking up the small room that we’re not meant to vote in. He pulls out the senate ballot and it falls to the floor. His friend’s is smaller. ‘Mate, yours doesn’t deserve the bench space,’ he says, and wraps it around his mate’s head, making a show of trying to find space.
I speak to an Australian businessman, married to a Dane, and a student who ends up numbering more than one party above the line. The guy gives her a new ballot. Everyone is almost bursting with excitement to see each other – people we’ve never met. A middle aged couple here on business talk about Rugby League to another couple.
‘We should catch up, mate.’
‘Yeah, might do.’
Andrew tells them about the Danish Aussie Rules team he visited last night – could have got a game, if he’d have brought the right shoes. We talk about suburbs in Sydney, suburbs in Melbourne. Brisbane. Danish are very particular about accent – they can’t understand the wrong one. Germans don’t all speak English. Netherlanders are friendly and warm. Vegemite is banned by customs, here. Have you seen The Hague? Worth going?
We all fill out our forms there at the table, leaning against the wall, sitting eight around a small coffee table. No one cares about shielding their vote. I vote above the line, and fill out my lower house ballot with the Sex Party last.
Andrew sits at the only voting ‘booth’, shielded with those white and purple cardboard things the CAE hand out. Takes ages to fill out the form. One by one, group by group, the Australians leave the embassy. The atmosphere has gone with the people. No more accents, no more buzz. People who came after us leave before us. The staff has gone to lunch. Still, Andrew fills. The one guy is about to go to lunch.
‘I think you’ve got the record!’ he says. ‘I’m just going to grab something. How long do you think you’ll be?’
‘Thirty seconds,’ he says, and asks for another form. He’s lost count. Puts a ‘1’ above the line.