Born to be an ag­i­ta­tor

She was a re­bel­lious teen who signed up for the Army on a whim and later found her­self an in­valid in the grip of booze and painkillers. But, as Jacqui Lam­bie writes in her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Rebel With A Cause, within 10 years she’d got her­self to­gether and w

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS -

IWAS al­ways a bit of a re­bel­lious kid. Mum was start­ing to get a bit, well, argy-bargy with me. She was not happy with my at­ti­tude. Worse, I was start­ing to hang around some peo­ple who were not the best in­flu­ence. Mum was giv­ing me ul­ti­ma­tums: “Get out of that group, pull your head in and start study­ing or, at the very least, show up at school.”

I was study­ing Year 12 while work­ing week­ends at a lo­cal night­club, City Lim­its. I had started off at an­other es­tab­lish­ment, the “Eli” or Eli­matta, but moved on af­ter I threw a glass of beer over the bar man­ager. “You’re sacked,” he yelled at me. My re­ply was quite spe­cific, too. I had my qual­i­fi­ca­tions so I walked straight into a new job.

Life took a huge turn for the bet­ter when a cou­ple of my girl­friends and I sussed out Cen­tre­link. Th­ese were girl­friends who had left school at the end of Year 9 and mixed with bikies and were now look­ing for work. There, in the car park, was a big green army bus.

I looked at my girl­friends and they looked at me. I said, “What do you think? The army could be cool.”

We made a group de­ci­sion (well, I made a group de­ci­sion): we would all sign up and be­come GI Janes. We made a solemn pact on the spot.

Now, let me tell you some­thing: when I make a pact, I’m in it for the long haul. I could feel within sec­onds that I was start­ing to lose some trac­tion with my girl­friends. I switched straight into ac­tion mode and gave them a gen­tle nudge to­ward the door of the re­cruit­ing bus, but I could sense they were al­ready hav­ing sec­ond thoughts. I main­tained a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude. My mind was fixed.

I thought our pact ac­tu­ally ex­tended to the point of “one in, all in”. The prob­lem was that it all hap­pened so quickly. I had signed up be­fore I knew it.

The re­cruit­ing sergeant was re­ally good; it took a mat­ter of min­utes.

Smil­ing proudly at my girl­friends, like the cat that just got the cream, all they had to do was fol­low suit. Much to my as­ton­ish­ment, they po­litely handed back their clip­boards to the sergeant with­out hav­ing signed a damn thing.

What had hap­pened to the pact be­tween the bloody sis­ter­hood? To save my own arse, I took a deep breath and po­litely asked the sergeant if I could have my signed piece of paper back. Surely, this would not be too much to ask for. I was hit for a six when he sim­ply said, “You’ll be right. It will be good for you.”

It was one of only a few times I have been speech­less in my life. I was locked in. But it would be­come a bless­ing in dis­guise.

I broke the news to my fam­ily about my en­list­ment fairly bluntly. I had not had time to think about it, I just went home and said, “That’s it, I’m join­ing the army.”

I don’t think my par­ents took it se­ri­ously to start with. To them, be­ing in the army would in­volve a great amount of dis­ci­pline and they didn’t think that I could hack that. Within six weeks, I un­der­went phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal and ap­ti­tude test­ing, so Mum re­alised I was ac­tu­ally se­ri­ous.

I don’t know how I bluffed my way through the tests, but I made it hap­pen suc­cess­fully. Dad reck­ons I must have told them some oth­er­worldly bull­shit that he had taught me to help me get through life. He seemed pretty chuffed with him­self for my sake, any­way!

I had to lose weight and it took me about 10 weeks to lose 10 ki­los.

Once I passed the weighin, it was off to the Army Re­cruit Train­ing Cen­tre in Kapooka, New South Wales, for me.

I re­ally had no idea what I was sign­ing up for. My en­rol­ment in the army did seem to make Mum and Dad ex­tremely happy. Were they happy be­cause I was join­ing up, or be­cause I was go­ing to be off their hands? Ei­ther way, it seemed to be re­garded as a win-win for every­body, in­clud­ing me.

I had signed my life away for at least four long years. I was still young, so I didn’t care, and it was a chance to get out of Tas­ma­nia. To be bru­tally hon­est, I just couldn’t hack the thought of wait­ing an­other 10 months to be old enough to ap­ply for the Tas­ma­nian Po­lice. I was in the right place at the right time for the Aus­tralian Army, so I ran with it and ran hard.

Back then, be­com­ing “GI Jac” sounded bet­ter to me than be­com­ing “Con­sta­ble Jac”.

In Oc­to­ber 1989, I trav­elled to Ho­bart for an in­duc­tion that took place over one day. I had test af­ter test, then I was put up in a back­pack­ers’ joint for the night and flown out of Tas­ma­nia the next day.

I was so dis­con­nected from re­al­ity and had so lit­tle idea about what was com­ing that I had packed enough clothes to wear a new out­fit ev­ery day for a month. I had all the bells and whis­tles – and a very heavy bag.

I ar­rived at Wagga Wagga Air­port in New South Wales. A bus was wait­ing with the en­gine off and slowly fill­ing with young women from around the coun­try.

On the bus to Kapooka, it was so sur­real. No one was say­ing any­thing and I felt a sense of alarm, not only for me but for the oth­ers, too.

Once we got to the base gate, I thought, Oh my God, what have I done?

No mat­ter how much study you do, un­less you’ve been in the Army Re­serve for a while, you just can’t have any idea what you are ac­tu­ally in for.

The army’s ap­proach was, and is, to get them signed up and deal with the re­cruits later.

For a fe­male, join­ing the army is the best ca­reer move I know. What­ever the army does, it just can’t raise fe­male re­cruit­ment above 10 per cent of the to­tal, so as a woman you will get ac­cepted if you meet

SWhat did I have to lose by try­ing? I dared to dream I could get into fed­eral Par­lia­ment and change laws ... sud­denly I was gun­ning for it

the min­i­mum re­quire­ments, hence why they took me. ome peo­ple might be ex­cused for ask­ing how the hell did Jacqui Lam­bie be­come a politi­cian, or even why she wanted to be­come one. For the po­lit­i­cal diehards out there, here is the an­swer: the idea first came to me while watch­ing Par­lia­men­tary Ques­tion Time on the ABC, which I would come across ev­ery now and again while chan­nel-surf­ing.

At that time, in 2006, I was off my head on med­i­ca­tion in a lot of ways and a lot of the time (or even all the time, ev­ery day). I got lost be­tween fan­tasy and re­al­ity. In be­tween get­ting mar­ried to some­one rich, lov­ing and fa­mous (or even with­out the fa­mous bit), I started think­ing in a real way about pol­i­tics to do some­thing about the treat­ment of in­jured veter­ans. There I was, a sin­gle mum in Devon­port with a bug­gered back and the Depart­ment of Veter­ans’ Af­fairs (DVA) on my tail, watch­ing Ques­tion Time and pray­ing to God that one day I’d get elected. Good grief! It was one way to get through the day. My imag­i­na­tion could run wild and free and I let it do just that.

What did I have to lose by try­ing? I dared to dream I could get into fed­eral Par­lia­ment and change laws re­gard­ing mil­i­tary com­pen­sa­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. I had no idea about pol­i­tics, but sud­denly I was gun­ning for it.

While the DVA was look­ing for an ad­min job for me, I picked up the courage to go around of­fices in the town on my own. I ap­proached all kinds of busi­nesses; I couldn’t just set my eye on po­lit­i­cal of­fices, as there weren’t many of those in Devon­port.

Well, no one was in­ter­ested in an ex-army bird who had been on compo for years. My life was in a haze.

In 2007, I was caught for driv­ing while over the limit, and had my driver’s li­cence sus­pended for thir­teen months. I blew 0.16. I guess I was do­ing that on a foun­da­tion of painkillers and other drugs, and must have thought I was in­vin­ci­ble. It was an­other em­bar­rass­ing de­tour in my life.

Ihad plucked up the courage to go and see Tas­ma­nian La­bor Sen­a­tor Nick Sherry about mak­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion to ac­cess my ComSu­per. He lis­tened to my story and my dream, and he was able to get me the help I needed – I re­ceived my su­per­an­nu­a­tion. Thank you, Nick.

Nick had a keen in­ter­est in su­per­an­nu­a­tion, but he was away a lot. In a very short space of time, I was able to strike up a friend­ship with Mike, an old friend of Nick’s who was also his of­fice man­ager. Mike had long been part of the La­bor move­ment, and we man­aged to hit it off. He be­came a men­tor.

One day, Mike said to me, “You know what? I’ve had fam­ily in the mil­i­tary. I want you to get a job, so I’m go­ing to fly down the chief of staff. I’d love you to do your re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­turn-to-work here.”

Fol­low­ing an in­ter­view, Nick Sherry’s of­fice gave me work ex­pe­ri­ence, which pro­vided the op­por­tu­nity of gain­ful em­ploy­ment in the fu­ture. So, you know who’s to blame!

My role was not go­ing to cost the fed­eral Par­lia­ment, as the mil­i­tary re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram Re­turn to Work (RTW) was pay­ing for my time. I checked emails, or­gan­ised the

mail in and out, an­swered the phone, read the papers and cut out any­thing re­lat­ing to Nick to send to Can­berra that day.

It kept me busy and I saw how a po­lit­i­cal of­fice worked and ticked.

It is a pity that more busi­nesses won’t look at tak­ing on Re­turn to Work (RTW) ex-sol­diers as they are there to work and the scheme gives ben­e­fits both ways. Bet­ter still, it doesn’t cost busi­nesses any­thing as wages are paid for by the Com­mon­wealth. The pub­lic ser­vice could also es­tab­lish a quota of RTW per­son­nel, but that hasn’t hap­pened and I am sure it won’t, even though this should have oc­curred a long time ago.

My work-ex­pe­ri­ence, and my bud­ding ca­reer as an of­fice girl, came to an end when my Re­turn To Work pro­gram fin­ished. I felt sad and I felt like shit. My back was not han­dling it. The pain was nine out of 10 most days and seven out of 10 af­ter re­lief. The re­al­ity hit me that per­haps this was as good as it was go­ing to get. I was be­gin­ning to see my fu­ture as not amount­ing to much at all, if any­thing.

I could not find a job. I asked the DVA if I could do more study af­ter Nick’s of­fice. DVA said “No”. Ev­ery way I turned, the out­come was the same: neg­a­tive and re­jected. Empti­ness and numb­ness con­sumed me once again. The 12 months lead­ing up to the fate­ful night in Au­gust 2009 (when I at­tempted sui­cide) was the ab­so­lute worst.

Life re­volved around watch­ing TV – I went from bed to couch to bot­tle to bed to couch to bot­tle to bed, and so it re­peated. Red wine was my favourite mate. My true mate. Yeah, some mate it is. It never ar­gued (it never agreed, ei­ther) but at least for a short pe­riod of time it made me feel half hu­man.

I would start with a glass of wine at 5 or 5.30pm while I made din­ner for the kids. At least I was still fo­cused on healthy meals from one day to the next. My God, did I be­come cre­ative in the kitchen! I’d make a good ap­pe­tiser to brighten up the crap life I was lead­ing.

I’d been deal­ing with se­ri­ous de­pres­sion and ran­dom panic at­tacks for the last two years. Most of the time I was in­side the house and did not suf­fer. But go­ing to any place where there were lots of peo­ple, like a su­per­mar­ket, it took off.

Med­i­cally I was stand­ing still like some fig­ure in Madam Tus­saud’s wax mu­seum. The only way I was show­ing I was alive was by pop­ping pills that saw me stuck in time. I had no pain man­age­ment spe­cial­ist. I was drown­ing in my own self­pity and a com­plete fail­ure. No mat­ter how hard I tried or screamed or cried, it just wasn’t enough. I needed more or I needed out.

Fast for­ward a few years to elec­tion day: Septem­ber 7, 2013. I’d never had a plan to be a politi­cian – no plan at all, to be hon­est – but here I was, my pain and my mind un­der con­trol, a can­di­date for the Tas­ma­nian Se­nate. I voted in Burnie at the Coun­cil Cham­bers early, about 10.00am. Then we drove around polling booths, me and my house­mate Scotty. We went home for a few hours then went out and took down the cor­flutes. Then we waited it out.

I was watch­ing ABC and the elec­tion guru, Antony Green, men­tioned me in the Tas­ma­nian se­nate count at one point. I felt im­mensely re­lieved, not be­cause some­one had just given me a ti­tle, but I could see that it was pos­si­ble for me to go through what I had and win a Se­nate seat. It was pretty quiet, though, no cam­paign team or party.

Not many peo­ple thought I could do it. The en­cour­age­ment was al­ways there, though Mum and Dad were es­pe­cially con­cerned for my wel­fare if I didn’t get in. I was wor­ried too – what job would I go for if I didn’t get elected? I had no qual­i­fi­ca­tions, ironic given how I had re­ha­bil­i­tated my­self with a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign. My gut feel­ing was the DVA would give me hell if I went back to them. They had al­ready made it clear they didn’t think I was smart enough to go back to study, so I was stuck ei­ther way.

Then Palmer United Party came out of the count with 5.6 per cent of the na­tional vote. This gave the party – my party – one seat in the House of Reps, Clive Palmer’s seat in Fair­fax, and three sen­a­tors – in­clud­ing me. I was go­ing to Can­berra. Edited ex­tract from Rebel With A

Cause by Jacqui Lam­bie, pub­lished by Allen and Un­win, due out Fe­bru­ary 21 Any­one ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sui­ci­dal thoughts should con­tact Life­line on 13 11 14 or Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800

LIFE LINES: (clock­wise from top left, this page) Jacqui Lam­bie with her dad and lit­tle brother Bobby; at a Debu­tante Ball in Kather­ine, NT; (main) with a bright out­look; and (cir­cled) at Kapooka. Pic­tures: (main) Ed Jones Pho­tog­ra­phy

REFLECTIONS: (clock­wise from left, this page) Jacqui Lam­bie in her of­fice with artist Ta­nia McMurtry’s Archibald Prize en­try; in early high school, with brother Bobby; as a proud mum, with her son Bren­tyn; at a rally sup­port­ing a call for a Royal Com­mis­sion into the Depart­ment of Veter­ans’ Af­fairs; with palmer United Party col­leagues Glen Lazarus, Clive Palmer, Dio Wang and Ricky Muir; in the Se­nate re­sign­ing af­ter she was to be a dual ci­ti­zen; and de­liv­er­ing her maiden speech. Pic­tures; Kym Smith, Gary Ra­m­age,g, AAP AP

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