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'A stranger's diary is one of my most prized possessions.'

This post was written by S.A. Jones, winner of the Attitude category of our writers competition.

I awoke on the morning of the last federal election feeling hopelessly ‘meh’. I still hadn’t made up my mind who to vote for. The choice of candidates ranged from the banal to the terrifying. Voting would serve only to encourage them.

This heartsickness was out of character for me. I’m pretty earnest when it comes to civic responsibility. I’ve been that crashing bore at parties, lecturing people about how irresponsible donkey voting is. I once re-enacted the tennis court oath in my girlfriend Donna’s backyard to explain the difference between the right and left in politics. (Despite being a touch drunk, I’m told my improvisation was both entertaining and enlightening).

As I rounded the bend towards the local primary school I walked past a couple in their fifties. The woman was expressing disbelief at how her husband had voted. ‘It was time for a change’, he said to her. ‘Time for some new ideas. Fresh blood’.

They continued on their way, debating his decision. So much for the old anti-suffragist argument that giving women the vote was pointless because they would simply replicate their men-folks’ preferences!

I felt so leaden that I’d decided to vote above the line. My pencil hovered above the box, ready to strike it’s lazy ‘one’.

The queue for the electoral role was orderly and patient. Whatever my fellow voters may have been feeling, there was not the faintest whiff of aggression. If anything, the mood was neighbourly. I thought of the countries where simply turning up on voting day was an act of physical courage. The greatest danger facing me was a paper cut.

The electoral officer located me on the roll, asked if I had already voted and gave me my sheaf of ballot papers. I stood in my cubicle and considered the senate paper.

I felt so leaden that I’d decided to vote above the line. My pencil hovered above the box, ready to strike it’s lazy ‘one’.

In the fraction of a millimetre between the pencil-tip and the paper was the ghost of my late Uncle Roy. A keen amateur historian, Roy bequeathed me his collection of newspaper clippings and books on the Second World War. He also gave me the diary he picked out of the mud when he was serving in France.

“Did he simply drop the diary in the trenches, survive the war and go on to live a full and happy life in Blighty? Or, like so many other young men full of promise and ardour, did he die on a French field, far from home?”

That diary is one of my most prized possessions. I know that I should donate it to a museum or see if the Department of Veterans’ Affairs can track down the diarist’s family, but I can’t part with it. I transcribed the diary many years ago, so as not to handle it unnecessarily. It makes for heart-breaking reading. The soldier is so naïve in his enthusiasm. ‘I can’t wait to get stuck into the Bosh’ he writes at one point.

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Confronted with the reality of life at the front, his diary entries became progressively more mundane: rations, socks, mud and rations again. The diary ends shortly after his return from shore leave in England.

Did he simply drop the diary in the trenches, survive the war and go on to live a full and happy life in Blighty? Or, like so many other young men full of promise and ardour, did he die on a French field, far from home?

Part of the reason I hold onto the diary is because I don’t want the latter possibility confirmed.

Writer S.A. Jones.

This soldier whose name I don’t know but to whom I am strangely connected was with me in that polling booth. It’s facile to say that men like him died for our freedoms. Many of them were conscripted or had so little idea of what they were getting into that it’s foolish to talk of them exercising any choice.

But still, he was gone and I remained. The Westminster system – however imperfect, however compromised – remained. I sighed, and began methodically working my way through the voting paper backwards from ninety seven to one.

“I don’t like hot dogs, but I eat one every election day because I love the fact that parents are prepared to give up their Saturday to raise money to keep school-kids stocked with balls and hoola-hoops and mitts.”

When I emerged, blinking, into the sunlight I was assailed by the smell of barbequed sausages. I don’t like hot dogs, but I eat one every election day because I love the fact that parents are prepared to give up their Saturday to raise money to keep school-kids stocked with balls and hoola-hoops and mitts. And books and excursions and computers that really should be paid for by my tax dollars instead of being siphoned off to pay for corporate tax breaks and pointless foreign wars and detention centres at the arse-end of nowhere and…

Woah…Steady on. There’s that anger, that passion that I thought had been leached out of me.

‘What’ll you have love?’ the burly bloke at the cash tin asked me.

I bought a hotdog with mustard and onions for every member of my household and strode purposefully home.

I was born in England and raised on a remote island in the Buccaneer Archipelago. I hold a PhD in History and have enjoyed an eclectic career as a shadow- ministerial staffer, academic, confectionary vendor, public servant and regulatory analyst. I now work a high-vis for a major transport company. I’ve published two novels: Red Dress Walking and Isabelle of the Moon and Stars (recently shortlisted for the Most Underrated Book Award of 2015). I was named one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence in 2013. I live for reading, writing, wine, my girlfriends and my family.

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