The Prime Minister during her address. Photo: Gary Ramage
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry as I read this article on-line in today's Age
newspaper about our No One Lady in Washington. Good on you for the red-heads - but in her speech, she certainly did lay it on with a shovel.
TOWARDS the end of her 30-minute address to Congress, Julia Gillard's voice wavered momentarily, straining under the weight of occasion and as she reprised her schoolgirl reaction to an awe-inspiring moment in history.
Americans could do anything, she had thought while watching the moon landing as a student not yet eight years of age.
Palpable and personal, her emotional recollection drew empathy from her audience. Speaker John Boehner, the chain-smoking Republican from Ohio prone to tears, sniffled behind her, as did several of those assembled in front of her.
''As I stand before you in this, this cradle of democracy, I see a nation that changed the world, a nation that has known remarkable days,'' Gillard said, faltering a little. ''I firmly believe you are the same people who amazed me, when I was a small girl, by landing on the moon.''
At which point, her audience erupted in loud applause, interrupting momentarily her emotional crescendo.
''On that great day, I believed Americans could do anything,'' Gillard continued. ''I believe that still. You can do anything.''
To which they responded again, rising to their feet for the sixth time to offer a sustained ovation, then handshakes, as the Prime Minister - the fourth Australian to address a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and the Senate - made her way out.
Gillard had laid it on with a trowel, pledging undying loyalty to America that made ''all the way with LBJ'' look like a cold shoulder.
The PM, in her very best Strine, poured it on, lavishing praise on Americans, the American dream and on Ronald Reagan as a symbol of American optimism, of which there was no greater symbol than ''America itself''.
''You have a true friend Down Under,'' she assured those present. ''You have an ally in Australia, an ally for war and peace, an ally for hardship and prosperity, an ally for the 60 years past … an ally for all the years to come.''
''True friends'', ''real mates [who] talk straight'', ''together in the hardest times'' … standing firm.
And without any sense of irony, she said: ''Those of you who have spent time with Australians know that we are not given to overstatement.''
But this was, er, well, not to beat around the bush, a case of ''blowin' smoke … '', capping a string of picture opportunities during a three-day orientation of the capital and Capitol, replete with footy and yeast extract.
And here was the climax, an address to Congress to commemorate the 60th anniversary of ANZUS.
Mastering the autocue that is the ubiquitous accessory of modern statecraft, Gillard stood upright in a smart orange jacket that played splendidly against the deep blue of the chamber's carpet, the diplomatic mis-en-scene completed by front row attendants, the Republicans' John McCain, a jolly Richard Lugar and a grim-faced Mitch McConnell alongside Democrat heavyweights Harry Reid, as well as foreign specialists John Kerry and Dick Durbin.
And while barely a couple of hundred of the 535 elected representatives and senators showed up for Gillard's speech, officials avoided embarrassment - and an echo chamber - by back-filling with staffers and interns and even a few rows of school children in navy blue uniforms.
Their welcome was genuinely warm, even if it also reflected the weight of Australia's worldly standing. And when the Prime Minister entered the chamber at 11.05am, they stood and turned towards her, applauding dutifully, some juggling Blackberries and iPhones that would keep them in touch discreetly with matters of state du jour - federal budget cuts and Libyan no-fly zones.
They were on their feet again five minutes later when Gillard's mostly staccato lines touched on friendship, again after another couple of minutes when she told them they could achieve anything and soon again when she confirmed Australia's betrothal.
They rose, too, mid-speech when she condemned Iran's nuclear program.
But some American brows appeared to furrow ever so slightly when she offered what might have been construed as gratuitous advice.
''You were indispensable in the Cold War … and you are indispensable in the new world too,'' she said.
So, ''as a friend, I urge only this: be worthy to your own best traditions. Be bold.''
The PM made her way from the chamber at 11.40, autographing the printed programs of a handful of eager attendees as the crowd beat a hasty retreat, mostly through side exits, and the students made a beeline for Senator McCain.
Labels: Gillard in Washington