“There is a polling booth near the Greek church around the corner,” the Richmond newsagent owner said.
On polling day, in inner-city Melbourne, on Saturday 21 May, at 10.30am, I needed to try something.
The Australian Electoral Commission(AEC) had moved my regular polling venue, from the spacious hall, at the North Richmond Housing Estate, in Lennox St, Richmond, to the small Salvation Army corps and church across the road.
And the queue was long.
“It’s an hour-and-a-half wait to cast your vote,” the second-in-charge, AEC staffer said as he walked along the queue.
We could try the primary school, the larger venue in Church St, Richmond, or nearby Bridge Rd, if we didn’t want to wait.
I tried Bridge Rd. That’s where I met the newsagent owner and a 30-year-old man voting for the first time.
He had English and Dutch ancestry. He said he knew the polling booth near the Greek church.
He took me to the Jim Loughnan Memorial Hall, at 67 Coppin St, Richmond, and we waited together in the queue.
He told me he was so disillusioned with politics he was going to vote informal. I asked him to reconsider.
I told him people had died fighting for the right to vote. I told him democracy started with the ancient Greeks and my ancestors fought fascism and communism to preserve it. I told him the Dutch suffered terribly during the Nazi invasion and occupation in World War II. I told him an informal vote was a vote for the winner.
Then, I assembled all the how-to-vote cards I had been given into a fan shape as though they were playing cards.
“Last chance,” I said. “Pick one, before I take them all into my voting cubicle.”
“Sit here while you wait to be called up for your name to be crossed off,” the AEC staffer told me.
“Don’t sit over there. They’ll be a while.”
Sitting over there was an elderly Greek couple with their adult children and another relative. The couple’s son and daughter had to interpret as the AEC staffer crossed out their names. Then they had to fill out all the ballots.
The brother rested the ballot papers in the cardboard booth and instructed his sister to read out the numbers. First, the numbers one to eight for the five green-coloured House of Representatives ballots. Then, the numbers one to six above the line for the five white-coloured Senate ballots.
The siblings were so efficient, they filled in the ballot papers for five people before I finished my single one.
I returned the voting pencil and walked to the hall’s back exit door.
I stopped. The hall’s back wall was full of photos of elderly Greek citizens. The Jim Loughnan Memorial Hall was where Richmond’s elderly Greek citizens had been meeting for decades.
The back wall’s centrepiece was an artwork of the Last Supper.
To the left of the artwork was a cork board with recent colour pictures of elderly Greek citizens. There they were enjoying themselves in the hall filled with blue and white balloons and Greek flags. There, too, were the pictures of pretty young women, in traditional Greek dress and white headscarves dancing for them. Among the photos was a certificate of appreciation from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
Directly below the artwork were older photos. There was a large framed picture of the club’s trip to regional Victoria. The colours were faded now. “Richmond Greek Club. Swan Hill” the sign in the middle of the group read. Next to that was a more special picture. Mounted, and professionally taken, it was a colour group picture of 32 members. All were well dressed. Men in suits and ties and caps: Women in dresses or skirts or suits with heels and handbags to match. “Christos Photo Service, 31 Crown St Richmond. Phone: 429 3926” the sticker at the bottom of the picture read.
Beneath this wall of photos the AEC election staff had created a storage area for their belongings.
“I didn’t know this was a Greek elderly citizen’s club,” I told the AEC staffer.
“Some pictures are very old,” she said. “But people still meet here.”
Indeed they do.
Ο κύριος Γιώργος confirmed that. I met him outside the voting station.
“Βεβαίως”, Mr George said.
“Κάθε Τρίτη ερχόμαστε. Είναι $5 για μη μέλη, $4 για μέλη”.
I asked him what I would get for $5 as a non-member. “Plenty,” he said.
“Πολλά. Πορτοκαλάδα, φαγητό,” Mr George said.
“Έλα να σε κεράσουμε”.
All I had to do was come. It would be his treat.