I exercised my democratic rights at Downer Community Centre last weekend, alongside what appeared to be half of the inner north.
It was a really nice atmosphere: the Men’s Shed was running the sausage sizzle, there were community stalls, Gang Gang served delicious coffee, and people were out with their kids, dogs and friends to vote on the sunny morning.
I was relishing how polite everyone was as well. Volunteers for all the candidates, regardless of their political differences, were chatting, helping each other out, and being really respectful.
Standing in line, I reflected on how nice it is to live in Australia, how lovely our general culture of courtesy and respect can be, and how helpful and friendly people are.
And then, I witnessed the most sneaky pushing into the line I’ve ever seen.
The line to vote was long but moving quickly at this point and was snaking around the stalls and fixtures of the courtyard outside Downer Community Centre. I think it took me about 10 minutes of waiting to get from the back of the queue to a voting booth.
As I was standing there, I watched a woman drift over and stand near the person behind me. She loitered there and then struck up a conversation with one of the volunteers nearby and gently slipped into the line as she did so. Then she asked all of us around her how much one of the sausage sangers was, and as we all turned and pointed, she sort of shuffled forward in front of me. Then she asked the person ahead of me whether the Labor Party had a policy on dental being included in Medicare. By the time she finished chatting, she was somehow three people further ahead.
The woman behind me, who had been watching this with growing annoyance, couldn’t help but snort loudly and say, “Yep, now she’s at the front of the line. So rude”. I awkwardly did one of those shrug/wince things, and she continued to say, “She’s older than I am, which means she must have been taught better! It’s just un-Australian”.
I, of all people, am never quick to declare anything as being ‘un-Australian’, given that term has been used to exclude people like me from diverse cultural backgrounds by racists over the years. But I had to quietly agree with this – not pushing in is probably one of the clearest examples I have of a shared Australian value.
In fact, I’m used to people aggressively trying not to push in, with many awkward moments in shopping queues where we get into a “you were first”, “no, you were first” polite-off.
I’m also used to people not being backward about coming forward to call out someone who is pushing in. A simple “Back of the line is there, mate”, with a pointed finger, will make most people sheepishly head back to their rightful place at the end of the line. Even if you’re just about to walk into a doorway at the same time as someone else, I feel like almost everyone will automatically step back to make way for the other person to enter first.
I consider this somewhat specific to Australian culture because I’ve often found it confronting when in other countries, observing how people don’t make the same effort not to push in. I remember travelling in Europe and finding myself regularly waiting for ages to order at cafes because I kept expecting people to stick to some sort of queue before eventually realising I’d just have to jump into the fray with everyone else if I ever wanted to get my sandwich. I couldn’t help but reflect that I couldn’t imagine that happening in Australia.
At the end of the day, though, none of us actually called out the clever lady who cut her wait in half by maneuvering up the line. I didn’t because she was much older than me, and the good Indian daughter inside won’t let me ever question or criticise an elder. And the woman behind me honestly just seemed gobsmacked into silence.
I didn’t manage to see if the line-pusher did wander over for the sausage sandwich she was hankering for after her vote, which is a shame because I would have loved to see if it was a pattern of behaviour or just a genuine mistake. I joined another coffee queue after I got out of the polling booths, and I made sure I waited patiently at the end of the line until it was my turn. After all, you have to be the change you want to see.