The mo’ that had to go

By Rewi Lyall

Classified B by the Oqurum Office of Classification.

Reader’s Advisory: Readers are advised that this post includes Some Big-Noting.

I’ve read that my old boss Eric Ripper is growing back his moustache for Movember, which is of course a great thing to do. The only problem I can see is that once returned, it may be difficult to get rid of again. It seems appropriate, then, that I tell you the story of how Eric was convinced to shave off his moustache three years ago.

Just as an aside, though, the viciousness with which Western Australians think it’s appropriate to anonymously comment on stories such the one linked above really does leave me gasping. Right, on with the story.

During a parliamentary sitting week in Western Australia, when the boss isn’t in the Chamber or elsewhere in the building but getting through the backlog of files in the office, it is not uncommon that various Members will stop in for a chat about this or that. On one such occasion, the Member for the Pilbara, the Hon. Tom Stephens, had dropped in to chat about some issue in his electorate (I forget the details now).

As he was leaving, Eric mentioned that he’d seen a photo of Tom in a newsletter wearing his trademark hat, and jocularly asked when the latter was going to get rid of the old thing. Tom replied that the hat was an important part of his recognition in the community in his electorate, and flipped the question back to Eric.

‘When are you going to get rid of that moustache?’

I chuckled, perhaps somewhat tactlessly, and looked over my shoulder to Eric to se him also chuckling. Tom smiled and left.

All in good humour, of course, but the point was a bone of contention that had plagued the then Deputy Premier’s office since Labor won office in 2001. This was now 2005. Prior to my commencement in the office, Eric’s Chief of Staff, Mike Megaw, and Media Adviser, Darren Foster, had waged an ongoing but apparently futile war on the moustache. Both dedicated clean-shaven men, their view was that the moustache was passé at best.

Darren told me at one stage that he had even gone to the extraordinary lengths of having a photo of Eric manipulated so that the moustache was gone, just to get him used to the idea.

Their problem was that precisely because they were clean-shaven, their arguments had no traction. Of course they thought he should get rid of it, they denied themselves the pleasures of the hairy upper lip!

I, on the other hand, have been known to grow facial hair. At the time I was sporting a goatee and moustache. It was on our return from a visit to Canberra for a meeting of Native Title Ministers that I broached the delicate subject. I can’t recall exactly the details of my arguments, but the tenor was definitely in favour of removal.

Eric’s view was very clear. Although still reticent, the fact that the advice was coming from someone partial to a bit of facial landscaping was persuasive.

Yet, weeks later, the moustache remained.

Desperate steps had to be taken.

I shaved off my beard, and presented at the regular Monday morning staff meeting.

Eric was taken aback, amused and accused me of betrayal to the Brotherhood of the Beard. I merely shrugged and said something to the effect that it was time for a change, indeed ‘a change is as good as a holiday’ may have been my choice of words.

Three weeks later, while on holiday (the question then being, what is a change while on holiday as good as?), the moustache was removed. This was a cunning plan, because it was entirely feasible that if he hadn’t liked the clean upper lip he could have grown most of it back before returning to work. As it turned out, he was happy enough and his unveiling of the New Look was almost universally well received, with only a few reticent mo’ diehards grumbling in corners to themselves.

I offer this story by way of warning to those who support Eric’s participation in Movember. If he wants to keep it, it is possible that the only way to get rid of it again will be for his entire staff to grow beards, or, failing that, Shadow Cabinet –including women – if only to shave them off again in some form of ritual manner.

There’s no question that Eric felt doubly betrayed when just a few months later I grew my beard back.

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