In 2009, Greens candidate Peter Bell walked several kilometres backwards from a Mackay fast food franchise to the office of the National member for Dawson, De-Anne Kelly.
He told ABC radio at the time he did this to highlight the backwards nature of the Howard Coalition’s policies on industrial relations and climate. Despite making headlines with this stunt, Bell polled only 3,489 votes (4.4% of the Dawson ballot). But he made his point, in public.
There was a time when if someone said you’d taken a step backwards, they meant a return to older and less effective ways of doing things. The Cambridge Dictionary’s example: “The breakdown in negotiations will be seen as a step backwards.”
You could argue the ‘step backwards’ is in vogue here and around the world; for example the public re-emergence of white supremacists in the USA. President Trump set the mood for this, with florid statements about expelling Muslims and building a wall to keep Mexicans out.
Now Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are trading threats about the latter’s reported development of missiles capable of delivering nuclear war heads. One of Trump’s responses, tweeted in the early hours, was to bring down ‘fire and fury’ on North Korea. Does that not seem like a backward step for world peace?
Australia’s non-compulsory, non-binding postal vote about a simple social justice issue is also a step backwards. The Australian government’s stubborn commitment to this $122 million folly could have been avoided if PM Malcolm Turnbull had called a free vote for all federal politicians.
There’s a backwards look too about the kerfuffle over whether you can be a politician in Australia while also a citizen of another country − even when you didn’t know you were a dual citizen. I seem to recall the media making much of Julia Gillard’s Welsh background and Tony Abbot’s British roots. So what? We all came from somewhere else, didn’t we?
“Whatever”, as the Gen Xers used to say, one should never say rash things in print like “if anyone can hum a few bars of Song of Australia I’ll walk backwards to Conondale.” Several readers challenged me about their memories of Song of Australia, the fourth choice when Australia last held a plebiscite in 1977. Regular FOMM reader Elaine Beller wrote to say that in the years leading up to the plebiscite, she was a teenager living in Townsville, and a member of the local youth choral society.
“Just wanted you to know that I really enjoy reading FOMM each week,’ she wrote. “However, I also wanted to let you know that walking backwards to Conondale is on!”
“We had to learn all the patriotic songs for a public performance on The Strand, so the citizens of Townsville could make an educated choice,” she said. “So, I can sing/hum more than a few bars of Song for Australia! The lyrics had us kids in fits of laughter (‘gushing out with purple wine’ being a particular favourite).”
Caroline Carleton wrote the poem (later set to music by Carl Linger) in 1859, her winning entry for a competition held by the Gawler Institute.
I still can’t believe I walked backwards to Conondale on the strength of such purple prose as:
There is a land where honey flows
Where laughing corn luxuriant grows;
Land of the myrtle and the rose.
On hill and plain the clustering vine
Is gushing out with purple wine,
And cups are quaffed to thee and thine – Australia.
So, while I was steeling myself for the backwards trek to Conondale (note how I carefully did not specify from where), I did a little research on the art of backwards perambulation.
Shannon Molloy writing in The Courier-Mail about colourful Qld political characters, found an endearing photo of former Industrial Relations minister Vince Lester walking backwards.
“The intriguing figure of 1980s politics was famed for his hobby of walking backwards, often for hours at a time. He would complete trips in the name of charity, once rear wandering for several hours between two regional towns.”
Colourful Queensland MP Bob Katter once promised to “walk to (or from, according to some reports) Bourke backwards if the gay population of North Queensland is any more than 0.001%”. Despite his half-brother since coming out as gay and Katter being (often) reminded about this loose remark (there was a rainbow protest outside his Mt Isa offices in 2011), he maintains that gay marriage isn’t an issue in his electorate. It appears he never did take up the threat to walk frontwards or backwards to or from Bourke in Western NSW (about 1,600 kilometres to his Mt Isa electoral office).
Sometimes known as ‘retro walking,’ the seemingly unusual habit of walking (or running) backwards is widely recommended for fitness.
You will find many health and fitness links on the Internet which suggest walking backwards strengthens little-used muscles, improves balance and is good for people with knee, hip and back problems.
Some people even do it for a living.
Seaman Nathan Winn is a tour guide for the Pentagon, and routinely walks up to eight kilometres backward per day (including escalators)
Whatever you do, don’t try walking down stairs, steps or steep bush tracks backwards (or backward as they say in the US). As Seaman Mann found, when he tried going down the up-escalator, it’s embarrassing and definitely not funny.
I walk every day but if you want to have some idea how far you’re walking and set some goals to increase the tempo and distance, a pedometer is useful.
It is said that for maximum fitness from walking you need to chalk up 10,000 steps a day. That’s about eight kilometres, the same as that logged by Seaman Winn, but in a forwards direction.
If you fell asleep in your recliner while reading this on your IPad, you may want to do something about your general level of inertia.
Here’s a suggestion: Sign up for Steptember (a fund-raiser for Cerebral Palsy), where you pledge to walk 10,000 steps on each of 28 days during September.
Or you could just donate money and loaf in the recliner and watch old movies on SBS on Demand, Stan or Netflix. I’ve been looking but have not yet found the critically panned 2008 remake of The 39 Steps, a spy thriller starring Rupert Penry-Jones (Silk and Spooks). I’m curious, having seen the 1959 remake starring Kenneth More (which was spiffing). Never did see the original (Hitchcock, 1935).
UK author John Buchan wrote the book at a clifftop nursing home in Broadstairs while recovering from illness. A set of wooden steps which led from the garden to the beach are thought to have inspired the title. In the book these steps become the escape route (frontwards) down to a quay where the villains’ vessel, Ariadne, is waiting to speed them away.