Story transcripts

The First Bloke

Friday, June 10, 2011

Reporter: Charles Wooley
Producer: Stephen Taylor

He's our first bloke, a hairdresser from Shepparton who is consort to the most powerful woman in the land.

We see him every now and then, standing back or watching on. But we've never really had a chance to meet Tim Mathieson or hear him speak.

Of course, it's probably no coincidence that he's chosen to talk to us now, with the Gillard government tanking in the polls.

Federal Labor is desperate to re-engage with voters. And having spent some time with Tim, Charles Wooley says this smart and very likeable bloke might be just what the spin doctor ordered.

Read Charles Wooley's blog on this story and have your say

Full transcript:

CHARLES WOOLEY: It says a lot about the egalitarian society that alongside our 27th prime minister…A little bit of sunlight filtering through?

JULIA GILLARD: Yes, a little bit of wintry sun.

CHARLES WOOLEY: A hairdresser can be happily ensconced in the most prestigious residential address in Australian politics.

TIM MATHIESON: But of course there wasn’t always a fence around the Lodge.

CHARLES WOOLEY: He’s a quick study, and in less than a year, Tim Mathieson - the first bloke - has become an expert on the history of the Lodge.

TIM MATHIESON: During the Menzies era, there was no fence at all. People would just walk straight through. Quite amazing.

CHARLES WOOLEY: What? Just pedestrians?

TIM MATHIESON: Just, yes, straight through.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Take a short cut through the Lodge?

TIM MATHIESON: Yeah, kids on their way to school would walk straight through.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Tim Mathieson, and his partner – our prime minister – are relaxed around their home.

TIM MATHIESON: And of course you’ve seen the cricket pitch here now, opened by Adam Gilchrist.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Your cricket pitch?

TIM MATHIESON: My cricket pitch.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And like any couple, love showing off their personal touches. Prime Minister, there’s something worth noting here. The political pundits say that you don’t have time, but you do, you have enormous amounts of thyme.

JULIA GILLARD: Oh, thyme.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Everyone knows Prime Minister Gillard has a first bloke, but surprisingly, little is known about him. Even more surprisingly, this is the first TV interview that he and Julia have done together. With that in mind, let matters of state for a moment, take second place to matters of the heart. Prime Minister, this is the first time we get to meet this bloke.

JULIA GILLARD: (Laugh).

CHARLES WOOLEY: The first bloke…

JULIA GILLARD: Well, the first bloke’s been around for a while, but I suppose it’s the first time people are getting to meet him quite like this.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Why have you been hiding him from us?

JULIA GILLARD: Oh, (laugh) I haven’t been hiding him, I promise.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Very difficult questions that I’m called upon to ask of course, like love. You’re in love with this woman?

TIM MATHIESON: Yes, absolutely.

CHARLES WOOLEY: See people don’t say that on TV anymore do they? And you’re in love with this man?

JULIA GILLARD: Yes, Charles.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Absolutely?

JULIA GILALRD: Absolutely.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Do you have trouble saying that?

JULIA GILLARD: Well, not when we’re by ourselves. This is a little bit different to that.

CHARLES WOOLEY: When did you fall in love with my prime minister?

TIM MATHIESON: I think probably about three or four months after we started dating.

CHARLES WOOLEY: You weren’t after her for the job because she didn’t have it back then?

TIM MATHIESON: No, I didn’t know what she did actually.

CHARLES WOOLEY: She was just a strikingly good looking redhead?

TIM MATHIESON: True, and had a great sense of being humble and infectious too, I think.

CHARLES WOOLEY: When Tim met Julia, it was 2006. She was in Opposition, he was in hair and their paths met in a Fitzroy salon. Where did you see her? Give us a little detail here?

TIM MATHIESON: I was on duty but just chatting to Julia, not doing her hair. But that was the first time I really saw her and thought what a wonderful lady and just chatting every now and then, so.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Chatting led to a tentative first date but they both had well-prepared exit strategies in case things didn’t work out.

TIM MATHIESON: We both got the 3 o’clock phone calls, you know, my mate saying my Mercedes is up for sale and someone’s coming around to look at it, and Julia’s friend rings up saying ‘you know you better get around here, there’s something at the house I need you to attend to’. Of course it was you know both set up in case we needed the quick exits.

JULIA GILLARD: (Laughter).

TIM MATHIESON: And Julia’s friend I think asked you what wine we had for lunch, is that right?

JULIA GILLARD: That’s right, and we hadn’t had any.

TIM MATHIESON: She said ‘just lose him straight away’.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Theirs was a love affair that played out against a back drop of dramatic political events. So that on the day Australia got our first female prime minister, we also got our first, First Bloke. Is it your term, First Bloke? Who coined it?

TIM MATHIESON: Actually Boris, one of the federal guards said that to me and he says to this day he should have patented that.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Do you like the term?

JULIA GILALRD: I think it’s a good term. It’s a good Australian term.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Is he a useful first bloke?

JULIA GILLARD: He’s a very useful first bloke.

CHARLES WOOLEY: How do you use him?

JULIA GILLARD: He certainly ends up looking after hair very early in the morning.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Do you get any ideas from him, when you’re chewing over the horrors of politics?

JULIA GILLARD: Yes, sometimes. I mean, particularly in the area of men’s health where he’s gone and looked at things and talked to people on the ground, he’ll bring back insights that I haven’t picked up as I’ve moved around.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And so back to the grand tour but away from the Lodge and out to the shed. Tim’s the patron of the Australian Men’s Shed Association - a national initiative in the much neglected area of men’s health.

JULIA GILLARD: No girls allowed

TIM MATHIESON: Don’t you …

JULIA GILLARD: No girls allowed.

TIM MATHIESON: Can’t go in any further.

JULIA GILLARD: No, I’ll let you two enjoy the shed!

CHARLES WOOLEY: The PM appreciates the importance of the man’s shed, and Tim, a practical, country bloke from Shepparton, now has 550 of them around Australia, especially in regional areas where the male suicide rate is among the highest in the world. And this is where we talk about those mysterious aches and pains that’ve been worrying us a little bit, but we haven’t wanted to tell anyone.

TIM MATHIESON: No, we don’t talk about our health at the pubs, we don’t talk about our health enough at GPs when we visit a GP. So in a shed we tend to just open up.

CHARLES WOOLEY: How good is the Prime Minister to stay.

TIM MATHIESON: Oh she’s doing as she’s told. That’s really good.

CHARLES WOOLEY: She can’t hear us?

TIM MATHIESON: No, she can’t hear. It’s fabulous.

JULIA GILLARD: I’m hanging on the outside of the shed, as instructed.

CHARLES WOOLEY: It’s Question Time at the ‘big shed on the hill’ where people unfortunately have no reservations about sharing their darkest inner thoughts. To outsiders, it’s a bear pit, but hardened practitioners like Tony Abbott and our prime minister, just take it in their stride.

JULIA GILLARD: Oh, I’m a fairly calm person. In fact, I’d say a very calm person so I don’t mind doing it day after day, it doesn’t worry me, and you have a bit of fun with them too from time to time.

CHARLES WOOLEY: A year into the job and the Prime Minister is struggling in the polls. Personally, as unpopular as the leader of the opposition, and politically so unpopular she’d lose an election held anytime soon.

RAY: I believe that the current Labor government is totally inept.

ALEX: I would definitely be voting Greens.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Away from Canberra, this is how political parties formulate and sell their policies - through a device called the ‘focus group’.

CECILLE: I would vote Liberal tomorrow morning. I did vote Labor last time.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Research companies and pollsters carefully monitor the political temperature in sessions like this.

MAN: I like the fact that you know Julia will change her mind.

CHARLES WOOLEY: …which calibrate the fickle passions of middle Australia.

MICHAEL: I don’t like Tony Abbott at all.

CHARLES WOOLEY: This group in Sydney last week identified the usual issues - the cost of living.

TINA: Everything that should cost a minimal amount is costing double or triple, or you know, it’s just ridiculous.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Asylum seekers …

JANE: Why are they saying it’s going to cost $80,000 or whatever. I mean, obviously people are being bribed.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And that carbon tax we’re about to get.

RAY: How can you be sincere when you say there’s no carbon tax and then you introduce a carbon tax? Um, hello! Is that sincerity or is that outright lying?

CHARLES WOOLEY: They were a divided lot, except on one issue. They felt that the first woman prime minister, the real Julia, was so far looking like just another politician. Do you remember your maiden speech in Parliament?

JULIA GILLARD: I certainly do.

CHARLES WOOLEY: It’s often quoted that you talked about a public who’d become disbelieving listening to politicians whom they believed probably didn’t even believe what they were saying.

JULIA GILLARD: Mmm.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And that struck a note with a lot of people, but nothing’s changed has it?

JULIA GILLARD: Well, I still think there’s a cynicism about politics. But against that wall of cynicism I actually think most people do try and make a difference in politics. I’m certainly determined to do so.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Yet you feed that cynicism, you said “there’d be no carbon tax under a government led by me” and then it’s quite the opposite. Now that’s the kind of thing isn’t it that I don’t know how you defend?

JULIA GILLARD: Mmm, look I can understand people looking at that with a sort of weary shrug of their shoulders. I get that, I really do. I didn’t mean to mislead anyone. I’ve always said and always believed we had to tackle climate change. It’s real. You know, we’ve got to do something about it.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And that’s the real Julia?

JULIA GILLARD: Well, there’s only one Julia, the one sitting here.

CHARLES WOOLEY: No matter how thick-skinned prime ministers must become, there are times when events strike to the heart. It must be the most melancholy of duties to have to inform the nation of the latest bad news from Afghanistan.

JULIA GILLARD: Many Australians will hear this news today. They’ll be shocked and they will be disturbed by it. We want to say we stand shoulder to shoulder with the families who are just absorbing the worst possible news a family could get. Thank you.

CHARLES WOOLEY: A few moments later, in her office, the weight of leadership is obvious.

JULIA GILLARD: For the families, it’s just awful for them, absolutely awful.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And as Prime Minister in a sense you’re the commander in chief, you bear more responsibility than the rest of us.

JULIA GILLARD: Well certainly, as Prime Minister, I’m leading the nation when we’re engaged in a war.

CHARLES WOOLEY: For so many of us this is such a remote war. Isn’t there somewhere in you, when you have a dreadful day like this, that you just wish we could somehow get out of it with honour?

JULIA GILLARD: Well, I certainly wish that there would be no more suffering but something that always amazes me when I go to funerals for soldiers lost is family members will say to me, ‘we best honour their loss by seeing the mission through’.

CHARLES WOOLEY: There’s scarcely a minute in the daily life of this Prime Minister which isn’t scheduled and crowded. For someone who’s not popular, there’s a huge mailbag to answer.

JULIA GILLARD: There we go.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And few private moments when there are so many citizens – old and young – to meet.

JULIA GILLARD: So this is where we have coffee and breakfast early in the morning.

CHARLES WOOLEY: All of which makes the Lodge a necessary sanctuary and a partner, a comfort in the storm of political life. Tim, this is wonderful colour. What made you chose it?

TIM MATHIESON: I just like the Arthur Boyd here.

CHARLES WOOLEY: To Tim, has fallen the role of homemaker, right down to the paintings on the wall which reflect his passion for Australian art. What’s it worth?

TIM MATHIESON: Oh, I don’t know. It’s worth a lot of money.

CHARLES WOOLEY: All of them generously on loan from the Australian taxpayer.

TIM MATHIESON: The latest valuation was about $8 million, so pretty incredible.

CHARLES WOOLEY: There are clearly great pleasures in office and the first bloke knows that he’s on a magic carpet ride. Never more so, than when the boy from Shepparton went to London to visit the Queen.

TIM MATHIESON: It was extraordinary, a great privilege. I noticed mostly how normal they really were.

JULIA GILLARD: The whole royal wedding was like a cross between this huge state occasion and kind of a nice family wedding.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And Prime Minister, of course every girl enjoys a good wedding?

JULIA GILLARD: I think …

CHARLES WOOLEY: You know where this is going?

JULIA GILLARD: I think I can probably tell, yes.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Tim, you said if the question is to be popped, you are going to be the popper, and the Prime Minister the poppee?

TIM MATHIESON: That’s true, absolutely.

CHARLES WOOLEY: When will that happen?

TIM MATHIESON: Certainly not anytime soon, I don’t think. One wedding I think is enough this year, that’s for sure.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Could I suggest it could be well placed in the political cycle somewhere towards the election?

JULIA GILLARD: Charles, all of this is kind of stuff you do for yourselves, not for anything to do with political cycles.

CHARLES WOOLEY: You’d think I was from Woman’s Weekly, wouldn’t you?

JULIA GILLARD: I was smiling and rolling my eyes at that one, Charles. That was very well done.

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