Forced to navigate between his own beliefs and the aspirations of one of his besties wanting to become an MP, Toby Francis is no longer a ‘PUP’ when it comes to the vagaries of friendship…

 

‘You’re like a brother.’

And I meant it.

It’s one in the morning, and what appears to be fifteen million bottles of wine stand empty on the outdoor table. They’ve been drunk over the past few hours as the two of us flew defiant in the face of an early morning start. I would argue that I have about eight siblings, though I’m only related to three of them by blood. The other five were forged on nights like this one. Nights where company and connection mean more than being able to function at work tomorrow; nights where the neighbours yell over the fence because you’re laughing too loud; nights where it gets to one in the morning and you bring out the real talk.

That’s where we are at right now –  deep into real talk.

Real talking about what we’ll do with our lives if we choose not to continue with the whole performing-slash-writing-slash-general-vocational-insecurity thing. It sounds trivial as I write about it now – simply sharing ideas about what other thing we will do with our lives – but the two of us had both come out of school and jumped headlong into work within the performance industry. We hadn’t known anything else in a full-time capacity.

But work was pretty thin on the ground, and actually considering that we might give up the industry we knew and loved in pursuit of consistency and stability wasn’t just terrifying, it was heartbreaking. The conversation was completely devoid of pretence, nothing was hidden, we spoke honestly and with sincerity.

He said, ‘If I were to give it up, I wouldn’t want you to give it up, and I don’t want you to feel like I’m abandoning you. Because it’s not just about stability for me. It’s about feeling like what I’m doing isn’t just about me. When I was a kid, I used to think I’d want to be an architect.’

That’s when I told him I didn’t feel abandoned.

It’s when I told him I would support him through anything.

When I told him he was family.

And I meant every single word.

A few weeks later, well after I’d forgotten about the second worst hangover of my life, he called me and told me he’d thought more about leaving performing behind – even if it wasn’t forever – because there was something else he wanted to do.

Great, I thought, back to school to become an architect.

‘I’m going into politics,’ he said, ‘as a candidate to become an MP for the Palmer United Party.’

And then, panic.

The Palmer United Party? The man who’s building robotic dinosaurs on a golf course and constructing the second Titanic? The man who I have always seen as nothing but an eccentric billionaire? The Australian Howard Hughes? That Clive Palmer? You’re going in with him? With the party whose announcements on the news had me rolling my eyes and shaking my head? Really?

This was my mind in that very second – you’re goddamn right I panicked.

Because I’d meant what I said when I told him he was my brother and I’d meant what I said when I told him he had my support.

And now, I was royally f*cked.

*

A few weeks later, we got to talking.

Up until that point, I’d skilfully avoided having to discuss how I felt about the Palmer United Party. I say skilfully, but it was mostly a series of polite nods interspersed with the occasional ‘that’s good man’ for good measure.

But my ‘skills’ were lacking this time.

‘I’m going to head out in a week or two and drop some flyers in letterboxes, I could use your help,’ he said.

I swear I answered immediately, but thinking back, there was probably a star somewhere that came into being and died in between what he said and my response.

‘Sure man.’

‘I’ll probably need some help on election day too,’ he said, ‘you know, just handing out flyers and how-to-vote cards, stuff like that. If you could be there for that, I’d appreciate it.’

This time my silence was a little longer; it wasn’t a star that lived a life in this moment – the planets collapsed and the universe shrank, existence as we know it ceased to be as an infinity of time passed before the big bang banged big again, and we found ourselves back where we had been billions of years ago.

(And I’m not even exaggerating.)

‘I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that man.’

‘Why?’ he asked.

‘I don’t know, I don’t think I can support the party.’

There it was, out in the open. Me being a terrible friend, a right shit-house brother. I’d gone back on my word. ‘I’ll support you in all things’ my f*ckin eye.

‘Ok,’ he replied.

And there was another moment. But it was much shorter, filled with deep consideration.

‘Can I ask why?’ he went on to ask.

And I mumbled at him because I realised pretty quickly that I didn’t actually know. So I told him.

‘I don’t know man, the idea of it just makes me uncomfortable.’

‘Can I ask you something?’

‘Sure.’

‘What does the Palmer United Party stand for?’

I shook my head as I realised, yet again, I had no idea. I didn’t know what I was talking about. I was just incredibly uncomfortable about the whole damn thing.

‘Ok,’ he said, ‘that’s cool. Don’t worry about it.’

We shared a hug and headed to our respective homes.

I could tell I’d hurt him. What a prick I was. I should have shown him the decency of a considered response. Christ, I believe that’s how strangers should behave towards each other, so why didn’t I do this for a friend? And a friend I called brother a no less? I knew this man, I knew his heart, I knew he was a person who was doing what he was doing because he wanted to do something bigger than himself. Here was someone who genuinely wanted to help people, I knew that for a fact, and I had to know why someone like him would choose a party like Palmer’s. I owed him that. Anything less forewent my promise of support, however drunken it may have been.

*

Later that day, I called him and told him I’d spent a lot of time reading the policies and, while I was surprised to find there were a few policies I agreed with (a focus on lowering the indigenous infant mortality rate for one), I still didn’t support the party. I invited him over for a drink so we could talk in person.

That night we spoke, debated, and exchanged ideas and I began to understand why he had chosen the party that he did and my feelings of discomfort began to fade. And though we never got around to opening a single bottle of wine, we stayed up until well after one in the morning.

That week I went to the announcement of the candidates for the Palmer United Party to support my friend, and while I still might not support PUP…while I still won’t be out the front of town hall handing out flyers or telling my friends they should ‘Vote 1 PUP’, I’m trying to do my bit.

I liked his Facebook page (which is a pretty big step for someone who lives on social media).

I attend his speeches when I can, and I’m always around to talk and share ideas even if, heaven forbid, it might help his campaign in the long run.

Because he’s family, and I mean that when I say it.

Every single word.

Even if there was a time when I wished he’d just decided to be an architect.

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