The Age

Shane Green

 

Jessica Rudd recalls the day her father was knifed as prime minister as if turning the pages of one of her novels. Which, of course, she is.

 

Predictions in politics are notoriously fraught but in Jessica Rudd’s case, scarily prescient. In her first book, Campaign Ruby, written months before her father was deposed, she tells of an incumbent prime minister overthrown by his female deputy.

On June 23 last year, Jessica Rudd was in Canberra for a photo shoot when she received a stunning call from her mother, Therese: there was something happening and she should get to Parliament House. The next few surreal hours culminated in her sitting outside her father’s office, where he was meeting Julia Gillard.

‘‘All I could think to myself was that, a) I wrote this,’’ she says. ‘‘And b) What the hell are you guys doing sitting in there talking while the nation is speculating there’s a move on against the prime minister, who we all campaigned really hard for only a couple of years ago?’’

 

Rudd is having lunch with The Saturday Age at Il Bacaro, a chic Italian restaurant in Little Collins Street, her latest stop in a publicity tour de force for Ruby Blues, the sequel. She has arrived in a shimmer of glamour, having walked straight off the set of Ten’s The Circle, still in television make-up and with perfect hair.
But a froggy throat tells of the punishing tour, taxing even for a 27-year-old. ‘‘I’ve been on the road for 2 weeks, ’’ she says. Her itinerary has been a crazy join-the-dots from Townsville to Hobart to Bunbury. Fun but she’s getting sick of the sound of her own voice, which today is croaky

 

So wine is out. It’s water and a Virgin Mary — ‘‘It’s got a celery stick in it, so it must be good for you.’’  (In the days after we meet another reason is revealed when Rudd announces she is expecting.)
She admits to not knowing Melbourne well, so asked around for a restaurant. ‘‘I’ve heard so much about it, so can’t wait to see what’s on the menu.’’

 

We both choose an entree of calamari with rocket and balsamic dressing but the main course is a more challenging negotiation. She toys with venison and chocolate tortellini. Is that a good idea? The waiter suggests it’s a better entree.

 

She opts for a polenta pasta with porcini mushrooms and globe artichokes. Mine is a risotto of saffron and crab with bone marrow, dried cherry tomatoes and radish crisps. She loves Italian food but great Italian restaurants are hard to find in Beijing, where she lives with her investor banker husband, Albert.

There’s an inherent challenge with the offspring of the famous. Ideally, you should treat them as individuals in their own right. Yet Jessica Rudd’s story is part of the wider Rudd family narrative.

 

The subject of her two books is federal politics, the workings of the inner sanctums, through the experiences of her main character, Ruby Stanhope. In Campaign Ruby, she worked on getting the opposition into power. The latest book is the hard slog of government and the personal crisis of approaching 30.

 

Rudd is passionately political. Growing up in the Rudd household was like being in a football family, she explains. You know all about the rules, the seasons and who’s in good form.

 

So it wasn’t long before we got to the night of the long knives and waiting outside her father’s office. She’d worked closely  with Gillard on the Kevin07 campaign.

 

‘‘All I wanted to do was to burst into the room and say, ‘Guys, can you just go and do a press conference and sort this out?’’ she says.

 

‘‘Because, seriously, the whole world thinks that there’s going to be a change in the leadership and that’s crazy.’’

 

I produce a clipping from the day that followed with a photograph of the media conference where her father announces he has lost the prime ministership, his family behind him. She stands to his left. They hadn’t really slept, she recalls. ‘‘It was the trippiest experience,’’ she says.

 

And what of Julia Gillard?  Australia’s first female prime minister should have been a moment of  triumph for women. ‘‘Should have been,’’ she says. ‘‘I don’t know if I’ve ever said this  but I felt quite ripped off, because I wanted to vote for our first female prime minister and I didn’t get that opportunity. It was a decision made by a bunch of, largely, powerful men and that pisses me off.’’

 

She veers away when asked if her father will be prime minister again. When she’s not trying to predict things, she jokes, they occur. What about her relationship with Gillard?  ‘‘I think the Prime Minister has bigger things on her plate than the Foreign Minister’s daughter. We’re not besties. I haven’t spoken to her since.’’

 

Rudd came to writing after ‘‘miserable’’ work in crisis management in London at the height of the global financial crisis. She was representing administrators of companies involved in announcements where thousands of jobs were lost.

 

She quit after a transfer to Beijing beckoned for her husband. Her mother suggested she write.

 

She found her muse in a lively Japanese wine bar on the 35th floor of a building in downtown Beijing. ‘‘It was like Ruby was sitting there and she was my date. She talks to me and I write it down. I’m like a five-year-old,’’ she continues. ‘‘I have imaginary friends and they talk to me and they are very vivid.’’

 

Her style is breezy, funny, engaging. I admit to coming to her work with trepidation — irrational male fear of chick lit inside a cover illustrated with birthday cake and high-heel shoes —  and confess to laughing out loud on crowded trains. ‘‘Excellent,’’ she says. ‘‘I want people to embarrass themselves with snort laughter on public transport.’’

 

She aims to get women reading about politics; she says many are turned off by it. ‘‘If you’ve got a baby on one hip and dinner on the stove and another kid in the bath and you’ve got a PowerPoint presentation due tomorrow and you haven’t picked up the dry-cleaning, the last thing you want to do is watch old men with bad ties bickering on television.’’

 

Would she consider a political career? ‘‘Maybe,’’ she says. ‘‘But for now I’m really happy writing. And I’m Gen Y, so I’ll probably have about 11 career changes before then. I’ll be a bespoke butcher in Morocco before I’m in politics.’’

 

http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/lunch-with–jessica-rudd-20111209-1omhh.html#ixzz2QDcLuWjp