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Inauguration day


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									                                         Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness        1

      Second National Republican Short Story Competition

                     Awarded ‘Highly Commended’

                              6 November 2010

                              Inauguration Day

                            By Sean Oliver Ness

The theme for the Second National Republican Short Story Competition was
'Life and Death in an Australian Republic'. Australia’s fiction writers were
challenged to speculate on possible Australian republican futures.

Sean Oliver Ness was born in North Queensland but his family moved to Hong
Kong when he was young. He lived there until he was 12 returning to Brisbane
and later study in Psychology and Information Technology at university. He works
in the public service in Canberra. His interests include travelling, participating in
Volunteer Emergency Services, following politics and, of course, reading and
writing a lot.

James Hapeta’s fifth cigarette fell to his feet. He crushed the butt

with a polished shoe and glanced at his watch.


Fifteen minutes overdue. No word yet.

It was hot. Clear skies and January humidity turned the air into a

sauna; beads of sweat ran down Hapeta’s neck and irritated his

skin. His black suit and tie felt suffocating, more appropriate as
                                   Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness   2

funeral attire than operational gear. Even his shoe polish

mercilessly reflected the sunlight back into his face.

Three other men were on the sidewalk, suits and shoes just as slick

as Hapeta’s, leaning against the black four-wheel drive beside them

and talking quietly between themselves. Hapeta tried to look calm

for his men, but could not.



He lit another cigarette.

As if on cue, his radio earpiece crackled to life.

“Escort Two, this is Command.”

The cigarette fell out of his mouth and hit the pavement, spilling

tobacco. Hapeta cupped a hand over his earpiece and mic.

“Command, Escort Two, go ahead.”

”We’re coming out. Tell all units to assume motorcade formation.”
                                 Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness   3

“Roger, wilco.”

Hapeta’s jangled nerves were momentarily calmed by the need to

work. His men had stopped talking and were looking at him


“You heard the order. In the vehicle; all weapons locked and

loaded; we move shortly,” Hapeta commanded.

The doors were pulled open and the black suits disappeared behind

the tinted windows. Hapeta cupped his mic again and spoke, “Escort

Three; Escort Four; all Airborne Units; this is Escort Two; move to

our position immediately and prepare to go.”

A half-dozen acknowledgements talked over each other through his

earpiece. Hapeta waited on the sidewalk, surveying the empty


Thirty seconds later, a jet-black limousine turned the corner,

followed by a four wheel drive and a large black van. They were just

in time; the glass doors behind Hapeta opened, spewing out a burst

of air-conditioning that gave him goose bumps.
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness   4

Emerging from the doors was a group of five men with suits, all

walking in a tight box around a silver-haired man in a light grey suit

and a woman beside him in an emerald dress.

Hapeta’s stomach turned into ice.

The President of the Republic of Australia, and his wife, walking

underneath the bright red sign over the doorway that declared


… took Hapeta back for a moment, fifteen years ago, when he was

working as a shopping mall security guard, wondering what to do

with his life, until he saw a crowd gathered around the television in

a shop window, and he looked and saw a tall man on the TV

wearing a cheap-looking suit shake hands with a much shorter,

grey-haired man, on the doorstep of the HOTEL EXCHEQUER.

The tall man had then walked away from the hotel entrance,

wearing such a beatific smile, and spoke to the gaggle of reporters

and cameras.

“To the people of Australia … today, over lunch at this very hotel,

the Governor-General, on behalf of the British Monarchy, signed

over all his authority to me. This concludes six months of
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness   5

negotiations since the referendum, and as your new Head of State,

I shall ensure …”

The cheers and cries from the crowd around the TV had almost

drowned out the rest of the speech. Hapeta had no interest in

politics – was not even registered to vote – yet in that moment

realised that the old man on the TV in the cheap suit had gone for

lunch one day and end up with a brand new country to run. If that

was possible, why couldn’t James Hapeta do anything he wanted?

Within six months of that day, he quit security and his application

for the Australian Federal Police had been accepted.

And that same view, of the front of the Exchequer …

… the President and his wife walked over to the sleek limousine,

escorted closely by one particular bodyguard – short and thick, bald

and fierce-looking. After the Presidential couple were inside, the

man closed their door and approached Hapeta.

“Commander Griggs,” Hapeta said, “What’s the situation? Is he

going to cancel the …”
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness   6

Griggs interrupted. “The motorcade is going ahead. Same route –

Ainslie, Antill, Northbourne. Keep your men alert and the formation

tight. We get to Parliament in thirty minutes, no less.”

Hapeta choked down a horrified gasp. “But sir, surely with a threat

this credible … I know how much the parade means to the

President, but …”

“You have your orders, Lieutenant. The President says we continue,

so we do.”

“But the investigation …”

Hapeta stopped as Griggs face went red.

“I am sure your AFP colleagues take their jobs very seriously,

Lieutenant, however, my colleagues and I understand that we obey

the President, not dictate to him. Understand?”

Hapeta said nothing.

“Your car stays ten metres behind the limo at all times.”

Hapeta nodded. Griggs stormed over to the limo to take his place

with the President, while Hapeta entered the passenger seat of his
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness   7

vehicle. The air-conditioning was a relief, but did not make him feel

much better.

Hapeta would have found Griggs an off-putting commander at the

best of times; that fact that Hapeta was AFP and Griggs was

Australian Federal Security Service made it that much more

difficult. Inter-agency bickering since the founding of the AFSS

made all joint operations stressful. Hapeta wished his bosses would

just let the AFSS handle all Presidential security; he’d rather be

neck-deep in drug wars and Bikie murders than deal with all this.

Forget it, Hapeta thought. Focus on the job.

Ten seconds later, half a dozen engines rumbled to life. The

motorcade was on the move. Hapeta took one last glance at the

entrance to the Exchequer; then they were off.

                              *   *    *

The interior of the car remained silent. Fear bored through Hapeta’s

stomach like an angry worm, churning his insides. The other men

sensed their superior’s discomfort and said nothing, and the

atmosphere became more oppressive than the humidity outside.

To focus his mind, Hapeta went through the facts.
                                   Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness   8

The motorcade:

The Presidential limousine; armoured, hardened, bullet-proofed.

The limo was followed closely by two four-wheel drives, also

hardened, each loaded with four highly-trained AFP men, including


A large black van following, containing six SAS operatives, armed to

the teeth; heavy firepower, if it was needed.

Another four-wheel drive watching the rear.

A State Police car two hundred metres ahead of the motorcade,

making sure the route was clear.

Four choppers at high altitude overhead; two surveillance birds, two

with SAS counter-snipers on board.

Over two dozen personnel, plus two hundred State Police along the


Hapeta tried to reassure himself. It didn’t work.
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness     9

“All cars, this is Commander Griggs: surveillance choppers report

light crowds in the suburbs up ahead. Keep an eye out.”

The line of cars rolled in a tight formation over the four-lane Ainslie

roadway. There was no other traffic – every entry and exit was

blocked off with wooden barricades, traffic cones and State Police


The road went through a leafy suburb, all two-storey houses with

gates and tall fences. Families stood on the sidewalks outside their

homes; dads supported little ones on their shoulders, mothers

pointed the limo out to toddlers; cameras flashed and people

clapped. Some held cardboard signs with bond felt-pen lettering:




Everyone was happy.

Of course, this was the easy side of town. This was the base that

had never been satisfied with a President who was just a ceremonial

chief backed by a two-thirds majority; they wanted a man who they

could relate to, who could wield great authority and most
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 10

importantly, who they could vote for directly. These were the people

who had carried the Presidential Powers Referendum over the finish

line last year and given the country a real Head of State.

In other words, Hapeta thought glumly, these people were the

source of all his recent professional headaches.

They slowed down ever so slightly, and from his place behind the

President’s vehicle, Hapeta saw the limo’s window roll down and a

thin hand stretch out and wave. Families cheered.

Right at the end of the block, right before the houses started to get

smaller, was an elderly couple: grey hair, plain clothes, a stiffness

that stood out from all the happy families. The lady held a poster-

size portrait of the Queen; the gentleman held a sign that said “THE


Hapeta felt a chill run through him.

One of the men in the back seat spoke.

“Look old enough to remember the first Rum Rebellion.”
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 11

Snorts and giggles. Even Hapeta smiled. As he did, a few kilos

seemed to fall off his shoulders. In the early days, monarchists took

the Rum Rebellion analogy and ran with it; in response, they were

uniformly nicknamed Billy Blighs, or just Billies.

The big houses faded as they turned a sharp corner onto Antill. On

the left, they passed schools and public swimming pools and

clusters of shops; on the right, rows of small homes and low-rise

apartment blocks. State Policemen were on either side of the street,

controlling the crowds. As the motorcade swept down the street,

the low murmurs turned into a loud cheer that echoed off the

apartment blocks. Streamers were tossed into the air, and confetti

rained down like pink snowflakes.

Hapeta’s heart sank.

“Bloody hell,” he said aloud, “Why aren’t there any barricades?

Didn’t the Staties say there would be?”

The driver shook his head. “And half the police are looking inwards

– at the motorcade – instead of at the crowd! Useless.”
                                   Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 12

Lazy or clumsy? Hapeta wondered. Ever since achieving Statehood,

city authorities never seemed to miss a chance to stuff something


Griggs’ less-than-reassuring voice crackled. “All units, this is

Command: crowds are heavy. Airborne units, watch rooftops;

ground units, the crowd. Situation is less than ideal, so stay


The other men snorted at Griggs’ euphemistic language. Hapeta

said, “Enough clowning – stay sharp.”

Hapeta’s gaze jumped from person to person, taking in faces,

hands, things they were holding, clothes they were wearing. The

glimpses he caught here and there were all filtered down to their

most essential components.

A group of tanned men with fluoro vests; probably builders, here on

their break.

A man in yellow shorts, holding a child up on his shoulders. Big


Tall blonde woman, water in one hand, coat in the other.
                                 Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 13

Coat? In this heat?

Hapeta’s focus went from wide-ranging to razor-sharp, watching

Blondie. The coat looked too large for this girl; the way she stood

casually next to the State, who seemed distracted by her; it seemed

so wrong …

Blondie was coming up fast; should he sound the alarm? Should he

tell Griggs? Should he contact the State Police unit and get them to

pull her out of the crowd? Should he …

Hapeta just watched. Just wait, just wait …

The limo up ahead, with the windows down and the President’s

hand waving, came within twenty metres of Blondie.



Hapeta’s hand went to his holster.

Blondie went past.
                                 Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 14


Hapeta sighed.

But he did not relax. No time. People kept aiming cameras straight

at the limo; lenses kept flashing; the parade was a chaotic blur of

balloons and waving hands. Hapeta went back to focusing on the

most important details as best he could.

Hats held in hands.

Flags tucked under arms.

People that looked too grim.

Clenched fists.

Unpleasant smirks.

Faces, clothes and bulges all blended together.

It was almost a relief when Griggs announced, “All units, Command:

regular crowds thinning out until Northbourne; demonstrators
                                 Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 15

ahead – some students, some Billies – coming up on both sides.

Medium-risk groups; watch carefully.”

In the parking lot of a Housing Commission apartment block, young

people had a series of banners held up with wooden poles. Lined up,

the banners formed one lengthy sentence:



The words were surrounded by students, all jeering and waving

theirs hands angrily. They were a riotous splash of colours: neo-

rockers, flower children, sharp young hipsters, Bikie wannabes. This

was the most organised student protest Hapeta had witnessed: all

the cliques sitting under the one banner.

On the opposite side of the road were another group of protestors,

this crowd much older and greyer and waving less-impressive




The Staties had botched a lot, but at least kept up their promise to

separate the leftie protestors from the Monarchists. The two sides
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 16

had sparred on more than one occasion on campuses and main

streets all over Australia.

The Billies generally did not worry Hapeta. They were old news,

quirky but harmless. The smart ones had refashioned themselves as

a reformist party and ran for office; the rest were reduced to

waving signs in protest of an issue that had effectively died fifteen

years ago. On a normal day, they could be ignored.

Today was not a normal day.

Because today Hapeta kept thinking about the photos that

colleagues from the Political Extremism unit had sent him: photos of

the apartment the AFP had raided yesterday in Sydney, based on a

tip received as part of a five-month investigation into Presidential

death threats after the passing of the Presidential Powers


Photos of walls lined with street maps of the motorcade route,

entrances and exits marked out, along with technical schematics on

the exact model of limousine the President used. Plans for

something big and dangerous, all mixed in with Monarchist

pamphlets and ultra-conservative literature. All this taken from an
                                   Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 17

apartment that was rented under a false name, with no known

photo of the resident.

Seeing and knowing all that, Hapeta found himself wishing they

could throw everyone who even looked remotely suspicious into

prison. Or at least cancel this bloody parade.

But they could not, because the President was a man of the future,

trying to “brush away the cobwebs of the old system forever,” as he

put it. This was Australia’s third elected President, but the first

directly elected, and he had big plans to match his increased

powers: massive infrastructure projects, foreign military

interventions, overhauling federal taxes.

But he had the charisma and commonsense to pull it off. While his

colleagues debated complicated resource management policies in

house, the President flew out to rural communities and pitched his

views to the man in the street, face-to-face. While the previous

Government cried about the great responsibility of having a

President with absolute authority over the Defence Forces, this man

had visited servicemen stationed on Pacific Islands and assured

them he would never waste their lives on fruitless adventurism. He

scored a huge majority, even by pre-Republic reckoning.
                                   Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 18

To keep on assuring the people that he was their representative, he

declared Inauguration Day a national holiday and said he would ride

from the Hotel Exchequer to Parliament House, the exact route that

the first President had taken, and everyone was invited to watch.

The President insisted on the motorcade, even as, at the last

minute, Commander Griggs – the AFSS officer personally

responsible for Presidential security – tried to talk him out of it,

citing the threat that the AFP had uncovered. The President had

been unconvinced, saying the same thing that Griggs had said to

Hapeta two hours earlier – “All you’ve got are a bunch of maps and

car design plans” – and deciding that he was going to give the

adoring public what they wanted, risks be damned.

If only …

Hapeta snapped to attention. Somebody was shouting over the

radio: “Window! Left-side, seventh-floor …”

Hapeta’s head craned up, as the radio network exploded with a

dozen other voices.

“Movement in the window …”
                                    Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 19

“… sniper, repeat, sniper, left side top room …”

“… what’s happening, too much going on to …”

Hapeta felt a wave of panic grip him; even though the network was

screaming about a window, he was seized by the idea that the

blonde he had seen earlier was responsible. What was he doing? He

had let everyone down, the whole thing was falling apart, he had to


… no, no, no, focus. Find the window.

He saw it, just as a flat sheet rolled down from it: red, black and


“… hold your fire, it’s not …”

“… just a flag, I repeat, just …”

From a window in the apartment above the students, an indigenous

flag hung defiantly in the still air. In the neighbouring window, a

banner unfurled: DON’T FORGET OUR RIGHTS TOO!
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 20

Upon seeing it, a cheer went through the students. A grim “Boo!”

came from the Billies. The atmosphere turned ugly; Hapeta was

grateful that five lanes of asphalt separated the two.

Griggs cried, “Goddamit, no one say ‘sniper’ until you see a rifle!

Chopper Three almost blew those people away!”

                              *    *    *

The motorcade had only one last stretch of road to go:

Northbourne. It ran directly through the office complexes and five-

star hotels that dominated the CBD, across the lake and all the way

to Parliament House.

Hapeta was exhausted, but as they turned the block, he noticed

that this street at least had the barricades. Some silver lining.

‘O’kay, boys,” he said, “Last strip of asphalt. Keep a look out –

we’re almost home.”

The motorcade slowed to a crawl; the President’s arm stuck out

even further. The air was full of good cheer; no signs, no protests.

A burst of static came through; not even Hapeta’s earpiece, but the

car radio.
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 21

“Escort Two … uh, Lieutenant Hapeta, are you there? This is

Constable Mackay, over.”

The car interior went silent. Communications should be over the

main network, not on the backup channel that the car radio was set

to. It was odd, and odd was the last thing Hapeta needed.

Hapeta grabbed the hand mic and replied, “Constable Mackay, this

is Lieutenant Hapeta, over.”

“Lieutenant … I am on crowd control, eastern side of Antill, near

Delphi Towers. There’s some kind of, ah, disturbance here.”

Hapeta’s blood went cold. The motorcade would pass by Delphi

Towers in two minutes, tops.

“Roger that, Mackay … why aren’t you reporting this to Command,

or your superior, over?”

‘Lieutenant … ah, I don’t have the frequency for Command. I was

told to report to the State Police Command unit, but they are

unresponsive; technical issues, I think. I only got your vehicle

because I talked to an AFP officer and he gave me your frequency.”
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 22

Hapeta felt anger shoot through him. A security detail that didn’t

have access to the main communications network? State Police

Command unresponsive? It felt like Keystone Cops around here.

‘Roger that, Mackay … what is the nature of the disturbance?”

“Another State Police unit reported seeing a man wearing a long

black coat, behaving strangely. Units have been unable to locate

the individual, but some civilians are confirming the reports and

saying the man was acting unstable or oddly; he was last sighted in

my location.”

Wild goose chase? Maybe …

“Constable, thanks for reporting this.”

Hapeta cupped his own mic. “Command, this is Escort Two. A State

Police unit has reported suspicious individual, near Delphi Towers.

Recommend we investigate.”

Silence over the network. Hapeta could hear the tension.
                                 Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 23

“Escort Two, received; nothing has come through from State

Command, so we’ll let them handle it until it gets here.”

Hapeta wanted to shout and scream and demand, but remembered

Grigg’s lack of patience back at the Exchequer. He would get no


But something was wrong. Fifteen years of trained instinct was

screaming at him: do something!

Hapeta replied, “Griggs, I have concerns about State Command

responsiveness. Requesting permission to get out on foot and


Hapeta knew he was in trouble; he had bad-mouthed the Staties on

the air and been borderline insubordinate. He didn’t care. His mind

was a mess of images: the TV screen fifteen years ago; the man in

the cheap suit; the apartment in Sydney with maps and photos;

snipers and bombers and crazies.

“Escort Two, request denied.”

No rancor, no rage. Not yet, anyway.
                                 Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 24

Delphi Towers – fifteen stories of steel and glass, dead ahead.

Hapeta shuddered.

Mackay’s voice on the car radio: ‘Lieutenant, more civilians in the

crowd have reported seeing the disturbed man. He’s definitely out


Hapeta felt something inside him twist and snap.

He grabbed the radio. “Roger that, Mackay. Meet me at barricade

twenty metres to the north of Delphi Towers. Out.”

The other men in the car looked on in shock; Hapeta said,

“Continue driving, keep the pace.”

He opened the door.

The heat blasted him. He leapt from the vehicle and ran across the


He pushed through the line of State Police and cleared the barricade

in one hurdle. Shocked faces from Staties and civilians alike. He

pushed through the crowd, feeling desperate.
                                   Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 25

It was a furnace out here! God …

He crashed into a tall cop with a crewcut.

“Lieutenant Hapeta?”

“Constable Mackay.”

They exchanged nods, then pushed forward together. Mackay had

to yell into Hapeta’s ear over the crowd.

‘The man was last sighted near a food vendor, heading south.”

Hapeta nodded. “Stick close to the barricades; is he’s armed, it’s

the only shot he’ll get.”

The crowd was a heaving mass of bodies and blue flags being

waved; Hapeta and Mackay had to push and shove.

Up ahead: a rustle of black.

A coat.
                                Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 26

Hapeta shoved harder; he heard Mackay behind him, shouting into

his radio for reinforcements.

The black coat was up ahead now, lurching forward.

Hapeta was running.

The coat, swaying and shuddering erratically, turned around.

Hapeta saw a hand clenched tightly around a …

… oh God, was it a …

… it’s a …

… large paper cup, clutched in a sweaty, wrinkled hand. Above the

hand was a confused look in ancient blue eyes.

Hapeta stopped, stared, just as the man in the coat dropped hid

drink and collapsed.

What the …
                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 27

Hapeta ran forward and saw the elderly man was clutching at his

chest, gasping. The crowd parted and looked on in surprise.

Staties swarmed around them. Hapeta heard Mackay’s voice: “God,

this guy’s having a heart attack!” A cop started resuscitation.

“Dad!” a shrill voice cried. A petite blonde woman ran forward, tears

in her eyes.

Hapeta instinctively grabbed her by the arm.

“Ma’am,” he said, “These men are trained, let them administer first

aid …”

The woman looked at Hapeta. Two Australian flags were painted on

her cheeks; her tears were making the colours run.

“He … he went to get a drink … I didn’t think he should be out in

this heat, but he wanted to … to see …”

She burst into sobs and fell forward into Hapeta’s arms.

He was stunned at first. Then he started to relax. He hugged her

                                  Inauguration Day / Sean Oliver Ness 28

‘Everything’s going to be o’kay …” he said.

Grigg’s voice was yelling over his earpiece; it annoyed him greatly,

so he pulled it out, and continued to hold her while the cops worked

on her father.

Behind him, the motorcade swept past. The crowd roared.

                              *    *    *

A tourist snapped a photo of Hapeta, cradling the woman, with her

dying father visible in the foreground and the majestic Presidential

limo in the background. It showed up in all the newspaper and

television coverage of the first Inauguration Day. The President

himself cited the image as an example of the humanity and

dedication of the country’s police forces, State and Federal, and for

a few months, it went a long way towards defusing the suspicion

around the President’s new powers. The photo would appear in

Inauguration Day retrospectives for decades to come.

The photo was also the only thing that saved Hapeta’s job. Instead

of being fired for insubordination, he was praised and then quietly

transferred elsewhere. Hapeta did not mind; the Republic was wide,

and he was sure there was a place in it for him.

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