I found the letter between pages 110 and 111 of the book. Well, not a letter as such. A draft, rather, on an A4 sheet of Reflex paper, neatly folded into quarters. Printed out and, perhaps, put aside to give the writer time to reflect on the wisdom of sending it. It had neither salutation nor signature.
The letter had me from the beginning. “I’m grossly offended by the insinuation I have some personal agenda in interfering with your personal life,” it read. “You flatter yourself and could not be further from the truth.” Here was a story within a story, a mystery to be unravelled, a tale tied up with the history of the book itself.
I read on. “You have to accept some responsibility for ‘creating trouble’ – you asked me to come and collect you the other night knowing she would be there and then deliberately didn’t introduce us.” Was this a love triangle?
The book was Howard Jacobsen’s Zoo Time, a hefty paperback edition. It came from my apartment building’s informal exchange library. It’s a place where residents dump their unwanted books, everything from airport thrillers and self-improvement manuals to Penguin classics and old uni textbooks.
There are more than 400 apartments in our complex. We know very few of our neighbours by sight and even fewer by name. This makes it pointless to speculate on who has been reading Fifty Shades of Grey or Ulysses, although I suspect that the person who abandoned the latter simply gave up (as most do) on getting to the end of it. Having now ploughed my way through Zoo Time, I feel it may also have deserved a similar fate.
Certainly, the book’s previous owner wasn’t impressed enough to keep it on the shelf. Perhaps it was dispensed with in a fit of Marie Kondo-inspired de-cluttering. Or even in a clean-up prior to moving out. I wanted to know more about the mysterious letter-writer and what had provoked such an impassioned missive.
Upon further reading, the plot thickened. ”Unfortunately, because of your past history, my job requires being involved in an effort to mitigate any future issues – couldn’t care less personally, my interest is more around protecting the government and Colin who has given you more chances than anyone thinks you should have been afforded.”
The intended recipient seemed to be a politician in a government led by the mysterious Colin and clearly had a less-than-spotless record. Further clues followed shortly after, with reference to an approaching election and someone named Adele.
We live in the age of Google. The letter provided enough key words for a search and it wasn’t long before a name emerged: the letter had clearly been addressed to Troy Buswell, a former Minister in the Western Australian Liberal government, led by Colin Barnett.
Mr Buswell has a colourful history. In 2008, while he was the leader of the Western Australian opposition, his behaviour was less than parliamentary. Among his well-publicised escapades were snapping the bra elastic of a Labor staffer, grabbing a Liberal MP by the balls, and ecstatically sniffing a chair recently vacated by a Liberal staffer.
Despite these charming activities, Buswell retained his position in a subsequent leadership spill. Boys, the WA Liberals must have decided, will be boys. However, later that year, he resigned as Liberal leader and was replaced by Colin Barnett, who led the party to victory in the September 2008 election.
Our Troy became Treasurer in the new Cabinet, but soon he was in trouble again. It was, perhaps predictably, woman trouble. In 2010 he was found to be having an affair with Greens MP Adele Carles. Even worse, he had used a ministerial car for his assignations and paid for weekend accommodation with his government credit card. This time, he was forced to resign from his ministerial post, only to be reinstated later the same year.
The letter was clearly from Troy Buswell’s Chief of Staff, written at a time when he or she (the identity of the writer was unclear) was feeling put-upon by the demands of the job and the criticism of an unappreciative boss. Its tone had something in common with Zoo Time, a book described by The Guardian’s literary critic as “a 400-page tantrum”. The book’s title certainly resonated with the behaviour of the letter’s recipient. Parts of the novel were set in Western Australia, perhaps enhancing its appeal to a local reader. But how, and with whom, did it make its way to a bookshelf in Melbourne?
The timing of the letter was intriguing. Zoo Time wasn’t published until 2012. That same year, the relationship between Buswell and Ms Carles (both separated from their respective spouses) broke down. Adele Carles told the press that she had ended the relationship after seeing Troy “dry-humping” a Perth businessman at a social event. Her revelations led to a defamation case, which was settled in early 2014.
I researched “Troy Buswell Chief of Staff”, trying to come up with a name and a date. The election mentioned in the letter was held in March 2013 and the relationship with Adele ended in December 2012. This suggested a date of late 2012. But the only articles I could find naming Buswell’s Chief of Staff referred to a further shameful incident in 2014. This time, driving home drunk from a wedding, the MP had side-swiped several parked vehicles and totalled his government car. His CoS was accused of colluding in a cover-up. But did she hold that position in 2012? And how could I find out?
As it turned out, all I had to do was read on. Between pages 280 and 281 was a Qantas boarding pass for a business-class flight from Perth to Canberra. The name coincided with that of the over-protective staffer from 2014. I won’t name her. I confess to doing a search on our building’s intranet. Without result. But her LinkedIn page confirmed that she is now living and working in Melbourne.
Obviously, Ms X resolved her difficulties with her employer and remained loyal to the end. The Liberals won the 2014 election but the car smash incident finished Troy Buswell’s political career. His staff had to move on and his Chief of Staff was forced to apologise to Parliament for providing false information. In the next election, in 2017, Labor toppled the Libs and Colin Barnett resigned from politics.
And I am left holding a letter giving a behind-the-scenes peek into the life of one of WA politics’ most colourful characters. Not very discreet, Ms X. Not very discreet at all.