Long before he tried to woo voters by showing them how fair dinkum he is, Scott Morrison tried to woo the most beautiful girl at the University of New South Wales.
Back then, in the mid-1980s, he wasn’t known as ScoMo. Initially he was called Magnum, but for most of his time at uni he was Miami.
The origins of those nicknames are the reason for this piece, as I believe they show a deliberate pattern of behaviour, early in the life of our 30th prime minister, that he has repeated, to great success, throughout the subsequent years: the tourism star begets the political star.
It was a blazing hot day when I first met Morrison, through a mutual friend, at a UNSW cafe. Morrison stood to shake my hand – an earnest introduction: his grip firm but not overdone, eye contact good.
It wasn’t the introduction that made me strangle a laugh: it was his look. And the look was pure Tom Selleck from the TV show Magnum, PI: red Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned to reveal a wispy covering of hair, like a weed-strewn lawn; stonewashed jeans painfully tight and worn high; and feet bedecked in shiny white tennis shoes. On his head sat a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. The moustache was flimsy.
Once I got over the shock of a fashion statement that was ridiculous even by ’80s standards, I was struck by how confident he was: a life of great distinction awaited him, he stressed.
Even so, I was taken aback by his reaction to Lisa entering the cafe. Her long, wavy blonde hair glowed, as did her long, tanned legs. Vibrant blue orbs were the centrepiece of a symmetrical face. She looked like she had stepped off the set of an ’80s beer commercial shot on a beach. Accompanying her was a posse of girls, whom she clearly led.
As soon as Lisa and her posse sat at a table, Morrison made his move. With shoulders back and chest out, he told her that she was most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and they were destined to be together, of that he was sure.
I had sensed that his great act of daring was not going to be rewarded: Lisa had given him the once-over. And while the sneer was barely noticeable, it was, nonetheless, as unmistakable as the inspiration for his regrettable appearance.
But not even Lisa and her posse laughing as one, and Lisa coldly turning her back on him, could deflate this man of enormous moxy.
“Mark my words: she will be on my arm,” he said, head high, as we left the cafe.
“I know we’ve just met, and I don’t want to seem rude,” I said. “But if you’re intent on going down this path, maybe you should rethink your …”
He laughed heartily. “You seem to be suggesting, via your eyes, that I need an image overhaul. Is that right?”
“Well … yeah.”
He affectionately slapped my back. “Point taken. I was considering an update, anyway. May as well pull the trigger on it now.”
A few days had passed before I saw Morrison again, and my jaw hit the floor. For standing over Lisa, as she sat at the same table, with the same posse, in the same cafe, was a tawdry rip-off of Don Johnson’s character Sonny Crockett from the TV show Miami Vice: baggy white suit with shoulder pads; aqua-blue collarless shirt; black sunglasses hanging from the shirt; white slip-ons and sockless feet; blow-dried hair smeared with too much gel.
But, to my great surprise, Lisa didn’t laugh this time. She asked him to sit down. And the next time I saw him, she was on his arm!
I lost contact with Morrison after uni, but I haven’t been surprised by his career choices and his success. In pursuit of beautiful Lisa, he had displayed an ability to successfully market himself, which he subsequently did as a high-flying tourism executive and then as a high-flying politician, while, at the same time, effectively promoting destinations and then policies.
There is uncertainty as to the origins of his current nickname, but I have a sneaking suspicion about who coined it.
Now the question is: Will Morrison continue with the fair dinkum image he tested unsuccessfully on the public late last year? Or will there be another makeover for the election?
Mark Bode is an ACM journalist.