I read somewhere that all dramas are arguments about the nature of the world. When I began what would become the Stella Hardy trilogy I began with an argument, but I didn’t know it. The story embryo was a mere meld of feelings; Stella was the embodiment of frustration, disgust, impatience. Over the course of the writing process, the feelings cohered into a theme about the state of my country, about how Australia works, about mediocre leadership, and the general state of venality. You know, politicians who rather than legislate good policy, spinelessly capitulate to vested interests — and in some instances — conspire with them. The idea of grubby deals and corrupt power has been a recurring theme in the series.
Through Stella I created fictional engagement with those vested interests and contrasted it with the lived reality of the vast underclass of Australian society. Stella works at the cutting edge of disadvantage, and in the course of helping her clients, or her neighbour, or her family, she comes face-to-face with the so-called bastions of society. But they’ve used their position to enrich themselves. When she dares to expose that corruption, it is often at great personal cost. All as she wrestles with criminal tendencies of her own and the ensuing regret.
In Good Money Stella stumbles into contact with the mining sector, an industry worth billions of dollars annually, and on which the Australian economy is deeply dependent. The plot revolves around underworld figures, a lawyer living on the edge, and deals with mining companies to launder money. It fit the theme of grubby deals struck in the backrooms of power and privilege, and saw Stella taken out of her comfort zone. I later was intrigued to see this headline in The Age: Top QC … loses big in gold mine linked to underworld figures.
In Too Easy Stella discovers the extent of homelessness in Melbourne, particularly among young people. At the time of writing, there is still no comprehensive policy to address homelessness in Australia. She confronts bikies doing deals in Asia with the black-market trade in human organs. She encounters police corruption, the real-world basis for which are the numerous prosecutions of police that fill the public record. Grubby deals. Vested interests. A shit-ton of money. The ABC online reported: criminal masterminds behind the illegal trade of human body parts raked in $2.3 billion around the globe last year.
In Shoot Through Stella attends professional conduct training at work, and is told not to accept even a bag of lemons from a grateful client because it might constitute conflict of interest. Later she discovers corruption in the department of corrections, with an employee living large and scamming the state. That plot line was authorial licence, riffing on the steady gush of stories in the media about rorts, and politicians and bureaucrats who shake hands, skim off the top, and place profits in Cayman Islands bank accounts. We’re told that departmental oversight of live-export trade is keeping the industry honest. Then the ABC online reports that: 'Critical' breaches of Vietnam live export trade see more than 1,500 Australian cattle left unaccounted for.
There’s Stella working hard in the community sector — or you and me, working in our chosen field — struggling to maintain integrity against a political background in which buying influence is just good business and our small efforts at honest conduct are seen as stupid or naïve. Researching the Stella Hardy series only added more grist to the argument of the series: there’s grubby deals at the top, committed by powerful figures completely free from inconvenient moral or ethical concerns. And always, real consequences are avoided.
That said, where do you think you’re going with that bag of lemons?