Politics

A Casual Reminder: Rove Launched The Career Of Australia’s Youngest Conservative Commentator

What the?

What drives a young conservative? Where do they actually come from? Are they born, or do they simply appear, fully-formed, at university debating societies? Why would a young person latch onto an ideology that seemingly has very little to offer them?

We may never truly know, but some clues come to us from this 2005 clip from Rove Live, featuring a six-year-old boy who would one day become Australia’s youngest fogey.

The fogey in question is Caleb Bond, current fountain pen enthusiast and News Corp columnist. He’s now 19 and writing angry columns defending smokers’ rights, attacking feminism, and getting told to fuck off at footy matches.

But long before he was railing against political correctness, Caleb was just a telegenic six-year-old who loved Slim Dusty and aspired to be a real estate agent (there’s your first warning sign).

I had assumed that anyone who is actually aware of Caleb would also have known that it was Rove McManus who berthed him into the public consciousness. It’s just one of those mid-2000s factoids that remains lodged in my brain, like the great Coogee Bay Poo Incident of 2008, or Madison Avenue’s glass of water.

Is Rove To Blame?

Every good character needs an origin story, and Caleb has his. Did the studio lights accelerate Caleb’s ageing process, turning him into a pint-sized boomer in the time it takes to say “What The?”. Who can say.

But when I tweeted the clip yesterday I was met with a flurry of stunned responses. “That’s Caleb?,” they asked with a mixture of shock and awe. 

But the clip tells us more than we could possibly have realised at the time. Watch it here: 

It’s a very 2005 moment of Australian TV. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” asks Rove with his spiky hair and stripy shirt, which both scream “it’s 2005 and I’m Rove”.

“A real estate agent”, Caleb replies, to stunned laughter from the crowd, who recognise that aspiring to be a real estate agent is surely a sign of future behavioural issues.

“Why?” asks Rove.

“Because I can give business cards out and everybody gets to know me,” replies little Caleb, giving us our first sign that this precocious kid craves the limelight that only a regular News Corp column can give him.

Pretty soon he’s spinning yarns like a pro. Complaining about his cab driver, and talking about a future singing career. Then we learn more. It turns out Caleb was first spotted by an Adelaide DJ while he was on the catwalk at a country fair fashion show.

Like Bane and his darkness, Caleb was born in the limelight… moulded by it.

Caleb: Chicken Or Egg?

I’ve long held a theory that culture war caricatures like Caleb, Devine, Bolt et al are actually engaging in a bit of performance art. The people we see on TV and read in the newspapers are genuine, just with the volume turned up a bit. It’s 80 percent real, with a little bit of showbiz pizzazz thrown in on top for entertainment’s sake.

Could this 2009 clip of Caleb be proof of that? He’s clearly an engaging performer who knows how to work a crowd. To find out, I went straight to the source.

“I’ve been involved in theatre since I was nine, so I love performance from that perspective,” he said. “But seeing as you’ve asked, no.”

“What you see is what you get. There isn’t really a public persona, there’s just me. I’m always direct and honest. No bullshit. Anyone who knows me knows that. If you think I’m evil, then you’re more than welcome to think I’m evil and you’re probably not going to change your mind. It’s the assessment of my friends and the people who actually know me that I care about.”

But he admits there are similarities between the man today and the boy of 2009.

“I’m still brash, obviously confident, and getting myself into places and situations I never quite expected. I’m still a young bloke having fun,” he said.

But he denies that he’s driven by the dizzying highs that came with his first appearance on Rove.

“Limelight or notoriety aren’t really why I became involved in the media, but it has been a nice byproduct. It’s lovely when someone comes up to you in the street to say they like your stuff.

“But I just realised in my early teens how much I was in awe of the media’s ability to connect and inform and I wanted to be part of that. I don’t think I’ve ever looked back and thought about Rove Live as having any connection to my work as a journalist and commentator.”

“My boss didn’t know about it until I told her an hour ago.”