Young, gay, black, green and female
It's cabaret night at the Prince of Wales hotel in St Kilda. A fund-raiser for `Lesbians and Gays for Reconciliation'. Can you pick the Senate candidate?  

Sure. Among the boys in tight shortie-shorts, the lipsticked glamor dykes, men in little black cocktail numbers and older gay couples, she's the one who has teamed her feather boa with a black trouser suit.  

She is young, black, gay and green. That's Charmaine Clarke and that's her constituency. Never wears dresses - says it so firmly it sounds like policy.  

A member of the stolen generation, she was taken from her parents, Gunditjmara people in western Victoria, in 1968 when she was two years old, educated in Catholic institutions and fostered into a white family.  

She has been a journalist with the ABC, a singer with the band Tiddas and now is an administration officer with RMIT's Koori Education Unit. She heads the Australian Greens Victorian Senate ticket and hopes to be the first indigenous woman elected to the Federal Parliament.  

Given that the Greens generally poll a fifth of a Senate quota in Victoria, Clarke will need a very favorable spill of preferences. Preferences are pretty clear at the Prince of Wales, but come the count on 3October it's likely to be much more complex.  

``I'm standing mainly to show that the Australian Greens is not just a one-issue party. It's not just an environmental party,'' Clarke said.  

``There is an opportunity for a greater relationship between the indigenous movement and the environmental movement and also being a young, gay Aboriginal person, (to show) that there is diversity within the Greens.  

``I want to run on the issues: there's Jabiluka; we're interested in getting the Native Title Act repealed; up-front fees, they disenfranchise people from education; there are the cuts to health, the state of hospitals; privatisation of Telstra.''  

Ken Saunders, the Democrats candidate who polled well at the Northcote by-election, is her uncle. His experience suggests to her she can broaden her support among people willing to take a stand against One Nation.  

``There were people who were not necessarily Democrat voters but who supported Uncle Kenny because of what he represented as an indigenous person. I am getting a lot of people like that, men and women in their late 40s, early 50s.''  

The cabaret - called Black Featherette and held to raise money for an anti-racism, anti-homophobia publicity campaign - ends in the early morning. Before midday she is back on the road, dealing with the media. Now, 3AW's studios in South Melbourne might do for John Howard and Kim Beazley, but Charmaine Clarke heads to 3CR in Collingwood to record an interview on an old reel-to-reel machine.  

There is a stirring, she said, in the Aboriginal community about engaging in politics. They have been betrayed by the political process too often. Look at what happened when Senator Harradine ``blinked'' over native title. ``There's a lot of interest not just about myself or about Uncle Kenny, but among the indigenous community thinking we might do this thing for ourselves,'' she said.  

The Australian Greens national campaign coordinator, Dan Cass, rates Clarke the most appealing figure the party has, after Tasmanian Senator Bob Brown. Usually Greens have difficulty winning media attention.  

With Clarke there is a new problem: ``Everyone who meets her wants to know more about her, why she's running for the Greens,'' he said. ``The black-Green alliance is something that interests a lot of people.'' 

THE AGE Tuesday 15 September 1998