Oswald Q Ostrich’s family settled in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg in the late 1950s. Fleeing a Europe beset by Stalinism’s iron fist, Ossie’s father Yuri Ostrich took to the relative ease and comfort of Australian life.
Quickly unionised, Yuri joined the Labor Party. Never religious, his religion became the Coburg Football Club and the VFA.
His son Ossie grew up with a strong sense of dual identity between his central European heritage and his family’s love for Melbourne Labor politics and Victorian amateur football.
Ossie, however, couldn’t play football. But he could play politics, and it wasn’t long before he was on the road to becoming one of the great numbers men of the Victorian Right. In virtually every preselection in Melbourne’s northern suburbs from the 1970s onwards, the influence of Ossie Ostrich was felt.
He also grew up with a wise-cracking, self-deprecating sense of humour – probably some sort of coping mechanism he’d developed while growing up an immigrant bird, he’d think as he got older. The humorous Ossie was the one Australia came to love. But the other Ossie is a story which has never really been told.
Ostrich, as a great backroom man, could move numbers against anyone. And when he couldn’t beat them in branch meetings, he’d lure them onto Red Faces on the pretense of a publicity stunt, where inevitably they’d make a complete tit of themselves. No one would vote for someone who Red gonged and scored a ‘2’.
In those days, Hey Hey was a hotbed of political division. Ossie often nearly came to blows in the Green Room after taking issue with something said by prominent Grouper, Wilbur Wilde.
Ostrich and his father split over politics in 1992, after former Prime Minister Bob Hawke retired from Parliament. At the ensuing by-election, ever the machine man, Ossie was instrumental in the campaign of the lacklustre Labor candidate. His father, already resentful of Hawke’s liberalisation of the economy, looked no further than his former football hero, Phil Cleary. After Cleary’s victory, Ossie pursued him to the High Court. His father didn’t speak to him for years.
Ossie retired from television in the 1990s to concentrate on politics. While he remains a loyal Labor voter, he was expelled from the party in the early 2000s after trying to oust a sitting MP and factional enemy from his safe seat. Head office grew suspicious when 640 ostriches signed up to the party in a three week period leading up to preselection.
It had Ostrich’s hands all over it. His dream of ending his working life with a spot in the Victorian upper house was dashed. He’d ruffled too many feathers.