It's the morning after the night before.
I'm driving through the dusty plains of the Western Australia Wheatbelt town of New Norcia, the one with the Benedictine Monks. Even they couldn't have rectified what has just happened.
It leaves a bitter taste in what was supposed to be a night of renewal and fresh beginnings.I stop for a quick break and lay down ten bucks for a toasted sandwich.
An Irish girl looks at me with all the interest of ...another Irish waitress working in the regions before pushing the half-toasted sanger in my direction.
"Will that be all sir?" a lovely Irish lilt but with little sincerity.
I've MCed a dinner for the Moora Footy club. A big night, the Foundation Dinner for two merging clubs. One marginalised from the 'wrong' side of the river, the other full of white fellahs, big farming lads. Problem was the number of farms was dwindling.
The drawcard was Eagles legend Benny Cousins.
I'd read Cousins' ghosted biography. Life as a junkie and elite athlete. Frank and confronting. I watched Such is Life. Cousins is articulate and confident.
A breeze wafts by. A relief after a hot muggy day. Guests gather at the lush spacious Moora Oval outside the clubrooms.
It's an Oasis in a drought stricken area. Only a quarter of farming families remain from the late 1960s. The people are friendly with generous hearts.
They tell stories of the England cricket team visiting in 1965-66, when cricket tours lasted more than two months.
The quaint grandstand on the western side of the oval an ongoing reminder. Moora Club President Dave Stribley is tall and thick set and generous of spirit. He takes me into the bar where blokes in suits suck on stubbies and women in long tightly hugging dresses sip wine.
It's a grand occasion for the town and the new club.
Still no sign of Cousins.
It's also WA election night. The Wheatbelt is Nationals heartland where people speak highly of Royalties for Regions, installed when the Nationals held the balance of power after the 2008 election. It's in the state legislation.
Twenty-five percent of mining royalties must go regional projects. Apart from the occasional 'singing toilet' it's been seen as a game-changer for the regions.
Soon the crowd files in. Tables are set out in a big beautifully decorated hall. A large stage stand a few feet above the audience. A bit like a school hall where a principal might deliver an annual address.
We all wait for the announcement of the new club's name and colours. But we're all really waiting to see Cousins.
As MC I welcome the audience and speak of the sense of community I feel at this club. A club is like a school. All you need do is walk through it to gauge its true nature.
I talk about the listener who complains every time I mention the club when I get to Moora on the weather map. They laugh. A sense of defiance reflecting the community. Continuing against the odds.
I introduce Stribley. He talks of the history of the two sides that are amalgamating and the work that has been done behind the scenes to make it happen.
A round of applause and the new red and gold colours are revealed by shy teenage males modelling the uniform. An even bigger shout for the new name, the Moora Mavericks.
I monitor my phone for election results. The ABC's political analyst Antony Green has called the election for Barnett. The polls only closed an hour ago. Still no sign of Cousins.
I thought he'd be here by now. For five grand I thought he'd be here at the start or even given a coaching clinic before the dinner. I start to wonder if he will turn up at all.
Tables of guests go up to get their food. There's good natured chat all around. People tell me how much they appreciate the ABC.
Then suddenly there's activity at the door.
Casually attired Cousins, tall thin and athletic, wanders over to one of the outer tables with his minder, Tony Shaw, Director of Indigenous Services Australia (ISA). Shaw has the swagger of a man with some power. He wears Cousins that night closer than I ever saw Tony Liberatore.
Stribley, having welcomed Cousins, walks back to where we are seated.
"He seems ok, not sure about the bloke with him."
"He's a bit iffy Cousins about being interviewed. I'll introduce you; see if you can work out what is going on."
We walk over to Cousins' table. He looks like a rabbit in the spotlight. I ask how he wants me to introduce him and if I could interview him for five minutes for my radio show.
The minder steps in looking at me in shock.
"No we're not allowing any of that."
"Can I record the speech then?" I reply.
The minder shakes his head.
I ask again.
'No, Ben is here tonight as a legend of the game wishing the new club all the best. You introduce me and I'll introduce Ben."
I hear the words but haven't absorbed them. They make no sense.
I turn to Cousins and again ask how he would like to be introduced.
Shaw then motions to me that I look at him and direct the questions his way and not Ben's.
I turn away and say to Ben.
"There will be nothing controversial if I interview you. I just want to get a few words to take back for my listeners."
Shaw leans back in his chair and interrupts. He's clearly annoyed.
"Look I already explained to you that you introduce me and I'll introduce Ben. Which part of this don't you understand?"
"Will Ben be taking questions?" I ask in hope.
"He will decide that depending on how the talk goes. Anyway, you're the MC."
It's an insulting comment.
So much for free speech.
Sensing my displeasure, the minder gives a half smile. It's part of his 'bad cop good cop' routine. Part bully, part charmer, but mainly bully.
"Look we're not used to this public speaking and Ben's a bit nervous."
(I later look up Tony Shaw on the ISA web site. He's described as, 'one of Australia's premier Indigenous speakers.')
The idea of Cousins being nervous about speaking in front of a crowd is news to me.
An ABC colleague told me he'd seen Cousins talk to a crowd of a thousand people at a sit down dinner. He also confidently took questions for more than half an hour.
I ask Cousins for some autographs for my kids. He looks at me like I'd asked him for a million dollars. Eventually he signs.
I wander back to my table slightly dazed at what I've just experienced.
As MC what do you do? Kick up a fuss and ruin the club's foundation dinner?
One of the guests wanders back to the table where I am seated. She has a disappointed look on her face.
"He's not allowing any photographs. That bloke with Cousins said to me that with things like Facebook the risk is not worth it."
I'm thinking of the guests who paid fifty dollars to see Cousins speak and maybe even have a photo taken with him. Aren't we all adults here?
The main meal is finished. On stage I announce at the election count they're calling at least seven seats for the Nationals. A cheer goes up. I introduce the minder and leave the stage. He makes an effort to shake my hand. He's happy I haven't made a fuss. It's made his job easier.
Shaw speaks for ten minutes about his life. He's lived in numerous institutions growing up. A black fellah made good against the odds. It's a well-rehearsed speech parts of which he must have given dozens of times.
He also describes the 'journey' Cousins was on and how he needed healing and not more attacks from the media.
"I sat with Ben and his father in the desert... and shed tears as we moved Ben towards a place of healing. We all want the best for Ben," Shaw moves his hand as he speaks as if to give greater meaning to the words.
Then he introduces Cousins.
"You've probably seen our guest speaker's face on Crimestoppers," says Shaw before he loads up with another 'joke'.
"Who's the driver of a car with Ben Cousins and Ashley Sampi sitting in the back?
Answer: "A policeman."
"And ladies and gentlemen here he is ...Ben Cousins. "
Applause echoes around the room. Then a sudden quiet. Shaw stays on stage. He's standing behind Cousins as a teacher might before a student speaks at the school assembly. Cousins timidly walks forward toward the microphone and pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket and begins to read.
An awkward silence.
Then he starts. Cousins stumbles over his first few words.
"It's g... great to be here for such a wonderful occ..occ... occasion."
It's a pattern that will continue for the next three minutes. He frequently stops and apologises and has no connection to the words he is reading. It's as if he is reading a second language that he doesn't know that well. Finally he stops.
It is a relief when it ends. I look around at the crowd who gaze forward with bemused expressions. Cousins had spoken for 180 seconds earning more than $1700 a minute.
After a while a couple of the of the audience stand to give a standing ovation. Then more. It's like a Mexican wave that grows in momentum. A few of us remain seated. I feel for Cousins but also for those at the dinner.
When Stribley speaks again at the end of the evening he mentions that "at least we have gotten an insight into where Cousins' life is at."
At least was a good phrase.
Stribley was generous and so was the crowd.
The Moora footy club had paid five thousand dollars to receive a '20 to 30 minute speech on his story to date and also his views on the positives of the amalgamation of the Rovers and Warriors Football.'
They didn't get it.
There is talk of Cousins returning for a jumper presentation. Even Cousins can see that what he has delivered is a major let down.
I later discover the following was part of the original arrangement between Indigenous Services Australia and the new Moora Football club.
'Ben will make an appearance if possible during training at the club if feeling up to it although he doesn't take coaching clinics, it would purely be for a meet and greet.'
I think again of the people who paid their money for the dinner expecting to hear him talk about his life. I imagine what the reaction would have been had this happened at a sell-out crowd at East Perth where city corporates had paid big bucks to see Cousins speak.
The night rolls on. Cousins leaves soon after the speeches have ended. There are mumbled murmurings of the disappointment felt among the crowd.
My strongest feeling is one of sympathy, sympathy for the audience and for Cousins. It leaves a bitter taste in what was supposed to be a night of renewal and fresh beginnings.
The drive back to Busselton is long and slow delayed by having to pull over for numerous wide loads. The road from Moora through New Norcia is too narrow for the traffic flow and dangerous.
What I have seen over the last 24 hours reflects a lot about the way the regions are treated.
They are out of the way and won't cause too much fuss. Maybe Royalties for Regions is making a difference.