Julie Lambert

Julie Lambert

A veteran journalist and subeditor, most recently a medical reporter.
Julie Lambert
Cruden Farm

Cruden Farm


by Angus Barnes

August 20, 2013

A recent radio show lamented the demise of neat-sounding words.  Snollygoster was the first discussed, and it was suggested one of the reasons for its disuse was because there are no politicians left who aren’t snollygosters (that is, someone guided by personal advantage rather than by consistent, respectable principles).

The Murdoch press during this campaign paints a different picture.  Quite clearly, there is one party full of snollygosters and another with higher ethical standards.  Whether Murdoch’s media influence wins the day will remain a point of eternal conjecture, though his papers’ campaign  stance will serve as a good starting point for the powerful media boss with an Abbott-led government.

The influence of another Murdoch identity will be crucial in the seat of Dunkley in Victoria, however. The most marginal polling booth in the electorate is at the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch secondary college in Langwarrin.  The two major parties know this – Rudd visited this suburb in his first week of campaigning and the college is keen on potential additional funding under the Gonski model.  The Liberal-National Coalition, if elected, has promised $225,000 towards the construction of a men’s shed and community hub incorporating the community hall in Langwarrin.

The college is named after the late Dame Elisabeth, Rupert’s mother, who passed away in December last year at the age of 102.  The Murdochs have a strong connection to the region.  Cruden Farm in Langwarrin was a wedding present to the 19-year-old Elisabeth from her husband, and her home from 1952.  Dame Elisabeth gardened this renowned landscaped property, which is opened annually to the public, until her passing.

The Murdoch matriarch was highly regarded around the world for her philanthropic work, particularly as a supporter of the arts and education.  Locally, the McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery has developed the Elisabeth Murdoch Walk to acknowledge her lifetime contribution to the cultural life of Australia and the gallery itself, which has become a national centre for sculpture.

At the 2010 election, results from the Elisabeth Murdoch College booth gave the Coalition a win by the barest of margins, with 50.01{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} on a two-party preferred basis. Overall the Coalition retained Dunkley by 1{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3}.

To understand the thinking in this area of Dunkley I spent a few hours at the South Langwarrin shops, near the college, talking to passing shoppers.  The shops are small and local, no chains or franchises; there’s a pizza place, hairdresser, local bakery, fish and chips shop offering battered Mars Bars, newsagency and well-stocked bottle-o.  I approached people explaining what I was doing and, if they were agreeable, asked what issues would influence their vote. I asked also if they were comfortable telling me who they intended to vote for.  This was not a ‘scientific’ survey but an attempt to elicit some of the voters’ thinking.

South Langwarrin shops

South Langwarrin shops

The responses show the difficulties politicians face in garnering support.

The first person I speak with, a young man possibly voting for the first time, exemplifies how hard it is.  On the issues he responds, “I don’t know, no carbon tax, but don’t really know what that means.”  When I ask who he thinks he’ll vote for, he says, “Not sure, Mum says not for Tony Abbott.”

Aggregated, quantitative surveys are great tools for knowing things from afar, averaging views and complexities to present discrete units readied for manipulation.  Numbers condense, words lead only to more questions.

An elderly lady lists her issues: “border protection, country economy, deficits, aged care”, which brings her to an apparently logical conclusion of support for the Liberals.  But then a middle-aged man who cites “better schools with a focus on results, like Naplan and more funding” says he’ll vote the same way.

People who mention schools, young families and other social issues typically suggest they’ll vote Labor.  Issues identified as job security, business and cost of living not surprisingly lead to support for the Liberals. When refugees are mentioned, support goes either way.

Of the 22 people who agree to talk, however, no one mentions the Greens.  In fact, no one mentions any party except for the two major parties.

But I’m getting entranced by the power of the aggregate. Back to the conversations.  And what about those snollygosters?

“If you sack someone and then give it back, that’s not right”, suggests one man.

“Both lie,” says a lady who storms off.  A number of other people offer only angry looks.

My favourite exchange was with the sanitation engineer who came to empty the three bins one at a time.

Taking bin 1, he said: “Both dickheads.”

Bin 2: “Need more education …”

Bin 3: “… for the politicians.”

The area around Elisabeth Murdoch College is occupied by hobby farmers, many of whom use the extra space to keep horses, and by people who have sought smaller blocks for cheaper housing.

Predicting what will happen at this booth from my brief foray is impossible, but on my travels only posters for the sitting Liberal MP Bruce Billson were prominent, leaving one with a feeling this seat may have been considered too hard to win despite its 1{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} margin before Rudd’s return as Labor leader.

On election day I plan to undertake something of an exit poll at the Elisabeth Murdoch College booth to learn more about what issues influenced voters in deciding their vote.  The college booth could potentially determine the seat of Dunkley and confirm – or challenge – the Murdoch media’s view on who was the party of snollygosters.

Elisabeth Murdoch College

Elisabeth Murdoch College

Dunkley scene setter