Intro – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4
THE LAST TIME I reported on the ground on election night was in 1998 in Ipswich, where Pauline Hanson relied on reporters to explain what the television numbers meant in the seat of Blair and I had to explain to distraught supporters that she’d lost even though she led the count due to the preferential voting system.
It’s election night in 2013 and Voice for Indi had planned a celebration no matter what the result, decorating a stage for a show. Orange clad people gathered in the entertainment area of the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre (WPAC) to enjoy the evening, some coming straight from the polling booths,
Its on the line
Cathy’s young geeks Cam Klose and Nick Haines and others settled in a side-room in front of computers linked to a big screen. A spreadsheet listed all the booths to record votes as they were rung through by scrutineers and update candidate overall tallies.
Our evening began with an intervention from the big smoke – Natalie Kotsios tweeted a Sky News exit poll claiming Sophie would retain Indi. Huh? None of Cathy’s supporters had seen polling at any booth.
Most journos were at Sophie’s party or with Cathy at her Wodonga party, so I worked non-stop tweeting results as they went up – booths and progressive tallies – amid growing excitement that Cathy was in with a chance. I was inundated with tweets asking if I was on another planet, as the ABC had called Indi a Liberal retain.
“Wrong”, I tweeted, and heard that ABC local radio was desperately trying to convince Sydney to change the call. Why wouldn’t they – several journos at Sophie’s party had tweeted that she’d just declared her party a ‘private function’ and removed them, just like Hanson did in 1998 when she’d realised she’d lost.
Just before 8.00pm Sophie Mirabella was the number one trending topic on Twitter in Melbourne, and the WPAC side-room packed out. At 8.30pm I tweeted that Cathy “is hanging in there” before Ken Jasper pumped his fist in the air to tell an ecstatic crowd that:
“It’s on the line – Cathy could win it”.
The count was done by 9pm. I tweeted:
“No #IndiVotes result tonight… 20+ percent pre-poll votes counted Monday. Too close to call. Cathy party on fire. People power!”
For the first time I left the numbers room and experienced the party – hundreds of people in orange, lots of children, teenagers, people of all ages.
Susan Benedyka, a specialist in community building and rural leadership, gave me a copy of the Voice for Indi vision statement of 6 September 2012 and asked:
“Reckon we’ve done it?”
As she read it to the crowd, and you could almost taste their pride in what they’d achieved.
The party is going off
Indie political podcasters Something Wonky called me and I related the scene in real time:
“Everyone’s waiting for Cathy. It’s too close to call but it is a very positive result. She’s pulled Sophie down to under 43, she’s about 32 she’s getting all the preferences from Labor and the Greens. I’ve got two citizen journalists on the ground in Indi and they have a strong feeling, as do Cathy’s people, that the pre-polls will favour Cathy so there’s a feeling of some confidence tonight that Cathy will get over the line.
You can say yes, us lefties can avoid slashing our wrists and get some pleasure in this, but it isn’t just an ‘anyone but Sophie’ result. There’s a very big story here in Indi of a grassroots movement that’s brought together the oldies, the newbies, the blow-ins, the farmers, the young people, the old people, who have really built something special out of this, that has pulled together a community and defined a community.
Everything they’ve done has been done with a smile, has been creative, has been cutting edge – they’ve got young expats who’ve brought in some amazing grassroots campaigning inspired by Obama. I feel this is a way forward to reinvigorate our democracy. It’s a huge positive story as well as an ‘anyone but Sophie’ story…”
I was drowned out by a roar as Cathy arrived and I held the phone up.
“This is an unbelievable scene. I’d say there’s about 400 people dressed in orange just going crazy. It’s gone off. In a way she’s won because she’s come so close – but OK I’m gunna go out on a limb and say I reckon she’s won this.”
Cathy, flanked by dozens of young people, accepted the flowers and the love.
Authors of the future
She thanked the “joy and love” teams, the booth teams, the scheduling teams, the legal teams, the food teams, the back-up teams, the badge-making teams, the driving teams, the door-knocking teams and ‘the Twitter and the Facebook mob’.
“I had a tweet today from Parliament House press gallery in Canberra telling me that everybody there was following our tweets”.
She shared a quote found in a toilet at Mittagundi “because it captures what we’ve done”.
“The future is not some place we are going to but one we are creating. And the paths to it are made, not found, and the activity of making them changes the destination and the makers. We used to be called a safe seat, but we’ve changed that. We’ve made the future a swinging seat of Indi.”
Cheers, claps and then the chant, “Cathy, Cathy, Cathy….”.
“Not only have we changed the future but we as a community are changed by the journey. And we, the people of Indi, are claiming the power to be the architects and authors of our future and our community’s future. “
“I’m extraordinarily proud to be one of the leaders of this campaign and the catalyst for so many people re-engaging with politics – and I’m particularly proud of the fact that so many of our young people have been involved”
“Before we have any results, I’d like to acknowledge the current member of Indi. She has been a hard working and passionate member of Parliament (and) I would like to thank her and acknowledge what she has done.”
I waited for the boos, but there were none.
Not a pollie party
Melbourne musician Sal Kimber, an Indi expat from Wangaratta, played her guitar and sang her Indi Lyrics for ‘From little things big things grow’ with Paul Kelly’s permission.
“Young people are frustrated, they don’t trust the system, they’re tired of the fighting, guessing who’s on whose side. We’re facing huge problems when solutions are short term, let’s vote for respect, compassion this time
They’re not a pollie party, the community of Indi, we’re not just a one off, we’re in for long term, it’s time for our MPs to engage with their people, with honesty and trust, it can all be transformed.
Vote for a voice, the voice for Indi, vote for the voice that comes from the land, we must make a choice, we must make a stand.”
I swear every person there waved their arms high and sang the chorus in full voice.
Magical. Transformative. And no big media or big media TV cameras to disturb the ambience – only the unobtrusive indie film maker David Estcourt and his team captured the moment.
The difference in two speeches
I could feel the sense of achievement, win or lose. That win or lose they had a ringside seat at what could be a miracle that they had helped make happen. Country gents with long poker faces, little kids, everyone glowed. And they kept glowing for hours.
I heard people say this was the best night of their lives. Children danced, adults chatted, no-one got drunk, no voices were raised. People seemed to move in slow motion to a buzz of easy, excited chatter.
“Whether I win or Sophie does, this campaign has been shaped and driven by a genuine grass roots community effort and the electorate of Indi will never be the same again.”Cathy McGowan
I muse to Sarah Capper, who’d just arrived from Melbourne with Victorian Women’s Trust CEO Mary Crooks, “Victoria’s way to protest bad big party politics is Cathy, and Queensland’s is to throw a bomb called Clive Palmer. What a combination.”
Susan Benedyka shook my hand and said thanks, I wasn’t sure what for. She explained:
“In the early days we didn’t realise the power of social media. It had an enormous effect – older people got involved because they had more time and it was wildfire by the end of it. Sophie didn’t play in that space.”
Labor’s campaigner Lauren McCully dropped in and said hi:
“She’s won it, the preferences have all gone her way.”
She was happy to go on record, and I tweeted the news.
Then David Estcourt returned from Sophie’s press conference, which he’d sneaked into with The Age photographer.
He said she had been aggressive, accusing Cathy, Labor and Greens of a conspiracy against her, but said the seat was too close to call.
“We’ve been under assault from an extremely well organised Labor, union, Greens, Get Up campaign… We saw supporters of our various opponents handing out each other’s how to vote cards all over the electorate. We saw once and for all that this independent was anything but independent… What is also clear is that many good people have voted for my independent opponent and they have had the wool pulled over their eyes.”Sophie Mirabella
But when the political performance was over David had kept filming as she crumpled and collapsed into the arms of family members, crying.