Intro – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4
THE MORNING AFTER the election I woke up in the Wangaratta homestead of farmer Phil Haines, Cathy’s campaign manager, his partner Helen and son Nick. While Phil began making breakfast for the after-party Ben McGowan, Cathy’s nephew, arrived with the news that the preliminary pre-poll vote count done early in the morning was so bad for Cathy that no matter how he crunched the numbers he couldn’t find a way for her to win once the postal votes were counted. Traditionally they were very strong for Sophie and she unlike Cathy had mounted an aggressive postal votes campaign.
I watched for them to sink into a black hole, to bemoan their lack of a postal campaign, to sink into depression. Phil continued to collect plates and cutlery, Helen arrived to help. Equanimity held. We had given it our best shot, we had wanted to make Indi marginal and we had done it.
These people were Zen, I thought. They’ve worked out the secret of detachment. And it’s infectious. My frown disappeared.
I tweeted the news, “Morning after, Sophie firming as survivor” and took a walk outside, tweeting photos of the deck beside a breathtakingly beautiful billabong flanked by very old river red gums. Of the Cathy McGowan truck near the shed. The cubby house in a tree. The flowers in the front garden.
Helen placed photo-boards of volunteers’ election day photos off Twitter across the electorate at the deck’s entrance.
Voice for Indi and campaign members drifted in, accepted the bad news and began breakfast by the billabong. I tweeted photos of the gathering – they’re all smiling.
Cathy arrived after a family reunion in town (she’s tweeted a picture) and she too received the news with acceptance. The Victorian Women’s Trust CEO Mary Crooks arrived with Sarah Capper and reacted like I had – intense, downcast, wanting briefings from the numbers man.
Cam Klose arrived with a long list of media interview requests. The Age reporter Henrietta Cook arrived with her photographer. The ABC chopper landed in a field next door.
I tweeted photos of the ABC camera recording Cathy asking her team to train scrutineers for the week’s “footie match” who could “find their inner mongrel”.
I tweeted a photo of Henrietta interviewing Cathy. Henrietta asked if I was part of the McGowan team. No. Her photographer lined up a shot of Cathy with her team and she asked me to join them. No, I’m a reporter.
And I remembered Pauline Hanson’s geek Scott Balson photographing us Hanson reporters to post on One Nation’s website and telling me on election night 1998 that what he’d been doing “is just a taste of what’s to come”.
Fifteen years later I was on the inside photographing the media for instant publication on Twitter. Wondering how I got there, negotiating in my head how far I could go as a journalist in this odd and privileged position, and how far I wanted to go.
The indie film crew arrived as Cathy began one of many phone interviews, and David Estcourt agreed to record my interview with her when she was done. My readers and Twitter followers already knew the answers to the questions the media were asking and I wanted to understand the Zen vibe despite the morning after disappointment.
I wanted to get personal
Cathy, No Fibs readers and my followers on Twitter have followed your journey with enormous interest. We know why you’re doing it, how you did it, your inspiration, your volunteers. We don’t really know much about you.
So on behalf of my readers I’d like to ask, how has this journey been for you?
“It’s been amazing. Personally challenging, really difficult, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life – and it feels the most worthwhile thing. This year I turn 60. I had a really big party for my 50th birthday that set me up for the next bit of my life, and I’ve been thinking about my 60th (November 29 this year). I’m really influenced by Jane Fonda’s book, and her ‘third act’ when she got to be 60 – how she was going to play out her life. So I’ve been thinking what the third act of my life’s going to be like. I was planning a big 60th party and I’d invited lots of friends and we’d set the date aside. And when this project came up I thought, ‘This could be a good thing to do’. So part of the personal journey has been, ‘How is my life story going to be re-told’ and the idea of ‘What’s’ the third act going to be, where do all the parts of my life come together?’
This has been a chance to pull together lots of the life skills I’ve learned on my journey – of advocacy, rural communities, working with young people, putting out the idea of a long term plan for a community. And the idea of investing in something that’s really important to me, the long term future of the community I really love – the environment, the people, and agriculture.
Now I’m at this spot I feel enormous delight that we took the risk and that we’ve carried it off, that we’ve survived it in such a good way and we’ve kept ourselves nice. Could we be our best selves and deliver on it? We’ve been able to do it. And I’m so pleased that I’ve had the opportunity in my life to represent rural and regional Australia in this way, and that the circumstances in my life have come together for me to be in this place at this time to be able to do it.
This is the beginning, this is the way foreword. It’s setting in place the foundations for what the next bit’s are going to be like, regardless of if I get elected. If elected I will do this work as the member for Indi. If I’m not elected I will do this work as a member of Voice for Indi. We will continue to work with the volunteers, we will build on this community spirit, we will build on the courage and conviction our community has shown to work on a long-term plan for Indi.
One of the characteristics of this campaign has been the fun we’ve had – there’s been celebration all the way through – so it behoves the next bit well if we have as much joy and happiness in doing the next bit as we’ve had so far.”
The empowering aspect of what you’ve done is bring people together all the way from the left to the right – it’s an incredibly broad coalition which is revolutionary and therefore fragile. How are you going to show the rest of Australia that there is another way to do politics – that you can bring people together rather than rip them apart?
“This is not about the rest of Australia. This is about us, and us doing our job of community really well. So, we’re doing it for ourselves with the hope that other people can watch and learn and can go and do it in their communities for themselves, and can learn and be energised from it. It’s not about doing things to people, it’s about the community doing our learning together. Every community must do their own learning. Models can’t apply – you’ve got to do the work, you’ve got to do the engagement, you’ve got to do the invitation.
I think we will hold it together because we have that very good process in place of ‘It’s not about politics, it’s about how we want to live in community together and what we need to put in place so we can do it’. We’ve shown there’s a willingness for the community to to do that because people know how horrible it is when you’re polarised, and that when you drop out of relationship you’re can’t have the conversation. We know we will survive because we can work together, that our resilience will come out of community. We’ve had enough experience of floods and fires to know that that’s much more important to us than political perspectives.”
What have you learnt about yourself in the course of this incredible journey?
“I’ve learnt with great humility that I don’t have to be in charge of everything. I’ve never been part of such a large community movement and I’ve learnt that engaging with people and then letting them do their own work and trusting them to do their own work creates such power and energy. I’ve learnt that I don’t have to lead from the front, that I can be a leader from the middle and from behind.
My personal journey has been a faith commitment – can we really live the values? It sounded corny when we started out, but people liked it and we walked the talk. And at last night’s party a colleague read out our statement of success and we are all so pleased that we’ve been able to achieve these behaviour changes for ourselves and the things we did because we concentrated on the here and now. And while we wanted the end, it’s not the be all and end all. That’s a really nice lesson.”
I’d got my answer.
I flew home.