Lesley Howard

Lesley Howard

Citizen Journalist at No Fibs
After shouting at the television for many years Lesley decided participation was the best antidote to cynicism. She has a keen interest in supporting sound environmental social practice, communities and democracy in action. Lesley has a Masters of Science, Applied Statistics.
Lesley Howard
Lesley graduated from the University of Melbourne with dual majors in Statistics and History and Philosophy of Science. The combination of the two fields formed a strong background in objective research, critical appraisal and the analysis of relationships, and in assessment and reporting. With this skill base she has variously consulted for an Australian timber company analysing the unloading of logs in Chinese ports, reported on the role of SMEs in Defence, critically analysed scientific papers, designed and advised on surveys and sampling for various private and government groups, and reviewed and advised on research proposals as a member of the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s MHREC. Lesley has a keen interest in supporting sound environmental social practice, communities and democracy in action. She is currently completing a Masters of Science, Applied Statistics.

INDI: The Road to Canberra — CROWDFUNDING TRAILER from David Estcourt on Vimeo.

INDI: The Road to Canberra

 “More than a year has passed since the campaign, so it was interesting seeing our emotions on the big screen…Obviously there are a lot of nuances that can’t be conveyed in a 90 minute film, but [the film makers] did a great job of showing the big picture of the campaign.”

Cam Klose – “Indi Expat” 

Indi: The Road to Canberra is a documentary about the grassroots campaign that saw the unexpected election of an independent, Cathy McGowan, in the 2013 federal election. After collecting extensive footage, David Estcourt (Director) and Bethany Young (Producer) previewed the final cut in Albury and in Melbourne to sellout audiences in late November.

The film could equally have been titled The Day Indi went Maverick. On election night the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) announced the two-candidate-preferred vote was not Liberal/Labor as they had predicted, but was in fact Liberal/McGowan, making Indi a “maverick” seat. Maverick also accurately describes the 9.2{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} swing against the sitting Liberal incumbent in defiance of a national swing of 3.61{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} to the Coalition, which saw the Abbott government elected with a clear majority. Indi was the only seat in the election that ran contrary to the national swing.

“A lot of people think the film is going to be a ‘look how good Cathy McGowan is,’ and ‘how to kick out a conservative incumbent,’ but it’s absolutely not that.”

David Estcourt 

Rather, it is a story about people of all ages and backgrounds re-engaging with, and taking responsibility for, a political process that they had become disenfranchised with. The film spans the weeks leading up to and the days following the election, concluding with Cathy McGowan’s maiden speech in parliament. It documents the political environment at the time, as well as the many factors that came together in this successful grassroots political campaign.

What we are trying to do is capture some kind of indefinable quality that characterizes the community at that point in time because, ultimately, it was…an event that was so unlikely to happen.”

 David Estcourt 

The film gives a great sense of the vastness and the natural beauty of the electorate. The filmmakers followed McGowan as she moved between the regional towns, through agricultural and farming country and up into the remote valley communities, traversing the 22,000 square kilometers of northeastern Victoria that is Indi. The footage of Mirabella is predominantly sourced from the ABC, SBS and Parliamentary coverage but does include the filmmaker’s own of her election night speech.

The film opens with a juxtaposition of the two main protagonists, Cathy McGowan, an independent, and the Liberal sitting incumbent, Sophie Mirabella. The differences in their personal and political styles are easily identified. A recurrent theme throughout the film is the contrast between the negative messages coming from the major parties and the inclusiveness and the positive aspect of the McGowan campaign. The opening concludes with a quote from Mirabella that, when uttered, marked the genesis of the McGowan campaign and was pivotal to the evolution of the Indi story.

“The people of Indi aren’t interested in politics.”

Sophie Mirabella to founding members of Voice for Indi, 2012. 

In a massive oversight, Sophie Mirabella did not reflect upon the moment before her summary delivery, nor did she dwell upon what she had actually said. Standing in front of her were her constituents saying that they, and others in Indi, were interested and concerned about their representation in Canberra. This in itself should have made her reflect. It never occurred to Sophie there was a need to do so.

More importantly, Sophie Mirabella failed to recognize she had in fact crystallized the essence of the problem, the separation of the politician from the electorate. Whilst Mirabella had practiced this ‘us and them’ divide with enthusiasm, her way of thinking was not unusual amongst her peers on both sides of the House. Nor was she singular in her failure to reflect upon the role of an elected representative or upon the immutability of a safe seat.

The film portrays an electorate dissatisfied with being marginalized as a safe seat and with the political process as it was played out in Indi. It was not so much that the people of Indi were not interested in politics; they simply did not believe the major parties were interested in Indi.

The community engagement is portrayed as it actually was. There is no footage of vast auditoriums filled with the faithful applauding or nodding sagely as their candidate regurgitates well-worn rhetoric, because that never happened. Addressing small groups and having one on one discussion, McGowan is seen involved on the ground, answering questions about issues of concern. The campaign was about local representation rather than Canberra based dogma.

The passion of the campaign tempered, at times, the naivety of it. During the course of the film it is apparent that Cathy McGowan evolved with the circumstances, growing into her role. The fact that she was not practised in politics was appealing. She had nothing to lose and success was defined by the level of community engagement.

“The documentary reflected the passion, positivity and the sense of possibility of the campaign.”

Denis Ginnivin – Voices for Indi, Vice President 

The effectiveness of an independent in Canberra was a consistent theme. Sound bites of Tony Abbott decrying independents float from the speakers as sharp images of signage aligning independents with “Division, Chaos, Instability” flash across the screen. The subtlety of Cathy’s answer is captured. Of course, Tony Abbott would deal with her if she were elected because she would be representing the people of Indi. A prime minister governs for all Australians. Tony Abbott was a decent man and he would honour his duty to support the people of Indi through the elected representative, why would he not?

In spite of seeing firsthand the activation of politics across this vast electorate, Estcourt admits that he had not believed that ‘David’ could overcome the ‘Goliath’ of the political party machine.

“I originally thought the project would be…reinforcing the idea that no matter how many people can be involved in something, no matter how much people believe in their ability to change things, ultimately the political establishment has so much power…that they can ultimately defeat these [grassroots] challenges.”

David Estcourt 

On election night the figures coming out of the AEC tally room were still calibrated around a Liberal/Labor two-party-preferred count. The ABC reported a massive swing against Sophie Mirabella but projected that she would retain the seat. It was apparent to both the Mirabella and the McGowan camps, however, that the count was a lot closer. The film crew recorded the wonderment and excitement of those wearing orange, as a McGowan win became a realistic possibility.

The two election night speeches were put up side by side. One reflected upon the journey and quoted wisdom inscribed on a Mittagundi toilet door. The other dwelt upon an “assault” by a covert coalition and the sheep like nature of the electorate.

Sophie Mirabella may have found solace in her claim that she was a victim of an orchestrated conspiracy to unseat her, however this accusation is not supported on screen. The film depicts a unity of thought and feeling that transcended age, gender and political persuasions. Courtesy, cooperation and respect for others’ points of view are apparent.


Indi constituents, Brian Dixon and Helen McGowan, handing out how-to-vote cards at the Jamieson polling booth.

“The film does a great job of showing the cross generational nature of the Indi campaign. There were young people, old people, political animals and those new to politics. David Estcourt and Bethany have really shown that diversity and inclusiveness.”

TammyLee Atkins – Voice for Indi founding member 

The win by Cathy McGowan has been interpreted in various ways. The Mirabella factor cannot be denied, but it in itself is not enough to account for the result in Indi. Whilst Sophie Mirabella was seen by many as a divisive character, her losing was ultimately about her representation, not about her. Certainly she polarized people in their views but the 7.2{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} drop in the Liberal primary vote were conservative voters looking for an alternative to a system that hadn’t delivered. A similar pattern can be seen in the decline of the traditional Labor vote and to some extent the Greens.

Nor can the win be ascribed solely to the person of Cathy McGowan. She did not offer singular leadership; she offered a means by which a community could have a voice, which attracted voters and voter preferences from across the political spectrum. The conspiracy theory still gets a run and has been added to more recently, but a theory is what it remains, unsubstantiated and mischievous.

The recent win by the independent, Suzanna Shead, in the Victorian state seat of Shepparton supports the mood captured in Estcourt’s documentary. Communities are actively seeking better local representation and are prepared to take responsibility for their own political process. In Shepparton, the sitting incumbent was well liked and there is no suggestion that the independent won on any platform other than that declared: “Stand up…It’s our turn”.

“Listening to people after viewing the movie, it reminded me of the feeling that we all had all through the campaign. People felt that they were empowered, proud, energised once again.”

Donna Lane – Indi constituent 

Indi is the inspiration, Shepparton the validation. More will undoubtedly follow if politicians do not listen to their electorates and represent their voice.

Nick Haines, Phil Haines, Alana Johnson, Cam Klose, Denis Ginnivin, Ruth McGowan after Melbourne show