Australia needs to understand Queensland, not shun it
SINCE Saturday's shock federal election win much of the country has been wondering what happened in Queensland and who the voters that swung to the right are. After spending weeks on the trail, I can tell you, writes Michael Madigan.
Why didn't they let us know what they were thinking? Why didn't they raise their voice and dominate social media, make a ruckus in the streets and take to the highways chanting their demands? Why was the anti-Adani Coal Mine convoy from the south greeted with pro-Adani protesters in the north, and not the pro-Adani convoy from the north greeted with anti-Adani protesters in the south?
One possible answer might stand behind the counter at the legendary Snow's Bread (Cakes and Pies) in Shakespeare Street in the tiny Central Queensland town of Alpha.
Zoe Lawrie is almost certainly hard at work today, serving sausage rolls with tomato sauce to tradies and truck drivers travelling along the Capricorn Highway. She was just one among hundreds of people I spoke to covering the election campaign in that triangle between Rockhampton and Mackay and Longreach - which turned out to be ground zero for the anti-Labor swing that swept through the state on Saturday.
One of a handful of people (politicians aside) willing to be photographed and quoted in a newspaper, Zoe's only comment about the proposed Adani Mine, delivered in a hesitant voice, was this: "Mining means everything to people like us.''
She didn't say which way she voted, she apologised needlessly for not knowing much about the election and she spent half an hour helping the photographer get a good shot in Alpha's main street. But the kindly 22-year-old did reveal something of her hopes and dreams.
She admitted, rather shyly, that she would like to buy her own house in Alpha one day and she was well aware that, if she got in before a mining boom, she might make some profit.
There's no doubt there's another 22-year-old Zoe out there but this one working as a barista in inner-city Melbourne, finishing a law degree and looking forward to kickstarting her brilliant career with an internship with the United Nations Environment Program.
One life will encompass the globe and be reflected in a giant media mirror, validated and reinforced through a bewildering variety of mediums from ABC through to Twitter where opinions are confidently channelled through a loud hailer to the world.
The other will be lived in, largely silent, obscurity where media other than perhaps a Facebook page is viewed with suspicion, even an intrusion into private life.
The Greens (even if they suspect you're from a publication unsympathetic to their views) will blow rainbow coloured soap bubbles while riding bareback on a unicorn for a front page picture, then hand you a beautifully crafted press release if you want a comment. But many ordinary people of regional Queensland view media commentary as self indulgent pretension, perhaps eclipsed only by acts of public protest.
In Mackay the locals gathered near the city council building on April 27, dwarfing the size of the Adani convoy mob less than 100m away. But amid the 700-strong crowd there were few people familiar with street protest. Greetings among locals were often accompanied by the hasty, almost apologetic declaration: "I've never been to a protest before.''
Even their chants were laboured and self-conscious while the nearby Greens, with the keen sense of theatre that comes from generations of organised agitation, were masterful, their rhythmical "We Will, We Will Stop You'' (from Queen's 'We Will Rock You') wonderfully orchestrated.
The election won't change things. The Greens and the inner-city Left to whom media is no mystery will still hold the nation's megaphone, their views far more widely disseminated than those of conservative regional Queenslanders.
Zoe of Snow's Bread won't be invited to appear on Q&A or The Drum. And the "quiet Australians'' will continue to show little revolutionary zeal, because they don't seek a revolution.
They'll remain conservatives - simply wanting to preserve things that have served them well in the past, and one of those things happens to be mining.
On Saturday that fragile yet enduring force that is democracy came to their rescue. Their views commanded little media attention. Their vote certainly did.