The following article is an actual recount of the Betoota Advocate’s recent visit to the New England region of North-West New South Wales. We would thank both federal candidates for not only their kind and generous hospitality, but also for such unfettered access to their campaigns.
Warning: Explicit language.
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On the 26th of June, 2013 the Australian political landscape changed forever.
The man that had held the balance of power in a hung federal parliament was replaced by the National party candidate – a man who would eventually hold the title of Deputy Prime Minister.
Tony Windsor had put a lot of people offside in the years leading to that moment.
In a press conference on 7 September 2010, the Independent member revealed that he would support a Labor government, alienating him from many of his conservative farming constituents, who would rather list themselves as Catholics before ALP voters.
In the years since, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has also experienced his fair share of criticism. Alongside the recurring pub brawls and an inability to use a mobile phone, Joyce made international headlines recently after he threatened to euthanise two innocent fox terriers belonging to one of the most famous men on the planet, exposing our political system to intense international ridicule.
The approval of the Chinese-owned Shenhua mine at Mount Watermark near the Namoi catchment in Australia’s “food bowl” of the Liverpool Plains, has also put voters in a difficult position.
Many say it will rape and pillage the earth for a sugar hit of poorly taxed mining money – while many others support the idea, saying it will provide the local white trash with the disposable income to buy jet skis and take their families to Kuta for Christmas.
It was this divisive issue that helped encourage Tony Windsor to dust off his celebrity boots and take another crack at Federal Parliament – just days after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced an imminent double-dissolution.
The Battle For New England is now underway.
Will the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce lose his seat? Or will Tony Windsor waste a whole heap of donor’s money and return to a semi-retired life of trolling the Liberal Party on Twitter?
Clancy Overell, Editor of The Betoota Advocate, travelled fifteen hours to the soft country of North-West New South Wales to get to the bottom of these two timeless personalities and the battle ground that they are meeting on. This is what he had to say.
When first arriving in the electorate, the one thing that stands out is the fact that most of the population like to think they are living in Scotland. The area’s proud Celtic history stands in contrast to not only the climate, but also the name of “New England”.
With town names like Aberdeen, Glen Innes and the hilariously misspelt academic hub of Armidale (Armadale) – it appears that these soft soil farmers and townspeople hold an old world nostalgia that seems out of place, given that roughly twenty percent of the population is Aboriginal – and most of them don’t give a fuck about Celtic sign-writing and weird kilt festivals.
The New England region sits between the Queensland Border and the flatter, dryer Central West of NSW. A diverse patch of earth with a diverse list of issues. As with most regional electorates, the wealthy people worry about water distribution, while the poor people worry about ice distribution. However, there is a lot more to this place.
One of the electorate’s most significant producers of cotton, coal, beef, lamb, pork, cereal and oilseed grains. Gunnedah is also hometown to two of Australia’s hottest women, Erica Packer and Miranda Kerr.
For some weird reason, Tenterfield was earmarked as a key battleground if the Japanese should invade Australia during the Second World War. Despite being an inland town 1,600 kilometres away from the nearest bombing raids in Townsville, thousands of soldiers were set up in emergency camps, unbeknown to the locals, to cope with such an event.
Tenterfield is also well known for their golden boy, Peter Allen. Although he travelled to cities that never closed down, The Boy From Oz did still call Tenterfield home.
One of the very few regional towns in Australia that is able to claim it has a ‘major’ university. However, most past and present members of the alumni would attest that the University of New England is more like a TAFE.
Armidale is the second biggest town in the region and it’s cold as fuck.
The soft soil Catholics of Inverell don’t know if their town is in the ‘tablelands’ or the ‘plains’. They want to be more like Moree, and work very hard to disassociate themselves from Glen Innes.
One thing that’s for sure is that the local radio station, Gem FM, holds the world record for the most broadcasts of Rick Springfield – ‘Jessie’s Girl’.
Like many other towns in the New England region, Glenn Innes holds a unique culture within their melting pot of Aboriginal people, white people and one Chinese family.
It’s home to the smallest, but arguably most frequented, KFC in Australia. It is also the nation’s only town with a 33-metre pool. The local council has made it mandatory that all caravans are fitted with smoke detectors.
The name Quirindi comes from the Gamilaraay language, with a number of meanings attributed to it, including ‘nest in the hills’, ‘place where fish breed’ and ‘please don’t tell the white man about all this coal’.
The area is currently sitting at the centre of the Battle for New England, thanks to the highly politicised millionaires that don’t like the idea of twenty square kilometre open cut mine tearing apart their family farms.
The real bush capital. Tamworth will host most of the politickin’ over the new few months, as it is this town’s population of 50,000 that will decide whether or not Barnaby Joyce remains Deputy Prime Minister.
Tamworth is famous for its annual country music festival and the giant ‘Golden Guitar’ that sits at the entry to the town.
It has been documented that amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887 in Tamworth by a local truckie named Lazăr Edeleanu. Shortly after, methamphetamine was synthesized from ephedrine in 1893 by a local disc jockey by the name Nagai Nagayoshi. It has been a popular choice for recreational drug users in the area ever since.
Winston Churchill once told the people of London during The Blitz that “if they’re going through hell, keep going”. The same rule applies when you happen upon Werris Creek.
That didn’t stop Angelina Jolie shutting the town down for a fortnight two summers ago, when she brought the glittering lights of Hollywood to the sleepy hamlet to film Unbroken. It was panned.
It’s still possible to get the train up from Sydney, something pretty rare these days, but the rail museum provides great entertainment for the world’s creepy train enthusiasts.
Local legend suggests that the earth is so fertile in Walcha that you can bury a few drops of human ejaculate in a paddock and nine months later, a baby will appear.
It’s also home to an unregistered horse racing carnival where residents regularly wager anything from livestock to their remaining teeth.
The only way to buy a farm in the area is to inherit it. Only a foreign investor can afford to buy into the black soil republic.
The ethnic, occupational and religious diversity in the electorate is profound, especially when considering its distance from the capital cities. However, one thing that doesn’t offer much diversity is politics – it’s between the Independent Tony Windsor, or Deputy Prime Minister, National Party leader Barnaby Joyce.
NAME: Antony Harold Curties “Tony” Windsor
OCCUPATION: Retired Farmer
HOMETOWN: Werris Creek, NSW (Population 1,437)
NICKNAME: Twenty Stone Tone
We met Mr Windsor on the main street of his hometown of Werris Creek. At the time of our arrival (12:15pm) we found the federal candidate out front of the town’s TAB, attempting to break up an aggressive melee between locals.
Local woman, Sahara Medlyn had her sister-in-law’s sister, Kelly Winton, by the hair -attempting to “rough her up” over a gambling debt held by Kelly’s defacto partner Brodie.
“Ease up, ladies!” Windsor roared before managing to save Ms Winton’s hair extensions by throwing a bucket of water over the two of them.
“I’ll be back ya dog!” screamed Ms Medlyn, as she scuttled off with her frail hands grasping a mobile phone and a supersized pack of Longreach forties.
“Gentlemen, how are we? Sorry you had to see all that,” Tony Windsor greeted us while stepping over Ms Winton’s crying toddler, Tyson.
“Come this way, the truck is waiting!”
Our first impressions of the former member for New England was that maybe he was out of touch with the townsfolk of North New South Wales. However, despite his regal demeanour and diligent use of the Queen’s English, his conflict resolution skills amongst the drug-addled lower crust of the Werris Creek TAB made us think he may, in fact, be a man for all voters.
Mr Windsor’s campaign team was present – a slick operation of media, design, speech-writing and security professionals. Our cameraman Peter, our intern Jacques and I piled into a convoy of jet black four-wheel-drives. The sounds of each vehicle’s ignition were harmonised from front to back, as was their indicators as we made tracks for the Windsor family property.
After giving us a good look at his family property and the multi-million dollar irrigation system that both he and his son have patented, Mr Windsor sat down over a chilled glass of prune juice to tell us a bit about the family.
“I have a large dynasty of grandchildren coming up. The Windsor family are not leaving the plains anytime soon. I ‘spose that’s probably one of the reasons I am inclined to worry about the very real possibility of Climate Change,” he says to me, amidst the buzz and chatter of the 10-15 campaign staffers surrounding us on their laptops and satellite phones.
The Independent candidate tells me of a frightening recurring dream he has about his grandson, Max (2), being forced to live out his adulthood as a drifting loner in a civilisation that is rapidly collapsing due to war and critical resource shortages.
“I dreamt that Max takes over the family farm, but the entire operation falls apart due to drought and a lack of investment in the renewables sector,” says Mr Windsor, as a very concerned look falls across his face.
“When the remaining Windsor clan are murdered by a vicious biker gang, Max kills them in revenge and travels the highways in a heavily modified V8 Interceptor.”
“While Australia degenerates further into barbarity, Max becomes a skilled warrior of the road, and finds himself helping pockets of civilisation, initially for his own self-interest, but his motives eventually drift into idealism,”
“That is why it is time to act now. The approval for an open-cut coal mine 50 clicks from here is just the beginning of the end. Not to mention those darstard Chemtrails,”
Out of nowhere Tony’s wife, Lynn, appears from the back shed carrying two fold-out poker tables under each arm.
“Alright, you lot. Clear off,” says the gentle family matriarch.
“I’ve got bridge in half an hour and I don’t want anyone listening in. Rosemary says she’s got the good oil this week,”
“Tony, darling, please take these people back into town,”
And just like that, Team Windsor piles back into the eight heavily tinted four wheel drives and make tracks for the former NSW rail terminus of Werris Creek.
As I sit on the roadside with Mr Windsor in front of the town’s world-renowned Rail Museum, the 65-year-old begins to talk.
His staffers have been told to wait inside the SUV’s until he has finished the interview. We have him for 45 minutes, long enough for two fully loaded coal trains to bypass the town, straight for the ships to China. It’s an issue that he can’t avoid talking about.
“This area was once a bustling agricultural hub. We had sourgum, cattle, wool… real industries. I used to work the land, I have a real appreciation for it. Not like that goat-fucking moonshiner up in the Hills (Deputy Prime Minister Joyce)”
“Now all anyone wants to talk about is coal. It’s a real concern for me, you see,”
“This place is not only the food bowl of Australia, but also the lifeblood of this entire electorate. It might sound a little bit bias, I know, I am born and bred here… But my time in the plains has given me more insight into New England than Barnaby Joyce could ever know.”
Throughout our interview, Mr Windsor tells us all his wildest stories. From being accosted by bikies after accidentally walking into the wrong pub in Tamworth, to witnessing Bob Katter’s erratic exit from the National Party.
“You probably already knew this, but Bob Katter is a few tractors short of a harvest. His departure from the National Party was not too different to the final scenes in that movie, Scarface. The only thing missing was a machine gun.”
“He could have killed someone if I wasn’t there. Canberra really isn’t too different to Betoota at times. Just a bunch of cowboys drinking too much, puffing up their chests and making big decisions,”
When asked how the local electorate has responded to his resurrection, Windsor says his own reputation has been helped by the fact that Tony Abbott won the last election.
“I could have happily retired on the millions I farmed out of this fertile soil. But I just didn’t really feel comfortable seeing a grown man eat raw onions on live television, especially our Prime Minister,”
“Now all these cockys know that I made the right call with Gillard. Can you believe that simple North Shore ruffian was in a position that would have allowed him to literally bomb people?”
“I feel like the Abbott Government is going to be looked back upon as a glitch in Australian judgement. He’s the Prime Ministerial equivalent of ‘Keeping Up With The Habibs'”
As for policy, Windsor was clear in what he wants to achieve.
“Shenhua can get-go and jump in a lake. I don’t care much for it. You’ll have to put a bullet through my head before the Chinese start tearing up Quirindi,”
“Gay Marriage, I’m a big supporter of the idea. Several of my tailors are of the gay persuasion,”
“NBN…. Well, I’d like to imagine that I’ll be able to watch an entire episode of House Of Cards in the next three years without the bastard thing buffering every ten minutes.”
“Everything else is pretty much common sense. Which isn’t common in the National Party. Tell Barnaby I look forward to watching him stuff this election up. He could stuff up a cup coffee that man,”
“He was the loudest critic of my plans to build a desalination plant for you people in Betoota… And now look at you at all. The first inland Australian city who can drink their own sewerage,”
“If Turnbull wants to talk about innovation he needs to look outside of coal and gas.”
After consuming his second Chiko roll in half an hour, Mr Windsor is given the hurry on by his campaign manager, who is wolf-whistling from the main street. He informs the Independent candidate that they have a date with a much less credible journalist (Adam Gartland, Sydney Morning Herald) in Breeza – and they are already running late.
He bids us farewell and wishes us luck in our efforts to also interview Barnaby Joyce. He also promises to send us some links that properly explain his concerns surrounding Chemtrails.
“It’s scary stuff my friends, I only just learnt about it. I’ll send some links through to you. Hooroo and good luck with Barnaby if you can get hold of him,”
Not even ten minutes into our trip back to Tamworth we receive a phone call from a private number. It’s the Deputy Prime Minister and he wants to take us pig-shooting.
He wants us to see how “the rest of them” live.
NAME: Barnaby Thomas Gerard Joyce
OCCUPATION: Accountant / Deputy Prime Minister
HOMETOWN: Woolbrook, NSW (Population 248)
NICKNAMES: Barnyard, Biff, Bully Beef
The Deputy Prime Minister takes a long, hard drag from a Winfield Red and closes his left eye.
Several beads of sweat drip from his brow as he concentrates on remaining still – while carefully leaning out the driver side window on his Toyota Landcruiser.
Slowly, the right index finger begins to curl, and the second highest ranked politician in Australia begins whispering.
“A little more, a little more… Come on you baarrrstard…” – He pulls it.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s car becomes saturated with the noise of a .303 gunshot.
“Fuckin’ got him!” he shouts before passing the gun to our timid intern, Jacques.
Twenty metres in front of us we see a fully grown wild boar stumbling through the bush like he’s drunk. Barnaby Joyce has just punctured its left lung with a bullet fired from one of the most powerful firearms legally available in Australia.
I join Mr Joyce on foot as we give chase to the feral land animal. It’s a past-time that we are both familiar with as regional community men – albeit regional desk jockeys.
The boar is still carrying momentum and will need to be brought down by hand. The Deputy Prime Minister collects it from behind with a Sonny Bill Williams-style, hands-free shoulder charge into its rear-end.
The pig spins out of control in its final dash. It now sits there facing us, inbred tusks frothing with blood and saliva.
The wailing squeals of the dying feral animal are quickly silenced by a 12-inch rabbit knife I had pulled out of Barnaby’s middle console earlier. The two of us sit on the bloodied boar carcass, puffing heavily. We are both quite rattled after the twenty-metre dash through the New England scrub.
The Deputy Prime Minister pats me on the back.
“Now that’s how you bust bacon, Clance,” he says while ashing the cigarette that had remained in his mouth the whole time.
“Tell that green little intern of yours to bring the truck around. I’ll feed this one to the dogs on the way out to Walcha,”
Barnaby Joyce is as unrefined as they come. Despite being leader of the most conservative political party in Australia, he is every part of a “working man’s candidate” when it comes to his home electorate.
“Those clod-snobs down in the Liverpool Plains are out of touch,” he tells us while flying through the windy roads of ‘The Hills’.
We are fifty kilometres North-East of Tamworth, this is his hometown, and it’s very reminiscent of Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road.
“I lived in Western Queensland for twenty years for fuck’s sake. You boys know as well as me. They don’t wear linen shirts in that part of the world – and they sure as fuck don’t wear them in the Hills,”
“Tony Windsor should stay at home. What’s that old conspiracist thinking?”
As we drive into much denser bushland, Barnaby Joyce makes several other remarks about cane Panama hats and white linen resortwear – in a consistent stream of classist vitriol directed at Tony Windsor and his merry gang of blue bloods.
We pull into a small, but very busy, pub in a community just south of his hometown of Woolbrook.
“Come on in, we’ll just pick up a case and see where that gets us,”
Mr Joyce is met with cheers by the predominantly male patronage, most of who look like they might be bikie affiliated.
“Give it to that glossy silvertail, Bully!” shouts one punter.
“We know you’re the real deal, Barns!”
The crowd becomes unruly and the Deputy Prime Minister attempts to settle the hysteria by having a beer with them.
This backfires quite badly as he this results in chants from the locals, who strongly encourage him to “pull a Joycey” for “old times sake”.
We quickly learn that pulling a Joycey involves skolling an entire schooner and taking a bite out of the glass.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here before I do something stupid,” says our host, before spitting out a mouthful of blood and shattered glass into a nearby ashtray.
“It’s an important voting booth ’round these parts but I only need to pull this kind of shit every couple months and I know I’ve got them in the bag,” he mumbles as we make a brisk b-line for the car park with a carton of Tooheys New in tow.
We jump back into the Landcruiser and head towards the tablelands.
Throughout the drive, Barnaby runs across the highs and lows of his political career thus far. He tells us it can be a nightmare dealing with conservative factions from both sides, but he says the homophobic hard right of Canberra are no worse than the opportunistic Greens.
“The Booroolong Frog holds more weight in the eyes of the Greens than an orphaned child. I could build a bridge over community pool before they let me build one over a river that has the Booroolong fucking frog living in it,”
As we begin to delve further into the issue of environment, Barnaby Joyce clearly states that his idea of Climate Change is far more optimistic than most politicians.
“Mate changing climates are exciting as far as I’m concerned. Betoota could very well be a wine region in ten years,”
“We need to adapt to what’s being thrown at us. Windsor is about as far-sighted as a Western Sydney ISIS recruit,”
“He can say everything he wants about saving the world, but the bottom line is, he was a farming the most fertile land in Australia and polluting the earth since I was still in liquid form,”
We arrive at a luscious green paddock that belongs to a close friend, about thirty kilometres short of Walcha – the small farming town currently at the centre of the Baird Government’s plan to amalgamate local councils. Like Shenhua, it’s another state government decision that Barnaby has been forced to comment on.
“I feel sorry for the poor buggers, mate. If they amalgamate they are going to end up answering to those socialist academics in Armidale. How many roads will get built out here, ya reckon?”
We meet a couple of Barnaby’s mates and pull up in front of a camp fire for a few ice cold Tooheys New. We sit there for eight hours.
The stories range in height and length. From his time playing rugby in Tennessee to selling his house in order to pay for his last election campaign.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” says the Deputy Prime Minister after 8 full strength beers.
“Only one man is thinking about the whole electorate. I’ve farmed this country, I’ve balanced chequebooks in this country, I’ve studied here and I’ve spilt blood here.”
“Windsor is out of touch. He doesn’t drink, smoke, swear or fight. Never has. You are gonna tell me that man knows the people he represents?”
“Get the fuck out.”
As the intern and a couple of the Italian 457s begin to drift off to sleep by the campfire – Mr Joyce makes the executive decision to not drive home.
“I would have if you lot weren’t here,” he says in a grumpy whine.
“I’ll just get the seccos to pick us up,”
Twenty minutes later, we pour the remaining ice from esky over the campfire and pile into an AFP Range Rover. No one knows where it came from, but it seems like these officers are familiar with having to covertly pick up intoxicated federal politicians.
The drive back to Tamworth takes us an hour and a half, Barnaby is sitting in the front passenger seat with his iPhone plugged into the AUX cord.
While The Best of INXS blasts throughout the government vehicle, the police officer in the drivers seat politely asks Barnaby to not smoke.
“Change your attitude or I’ll have you pushing pencils back in HQ, Meechum,” The deputy Prime Minister laughs hysterically while signalling his hand towards me for a low-five.
“These Canberra blokes just don’t understand old Bushies like us, do they Clance?”
NEW ENGLAND BURNING: Who Will It Be?
Both of them can ride time on a rank pony. Barnaby can mark a lamb with his feet and Tony would rather spend a day in the round yard than up in the crows nest – but are these functional alcoholics fit to run point on their resource-rich, crystal-meth ravaged, slice of Australiana?
There’s only one man who can stop Tony Windsor and he’s the Deputy Prime Minister. But there’s only one man capable of taking down Barnaby Joyce – and that’s the Former Member for New England.
So whether or not you are a blue-blooded grain magnate, or a small town cab driver named Gary. If you are from New England, make sure you remember to vote. Because, once again, everyone in this country is looking at you.
Also, you can get fined for not voting in New England.