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A journey through Australia's many electorates

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Bill Shorten on election day in 2016 (screenshot via YouTube).

In anticipation of the Federal Election, Henry Johnston takes us across the wide expanses of Australia's different electorates.

SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2019. Dark morning air is crisp across southern Australia, warm and dry north of the Tropic of Capricorn. A short, late autumn day beckons. The clamour of the previous night punctuated with alcohol-fuelled snores.

Communities recently described by their Federal electorate names; Corangamite, Dunkley, Hughes, Fraser, Deakin, Gilmore, Higgins, Dickson and many more, awaken to more familiar urban, regional and rural denominations. And though the election is over the outcome is unclear, at least in this electorate or that Senate position.

But "certain certainties" remain.

A young shivering tradie walks to his ute, fires up the motor and switches on talk-back radio. He tires of the usual blather. Finds a favoured FM station and pumps up the volume. The DJ who seems to swallow his words while back announcing the next song surprises the apprentice.

A grumpy grey nomad passes driving duties to his wife. The 4x4 and trailer swing northeast toward Kynuna. The couple is heading to Birdsville in the Maranoa electorate and a campsite near the Goyder Lagoon.

"Cheer up," she says. "We’ll just have to keep the [Nissan] Patrol for another couple of years."

In the Grayndler electorate a young Balmain woman, trim in well-tailored sweat gear, promises to meet her friends in the Piccolo Bar for a skim latte. The Pilates class is over. She is curious about an overheard, heated conversation.

The Adani coal mine might actually go ahead.

Dry hoar frost crackles beneath the boots of a vintner surveying vines outside Wellington in the Federal seat of Calare in the central west of NSW. He waves toward a convoy of trucks laden with hay for drought-parched station owners and goodies for their children and wives. For an instant, he wonders if the trucks might stop at the Nanima Reserve where his great aunt once lived.

Beamish Street Campsie in the electorate of Watson named in honour of John Christian Watson, also known as Chris, who was Prime Minister in the early 20th Century.

A mongrel cocks its leg and arcs a yellow stream against a pile of unread Sunday newspapers. The newsagent, recently arrived from Bhutan, curses the dog and sends it yelping with an air swing of his shoe. 

Few of Campsie’s denizens know Chris Watson led the world's first "labour party" government, believed the first social democratic government.

In Macleay Street Potts Point, a gay couple settles down for a mid-morning brunch of croissants and bruschetta, served with strong, long black coffee. A poster of smiling Kerryn Phelps, Federal Member for Wentworth, gazes at a batch of empty shop fronts across the road from the El Alamein Fountain.

Journalists wrote hundreds of thousands of words about this day in the life of the people of a nation, who for the past three years wrestled with notions of entitlement, a fair go, and the difference between leaners and lifters.

As the morning stretches toward noon, citizens and journalists ponder this new day within their respective bubbles, a word favoured by the Federal Member for Cook, Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The tradie bedecked in high visibility vest and wearing khaki shorts despite the morning chill edges away from traffic lights. Nowra, the capital town of the Seat of Gilmore, disappears in his rearview mirror.

He glances toward a house in Bombaderry where he did his first drug and groans at the thought of spending the afternoon shifting tonnes of sandstone rocks. Primulas are the favoured flower of his employers’ wife. All must be just so in time for the Berry Garden Festival in October.  

As noon approaches, nervous friends and family point toward the swelling dot of a helicopter flying across the stunning vistas of the Federal division of Franklin toward Adventure Bay on Bruny Island Tasmania.

Within minutes the patient is safely aboard the chopper at rest near the bowling club. The paramedic pilot warns a grief-wracked husband there are no beds in the emergency department of the Royal Hobart Hospital. 

A man urges more speed to get to the campsite on the shores of the Goyder Lagoon in time to set up before the fast approaching sunset.

"You’re thinking about catching that big Murray Cod," she says.

"Hope so. If there’s any left," he replies. 

"There’s plenty of water flowing into Lake Eyre. She’ll be right."

"Yeah I know it will. And we’ve got each other eh?" she says.

A red light flashes on the dashboard.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus, is on sale here.

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A journey through Australia's many electorates

In anticipation of the Federal Election, Henry Johnston takes us across the wide ...  
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