Byelections and ground meat: together at last!

Yesterday I rediscovered the “kinder, gentler” side of politics that seems to have been missing from Australia over the last few years. And became irrationally excited about sausage sizzles.

More on the sausage sizzle later. I was covering the Northern Tablelands byelection, filing rolling coverage for Fairfax websites. It basically meant travelling to the many polling booths across Armidale and speaking to voters, candidates and supporters, taking photos and coming up with interesting angles.

I’m a novice when it comes to polling booths. Apart from covering last year’s council elections (which, lacking the partisanship of other tiers of government, have a completely different atmosphere), I’ve only voted in one state and federal poll. The only other exposure I’ve had to election days was visiting my parents as they manned P&C barbecues, as well as the vitriol unleashed by student politicians during my time at The University of Queensland.

What struck me most was the camaraderie of polling booth campaigners across the political spectrum. While there was the occasional political sniping between different party supporters, it was all good natured. Heated political arguments gave way to discussions about potential results, sport and the weather.

The cohort of Labor and Nationals MPs coming up from Sydney to support their respective candidates were also respectful, sharing discussions with booth workers from the various parties and independent groups contesting the byelection. In fact, there were even reports a group of Labor campaigners lined up for a photo with Barnaby Joyce!

Everybody seemed to acknowledge that, while they may disagree on how best to run the state, all were at least committed enough to spend up to 10 hours standing out in the Armidale cold to campaign for what they believed in.

This camaraderie lasted even after the polling booths had closed and it was revealed Nationals candidate Adam Marshall had achieved a landslide victory. Rather than wallowing in defeat, Labor campaigners instead visited the Nationals’ post-election party to offer their congratulations to the MP-elect.

While they were met by some gloating from Nationals supporters, it was the same gentle, good-natured banter I witnessed earlier at the polling booths.

It’s easy to forget that such pleasant exchanges between political opponent still occur, especially when watching the theatrics in the current federal parliament. Regardless of whether you want to blame the government, opposition, spin doctors or the all-encompassing, evil media for the nasty degeneration of federal politics, it’s nice to know people can put their differences aside and celebrate the democratic process for at least one day.

The real question will be whether the positive atmosphere seen at yesterday’s poll will be replicated in New England at the federal election. The stakes will be so much higher then; while a byelection could not change the state government, the result of the federal election will determine the course of the country for at least the next three years.

Given the personal animosity between Senator Joyce and incumbent Tony Windsor, it will be interesting to see the dynamics at polling booths across the region in September.

Anyway, on to the more important topic: sausage sizzles. Or rather, the lack thereof.

Anybody who has voted before knows it is a time-honoured tradition at elections for public schools to host some sort of barbecue to raise money for the P&C.

Alas, during my travels across Armidale, I could only find one sausage sizzle, at Drummond Memorial Public School. Indeed, such was my excitement at finding it that I wrote a story about my experience.

Apparently there was also a cake stall at Armidale City Public School, but I arrived after the last sweets had been sold.

Maybe it was because it was only a byelection, or it was too chilly (the mercury barely rose above 14 degrees all day), but the noticeable absence of sausage sizzles at most polling places was somewhat disappointing.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though; after taking my frustrations to Twitter, I discovered there is an account dedicated entirely to mapping the location of sausage sizzles at polling booths across Australia. I’ve no doubt this will come in handy in the future.

Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve experienced during my short career as a journalist. So here’s hoping we see the kinder, gentler grassroots level of politics re-emerge on September 14. At the very least, it would be nice to see more sausage sizzles operating.

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One Response to Byelections and ground meat: together at last!

  1. wendlesb says:

    Yes, we really would have appreciated a sausage sizzle at Newling … tummies got a bit grumbly out there …. thank heavens for Rosemary Leitch arriving in the early afternoon with tea, homemade slice and sandwiches for the Nat’s campaigners … very welcome thanks Rosemary 🙂

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