It’s the last morning of pre-polling in Sale, in the now vacated Nu-Scene clothing store on Raymond Street, and Kerry Brewer, the United Australia Party’s candidate for the seat of Gippsland has got herself into a bit of an odd possie, wedged between a traffic pole and the Greens sandwich board. She’s shy – ‘an inward sort of person,’ she tells me – so when all six birders flock to a voter with HTVs, she sometimes doesn’t make it. ‘Ah well, they can read.’
Kerry’s slim and pale, veins through thin skin, in her 50s, with a quiet manner, has seen much and suffered much, something you can tell before she tells you. She was a nurse for twenty years, benched for a couple of years by ovarian cancer, then a shoe saleswoman –‘why? Oh uh later’–now back in aged care at Sale Hospital.
‘I got into nursing because I wanted to help people, and that’s why I’m in this.’ She knows she won’t win–this is Nats Darren Chester’s seat, one of the last safe safe ones–says it three times, but always with the caveat ‘well you never know…’.
‘I want to help more people than you can help in nursing, It’s one-on-one. Life’s too hard for too many people. It shouldn’t be so hard. You need to be somewhere to do something.’
‘But we’ve agreed you won’t win.’
‘Yes, but … ‘
She smiles again. ‘Have you thought about running for council?’. ‘Someone at council asked me that the other day! He said I should run!’ ‘You should, you should!’ ‘Yes but its only local. You need to be up there’ she points skyward, to heaven and Canberra. ‘But we’ve already agreed you wont get there…’. ‘Yes but… I let the world let me know what it wants me to do.’ She became interested in politics in 2012. ‘Then watching it. Malcolm Turnbull being dumped was the end of it for me. I got involved, I’m tired of the squabbling’. The major parties never interested her for a second. ‘Why can’t people just work together?’
The previous night, at Gippsland’s youth forum, in Sales new ‘Port of Sale’ centre – the inland town is a marooned harbour, the re-purposed brushed concrete office building is on the Heritage list – Kerry had shown that to a fault. It was the usual crowd: an ethereal gallery-owner type for the ALP, Chester, suave in tailored bush gear, a focused ‘old Green’ activist, the independent (singer-songwriter, scion-daughter of local establishment), and Kerry, who tends to agree a lot. With Darren on refugees, with the Green on rural mental health, with Sonia, the flashing-eyed independent on residual doubts about climate change.
The questions from the youth panel are about climate, drought, trauma, mental illness and services, trans issues, candidates personal journeys, less on wages, benefits, penalty rates, work, the economy. Kerry tries to bring it round a few times to Clive’s ‘Australia Fund’ plan, an emergency fund, which appears to have mushroomed in the telling, into a vast national investment plan. She’s passionate about it. And about the UAP. ‘Clive flew us up to Queensland, explained it. I looked around, we were all normal people, no insiders. Said this wasn’t about him. We made some individual candidate ads, but they haven’t run them on local TV. Just Clive.’ The kids are flat as batteries, not I think, out of bewilderment, but simply because the economy is a black box, a distant thing. Palmer’s rural populism is archaic; Darren Chester, who knows his audience, talks a little of his journey to voting yes for marriage equality, and that is what connects.
At the pre-poll , Kerry’s the only candidate. She could spruik, grab votes, but that’s not her.
‘I was always independent. My dad was a footballer, Collingwood ’58 grand final, then Perth, then Wangaratta. Taught us to play, two daughters. I wanted to play football!! They wouldn’t let me so I played every other sport there was. They’re so lucky today.’
‘That must have been really….painful.’
But if that disjuncture made Kerry independent of mind, what tipped her into politics was the ‘later’ bit.
‘My son got leukemia at 22. Diagnosed days after his marriage. Spent a year in St V’s. I worked at the shoe store, didn’t want to work in hospitals, came up and down. I must own a V/line carriage! I cried every time I left’.
She shows me a picture on her phone, as potential voters flood by; her big bearded boy, post brain op, ‘No Bone’ printed across his shaved scalp.
‘They said he’d die. I said he wouldn’t. He didn’t.’
She got interested in politics after that.
‘I’m too independent for the big parties. We all have to get in and work together.’
‘The desire to be able to make big change…that comes from your son surviving? To want to give back as much as you got?’
So, erghhhhh, in for a penny….’Kerry, health systems, hospital, drought relief – doesn’t making those better involve tax? Isn’t Clive directing votes to the Coalition, and tax cuts? Aren’t you really a Labor person?’
Pause. Shes not resistant.
‘Well I think what we need to do is be in, and then get advice and sort it all out. We’ve – all the candidates – have been talking to each other, about what we do Sunday. Well, Monday,’ she says. ‘I have to work Sunday.’ Clive Palmer takes out leases on these people, the inland marooned, mines them. But so do we I guess.
The train’s due in twenty minutes, the station’s ten minutes away. I wish her luck and mean it, tell her I’ll send her a link, urge her to get interested in local government.
‘Be fair to me’ she yells after. Goodness shines out of you Kerry, like your pale translucence, so I hope I have been. And after Saturday, to you all, I hope to Christ Clive is.