Half an hour down the road, next to a disused tennis court, there’s a lovely weatherboard hall shaded by gum trees. The hall doesn’t get as much use as lots of us wish it would, so it was great to see the doors flung open last weekend for the referendum.
Here, of the 50 people who voted, five wrote “Yes” on the ballot paper. I could name the Yes voters, not because I peeked, but because I was one of them. Two more came from my household, which left only two more to figure out. When the census records 133 people living in your little hamlet, this is not a particularly difficult mystery to solve.
Before the referendum, I knew I lived in No country, but I didn’t know I lived in heavy No country. At Yetman down the road, three people voted Yes, the rest – 96 per cent – voted No, the highest in NSW. Across the river is the Queensland seat of Maranoa, which recorded the highest No vote percentage in Queensland.
Before the referendum, I knew I lived in No country, but I didn’t know I lived in heavy No country.
But if I pick up my phone, I see a different picture altogether. Of all the people I follow on Instagram, I’m aware of only one who publicly wrote about voting No. I think my Sydney friends almost all voted Yes. The Sydney electorate of Newtown, just down the road from where I went to uni, had one of the highest Yes votes in NSW.
Two ends of the spectrum and I feel connected to both.
“Why did you all vote No?” I can hear Instagram asking in disbelief. While there was a hint off a-Yes-vote-will-mean-I’ll-lose-access-to-my-fishing-spot chat, more often I heard things like “I feel awful voting No, but I don’t think more bureaucracy is good for anyone”, or “I looked to the Indigenous leaders and saw arguments for Yes and No on both sides. It didn’t seem clear cut”, or “I could have written Yes and felt good about myself, but it wasn’t going to actually change anything. It was just politics.”
While my Instagram community mourns the referendum result as proof we are a racist, backwater country, I look at my community at home and I don’t see villains. I see community-minded, generally conservative-leaning people with little faith in bureaucracy.
My Instagram community mourns the referendum result as proof we are a racist, backwater country.
Lots of regional Australia voted No. This does not mean they are all racist or ignorant.
If what we want is less division not more, perhaps we should consider Appalachian novelist Barbara Kingsolver’s advice: “If you want to have a conversation, you don’t start it with the words ‘You idiot’.” There are faultlines for sure, and not only city/country ones, but we might – I hope – be closer to each other than we think.
This piece was republished from the email newsletter of Galah Press, a magazine celebrating regional Australia.