The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 33 : 33

FRONT PAGE

the rebellion does the best wild dog signs. They start a few minutes’ drive out of the village of Samford, half an hour from the steel and glass towers of Brisbane. Wild dogs and foxes still haunt the dense bush and small farm holdings that cover nearly three quarters of Peter Dutton’s electorate. The local council runs baiting programs to keep them away from livestock and outside the boundaries of the isolated housing developmen­ts that push into the bushland from the northern edge of the Queensland capital. The warning signs, a legislated requiremen­t, are striking. They’re impossible to miss as you speed along the black ribbon of road from Samford to Dayboro, another village 20 or 30 minutes deeper into the countrysid­e, but somehow feeling less rural than Samford because of all the coffee shops on the main street catering to the weekend tourist trade. You sweep around a lazy curve and suddenly a large wolfish-looking dog snarls at you in silhouette. Even at a hundred kilometres per hour, the eye is drawn to the stark red, white and black colour scheme and the unexpected flash of bared fangs. Thoughts of stopping to stretch the legs or take in the views, which can be stunning here at the edge of a small mountain range, now seem less urgent. Dickson, the electorate Dutton holds by few enough votes that flipping a couple of streets worth of cheaply built apartment blocks could see the minister for home affairs forced out of parliament, is a huge, sprawling piece of turf for what is – demographi­cally – an unremarkab­le metro seat. Much of it is beautiful, a weird in-between place where the scrubby drylands of Queensland’s south-east corner start to morph towards the richer, denser subtropica­l rainforest­s of the Sunshine Coast. The city seems vastly remote at times, until you hit a crest in the Hills District and there it is on the horizon, a stunning filamentar­y explosion of shining spires. Every weekend, thousands of people attempt to escape north to the cool green folds of Samford Valley, merging their vehicles into the crush of traffic on the arterial roads carrying families to Saturday morning sport and feeding the crowded car parks of shopping centres all over Brisbane’s northern suburbs. Digital natives voting for the first time in Dickson might find in their electoral abode a vaguely familiar analogue for a much cooler, imagined in-between place, the city and hinterland of Los Santos in It seems a perverse allusion, but driving for hours around Dickson, I can’t shake it. In 20 minutes it is possible to pass from grimy light industrial warehouse districts to wilderness, to drywall suburban slums, and back into bushland hiding millionair­e enclaves of grotesquel­y expensive but aesthetica­lly worthless contempolo­nial architortu­re, all on 1- and 2-acre lots with easy access to the local pony club. “Yeah,” snorts Mike Myer. “Every third place will have a dressage arena.” Myer is driving, giving me the grand tour. We met up at the side of the road just outside Samford Village, where a small group of volunteers was waving the flag for the Greens’ Benedict Coyne, preselecte­d to run against Dutton – and all comers, he’ll assure you – whenever Scott Morrison decides to fire up the national barbie for our next big feed of democracy sausage. Myer, a scion of the retail family, is a property developer these days, but of a different ilk, designing and building large-scale projects with minimal impacts on their surroundin­g ecosystems. I feel his pain as he steers carefully through the narrow streets of a recently built estate where hundreds of houses sit on pocket-handkerchi­ef lots. The identikit properties, which look less like homes than the boxes other, better, homes came in, seem as closely packed as the livestock that once went to slaughter from the old farms they buried here under concrete slabs. It recalls Robin Boyd’s cri de coeur against the peculiarly Australian ugliness … “But it’s people’s starting point,” Myer says, sounding almost apologetic. “A lot of these families, they’d have teens working on weekends in fast-food joints, cafes and so on. I saw a statistic just a few weeks ago. I think the minister released it. It said 700,000 people have effectivel­y lost $87 a week. That’s nearly $5000 a year. That’s a hit for families in this sort of area.” He waves his hand around as we head out of the estate, past a tavern advertisin­g $10 “penny pincher” lunches. “And I know, because I started Brumby’s [bakery chain] and grew that, and I know how many young people I helped get through university. And the Sunday work, the double time and a half? It basically paid their way through. To cut their penalty rates was really …” He trails off, lost for words, as we drive away from the urban fringe back into brute nature, but not for long. We are passing through a liminal space here, a contested perimeter where remnant forest quickly succumbs to the dozer blade. A Bunnings commands the heights of a ridge overlookin­g vast brown swathes of naked earth, raked clean and ready for the surveyors. The Dickson that swung hard against Peter Dutton in the 2016 federal election is not the Dickson he won from Cheryl Kernot 17 years ago. It is not the Dickson he tried to escape for a safer, more amenable seat somewhere nearer to the coast ahead of the August 2010 election. And it will be yet another Dickson when he tries to retain it some time in the next few months. It is a churning, unsettled arena of hyper-developmen­t, urban decay, explosive exurban wealth formation, deep green resistance, aspiration­al longing, bitter poverty … and wild dogs, stalking the woods just beyond the edge of settlement. Ali France would like to take it all from him. The ALP’s chosen candidate describes herself, without affectatio­n, as “a Northside mum with two kids”. The geographic­al modifier is a Brisbane thing, with residents of the northern capital often sorting themselves tribally by reference to which bank of the river they bunk down on. Like Sydney, but with lower stakes. The 44-year-old France, who works for a palliative care charity, is a former journalist and a goldmedal-winning sportswoma­n who rowed an outrigger canoe for Australia at the World Sprint Championsh­ips in 2016. She could be a giant-killing candidate on her Dutton country huge Grand Theft Auto V. 31

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