KALGOORLIE, MARCH 8, 2017
Pauline emerges from the Kalgoorlie Miner offices, sees the journo wolf pack and visibly shudders. Prim in a close fitting one-piece outfit and heels, she’s looking unnerved but breaks into a gracious smile. There’s whoops and whistles and horn blasts coming from the traffic along Hannan Street. Just around the corner is the Golden Mile, a superpit revealing one of the biggest gold mines in the world.
But Pauline Hanson’s after another form of gold here in Western Australia, where the divide between rich whities and the conspicuously dispossessed Indigenous people is as stark as that in their skin colour.
As she waits at the corner (Kalgoorlie traffic lights taking an inordinately long time to change), a car sidles into the kerb with a small dog hanging out the window and a woman waving and smiling while trying to take a photo at the wheel. Pauline grins back. She’s getting the feel of the place.
A young fella who’s pursued the pack from outside the pub asks her for a photo, tries to put his arm around her, gives the flashing cameras a devil-may-care leer and afterwards tells us his name is Ollie.
“I’ve been drinkin’ in the pub since six this morning. Got a cheque for three and a half grand here.”
But asked whether he’d vote for her he laughs.
“I dunno who I’d vote for. I just wanted to get a photo with her.”
More drive-bys with thumbs up and the cry of “Pauline you rock.”
Across the road and into the shade and it’s handshakes all round, smiles of recognition blooming on the faces of people out doing whatever business keeps them in baking hot Kalgoorlie.
All around us, oblivious to this short-lived hootenanny, Indigenous people are enacting their own long game, the parallel slow-mo existence that Hansonites will never understand.
A short, sturdy woman claims Pauline with arms wide, declaring; “About time you came here. I’ve already voted for you.”
Pauline shakes the hand of a young Indian man who had evidently said something complimentary, the redhead replying, “Thank you. That’s very nice.”
She is beguiling, friendly. As I walk alongside her I try to ask a question but I’m tongue-tied. She leans closer.
“Sorry, I didn’t understand the question?”
Then she’s crossing the road to the courthouse, her two minders trying to brush me aside. They’re a white bearded Scotsman, Robin Scott from the Mining and Pastoral Party and Richard Bolton, the local One Nation candidate who has no posters in town and who, according to everyone I’ve asked is not actually running a campaign. We’ve been here a week and certainly seen no evidence of one. It seems Pauline’s visit is the campaign.
We’re now outside the courthouse, torn apart in August last year in a spontaneous uprising by indigenous people grieving the killing of a 14 year old boy, by a white man who was only charged with manslaughter. Facebook had been alight with vigilante-style groups and vicious racist commentary before and after the boy’s death. On the personal pages of many of the group’s members, One Nation memes and devotion were common.
Pauline spots me again and asks; “I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you before …”
I stand at her side. Cameras are flashing. I ask if she’s aware of the killing of of Elijah Doughty and the ensuing grief and unrest in the town. She looks puzzled and says no, she doesn’t know anything about it.
Robin Scott interrupts, saying, yes he knows and will make comment about it later. He hurries his important charge on.
People are gathering, holding children aloft. It’s a fan club. They’re staring at Hanson like she’s the Pope, about to bless them. A lone black man in hi-viz cast-offs shuffles past, eyes downcast. Couldn’t have been better scripted.
A twenty something girl with platinum and purple hair and a kind of medieval frock vest puts her arm boldly around Pauline, grinning widely. Pauline is aglow. Despite the temptation to depict her as a monster, it’s impossible not to marvel at her magnetism. I have to keep reminding myself of the virulent racist subtext, ignorant policies-on-the-run and insular, overweening world-view.
“More and more people are following you,” says another short, fierce looking woman with pearls and a peach blouse. “And they can’t ignore it, no matter how hard they try.”
‘They’, I suppose, are the mainstream media and their lunch money – Labor and the Coalition. The Pauline fan club, consciously or otherwise, are echoing the Trumpists, seeing Hanson as our own Greatness Maker.
As Pauline talks to more people, the cameras are being arranged for interviews with the ABC and Channel 9 Perth. Guy Rundle is there, Crikey’s roving gonzo. His latest piece spoke of the dysfunction in One Nation’s Western Australia campaign, candidates displaying little concept of the standard apparatus of an election campaign. Internal feuding, litigation and failed candidates are daily news items.
But the cameras are waiting for Ashby, who’s stalking through the courthouse portico, on a succession of calls.
“I’m just the middle man,” he snarls. “Don’t fucken flog me.”
Then: “He wanted to be a candidate. Haven’t seen him. Been here in Kalgoorlie all morning.”
Finally Ashby sets up his own camera. He’s a one man media unit, the trash-texting Angel of Death for the 2011 Parliament’s disgraced Speaker Peter Slipper and Julia Gillard’s short-lived majority.
The ABC journo is being directed out of her light by a very professional Pauline. She speaks crisply about the unfairness of the GST levied on Queensland and Western Australia, the two states where her popularity is greatest.
Two overly protective security guards exceed their remit in attempting to aggressively block photographer Dean Sewell’s camera angles, one of them calling him a bloody idiot.
“You’re the one who’s waving your arms around,” he tells the florid faced woman, who’s very anxious to impress Pauline.
There’s been an attractive young couple hanging around the outskirts of the melee, trying to get a photo. Now the woman, a tall blonde wearing shorts and singlet is facing her partner, who’s trying to get her in shot with Pauline. She’s holding a sign on a piece of A4 paper.
Pauline glides over.
“Would you like a photo?”
“Yes, please,” says the woman, folding the sign up in embarrassment.
“What’s on the sign?” asks Dean.
“Oh, I don’t really want to …”
“Go on,” he yells.
She stands beside Pauline, unfolding the sign. Cameras flash. It says; “You Are The Worst.”
Pauline clocks it and says, “Oh.”
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t support anything you stand for,” the woman says. There’s a brief silence, but nobody’s really shocked. It’s all part of the show.
“Just the general racism,” the woman, who’s from Adelaide, and whose name is Kate Wilson, replies to a question from the ABC.
This minor piece of bravery is mostly noticed by the journalists, who swarm around Ms Wilson, Rundle plying her with questions. It doesn’t seem to bother Pauline at all. She’s happily at the centre of this swirling vortex of fame and emotion. Like Trump, she espouses simple pub politics, withholding the spiteful subtext of racism that’s well understood by her fanbase, the champions of White Australia and rule of thumb politics. They love her for it, the half-baked anti-vaccination theories, the Aboriginal-bashing, the Muslim baiting. She plays it with just the right amount of humility and glamour, giving credence to their rancour and they’re star-struck and grateful.
As Pauline’s entourage sweeps off on her way to do ABC radio, in her wake I overhear an overweight security guard on his phone;
“You’’ll never guess who I just shook hands with,” he says. “Pauline Hanson. Yeah. Had a bit of a yarn. I said ‘you’re doing an awesome job’.”
I can hear horns beeping, see people turning, looking over their shoulders and hear car horns trailing down Hannan Street. At the courthouse, people are still gathered, talking excitedly.
Last week we’d interviewed the Mayor of Kalgoorlie, John Bowler, who’d pooh-poohed Hanson’s chances in the WA elections this Saturday. “A souffle never rises twice,” he’d said, quoting Paul Keating. Like many in the political establishment he doesn’t see her relevance. Mind you, he also denies Kalgoorlie is more racist than anywhere else in Australia and scorns the relevance of social media to the real world.
Just as in Trump’s march to power, pundits have been divided on Pauline’s party’s electoral chances in Western Australia this Saturday, March 11. But, with Queensland predicted to follow suit later in the year, it seems likely they’ll win an unprecedented number of seats. And if Pauline’s popularity in Kalgoorlie is any indication, then it seems she just needs to get out of her own way.