You might not know about this, but I have a secret past. Back in my youth, before I became a hip cosmopolitan journalist/socialite, I was just a boy, growing up in western Sydney.
Yes, that’s right, I used to roam those green fields and shining streets of Australia’s heartland, the pulsing political powerhouse of the eastern seaboard, the vibrant intestines of the national digestive tract. It’s so strange to look back now and realise that, when I was lazing my summer days away fishing in the Toongabbie River, or hiking up picturesque Mount Druitt, I was actually frolicking and romping in what would soon become the Most Important Place In Australia.
Little did I know that one day the prime minister of the nation would make that holy pilgrimage to the West, seeking the votes of the humble sons of the soil who dwell on the wide plains beyond Marrickville.
The question is, why is western Sydney so important? Why should the government focus so heavily on this area and not, for example, eastern Melbourne, or northern Brisbane, or inner Launceston? What is the magic of western Sydney that brings politician after politician out there to pay tribute?
Well, first of all, western Sydney is the home of the true-blue dinky-di Aussie. Whether you are in the vast pokies palace of Panthers, the glistening malls and offices of Castle Hill, or the mean streets of Werrington, you will find nothing but salt-of-the-earth working modern families epitomising the Australian dream, putting their noses to the grindstone as they attempt to knuckle down and do the hard yards in pursuit of the kind of dignity of work that you only find among those who are looking for hand up, not a hand out.
In this they are most unlike people who aren’t from western Sydney. It is a sad fact that outside western Sydney, Australia is full of not-very-Australian people. In Eastern Sydney, to take just one example, the streets are full of anti-Aussies of the very worst kind, strutting about with their micro-brewery beers and folk-rock duos, more interested in slathering themselves with SPF 30 than opening a struggling automotive parts business.
Or look at Queenslanders, scurrying around their dusty cattle ranches squealing about fluoride and daylight savings. They’ll never know the simple joy of eating at the Blacktown food court. And the same could be said of the monomaniacal dirt-scroungers of WA, or the Northern Territory’s terrifying speed-limitless crocodile tenders. All over the country, un-Australians are pottering about, failing to fit into important demographics or care about significant issues.
Our politicians, who are no fools, know this. They know there are no votes in appealing to non-western Sydney electorates. No leader ever wrested power by trying to appeal to leaf-blowing Hobartites or the Mt Gambier CWA.
This is why Julia Gillard is heading out to Rooty Hill, to address her message directly to the inhabitants of the "key electorates", so-called because it is they which unlock the door to political success. And for Gillard this is particularly important, because she is a Labor prime minister. As she made clear to the AWU and her life partner Paul "Bubba" Howes, she does not lead a party called the Progressive Party, or the Moderate Party, or the Social Democratic Party; she leads a party called the Labor Party. When she’s in Rooty Hill she will make quite certain that everyone out that way knows it. No longer will anyone be able to accuse the prime minister of not knowing the name of her own party — THAT little capsule of electoral poison has been nipped in the bud.
The thing about western Sydneyers is that their concerns are the concerns of all Australians except those ones that don’t count. They are simple people, wishing only to raise their families in peace and quiet and every now and then maybe start a bus company. And they worry that the government might be standing in the way of those aspirations. From Bankstown to Warrimoo, you’ll hear them chattering in the streets and the business parks: "I wish the government wouldn’t stand in the way of my aspirations."
They worry that the government is unfairly slugging them with a punitive carbon tax, punishing them in order to save the environment, despite the fact that western Sydney, as is well known, has no environment.
They worry that the government isn’t providing adequate transport infrastructure in order for them to get to their jobs in Drummoyne and Rose Bay McDonald’s restaurants. When it’s pointed out that this is a state responsibility, they worry that the federal government isn’t doing enough to be the state government.
These are not idle fears: they are legitimate fears that need to be carefully considered by any government that intends to sustain this country’s great tradition of blue-collar pandering.
But perhaps most of all, western Sydney worries about asylum seekers. And can you blame them? They’re right on the front line of the refugee battle: not in a geographical sense, obviously, or in a social sense, or an economic sense, or a literal sense. But in a very real sense nonetheless. Just as it is said that when China sneezes, the world catches cold, so it is true that when Ashmore Reef receives a new boatload of asylum seekers, Marayong develops paranoia about unemployment. It has ever been so.
And that’s why Julia Gillard must go to Rooty Hill and reassure the happy western breed that she has their best interests at heart. Rooty Hill, after all, is the Vegas of the West, and it is time for our PM to assume the role of Celine Dion, and sing a power ballad of economic security, job creation and secure borders.
In the five days that Gillard spends sleeping rough in the working family hinterland, she must press every inch of flesh, kiss every square metre of baby, tramp over every hectare of RSL carpet and bellow slogans at every kilogram of cashed-up tradie, in order to leave nobody in any doubt that this is a government which, to the extent that it cares about anything, cares about western Sydney.
Who wins western Sydney wins the election, as they say, and nothing — not a more nuanced understanding of the needs of suburban Australians, not a desire to avoid utter irresponsibility, not a basic grasp of mathematics — is going to stop the Labor Party, the working man’s friend, from winning the hearts and minds of that vast sprawling fiefdom that, when it comes to democracy, is the only bit that matters. March on, brave leader. Today, Rooty Hill. Tomorrow… I dunno, Parramatta?
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