Nationals' leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (Image: Supplied)

Chapter Three: The Gathering Storm

If there is one question I am asked more than any other, it is, “do you feel pins and needles?” But if there’s a question I am asked more than any other besides that one, it’s “why did you become a politician?” It’s a fair one: why would a hardy, bronzed, son of the soil like myself wish to abandon the simple bush life — the life of billy tea, blowing gum leaves and bare knuckle pig-hunting — for the button-down existence of a Canberra stuffed shirt?

It obviously went against the grain for a bloke such as I to head to the Big Smoke. I’d had enough of city living back at Riverview, where the luxury and privilege had been just another cross to bear — but there was something bigger at stake, and that was the welfare of the people.

I don’t mean the people of the cities and towns, or the people of the chattering classes: I mean the REAL people, the people of the outback, the people who built this nation out of blood and sweat and tears and iron and coal and cows and pigs. I asked myself, who would speak for the authentic Australians of the land, if not I?

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Yes, I didn’t want to leave my peaceful outdoors life, but sitting there, on the verandah of the Barnaby Joyce & Co Accountancy Services office, watching the sun go down over the boundless Queensland plains, I knew in my bones — that’s the way we hardy country folk always know things, in the bones — that I had to serve, that I had, like a pastoral Lorax, to speak for the battlers.

They needed one of their own to represent them: someone who knew what it was like to carve out a living from the earth under the twin oppressive yokes of persistent drought and out-of-control red tape. No point to some urban fat cat trying to tackle the unique challenges of the bush, only someone who had experienced the bush life, via the hard yakka of regional financial services provision, could realistically win a fair deal from the bureaucracy.

A lot of people poo-pooed the idea, of course. They said it couldn’t be done. “Don’t be bloody bonkers, Barnaby,” they said. “Canberra isn’t for the likes of us. Never in Australian history has federal politics been penetrated by a maverick such as you. Thinking that a plain-talking, down-to-earth, no-nonsense, straight-shooting, private school-educated accountant can match wits with those flaming galahs with all their collars and ties and chardonnays is just bloody pipe-dreaming.”

But I took no notice of their well-utilised vernacular: all that mattered to me was a Fair Go for all. I looked around the country and I saw so much suffering. So many decent hard-working Aussies denied their chance at a Fair Go. So many mining magnates hamstrung from digging up the riches of our soil. So many innocent men, women and children dying agonising deaths from windfarm syndrome. So many personal friends deprived of water allocations. Not to mention the young women living in fear that gay marriage might steal their husbands.

Across the nation there was misery everywhere, and there was only one way to stem it: hitch up my shorts, throw my enormous hat in the ring, and put my agrarian socialist ideology where my mouth was.

Within weeks I was at Parliament House, making my maiden speech in front of an awestruck Senate. You’d think they’d never seen a cork hat before.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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