Mullets, mining and murals
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“The story of Queensland is that of the triumph of the white race over the tropical North …”
— Raphael Cilento, in an official centenary history of Queensland, the only single volume state history in the Bowen Public Library
“Y’see, Pauline, I don’t hate Aborigines and I don’t hate Muslims. I just think we need to know who’s who …”
Pauline Hanson, resplendent in a shimmering coral dress, mimicking the Reef — in 20 years, a white dress will do — leans in to listen to the bloke in the hat talking at her. We’re in the beer garden of the Larrikin, Bowen’s second pub, a place, during the day, where dirty work clothes are less banned than compulsory. Tonight everyone’s in their best, which is all the way from suit and tie, to ironed singlet. The Battler Bus — a minibus with the Hanson face plastered on it — sits outside. Hanson is spruiking an economic message, but a lot of the people here want the old hits and memories.
“We need their names, we need a list.”
At this, Hanson’s stony visage gives nothing away. Her eyes flick around, she turns the conversation back to a coal-fired power station. Bowen is at the southern end of the seat of Burdekin, a possible pickup for One Nation. But One Nation strongholds are further north, and it’s a thin night at the Larrikin.
“I thought there’d be more, to be honest,” says the barmaid. Fifty or so people, about 20 round a big table, mostly as couples, a few older men with Asian wives (“these One Nation guys, they all have Asian wives,” Labor candidate Mike Brunker will say, days later. “It doesn’t make sense!” “Yeah Mike, it sorta does.”)
Big hat is at the bar. “Y’see, if I’ve got a dog and it’s one-third Alsatian, is it an Alsatian?” It’s not subtle, but Bowen doesn’t do subtlety when it comes to its history. The walls of the town are covered in murals, more than 20 of them, scenes from local history, the local band marching, the school opening, the US Air Force Catalinas landing in World War II, proud and illuminating, and very, very white.
More recently, the place featured in Australia, the ghastly film-tourism confection telling the story of the stolen generations through — or was it a nightmare? — the medium of the Wizard of Oz. What was once true of primary produce is now the case with culture: Bowen produces far more than the market can locally consume.