Reclaim Kosci volunteers were out with smiles during the Eden-Monaro by-election.

By Linda Groom

Voting in the by-election for the federal seat of Eden-Monaro concluded on July 4. With freezing weather and COVID-19 concerns, who would have thought anyone would turn up? But they did.

True, there were more postal votes than usual. But most of the Eden-Monaro voters grabbed their bottles of hand-sanitiser and trudged to a polling booth, often with heads down and hands in pockets to ward off the breeze and the virus.

Who would have thought Reclaim Kosci could prosper in such an environment? But we did.

The election brought out many more people than the voters. A small army of volunteers, politicians and supporters spread out across Eden-Monaro. Only 14 of them were standing for election; the rest stood around on footpaths outside the polling booths.

In addition to the candidates, many well-known names made an appearance. In Queanbeyan, Jerrabomberra, Cooma and Murrumbateman we saw senators Kristina Keneally, Jim Molan and Zed Seselja, as well as federal and state MPs David Smith, Dave Sharma, Andrew Barr, John Barilaro, Robert Borsak, Tara Moriarty, Liesl Tesch, Bronnie Taylor and Fred Nile.

All of them were in full-on greeting and listening mode – fertile ground for the good talkers among our volunteers ably putting the case for protecting Kosciuszko National Park from feral horses.

All ears

At any one time, the majority of people on the footpaths outside the polling booths were volunteers, handing out how-to-vote leaflets for their candidate.

Though perhaps a little less polished in their greeting and listening skills than the politicians, the volunteers were generally happy to talk with and listen to us, during the times when there were no voters in sight. We did not aim to convert them to supporting Reclaim Kosci’s aims, though in some cases that happened. Instead we aimed to engage people in a conversation about our concerns for humaneness as well as the environment.

Judging by the responses, which ranged from polite interest to a stirring rendition of a feral horse song, we achieved some success. Several of the Reclaim Kosci volunteers reported that, though the voters generally did not regard the feral horses issue a critical to their voting choice, more voters were interested in the feral horses issue than at the 2019 state election. A Bungendore voter even asked, unprompted, after the broad-toothed mouse.

Our good friend the person-sized corroboree frog appeared in Queanbeyan and Murrumbateman, prompting many calls for selfies.

Engaging on all fronts

Our volunteers had long discussions with two politicians’ wives. In Cooma, Nyssa Stadtmiller, wife of the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers candidate, dropped in for a good chat with volunteer Janet, who says Nyssa favoured a mix of re-homing and culling feral horses, provided that both were done humanely.

In Jerrabomberra, volunteers Mark and Ross engaged Silvana Nile, wife of Fred Nile, in a lengthy conversation. Silvana was interested in the ethical aspects of the feral horse issue, and was in favour of a reduction in horse numbers.

Some of the booths were visited by a man wearing a khaki shirt with a ‘Back to the Bush’ logo. He declined to give his name. He carried a sign declaring that Labor, the Greens and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service were destroying Kosciuszko.

The sign was decorated with cute corroboree frog drawings. He said he was there to counter the hypocrisy of people who dressed up as corroboree frogs, but in such a pleasant way that nobody could take offence.

After leaving our volunteers at one booth quite confused about what he stood for, he turned up at the Queanbeyan Indoor Sports Centre booth, where he encountered volunteer Don, an ex-park ranger with extensive field experience, a PhD in wildlife ecology and a delight in debating.

After some enjoyable discussion, Don managed to pin down this man’s solution to Kosciuszko’s problems: it included a return of cattle grazing, which would be environmentally sensitive provided he could manage it his way. The environment would also be better protected if there were more four wheel drives and fewer helicopters in the park!

Sadly, Don was obliged to cut the debate short when some actual voters turned up. The most entertaining experience of all, however, was a songster at the Indoor Sports Centre booth. He was a volunteer with one of the major parties.

I don’t believe I can mention which party – his song represents a view of feral horses issue that is a bit more developed than his party’s. He had written it himself, to the tune of Brumby Jack, and delivered it in a fine voice with the projection of a professional singer.