/Forgotten north Queenslanders say theyre simply standing up for themselves

Forgotten north Queenslanders say theyre simply standing up for themselves

Updated

May 23, 2019 10:54:15

You can get a chicken schnitzel and chips at the Bellevue Hotel in South Townsville for $5.99 on a Monday night.

But it’s Tuesday.

And besides, there’s no time to eat. The pool comp finals are about to begin.

Mopwalle Mabo comes in quietly through the public bar carrying a black case, his cue stick folded up inside.

The 41-year-old used to work in Weipa in the mines and is now one of the thousands — who were once part of the booming industry — looking for a job.

The resources slowdown helped bump Townsville’s unemployment rate up to 8 per cent.

As the election results for Herbert continue to wash through and the heads down south ruminate over what it all means, Mr Mabo will just keep sending out job applications.

He’s given up on the mining industry for now.

“I applied again last year and was told they didn’t want any long-term workers.”

‘We’re not a big city’

In the beer garden out the back Kristin Collins is agitated about the latest round of memes mocking Queensland from the south.

She’s seen the map of Australia doing the rounds on social media with Queensland axed.

To her it’s just another example of the rest of Australia not “getting” regional Queensland.

“I would suggest that perhaps maybe they come and see how the regional towns actually function,” she said.

“Because we’re not a big city, we don’t function like a big city and we rely on things like mining and ports.”

It’s 25 years since I left north Queensland and although I’ve been back numerous times, I was warned by friends to prepare for a very different Townsville.

The city — dubbed the capital of the north — has been through booms and busts before.

But the last few years have left it gasping.

Business is struggling, youth unemployment has skyrocketed and so has youth crime.

And then there was February’s flood.

There are deeper issues at play in the north

“If you go for a drive through town you can see all the empty shop fronts,” Jake Fishwick tells me.

We catch up with him at the end of his night shift at the copper refinery.

The 40-year-old has been taking casual shifts wherever he can after losing his job when Clive Palmer’s nickel refinery closed down three years ago.

“I think we need a boost to the economy,” he said.

But that means different things to different people here.

For many, getting the Adani Carmichael mine approved would be a start.

They remember the “boom” times of mining and want them back.

But there are deeper issues at play in the north.

It’s 2,000 kilometres to Canberra from Townsville.

And you can feel it.

Days after they whipped into voting booths, filled out ballots and then went about their life, there is still a burning feeling here that they’ve been forgotten.

There was no LNP landslide.

The new member for Herbert, Phil Thompson, saw his primary vote increase just 1.4 per cent.

The swing against Labor was 4.7 per cent.

More than a quarter of disaffected voters turned to One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party and the United Australia Party, many of their preferences going back to the LNP.

‘Katter is one of us’

Trish Tarrant is sitting on a bar stool upstairs at the RSL drinking a Coke.

There’s a celebratory feel in the air that has nothing to do with the election.

The club has finally reopened months after it was wrecked by the floods.

“I voted for Katter,” Ms Tarrant tells me.

“I think Katter is one of us north Queenslanders, and he is one of us and he’s out for us,” she said.

From the south, north Queensland is often cast as conservative, backwards or ignorant of the risks to the environment from mining.

But for locals, that misses the point: they don’t feel like they’re heard at all in the national debate despite the size of their city and economy.

Sean Sullivan is playing beach volleyball with his friends as the sun dips behinds clouds before disappearing for the day.

“You know Townsville is such a big town, the 10th or 11th biggest city in Australia but it doesn’t feel like it’s being looked after,” he said.

“So people up here are trying to stand up for themselves and protect their security, their jobs and these things they feel come first and maybe the bigger questions come second.”

It’s a sentiment repeated again and again over the days I spend in Townsville.

And it won’t be solved with the approval of one mine.

Topics:

federal-election,

elections,

government-and-politics,

federal-elections,

regional-development,

business-economics-and-finance,

townsville-4810,

qld,

australia,

brisbane-4000

First posted

May 23, 2019 10:49:12