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Gilmore, race, and shameful Liberals

My long association with the Federal seat of Gilmore commenced a few years before 1984, a seminal time for the Royal Australian Navy and the City of Shoalhaven which lies to the south of the industrial hub of Wollongong in New South Wales.

The cessation of the navy’s fixed wing operations in this year, marked the start of a long and painful economic trough for the Shoalhaven, and especially Nowra, the regional provincial city.

Nowra was, and to a large extent still is, a navy town. Nowadays real estate and tourism are the dominant industries. Spin-off businesses associated with the military while important are barely on the economic radar.

When departing neighbouring Kiama and entering the Shoalhaven region, it is easy to mistake the lush surrounds as a National Party stronghold. Far from it. The Federal seat of Gilmore which encompasses Nowra and its satellite towns is or was blue ribbon Liberal. But Gilmore is about to cross into the Labor column for the first time in many decades.

How do I know?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently parachuted Mr Warren Mundine into the seat, metaphorically stabbed the endorsed Liberal candidate Grant Schultz in the back, and earlier allowed the sitting Member Ann Sudmalis, to be thrown under the political bus.

By so doing ScoMo unleashed in Gilmore a full blown death match struggle for the future of Liberals in Gilmore and across Australia.

Gilmore / Nowra tell the tale of two sides of a river. North of the Shoalhaven lie the moneyed bastions of Kangaroo Valley, Berry and Gerringong and Geroa. To the south live some of the poorest, most deprived citizens of New South Wales, who struggle in soul-less housing commission estates. Many of these citizens are expelled from housing commission accommodation in western Sydney.

Nowra, like many rural communities, suffers from the scourge of ice. In my south coast community, a 40 minute drive south of Nowra, 26 houses were robbed in one night. Mine among them. The culprit after an inevitable arrest had his house fire bombed by local vigilantes. In my tiny community, arson, murder, robbery, serious drug dealing, spousal abuse and random acts of violence, are the norm. But most visitors and tourists to the south coast never see this dark underbelly. They are rightly mesmerised by the region’s stunning natural beauty.

Until recently the local Liberal clique of Shelley Hancock (the NSW Parliament’s Speaker), Federal Member Ann Sudmalis and her predecessor Joanna Gash, along with their developer-cum-real estate lackeys were happy for this dreadful state of affairs to continue. Then along came Warren Mundine about whom I make no comment. But I do say this: The Aboriginal citizens of the Shoalhaven / Nowra / Federal seat of Gilmore are among the most put-upon Indigenous people in New South Wales.

Mundine an Aboriginal man who claims ancestral ties to the south coast, lives in Sydney and was the former national president of the Australian Labor Party

There are too many examples of out-and-out racism deployed against the Yuin of the south coast, but the most egregious in my time there, occurred in 1982, when accused anti-Semite councillor Greg Watson, took down and burnt an aboriginal flag made by local auntie, Maude Moore. Watson called the flag a “revolutionary piece of rag’.

Speaking of Jews, Watson reportedly said, “You can say, ‘why don’t you jack the price up? Why don’t you be a good Jew? Why don’t you screw the price of the last dollar out of it like private enterprise would?’” Track down the report on ABC Radio’s PM program of Thursday 1 May, 2008 here and make up your own mind about this less-than-charming individual.

Greg Watson was a key member of the local Liberal clique I mentioned earlier and needless to say Pauline Hanson is very popular in Gilmore. Thus a Liberal candidate of Aboriginal extraction faces endemic racism, even before the poll is announced.

By contrast I make a few observations about the woman whose name adorns this unhappy Federal Liberal seat; Dame Mary Gilmore.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography describes her as a “patriot, feminist, social crusader and folklorist; she has now passed into Australian legend”.

The dictionary also says ,“Mary Gilmore campaigned in the Worker and any other available forum for a wide range of social and economic reforms, such as votes for women, old-age and invalid pensions, child endowment and improved treatment of returned servicemen, the poor and deprived and, above all, of Aboriginals.

“She wrote numerous letters, as well as contributing articles and poems, to the Sydney Morning Herald on these causes and such diverse subjects as the English language, the Prayer Book, earthquakes, Gaelic and the immigration laws, the waratah as a national emblem, the national anthem, and Spanish Australia”.

Read more here.

Of all the aspiring and former politicians who’ve held sway in Gilmore, only the ALP candidate Fiona Phillips comes close to the legacy of the Federal seat’s namesake. And of the soon-to-be-defunct Liberal clique of Gilmore, good riddance to your shameful and wasteful history.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

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  1. TwainAndHume

    Interesting take on that region. It almost seems as though the Liberals have a death wish for that seat. Hopefully the next member from there (hopefully ALP) will do more for citizens there beyond the developers.

  2. helvityni

    Thank you ,Henry, your article evoked memories of school holiday trips from Balmain (Sydney) to Bendalong, via Kiama, Berry…

    Kiama for fish and chips and Berry for donuts and coffee….Tents in Bendalong were replaced by caravans, placed as close to the beach as possible….

    Next time when visiting friends and family in Balmain, I must pop in into Bray’s Bookshop to check out your book ….

    PS. Sorry to be off the topic….

  3. terence mills

    Mundine is already at odds with his mate the prime minister after the latter decided to confuse us all by linking
    Lt James Cook and the Endeavour with Australia Day and then told us that he would build another Endeavour replica to retrace Cook’s circumnavigation of Australia.

    A confused nation then heard from Mundine that he was not in favour of celebrating Australia Day on 26 January or having a public holiday on Invasion Day.

    Then Morrison corrected himself and admitted that Cook had nothing to do with January 26 or Australia Day and that he had never circumnavigated Australia : which had in fact been achieved by Matthew Flinders who coincidentally has just been found buried ignominiously under Euston Station in London.

    In the meantime Mundine says he is about to buy a property in the Gilmore electorate to show good faith with the good folk who he expects to elect him : personally I’d recommend that Warren hold off on this purchase as he will probably need to move to another seat when he gets trounced in Gilmore.

  4. Florence Howarth

    Does not Morrison see the joke in placing a man whom Labor rejected in the seat? A man who at the time was close to nominating for a seat, while a Liberal Democrat.

  5. Kronomex

    Scummo the Delusional Cretin –


    “‘All governments refresh.'” They certainly do Happy Clapper Morriscum. The swinging doors will hit you and the rest of your clown posse in the arse as you shuffle out of the government side of the house and into oppostion. You, I expect, will get an extra bonus of doing a second walk of shame to the back bench and take your well deserved place between the mad monk and the Beetroot when you are removed as leader of the LNP after your party is massacred at the election.

    Who will you blame? Malcolm? Labor? Yourself? god?

    Then will come the inevitable bullshit about voters speaking and we will respect the will of the people and learn from our mistakes and engage and win back…on and on, ad nauseam. The same tired and deadly boring refrains we’ve heard time and again with the end result of “No change is good change.”

    Time to watch either some Laurel and Hardy or Three Stooges.

  6. terence mills

    A bit of good news for the electors of Warringah, they will finally get a viable alternative with Dali Steggle standing as an independent : she presents a liberal viewpoint to contrast with the ultra right of Abbott. She also has a balanced and progressive view on the need to tackle climate change – good luck to her.

    I’m sure there is a seminary somewhere who will accept Abbott.

    The electorate of Gilmore now need a good independent to actually represent them. There was a reason why Mundine was dropped by Labor and it’s nothing to do with ideology but it has a lot to do with the qualities of the candidate and his commitment to public service.

  7. Luke Daglish

    Scott Morrison is like a arsonist, going round lighting spot fires all over the place. He then turns up to volunteer his help to put them out only to find they have turned into full blown raging bush fires.

  8. helvityni

    Are those two smirking men going to do an Argentinian Tango; Scomo seems somewhat unsure of the steps to take…

    I’ll teach you, says Mundine…

  9. Kaye Lee

    Interesting article about Mundine from 2013….

    The grand dame of Aboriginal politics, Lowitja O’Donoghue, sighs wearily and says that Mundine is “not our new messiah”. Respected indigenous leader Pat Dodson says it is far from clear what Mundine intends to do and that he has yet to see any “silver bullets”. Indigenous NSW Labor MP Linda Burney says there is “concern and incredulousness” within the Aboriginal community that Mundine has risen so high. She says a group of Aboriginal people recently stopped her on a street in Sydney’s Marrickville and asked her, “What are we going to do about pretty boy?”


  10. Diannaart

    Kaye Lee

    I think I can understand why Tanya Plibersek did not want to be drawn into the rabbit ‘warren’ (sorry) of Mundine’s characteristics. At first I thought she should’ve given a definitive answer, but perhaps there isn’t a single reason as has been reported, more an accumulation of doubts and questionable behaviour.

  11. lawrence winder

    On the other hand…. isn’t it good that this fractious ruling rabble can now bee seen, across the board, so clearly for what they are? Office boys and receptionists to the IPA, The Ugly American Murdoch, Our Biggest Miner, Rinehart and unimaginative adherents to the negative doctrines imported from the Tea Party.

  12. Kaye Lee


    I think Tanya was refraining from saying he is dumb as a post.

  13. MöbiusEcko

    Gilmore is my electorate, and I have voted Liberal there. Joanna Gash, Liberal she may be, was probably the best local Federal member I have come across. At times speaking out against the Howard government guaranteed she would never get anywhere near a senior position in his government.

    Indeed, Howard shunned the NSW South Coast, only visiting it for the first time late in his last term offering a new bridge as a desperate measure to shore up shrinking polls for the seat.

  14. Diannaart

    Kaye Lee


    Nail smashed on head


  15. New England Cocky

    Oh … Warren “Look After Yourself” Mundine will get very few, likely none, preferences from the ALP.

    But as Napoleon Bonaparte said,” Never disturb your enemies when they are making mistakes”.


  16. Maureen

    Yes excellent article! “Only the ALP candidate Fiona Phillips comes close to the legacy of the Federal seat’s namesake.” I live in Gilmore and I agree with Henry Johnson. Fiona Phillips has been a strong and constant presence in Gilmore travelling the length of the electorate over the last 3 years or more. Today she was at the Eurobodalla show in Moruya listening to and speaking with people. Fiona would be a wonderful representative for the people of Gilmore.

  17. Henry Johnston

    MöbiusEcko Thanks for your observation, but I disagree. In the 1990’s Gash convinced Howard to fund the Nowra to Nerriga “road to nowhere”. Howard took funding away from the NSW State Labor Government’s allocation to the Princes Highway, and spent it on this white elephant. Worse, this cynical cabal refused to finish the road to Braidwood. Also check out Howard’s involvement with partly subsidising the bio-diesel plant at Bombaderry, owned by his good Liberal rural mate. Check this out https://medium.com/labor-herald/the-cynical-liberal-clique-that-has-ruled-gilmore-for-20-years-is-its-time-up-c93a832d0557

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