This time last year I was struggling with the failure of my marriage. It absolutely floored me. Tore away every last shred of who and what I thought I was, revealing my rawest self in every possible way. No matter how hard I tried, the darkness found its way in. Every. Single. Day. And in so many ways.
But I remained optimistic about what was to come.
I was in the process of pre-selection to run for the Liberal National Party in the state seat of Townsville- a safe Labor seat. Unlike the neighbouring electorate of Mundingburra, which was considered much more ‘winnable’.
During this period I was approached by many people who couldn’t understand why I would choose to run in a seat where I would most likely lose, instead of the much more ‘achievable’ Mundingburra. It is a statement put to me many times over the past year.
The simple answer is that I believe in doing things with integrity or not at all.
Townsville is the heart of North Queensland. And it’s where my heart is.
Where my daughter Francesca and I live, play and love. It’s our community. Our people. Our home.
Many politicians of all persuasions live outside their electorate, it is a common and widely accepted practice (including the sitting Member here in Townsville who lives on the other side of the city). But for me personally, it felt important to live among the people I was hoping to represent.
I was pre-selected in January.
My paid employment came to a grinding halt. Despite many misconceptions to the contrary, being a candidate is actually a volunteer role and doesn’t come with a cent of income (let alone the piles of cash many in the community believe to be the case). It seemed entirely legitimate to re-mortgage my house and campaign full time. While the odds were well and truly stacked against me, I felt it would all work out in the end.
Between January and November I door knocked thousands of homes, walked almost every street in the electorate delivering pamphlets, held market stalls, attended community forums, business meetings- you name it, I was there.
There were no days off. No break from the continual harassment of trolls. No break from the abuse of strangers who thought it was acceptable to scream in my face about what a “c*nt” or “leech” I was living off the (non-existent in my case) public purse. And no break from the misogyny that comes with being blonde, 5 foot two inches tall, having breasts (oh my god!) and being so outrageous as to run for politics. I mean, I couldn’t even hold a man, how on earth was I going to hold public office? (And yes, that was stated more than once).
I have a place in my heart for each and every one of those people- they served to stoke the fire in my soul and made me even more determined to make every minute of every day count. Inspiration can be found in the strangest of places.
But for every negative interaction, there were hundreds of positive ones. The people of this city have enormous hearts and engaging with them has truly been an absolute honour and a privilege. There is no pretence, no small talk to sift through- just good, honest and authentic dialogue.
And such an overwhelming desire for Townsville to be better. To not have the highest crime or unemployment rates in Queensland, to have water security instead of living in a dry dust bowl crippled by drought.
It was surreal when the Premier of Queensland called the election for November 25. 10 months of campaigning and working relentlessly and the end was finally in sight. The reality of what I was trying to achieve felt enormous.
The election night ‘party’ was an out of body experience. Media coverage suggested Labor had reclaimed the seat of Townsville in an absolute landslide. The feeling that I’d wasted almost a year of my life and set my daughter and me so far back financially for absolutely nothing was unfathomable. It didn’t sit with the thousands of conversations I’d had with locals who were desperate for positive change and had verbally supported my efforts to deliver that change. To realise I hadn’t made even a slight impact was devastating.
Waking up the next morning to my family and friends who’d given my campaign their all was humiliating. I have never felt a greater sense of letting the team down as in that moment.
When we got the call mid-morning that I was suddenly ahead in the resumed vote count, none of us could quite believe it to be true. Suddenly there was hope and it wasn’t all for nothing.
The 12 days of counting that followed were a form of torture.
In the moments before the seat was declared, I picked up my Campaign Manager (who also happens to be one of my favourite people on the planet). His face told me everything I needed to know.
Oddly though, it was a huge relief. Finally, we had an outcome and I felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders.
There are several ways to look at losing by just 214 votes (which by the way, meant I only needed to turn another 108 votes to claim victory).
There’s a saying in political circles that no one wants to be that person who wakes up the day after the election and wonders “what more could I have done”? To be honest, there have been a couple of those moments but I can quite truthfully say nothing. Absolutely nothing. I gave it my everything and then everything on top of that. Unfortunately it just wasn’t enough.
What I have taken away is that I have turned a safe Labor seat into the most marginal seat in Queensland. Thousands of people did exactly what they said they were going to do and supported positive change. Each and every person I met inspired me in one way or another and I hope that in some small way, I have done the same for them.
As I reflect on this time last year, it may appear on paper that not a lot has changed.
I was reflecting on my enormous failure then.
And I’m reflecting on an enormous failure now.
People who I thought would be there for me this year were nowhere to be seen.
My dreams were set on fire with an extra splash of kerosene to ensure they didn’t rise from the ashes.
The self-backing that I’ve always prided myself on didn’t come through with the goods, challenging many of my long held beliefs.
As for my finances, they haven’t looked this grim since my first year out of University back in 2000.
And to all of those people who have told me over that past three weeks that I “should have run in Mundingburra”- a hollow victory would have brought me about as much satisfaction as failure. Perhaps less.
Because strangely, failure never felt so good.
I have shown my beautiful daughter through action that it is important to be true to yourself and back yourself in life. These are things which should never be compromised.
Those family and friends who have stumped up for me time and again bring enormous joy to our life. There’s something to be said about being surrounded by people who have your back, no matter the season. I look forward to returning serve.
The Townsville community has wrapped me in its warmth, sending me the most thoughtful and lovely messages of support and mutual commiserations.
Including a wonderful card with the words “Proceed as though success is inevitable”.
And it is exactly what I intend to do.
2018, I’m ready for you.