Until last September, I hadn’t seen Pauline Hanson since election night, 1998, when I’d had to explain to her crushed supporters that despite leading the field in the seat of Blair with nearly 38 per cent of the vote, she’d lost it because both major parties had put One Nation last in their preferences.
Back then, after five weeks full time for the Sydney Morning Herald covering her I wrote a book, Off the Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip, to try to make sense of the most confronting experience of my career as a Press Gallery journalist.
It didn’t sell well. Many left readers were relieved the nightmare was over and didn’t want to understand the how or why of it.
She said I’d destroyed her campaign, so her supporters didn’t want to read it either.
I felt politics needed to be reported a different way, and wanted to go live in Burke to report rural and Aboriginal politics from the outside in. Didn’t happen.
Seventeen years later I’m knocking on her door, cameraman behind me. She opens, long pause, the famous death stare and she’s off.
“YOU!” - The blood media, you destroyed my campaign, full throttle.
All those years peeled off, she’s back there.
“Um, may I come in?”
Her home is much bigger now. She has cultivated a beautiful surround garden and put in a pool.
She takes me to her kitchen and starts making a cake, chatting.
I ask why she’s got James Ashby working for her.
Has she learned nothing from the Liberal carpetbagger David Oldfield who set up One Nation back in 1997?
Did she know the Liberal Ashby had wormed his way into Peter Slipper’s office when the ex-Liberal became Speaker and did all he could to destroy the guy?
“I don’t want to hear anything against him.”
“You know he’s still under AFP investigation for stealing Slipper’s diary and he could get charged?”
She frowns, “Really?”
I notice of copy of my other book, Not Happy, John! on her bookshelf.
“Someone gave it to me but I never read it,” she says.
Pauline, someone gave it you because there’s two chapters in there documenting my work and that of many readers of Webdiary (the interactive blog I’d founded at the Sydney Morning Herald in 2000) investigating the role of Tony Abbott in your jailing.
“Oh”, she says.
And then she offers me a job.
“Can I advise you on race?” she asks.
Later, as I sit on the verandah smoking (thinking about Hanson always gets me smoking again) she joins me.
“Anna (the director of Pauline Hanson: Please Explain!) told me what you did to help me when they sent me to jail,” she says.
I ask her why she keeps trying to get back into politics.
“You’re a celebrity now, why not enjoy that?”
Death stare…and she’s off! Yelling at me without pause, “I’m not a celebrity!”
“How dare you say that, I’m giving people a voice, this country has gone to hell.”
A stump speech with an audience of one.
I eat her cake while she shows me her This is your Life memento book and chats about her reality TV experiences.
I pull out the T shirt she lent me when I stayed over at her house with the-then Daily Telegraph reporter Helen McCabe (now the editor of nine.com.au after a long stint as the editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly) during the campaign and that she’d signed on election night, Pauline Hanson.
I’d never worn it since, and gave it back.
“No, it’s yours now,” she says, writing on it, “Life has its ups and downs".
As I’m leaving she pulls me aside.
“Do you know anyone who would be good to do media for me, not tell me what to think, but do media?”
It’s over, and rattled all over again, all those years later, I’m out of there.
Anna Broinowski has been trying for seven years to tell the Hanson story - first a film, then a TV series and finally a documentary.
Like me, she believes this Australian story needed to be explored, that it’s an important aspect of who we are and how our democracy worked under extreme strain.
For what it’s worth, I think Hanson’s extraordinary determination to return to the Parliament is grounded in the shunning she endured in that place.
She feels her voice deserves to be heard and she has the right to be a part of the great democratic conversation.
She has often said her dream is to walk back into Parliament House, throw her head back, and say “I’m BACK.”
She is not someone who wants to blow the place up. She’s not a reader or a thinker. She’s the personification of the desire of many Australians for a ‘Please Explain’ on many issues.
She got her dream.
Here’s mine. Australia has the capacity to lead the western world by avoiding a rupturing of democracy due to economic inequality and fears of Islam. We can adapt if we converse and debate and listen to each other in a civil manner.
Margo Kingston is the co-publisher & editor-in-chief at citizen journalism website No Fibs.
See the moment that Margo and Pauline were reunited in Pauline Hanson: Please Explain! Available to view at SBS On Demand now. Or watch it right here: