In run up to the Coalition’s landslide victory in last year’s federal election, the seat of Indi became a flashpoint for a very different story. The incumbent Liberal MP, Sophie Mirabella, had held the rural Victorian seat for 12 years and had been considered a safe prospect for re-election before local community figure and independent candidate Cathy McGowan upset the apple cart spectacularly, eventually claiming the electorate after a tumultuous period that involved missing votes reappearing.
Melbourne-based filmmaker David Estcourt had friends who were volunteering in McGowan’s campaign. They tipped him off early on that big things were afoot. “I thought something was going to happen there that was really unique and exciting so I grabbed my camera, got in my car and was up there filming the next day,” he says. That was the starting point for his documentary film, Indi: The Road to Canberra, which is currently in post-production.
Kicking off 10 days out from the election, Estcourt continued to follow the story through to McGowan’s maiden speech in Parliament House. Though he had to sign up as a volunteer to be allowed to follow the campaign for insurance purposes, he maintains he was an impartial observer. “A lot of people think the film is going to be a ‘look how good Cathy McGowan is,’ and ‘how to kick out a conservative incumbent,’ but it’s absolutely not that. It’s about the race, and a community.”
Estcourt was impressed by McGowan’s inclusive approach and resistance of the negativity firing backwards and forwards between the Coalition and Labor camps in the run up to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s defeat. After an ugly incident when McGowan’s campaign posters were shredded with box cutters, the independent hopeful shut down some of her young volunteers when they started to disparage Mirabella and her supporters.
“Politics brings out this competitiveness in people, and they were starting to get negative,” Estcourt says. “Cathy turned to them and said ‘we don’t talk about people in that way. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about positive engagement.’ I thought that was remarkable.”
He was fascinated to watch an electorate that had not shown a great deal of interest in the political process previously suddenly engage vociferously. “Cathy was the anti-Mirabella. She was not confrontational, she very inclusive, transparent and progressive on social policy. That was a powerful thing. It was about local representation instead of federal ideology.”
Estcourt attempted to track down Mirabella on Election Day to no avail. “We were driving all over the electorate from polling booth to polling booth trying to find her, getting tips from all of the volunteers. We’d race down there and she’d have disappeared.”
While Mirabella’s supporters were wary of speaking to Estcourt, the documentary does include the input of two Young Liberal volunteers, as well as the opinions of several vocal residents. Estcourt says one of the most incredible moments captured in Indi: The Road to Canberra came during a celebratory bush dance where hundreds came to celebrate her success in a community centre in the small town of Oxley. “You don’t really see that in politics now, the intense community spirit and the generosity of people.”
Estcourt hopes to complete Indi: The Road to Canberra in time for an October release, and has turned to crowd funding site Pozible to raise the money for post-production. “We want to make the film as good as it possibly can be, and a huge part of that is representing graphics in ways that people will find interesting, and purchasing the rights to footage from SBS, ABC and Channel 7 to really give a picture of Australia at this point in history.”