Why country Australia is fed up
A big story from a small town.
Telling the story of Australia as it is today, Gabrielle Chan has gone hyper-local. In Rusted Off, she looks to her own rural community’s main street for answers to the big questions driving voters. Why are we so fed up with politics? Why are formerly rusted-on country voters deserting major parties in greater numbers than their city cousins? Can ordinary people teach us more about the way forward for government?
In 1996 – the same year as Pauline Hanson entered parliament – Gabrielle, the city-born daughter of a Chinese migrant, moved to a sheep and wheat farm in country New South Wales. She provides a window into her community where she raised her children and reflects on its lessons for the Australian political story. It is a fresh take on the old rural narrative, informed by class and culture, belonging and broadband, committees and cake stalls, rural recession and reconciliation.
Along the way, Gabrielle recounts conversations with her fellow residents, people who have no lobby group in Canberra, so we can better understand lives rarely seen in political reporting. She describes communities that are forsaking the political process to move ahead of government. Though sometimes facing polar opposite political views to her own, Gabrielle learns the power of having a shared community at stake and in doing so, finds an alternative for modern political tribal warriors.
“The definitive account of life on the other side of city-country divide. Written with a soft heart and a hard head, this is one of the most important books about Australia today.”
“Before I crown Gabrielle Chan’s Rusted Off my political book of 2018, I need to declare the obvious. Chan is my colleague and friend. But my relationship with the author doesn’t influence my judgment. It’s the Australian political book of the year because it sets about reporting the remarkable political times we live in in the way the story needs to be reported: from the ground up, with empathy and intellect. Rusted Off charts the growing gap between the circus in Canberra and the lived experience of regional Australians by telling the story of a town, the town in which the author has built a life. Wisely, Chan understands that contemporary political reporting spends too much time fixated with palace intrigues, and not enough time interrogating the on-ground impacts of policies, or the lack of them, and how the latter creates a gap in representation that is leading people to vote in increasing numbers for candidates from outside the major parties. It’s the story of the moment, and Chan tells it with great clarity. Rusted Off is a must-read over the summer for any political tragic to help limber up for the coming federal election.”
Katharine Murphy, 2018, Book of the Year, The Guardian
“Chan has produced a clear-eyed, honest and necessary decryption key for the times in which we live. It ought to be read and its subjects heard.”
Rick Morton, The Australian
“Chan yearns for and presents "a more nuanced discussion of country communities and politics" in place of rural stereotypes as "rednecks or salt of the earth". She refers to the many other identities – Indigenous, working class, migrant, even homeless – who make up the rural estate. Rusted Off strives to see the good in the contemporary Australian condition, rural and urban, but equally tell the story of national transition that has left us divided, resentful and less secure than earlier generations.”
Brendan Gleeson, The Sydney Morning Herald
“Chan is a very good journalist, trained to get at the particulars of what she is reporting and to enrich her account by seeking out contextual factors. Chan’s account of the political history is skilfully interwoven with narratives tracking the lives of individuals from her community.”
Jane Goodall, Inside Story
“Chan, a sensitive journalist with close relationships in town, generally allows local people to speak for themselves. Rusted Off is a thoughtful and honest contribution. Chan grapples with the many faces of rural communities, even when unpleasant. Importantly, she acknowledges their deep internal fault lines.”
Shaun Crowe, Australian Book Review
Prime Minister's Literary Awards
Shortlisted • 2019 • Non-fiction