A new era of connection in Cowper awaits | Rob Oakeshott | Independent for Cowper

A campaign wrap up by Rob Oakeshott

Campaigns can be funny things. The stakes rise over the smallest worries – a misplaced phone, low fuel on a back-road, the size and location of posters, or a common cold.

The common cold arrived in the team early this week but it hasn't stopped anyone.

As we came off the Dorrigo Plateau two nights ago after checking in with Dorrigo Booth Captain Chris – whose son lives next door to my sister and makes incredible jam! – one of my team started feeling very unwell.

Deb, our media director from Valla, called friends in Bellingen and we stopped at this 'safe house' to allow our team member to, well, throw up!

[One of my favourite campaign connections: Rita at South West Rocks. 
I haven't connected her with a 30 year old riding a red motor bike. Yet!]


As we waited for the vomiting to stop, I sat and talked with the home owners. She was the daughter of my wife’s High School principal in Port Macquarie. Suddenly a rich vein of stories on education, the role of a Principal, and my young wife and family came spilling out.

He was someone I had worked with in the past on regional tourism strategies for the entire area, and we reminisced about all the old business players, good and bad, in the local tourism game of the past twenty years.

It emphasised again for me a consistent theme of this 2019 campaign: Connection.

In 2016, when the boundary changes pushed my Lighthouse Beach home into a northern facing seat of Cowper, and removed me from a southern facing seat of Lyne, I thought this was going to be an impossible task.

Friends who work in local Council said it’d be impossible, with history showing five Councils fighting like cats and dogs. Losing the election in 2016 reinforced this sense of towns and cities isolated and competitive.

My ageing bones, too, give me a daily reminder of the intensity of this inter-town rivalry. So many fiery games back in the day against the Harlequins, Breakers and Cannonballs, and that bus trip from hell up the Dorrigo Mountain. I knew exactly what they were talking about when they said our towns don’t like each other.

But something has changed in 2019. Connection is emerging everywhere. I don’t know whether I am looking deeper and harder for it in these times of division, or if it just needed time to show itself. Or maybe there's some other reason.

I am now convinced the connection in the seat of Cowper is strong, not weak. Family connections, sport connections, business connections.

Another good example was my visit to Eversons Processing in Frederickton. Stafford and Dianne were friends with my father-in-law when he worked at the old Hastings Meats, I had played rugby against the sons and half the crew, and Kerry the Executive was part of the Sandakan families network, a personal connection to the worst death marches in Australian war history.

The connection they now need is to a Government that supports them to grow, employ more people, and fulfil the wish of a Macleay Valley hungry for jobs.

We need similar connection with a better NBN, better NDIS, a completed highway at Coffs Harbour. The list goes on, but our local connections and relationships will do most of the work, if Government just allows it to happen and connects the dots.

For Councils, a City Deal would work now and would benefit all.

For Universities and education providers, partnerships to build capacity within our region is waiting to happen. I will be looking for Southern Cross Uni in Coffs and Charles Sturt Uni in Port to bring themselves together to explore partnerships.

Exploring growth opportunities by connecting with like-minded local businesses will work, and allow for creative and innovative solutions to regional and national challenges, not just hyper-local ones.

After driving my car into the ground the past four months, I am more confident than ever that Cowper’s people are connected. Building on this is an enormous opportunity waiting to happen.

The campaign itself has connected more than 1000 people, volunteers who have shared their skills and time to build something that didn't exist four months ago. I can't thank them enough and it's gratifying to hear them talking in recent days about wanting to stay connected when this is over.

[Coffs volunteers versus the advertising dollars]

Incredibly, as I've been writing this piece, a final and most random connection came to me via an email, forwarded by my mum.

"I am the great great granddaughter of Sir Charles Cowper, 2nd Premier and five times Premier of NSW, going in and out of power on causes rather than Party lines. From one Cowper to Independent Rob - my very best wishes! My considered opinion is no-one is better qualified to represent Cowper!
Good luck.
Janet Cowper Hay."

Connection. Even to our history.

We enter an age of Connection in Cowper. I think we can do it. Together.