No sooner had we moved into our new community than Sally and I were invited next door to be introduced to the doctor, lawyer and Indian Chief, all the professionals whose services we might need.
Neville Kirkwood had sold his orchard in Mandalong Road, across the creek from all the other orange growers in Dooralong but kept his house, where it stood up against my boundary on the only acre of flood-free land we shared. He had been chairman of the Wyong Citruc Co-op for many years and often won ‘Best Orchard’ at the Wyong show. A respected citizen, he was given the responsibility of Returning Officer for our polling station in the Federal seat of Robertson.
On that first social evening, Neville was delighted to discover we shared a liking for red wine, a taste unique among his beer drinking acquaintances. Very soon we established a ritual whereby once or twice a week I would arrive at his door, with a bottle or he would shout an invitation to me as I was garaging the tractor, a few metres from his house.
So it was in 1980, when Malcolm Frazer took us to the polls for the third time and Bob Hawke claimed the seat of Wills, that Sally and I Voted at Dooralong for the first time.
Outside the polling station in our little one teacher school, we were surprised to find Vi Penny representing the National Party. She was the only person distributing how-to-vote papers. We politely took her offering inside where Neville marked off our names and blessed us with a knowing smile. I was a farmer and automatically one of their tribe.
Unusually that evening Neville phoned.
“I’ve just opened a nice Shiraz. Would you like a drink?”
October was cold that year, so we settled in front of his log fire with our drinks. He always was a man of few words, his wife Ruth making up for his lack, but that night he was even less talkative. After whatever time it took to drink one glass, he refilled both to cement me in place and then got around to what was worrying him.
“You won’t believe this,” he confided, leaning forward, presumably so his wife couldn’t hear whatever scandal he was about to disclose.
I took his cue and looked around too. Noises from the kitchen confirmed her whereabouts and it was safe to continue.
“You won’t believe this,” he repeated, in tones of absolute wonder and disbelief.
“Two people voted labor!”
I was tempted, but I promise you, I leant closer with the expression of gravity such a situation demanded.
“Really!” I exclaimed, shocked. “I wonder who that could have been!”