December 2021 – January 2022:
It’s mid afternoon on a humid, rain-punctuated day in early November when Dr Helen Haines swings her bright orange Mazda – affectionately known as the “Orange Rocket” – into the parking lot at Barnawartha Primary, a little school of 45 children in north-east Victoria. From the boot, Haines, the independent federal member for Indi, digs out a wad of handwritten letters she’s received from Barnawartha’s students, and another package.
The children are waiting inside, sitting cross-legged on the carpet. Once everyone’s in the room, the students take turns standing and questioning Haines. What’s your middle name? (Mary, after her grandmother.) Have you got any pets? (A sad story, involving her border collie meeting a brown snake.) What are taxes for?