This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Cobargo is what you’d call a small country town. Located 386 kilometres south of Sydney, the place is home to just under 800 people. It boasts multiple antique stores, hosts a country market every Saturday, and is comprised of a main street with a bakery and a butchery and a pub and little else. One local describes it affectionately as his “hospital”: where he goes to get away from friends, family, and phone reception for some much-needed peace and quiet.
But small town Cobargo made worldwide news when on the last day of 2019, a devastating bushfire tore through the village, razing buildings, destroying homes, and claiming the lives of two local men. Then, three days later, Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in the town under blood red skies to pay his respects, speak with the locals, and attempt—forcefully, as it turned out—to shake some people’s hands. It did not go well.
In footage that’s been viewed at least hundreds of thousands of times over the past week, a handful of Cobargo locals all but shouted Morrison out of town—calling him a “fuckwit” and telling him to “piss off”. This frosty reception was due in some part to the alleged lack of emergency relief funding the Australian government gives to Cobargo in times of natural disaster. Morrison’s general incompetence in dealing with the recent spate of bushfires around the country has drawn ire from all corners, but it was the people of Cobargo who told the prime minister to his face how they really felt.
Regardless of whether or not he paid attention, the video was a refreshing example of Morrison’s so-called “quiet Australians” speaking up and reminding politicians who they’re paid to represent. It was a chance for everyday people to have their say, and for at least hundreds of thousands of people to listen. With that in mind, we asked a handful of other people from Cobargo what they’d say to Scott Morrison if they had the chance.
Monica has lived in Cobargo for two years
Hand in your badge. You ought to step down, because you’re no leader.
David has lived in Cobargo for 15 years
I'd say just be compassionate towards the people who have lost everything, because they’re hurting and many of them don’t understand how politics works. They just need to be patient with him. A week on [from the Cobargo visit], he’s doing a good job. I’d have to say that $2 billion [the amount Scott Morrison pledged for a national bushfire recovery fund] is pretty good.
This is my local town, and I’m a bit embarrassed by what happened. But I don’t believe it’s the whole community. I think those people who ranted at him are nice people, but I think they were just angry. I don’t think they feel that way now—and I’ve spoken to two of them. But I also think, a week later, Scott Morrison was able to sit down and actually think about it correctly and positively. He probably had some good people behind him saying “Scott, this is probably a good idea.” And I just think he’s finally gotten the message—that we’re screaming out. I haven’t lost anything, yet. But I’ve been lucky. I’ve been really lucky.
Steve has lived in Cobargo for two years
Too little too late. He had the chance to talk to the fire chiefs back in April, but he never did. Greg Mullins, the fire chief, and 22 other blokes said we’ve got to face it. A catastrophic fire season—what does Scott Morrison do about it? He refuses to meet them. And that was back in April.
They needed water-bombing planes up here the other day. If we’d had them it would’ve saved all of this shit. And now how much has it cost them? Look at the cost now, to infrastructure. There were 500 telegraph poles that went down I believe. Not to mention the loss of life. All of that could’ve been stopped by water-bombing planes up the back here. Now just look at it.
Gail has lived in Cobargo for 20 years, and John has lived there for 38
Gail: Help our community.
John: I think that basically says it all. And in one way I think he is helping, he’s doing all he can. But there’s food up there [at the resource centre] and you don’t know where it’s come from, or who’s organised it. I think it’s everyday people who are organising the food, rather than the government.
Jimmy has lived in Cobargo for 30 years
I'd tell him to stay on holiday, you’re just wasting your time here. He’s not doing anything, so he might as well stay in Hawaii.
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