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Something very strange happened at this tiny school on election day, and we think we know why

March 30, 2023

Bedgerabong Public School. Facebook.

By Peter Holmes

It was one thin ray of light in what was an overwhelmingly gloomy grey sky for the local National Party at Saturday's state election.

In 44 voting booths (pre-poll and election day) across the vast Orange electorate, National Party candidate Tony Mileto attracted more votes than the re-elected independent MP Phil Donato in just one.

At Bedgerabong Public School, 90 people cast valid votes on Saturday.

Mileto attracted 50 of them, and Donato 40. In every other booth across the electorate Donato won the vote, and in most of them he won it in a canter.

Bedgerabong Public School (spelt incorrectly on the state government website) is the third down. Supplied.

If Mileto had been able to replicate the Bedgerabong Public School vote across the electorate, he would be heading to the NSW Parliament on Macquarie Street in Sydney.

Instead, he will be heading back to the Orange City Council chambers on Byng Street, where he is an elected councillor.

The electorate of Orange covers 17,000 square kilometres and includes Orange, Parkes and Forbes, plus a number of smaller towns such as Bogan Gate, Trundle, Peak Hill, Alectown, Manildra, Molong, Cargo and Canowindra.

The Orange electorate. Supplied.

There are 56,897 registered voters. A booth where the two main candidates attract just 90 votes holds almost no sway in the final result.

Donato went into the election with a very comfortable 65 percent of the two-candidate vote, and emerged with 72 percent. For the Nationals, it was a disaster. They spent money on the campaign, but it was a complete waste.

And although Mileto is not a particularly inspiring orator, you can hardly lay the blame at his feet. The Liberal-National state government had ruled for 12 years, and had been on the nose around the state for some time. And he was up against a candidate who had won over big chunks of the electorate since entering parliament in 2016.

The party system meant Mileto was unable to speak freely about the government's shortcomings, and this served to merely wind people up.

One example was when the Nationals offered $3 million for palliative care in Orange, which was many millions under what was required.

If Mileto felt the party was being miserly, he wasn't able to say it. Other candidates - Donato included - weren't so circumspect.

It's fairly quiet in Bedgerabong. Google Earth.

Another was the train service to Sydney. It beggars belief that in 2023 people in Orange who need to travel to Sydney cannot get an early morning bullet train to Central, and return on one in the late afternoon.

Instead, they are left to bounce around trains and buses, hopping on and off in Bathurst, Lithgow and sometimes Blacktown as they crawl their way along the plains, up and down the mountain and into the big smoke. Overnight accommodation is often required.

It is embarrassing, and shows what the state Nationals think of Orange. The issue required a local MP who was prepared to put a rocket up those in power. Mileto, tied to party loyalties, was not that man.

The Nationals threw truckloads of cash at the people in the Orange electorate in the months leading up to the poll, and in return the people of the electorate gleefully took the loot and then promptly voted for their guy - Donato.

At the Bletchington Public School booth, 1,185 people voted for Donato and 388 for Mileto.

At Orange High School 1,098 voted for Donato and 351 for Mileto.

At Orange Public School 1,063 voted for Donato and 276 for Mileto.

Which brings us back to Bedgerabong Public School, sitting at the far western reaches of the electorate, west of Forbes and south of Bogan Gate.

The Orange News Examiner patched a call through to Bedgerabong Public School, where 40 pupils are enrolled, and spoke to Marilyn, who was running the voting booth on Saturday.

So what exactly happened at Bedgerabong? Why did this tiny village give a majority of votes to the Nationals, when just up the road at Bogan Gate Donato attracted 75 votes to Mileto's 41 votes?

Was there a clan of Miletos in those parts? Did Donato do something to offend the people of Bedgerabong? Or are the voters just the last outpost of the true rusted-on Nat voters?

None of the above, according to Marilyn's best guess.

She reckons that Mileto won the vote for a simple reason.

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"Tony Mileto had a sign out the front and his how-to-vote cards were placed so that everybody had to walk past them," Marilyn explained.

"Phil Donato had a poster and how-to-vote cards as well, but they weren't placed as prominently as Tony Mileto's."

When how-to-vote cards were left in the individual voting pods, they were mostly Mileto's. Marilyn reckons there wasn't a great obsession with state politics in her neck of the woods, and that the cards left behind probably tilted people towards voting National.

According to the 2021 census there were 73 males in Bedgerabong and 57 females.

Marilyn counted the houses in the village as we spoke to her - 14. But none of the 40 kids are currently from in town, instead hailing from farming properties. Two buses take them to and from school, with the longest journey taking about 40 minutes.

There are no shops in Bedgerabong, the nearest being a touch over 30km away in Forbes.

"Not even a pub," said Marilyn.

There is a racecourse, with the Bedgerabong Picnic Races held on the second Saturday in February. The annual show is held on the first Saturday in August.

There is also a cemetery, a community hall and twice-weekly tennis.




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