Note from Biloela Beacon editor, Jen Gourley:
On June 18 this year, Bryson Head, at the age of just 26 years old, was elected as the local Member for Callide.
The electorate of Callide is huge! It is 74,200 square kilometres – bigger than Tasmania! There are 37 towns, 60 schools, seven coal mines, six major dams, five local councils (or part thereof) and four federal electorates (or part thereof).
Towns in Callide include Biloela, Moura, Thangool, Theodore, Baralaba, Banana, Jambin, Goovigen, Wowan, Monto, Biggenden, Mundubbera, Eidsvold, Wandoan, Gayndah, Westwood, Gin Gin, Chinchilla and Bryson’s hometown of Brigalow.
And Bryson (who turned 27 in September) stepped up to the task of representing the people who live in this vast electorate.
The Biloela Beacon limits political commentary on its site and Facebook page to try to keep things harmonious for everyone. But as editor of the Beacon, I was intrigued by this young man and thought that there would be a lot of other people in our electorate too who might like to get to know Bryson better.
I interviewed him at a café in Biloela some time back but wanted to publish this article six months since his election – a nice point in time to post the story.
Sadly this week, as we reached this six-month milestone, the nation was devastated by the tragedy that unfolded at Wieambilla, where three people, including two young police officers, were murdered. Wieambilla is a rural locality just 30 minutes from Chinchilla, close to where Bryson and his parents call home. For those who live in Chinchilla and nearby towns, the terrible incident has left their communities in shock and thrown into the spotlight by national media. So, just six months into his new role as a Member of Queensland Parliament, Bryson has been faced with the challenging task of helping support and comfort a grieving community trying to make sense of this tragedy.
This week he posted on his Facebook page: “The last 40 hours has been tough for our great community. It’s been a very raw period of shock and tears, of reflection and some anger too.
There have been many people contacting myself, the local police and community leaders asking how they can help. Firstly, I can say what everyone has been doing thus far has been incredible, and I feel privileged to be part of such a great community that is pulling together in these horrific times.”
He then went on to provide information about vigils and tributes, support services available and ways to help the victims’ families.
It would not be how anyone would want their first six months in politics to end, but it is clear that Bryson has truly stepped up.
So, while it is a time of great sadness, I would still like to share my interview with Bryson, so you can get to know him better too.
Q&A with Bryson Head, Member for Callide (LNP)
What was your childhood like?
Bryson: I grew up on a beef and grain farm near Brigalow, which is 25 minutes from Chinchilla on the Darling Downs. My mother is from the North Burnett near Mt Perry and my grandparents were there when I was a kid. I spent my childhood and school holidays over near Mt Perry. It’s hilly cattle country.
So, the Darling Downs, the North Burnett, is pretty close to home for me and that’s about two thirds of the electorate of Callide. Central Queensland itself I haven’t had too much to do with and that’s why I’ve been trying to give it a lot of time since I’ve been the Member and even as a candidate I spent a lot of time up here to get to know the area and let people get to know me.
I went to school at Brigalow Primary School, a small school with less than 30 kids the whole time that I was there. I went to Chinchilla in grade 8 and 9 and then went to Toowoomba Grammar to finish high school for Years 10, 11 and 12. I then went to Brisbane to study a Bachelor of Science with a Geology degree.
I was in Brisbane for a couple of years and I went on exchange to Canada and did a semester at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. I then deferred for 12 months and got a working holiday visa and worked on a farm and then in the oil fields, so I had a Canadian summer on a farm and then a Canadian winter in the oilpatch in northern Alberta.
What was it like there?
Bryson: Cold! It was a great experience. The coldest day I was out working was -38C. Just a bit different to what we get here in Biloela. It was certainly a completely different experience to what you get here in Australia.
My school holidays, the summer holidays, in particular in high school and even the first couple of years of university, I did melon picking. Chinchilla is the melon capital of Australia. So, you know, when you’re watermelon picking sometimes it’s 45 degrees, and you’re in the sun. So, having fruit picked in the middle of an Australian summer and then only a year later I was over working in -38. It’s a fair bit of contrast.
I came back after 18 months abroad (I went to Europe after Canada as well for a bit of a holiday for five weeks, travelled around there, came back to Australia and back to uni, back to the real world). It was then that I got involved in student politics. Before I left, a couple of mates of mine from uni got me involved in some activities on campus – clubs and societies – and it was really a big social thing for me. They encouraged me to get a bit more involved in my last year of university so I was Treasurer of the QUT (Queensland University of Technology) Student Guild, and that was really about campus culture. My job was to support clubs and societies – we had 157 clubs and societies. My job was to support them and help them deliver for students and give them the best life possible. In amongst that I set up QUT Rural Students. That club was about providing an opportunity for country kids to meet one another when they came to the big smoke in Brisbane.
That would have been a good support network for them there because it would have been quite hard adjusting to life in the city.
Bryson: I was lucky because I lived in a student residence that wasn’t a college, it was a student residence in Toowong and I ran into a couple of kids from the bush that had moved into a share house and never really worked out how to connect in a city. So, the rural students club was about giving them a social group to meet other country kids, but also gave city kids the chance to meet country kids as well which sort of sparked a bit of curiosity for them.
We’d promoted it as: ‘Come to a couple of fun country events’. So, we’d go to the Flinton races and the Roma races and then Goondiwindi B&S over the year – those were three key events we’d travel out to and that was an opportunity for city kids to come with us. It started off really as a group of mates going out but then, over time, we had 20 people come out to Goondiwindi B&S in 2018, I think, and half of them were city kids. That’s obviously not a big number but that’s 10 people that hadn’t been west of Toowoomba who were now coming out to Goondiwindi which I think is a critical thing. If we want to see a future for rural and regional Australia, we’re only going to get that if the majority of voters actually can at least understand some of the challenges we face. So that was a big thing for me.
There was a girl from Brisbane and she was a city girl so she didn’t have much of an understanding of the bush and it was one of the first events we took some of the city kids out to – it was the Flinton races. We got out there and we’re all in different cars, and she got out of the car and said, ‘Oh, what’s with all the trees?’ And I was sort of scratching my head and looking at her, like what are you talking about? And she’s just like, ‘Oh, we just hear you push them all down all the time.’
And so that’s why you don’t believe what you read and hear, you go and check it out with your own eyes. So, the fact that she was able to come out and see with her own eyes that what she’d seen and heard through social media and the media about how rural and regional Australians just destroy the environment and rape and pillage the resources was a complete fallacy so that was one of the driving things for me.
So then once I finished university I worked as a geologist, mainly based out of Brisbane. And then I ended up in the Hunter Valley for a couple of years.
So why did you choose that field? What interested you about geology?
Bryson: I was lucky that when I went to Toowoomba Grammar they offered it as a subject at school. I wanted to be an electrician until about the end of grade 11. But then, with me being a big bloke – in grade 11 I was already six foot two… So yeah, I wanted to be an electrician, but then over the Year, 11 and 12 summer holidays … we’ve got an old Queensland home near Brigalow and a couple of electricians were out doing a fair bit of work, running new wires and moving the power box and everything like that and it was a typical, late January, day on the Darling Downs, 40-something degrees. And I remember Dad sort of looking at me and saying, ‘You sure you want to be an electrician?’ and I started to reconsider.
I wanted to have a career that had options and had a bit of diversity. I like the indoors and outdoors. I like being able to go outside and work outside, but then not do it for the year, same with the office. I like a technical challenge but I don’t like sitting at my desk all day either and geology provided that. As a geologist, you’ll spend half your shift outside on the field on the drill rigs or in the pit at a mine and then the other half will be in the office dealing with some pretty technical and challenging things. So, I picked it because it had good diversity and it can take you anywhere in the world with good career prospects. You can go in many different directions with that even in the resource industry in hard rock and in coal and gas and you can end up in the senior ranks of the mining industry or as a consultant. It also provides that shift work which gives the opportunity for blocks of time off. I like my fishing, I like my outdoors and also to go back and help on the family farm as well.
What inspired you to go into politics?
Bryson: At uni I did enjoy being able to share the stories of the bush with people from the city just for the simple fact that many of them didn’t have an opportunity to understand life out here. People in the city don’t dislike it out here – I think they just simply have never seen it. Like a lot of people that live in the bush have never lived in Brisbane so they don’t understand traffic, they’ve never been there. When I finished uni and I was working as a geologist, I still wanted to do more and so that’s when I ended up with the Green Shirts movement for a couple of years. There were a few of us and I was there from the early days. That was really about bridging the rural-city divide, or, as we said, uniting the soil, sea and city. We wanted to bring primary industry together and share the good message that we had to share.
That’s probably why I’ve ended up here as I have a big passion for rural and regional Australia and I want us to have a future. And the best way for us to have a future is for government to get out of out of our way and let us do what we do best. And that’s provide food and fibre for the nation and for the world. There’s a lot of policy that comes out and it comes about with the right intentions, it is just often developed by people who have very little understanding of the intricacies of primary industry.
How are you finding the pace of working as a politician? Is it an adjustment, or you’re enjoying it?
Bryson: I’m enjoying the journey and it’s certainly a different challenge. One thing I’m finding is I’ve just got to make sure that I keep up with myself because otherwise you simply can’t give people the attention they deserve for different issues if you haven’t had a good night’s sleep.
Once you won the election, did anybody give you advice or good tips?
Bryson: Well, they probably do all say to make sure you look after yourself along the way, that’s something that came from the passing of the Queen. I’d just been go, go, go and then with the passing of the Queen, Parliament got postponed and I did actually stop for a couple of days. I think I needed that just because I probably was burning the candles or as someone said not just at both ends but in the middle as well. Then for the next week, I just remember being able to be a lot more focused and get a lot more things done on behalf of people and being a lot clearer. So, it gave me a bit of a reminder that I’m better off running at 100% 95% of the time than at 75% 100% of the time.
What are you focusing on as you represent the electorate of Callide?
Bryson: The key driver is primary industry for me and advocating for that and, of course, as someone who just cares about the bush and my community but also advocating for better health services. There’s obviously a lot of issues still with crime, and better local infrastructure and resources is a key part of what I fought for and what I’m passionate about but at the same time I’d like to think that everyone who succeeds in politics cares about those as well. So, for me, it’s all that plus all the primary industries. It’s important to actually consult with people in a meaningful way and it’s a privilege to be able to sit in Parliament.
Hopefully, sometime soon, I’ll be sitting on the other side of the chamber and be part of being able to make some decisions.
You don’t get much downtime, but what do you like to do when you have time to yourself?
Bryson: I like disappearing up a waterway or up the coast to go fishing. I do like being at the family farm in the North Burnett that’s out in the sticks, hiding out there in the bush. I like shooting as well but I don’t get to do too much of that.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?
Bryson: I guess the key thing is that I am young in the scheme of things, but I also understand that I’ve still got plenty to learn. If people think there’s something I need to know, that I need to learn, then I’m not afraid for them to come and share that with me. For me to be able to achieve things, at the end of the day, it’s a lot easier for me to achieve something with the community and for the community if I’ve got the whole community on board and fighting something with me. It’s a lot easier for me to argue the case when I turn up to Brisbane and say, ‘Biloela needs X, Y and Z done and the whole town will tell you that’.