AMONGST state and federal political identities and dozens of supporters in bright yellow Barnaby Joyce t-shirts, there was one figure who stood out at the National party celebrations in Tamworth on Saturday night.
Mining billionaire and Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart quietly entered the Blazes function room at West Tamworth League Club just before 8pm, much to the surprise of everyone there and even managing to temporarily hush the party atmosphere.
Casually dressed in cream caftan and thongs, the notoriously private Ms Rinehart was happy to speak with media and chat and have photos taken with Nationals supporters.
Ms Rinehart flew into Tamworth late on Saturday at the request of Mr Joyce, the first time she’s visited the city.
“Gina is a great friend of mine, and I’m a good mate of Gina’s,” the new member for New England said.
“She’s got an Australian company which supports Australian people and we should be so proud.
“We need lots of Gina Rineharts, not one.
“When we have a nation with lots of them, we’re going to be a stronger nation.”
Ms Rinehart returned the compliments, saying she thought Australia needed “more Barnabys” and describing him as “a really outstanding Australian”.
She said she’d be thrilled to return to the region if Barnaby asked, but denied the mining resources in the area would be a motivating factor.
“I have zero personal mining interest in this area,” she said.
“It’s been reported by somebody, ‘oh, she must have interests here’, but I have zero.
“I’m purely supporting somebody who I think’ is a great Australian, nothing else.”
Ms Rinehart welcomed the Coalition victory though, suggesting the new government would be more inclined to tackle debt and boost investment opportunities.
It was clear early on in the night Mr Joyce was on his way to Canberra, and it wasn’t long before the party began.
During numerous national television crosses, yellow-clad supporters cheered in the background and the former Queensland senator couldn’t hide his delight.
Supporters, many of whom had spent the day handing out how-to-vote cards at polling booths across the electorate, were also buoyant.
“It was very much Barnaby today; there was a very good feeling,” Kootingal supporter Lee Betts said of the atmosphere at her local polling booth.
Husband and Tamworth Regional councillor Phil said he wasn’t surprised by the winning margin: “It’s what we expected.”
Phyllis McDonald, also of Kootingal, and a long-time Nationals supporter, thought Mr Joyce would be a good candidate who would bring much-needed stability back to the seat.
Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson agrees, saying it would also be an advantage to the area to have Nationals members both at a state and federal level.
“It’s a great day for the nation; this is big picture stuff and about getting our country back on track,” Mr Anderson said.
“To have him at that table in the federal cabinet – which he will be, no doubt about it – I think he’ll be a strong voice for us in regional NSW.”
When it came to Mr Joyce finally taking the stage to acknowledge his victory and thank supporters, the yells and cheers were loud and long.
NSW Nationals chairman Niall Blair said what they were all feeling.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to celebrate like this,
particularly in New England, but as a party today, the National party has well and truly exceeded all expectations, particularly in NSW,” he said.
Senator John Williams, duty senator for New England, paid tribute to what he called Mr Joyce’s courage at taking on long-time member Tony Windsor.
“Barnaby Joyce could have remained a Queensland senator for as long as he liked,” he told supporters.
“But he decided to give that away and take on the challenge of Tony Windsor who was a popular independent member for New England since 2001.
“(Even when) Mr Windsor decided to retire from politics ... that could have made things easier, but Barnaby just kept on working.”