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Pauline Hanson may be breaching the Racial Discrimination Act when she speaks, but she's definitely breaking the law when she drives. There was no catching her at 115 km per hour on the Cunningham Highway in Queensland one evening recently as we hurtled towards her farm at dusk, under a bank of clouds and a mob of black crows, past (no kidding) Goebels (sic) Road, and into the void of the bush.

Pauline Hanson thought it was a hoot, and her staffer-cum-domestic helper-cum-friend and fellow-traveller, Cheyenne MacLeod, said it was, for Hanson, a slow drive. "You should see her when she's really travelling," MacLeod said, laughing.

Pauline Hanson loves the rush of adrenaline. Her voice might quake in Federal Parliament, but in her heart there pumps the blood of a thrill-seeker. She lives close to the edge, in this case an hysterical environment which has spawned one of the most noisome racial debates this country has ever witnessed.

The stench has been all too well described. A politician refusing to represent her black constituents; adults and children of non-Caucasian background physically attacked, spat at, verbally abused or just simply made to feel like strangers in their own land; relations with our Asian-Pacific neighbours undermined; tourism and trade threatened; our reputation as an open, tolerant society defamed; and, perhaps most importantly, our sense of ourselves impoverished.

All blandishments and pleas to Hanson for commonsense or compassion have fallen on deaf ears. Her continual refrain has been that racism and bigotry are as old as the First Fleet; and that it is multiculturalism and generations of Aboriginal privilege which have created the divisions, not her. Far from being a racist, she says she is merely speaking for the silenced majority. Look at the polls and the flood of letters! What she ignores is that it is not just what she has said - although that, too, seems to have been based largely on fish-shop gossip and background briefings from her political Rasputin, John Pasquarelli - but the inflammatory way in which she has said it that has caused such a furore.

I have come, therefore, to Ipswich to try to understand the woman who has fired these muskets; a woman who has been both pilloried and lionised for her views, particularly on Aborigines and Asian immigration.

I have come to a working-class town that bears little resemblance to the cosmopolitan centres of Australia, a railway town of God and Rugby League worshippers that has been the butt of countless Brisbane jokes but which has thrown up over the years its local heroes such as Bill Hayden, Sir Llew Edwards, footballers Allan Langer and the Walters brothers and now, if you believe the same headlines, Pauline Hanson. A town where, unless you are talking about massive economic upheaval and unemployment, a lost generation of youth, fear of violence - yes, the fraying of an entire community - you are talking a foreign language.

To understand the formation of what has become a phenomenon is no easy task because while Pauline Hanson is a flamethrower on sensitive and complex issues of public policy, setting the country alight with her political credo, she is highly secretive about her private life. Broach it and you can virtually feel the daggers drawn.

"My private life is my private life," she says indignantly as we sit at her dining table.

"It's no-one else's business but my own. I am not having a public discussion on my private life. And that's it. End of story." 

Harvest dating ireland

Harvest dating ireland