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Voice of Real Australia: Peace in our time at the nation's richest rodeo

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Old foes Bob Katter and former Labor state minister Tony McGrady shake hands at the latter's Mount Isa home. Mr McGrady craftily made sure an election poster of Annastacia Palaszczuk was in shot.

Old foes Bob Katter and former Labor state minister Tony McGrady shake hands at the latter's Mount Isa home. Mr McGrady craftily made sure an election poster of Annastacia Palaszczuk was in shot.

The Mount Isa Rodeo, Australia's richest rodeo, took place on the weekend and it does strange things to people.

There are the crazy coots who attempt to stay eight seconds on board 900kgs of ferocious flying missiles (AKA bucking bulls) and there's the even crazier protection athletes who try to get them off.

Then there are journalists whose own version of the eight-second ride is to perform at a rodeo week bush poets breakfast, in my case a more Shane McGowan Pogues vibe than Banjo Paterson (I combined both, reciting The Band Played Waltzing Matilda).

Finally there are the politicians who usually talk bull rather than ride them. The older they are, the more polished the performance and I witnessed a remarkable performance on Friday, a meeting of two old foes using rodeo bonhomie to bury a large hatchet.

Everyone knows Bob Katter, a national legend for better or worse. In recent years I've got to know him well and I've moved slowly from head-shaking exasperation to acknowledgement of a sharp political brain witnessed once you get past the giggly non-sequiturs, stunts, and abrupt changes of tone.

My Facebook Live interview with him prior to the 2019 election was 25 anarchic minutes (the transcript took 4000 words, mostly him speaking) covering local issues that get missed in national media.

There were a couple of times when Bob got angry. We did the interview outside the polling station and at one point the manager came out to ask us to lower our voices because we were frightening people inside.

I asked him why had Mount Isa gone from a population of 30,000 to 20,000 in the last 20 years, "under your watch, Bob."

Bob turned the question back at me: "Who's fault is that?" but I pressed, "I'm not on the ballot paper Bob, it doesn't matter what I think whose fault it is. I'm asking you whose fault it is."

Eventually he came up with a name: Tony McGrady, another towering local figure whose stellar election record matches Bob's own. McGrady is the yin to Katter's yang, a former Mount Isa state Labor MP (1989-2006) and twice mayor of Mount Isa (1985-89, 2012-16). Importantly, he was Queensland mines minister (1998-2001) under Peter Beattie who, Bob said, "ended the ban on fly in fly out mining".

No love lost, long memories, and the feeling is mutual. In 2018 Mr McGrady, officially retired but still extremely influential, wrote a letter to the North West Star slamming Mr Katter, concluding "Thank you for any good that you may have done in the past, I say depart now. In the name of God GO."

So why would this pair of gladiators sit down for a civilised chat on Friday and pose for a photo shaking hands?

Bob wanted to thank Tony for saving the Mount Isa copper smelter last year when owners Glencore threatened to close it.

"I said to Tony, that if you pull this off, it's my moral obligation to tell the people you rescued the town," Bob said.

Mr McGrady used Labor connections (Annastacia Palasczuk was his former chief of staff) to get $30m state funding to keep the smelter and associated industries alive.

And on Day 1 of the 2020 Queensland election campaign Ms Palaszczuk came to Mount Isa to make the announcement, saving 4000 jobs across the corridor from Isa to Townsville.

Mr McGrady deflected praise but both men knew it was true.

There was rodeo giddiness of course, and I don't expect detente to last, but it showed two sworn political enemies shared something deep: a desire to see North Queensland sustain and grow.

To reverse Bob's famous maxim, there may be the odd crocodile attack here, but I ain't going to worry as long as he and Tony are working to save the local economy. May a thousand rodeo flowers bloom.

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