"Have you got a card mate? There's a few issues we would like to talk to you about," David Layzell's newly made acquaintance says.
The National Party candidate for the Upper Hunter byelection has just been explaining to the Newcastle Herald that his low public profile may be a blessing and curse when the local fire and rescue representative tracks him down in Singleton's main street.
"That's the sort of stuff I love, meeting people and working to solve problems" Mr Layzell enthusiastically says after agreeing to a meeting.
This is the sort of community engagement that Mr Layzell, a construction manager, has cut his teeth on in his hometown of Dungog over the last decade or so.
But the father-of-four is not kidding himself, he knows there is a world of difference between grassroots community campaigns and the job of convincing voters across the vast rural electorate to make him their new state parliamentary representative.
Before he starts he faces a likely protest vote against his party following the shock resignation of former member Michael Johnsen in the wake of allegations of sexual assault against a sex worker - allegations Mr Johnsen denies.
With a 2.6 per cent margin, one of the slimmest in the state, coupled with cut-throat preference deals from candidates desperate to see the Nationals lose the seat they have held for 90 years, it's fair to say Mr Layzell is up against it.
Even Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Nationals leader John Barilaro are playing down the Coalition's chances.
But for Mr Layzell, chair of the National's Upper Hunter state electoral council, it's a case of cometh the hour cometh the man.
"I thought somewhere down the track there may be an opportunity, but I wasn't expecting it to come up in such unfortunate and upsetting circumstances," he said.
"I said to my wife (Rachel) these things don't come along very often. The family is strong enough now to look after themselves and for me to be able to do what I have to do.
"I think I can add weight to the community; that's been my dream, it's a great opportunity."
I think I can add weight to the community; that's been my dream, it's a great opportunity."David Layzell
His feet have barely touched the ground since the National's Upper Hunter members narrowly gave him the nod over favourite Singleton mayor Sue Moore.
And he knows the next six weeks leading up to the May 22 byelection will be more of the same if he hopes to have a chance of winning.
"The biggest challenge for me is people don't know me; I need to meet as many people as I can and give them an opportunity to get to know me," he said.
"I'm fresh, one of the benefits of that is I will be able to throw everything into this. I know the electorate really well from travelling around it for the National Party."
He cites his wife's late grandfather and Hunter National Party stalwart Geoff Gowing as a political mentor.
Among the lessons he learned was the importance of building and protecting communities.
"It's always a battle to keep services in small towns. It's not a battle you ever win, it's one you have to keep fighting," he said.
"We need to keep our small towns because they are little communities, they are part of a spider web. If you start cutting those communities everything goes to the centre and nothing holds up."
Strong health and police services are undoubtedly prerequisites for healthy communities, but it is the future of one of the Upper Hunter's economic pillars - Old King Coal - that is getting the headlines in this byelection.
NSW Minerals Council figures show mining companies injected $6.2 billion into the Hunter economy last financial year, supporting over 13,000 Hunter mining jobs and over 3400 local mining supplier businesses
The significance of the numbers speak for themselves. But agreement about where the industry is heading is another matter
Talk of the industry's decline amounts to treachery for many Upper Hunter electors who point to plans for massive pit expansions and new coal-fired power stations.
Others of a more pragmatic persuasion argue the Hunter should continue to reap the benefits of coal for as long as global economic forces allow. But at the same time, the region needs to prepare for a clean energy future - a reality that the state government acknowledged when it created the Hunter Renewable Energy Zone last year.
Mr Layzell stresses that, for all the attention that coal is receiving, industries such as agriculture, thoroughbreds and tourism are equally important to the region's future.
"I don't see this as a byelection just about coal; it's about all of our industries," he said.
"What's the best way we can support our industries so they can support jobs and families. We also need to make sure the government can support those families. I see it as a big network."
He sees the future of the coal industry and energy transition as closely related but distinct issues.
"As long as people overseas are willing to buy our coal then I think we should sell it. We should sell it so we can have the jobs that it creates."
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He believes high quality land use planning is the key to successful economic co-existence.
"If the horse industry is going to invest a huge amount of money into infrastructure they want to know they are going to be there for a long time and not have a mine come up to their front gate. That is fair enough," he said.
"There are some good miners out there and there are some that are not as good and we need to lift the standard of all of them to make sure they are operating as good neighbours."
In recent years Mr Layzell has met with industry experts from the pumped hydro, gas and renewables sectors as part of a National Party energy policy research project.
He has no qualms about acknowledging Australia's rapid energy transition and the challenges it presents.
"I understand the moral argument that says we should just change now, we should shut the coal-fired power stations down. That's on one side, but on the other side we have to be practical about it so we don't ruin our whole way of life just to achieve a moral imperative," said.
"I like to think I'm on the practical and commonsense side. I believe in practical and common sense solutions for government policy."
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