It was only around the time the pyramid of Albo ale cans was built – red cylinders piled four rows high – that Labor supporters started daring to believe they’d gotten home.
Nine years in the wilderness of opposition and three crushing defeats had put up a wall of doubt among Labor faithful that they could pull this off. Three years of what many in the camp called “PTSD” from the 2019 election was taken down, brick by brick as the ABC’s Antony Green called another seat for Labor, or another loss for the Liberals.
At the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL Club in Sydney, deep in the heart of Albanese country in Grayndler, Labor faithful cheered and screamed as the seats fell.
An hour in, the mood was not jubilant. Early swings against Labor in their target seats of Bass and Braddon had some terrified that 2022 would be a 2019 repeat. Beers were sipped nervously.
Even as other Sydney seat results started streaming in and all the other puzzle pieces fell in place, Labor faithful didn’t breathe. It wasn’t until at least 9pm, when the first proper results came in from Western Australia and talk of 10% swings against the Liberals swept through the room like wildfire, that the red-shirted tragics dared to dream.
Maybe they could pull this off after all.
Then the results in Wentworth and North Sydney, Goldstein and Kooyong fell like dominoes. Each one announced on TV drew a cheer like a Labor victory.
A Labor MP watching Josh Frydenberg concede his goose was almost entirely cooked, remarked “the scariest thing now is opposition leader Peter Dutton”.
Some 800 people exploded as Green told viewers “the Coalition can’t form government”. The ABC coverage only took a back seat for the briefest of moments as Sky News projected Labor to win. The venue, with two TVs, was previously playing ABC with sound and Sky muted. They flipped both TVs to Sky and put the audio on to hear outgoing Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon talking up his party.
The open bar was flowing at that stage. People drank red cans of the Albo ale – featuring the picture of so-called “hot Albo” from the Labor leader’s youth – that are printed with the blurb: “A hardworking beer, named just for him.
“He’s the last of a rare breed of pollies and an all-round good bloke.”
A pyramid of 10 was stacked high on a table at the back, a raucous group of supporters knocking them back like it was going out of style.
By that time, it was over bar the conceding. Scott Morrison’s journey on C1 was followed on screens, his concession speech booed and hissed.
“Shut up Gilligan,” one supporter jeered, seemingly a reference to Morrison’s Hawaiian holiday.
“For Christ’s sake go home,” another called, as the outgoing PM’s speech dragged on.
For it was only after Morrison finished that Albanese could take the stage. Fresh from his Marrickville house, where he watched the night unfold, the Labor leader was asked by journalists on his way in if he was “ready to party”.
“I’m ready to serve,” he replied.
Taking the stage to a hero’s welcome, after an introduction from his incoming foreign affairs minister Penny Wong, Albanese used his first words as Australia’s 31st prime minister to recommit Labor to the Uluṟu Statement from the Heart.
“Thank you for this extraordinary honour,” he said.
He was joined on stage by partner Jodie Haydon and his son Nathan. Directly in front of him in the crowd was a Labor supporter waving a South Sydney Rabbitohs scarf.
The man yelled support during a pause in the speech. Albanese jokingly asked the man to quieten down – saying he wanted to run “an orderly government, and that starts right now”.
After the event officially ended, hundreds of staff and supporters stayed around. Albanese made a low-key return, shaking hands and hugging those who put their lives on hold for six weeks – or three years, in some cases – to elect him prime minister.
In Albanese’s speech, he spoke of his mother late, beloved mother Maryanne. He said she was “beaming down on us” and said he hoped families living in public housing were watching.
“Because I want every parent to be able to tell their child, no matter where you live or where you come from, in Australia the doors of opportunity open to us all,” Albanese said.
As the Labor leader and new prime minister finally departed the venue close to 1am, the PA played Paul Kelly’s From Little Things Big Things Grow.
It was hard to miss the analogy.