It was the mention of Tony Abbott that brought colour back to the face of Kevin Rudd.

“On the economy, Abbott is just not up the job. On broadband, we are equipping the economy for the future, and they want to rip it out of the ground. Tony Abbott has a Neanderthal approach to broadband, somewhere between the paleozoic and the mesozoic,” he said.

It is “fundamental” to an economy like this that the National Broadband Network be built, he told me, thumping his index finger into his palm.

Earlier, it had been a pale and wan KRudd who had alighted from the back of the Comcar outside Eastwood Public School at about 10am on Saturday. Losing the job of a lifetime is one thing, but following it up with an emergency gallbladder operation is bad luck, and he looked like he had been through the wringer.

But talking about the election seemed to restore his energy.

“The local people remember the GFC and know that if the government had not put in a stimulus package, an extra 500,000 people would be out of work. And  when they walk into Eastwood Public, they look at the new building under construction and think of the BER. And there’s an education legacy in these schools.”

The former PM had come to Bennelong to do some campaigning for local member Maxine McKew, including some fence-mending with the local Asian communities. He started at the Feng Hua language school, where the local children come to learn Mandarin on Saturday mornings.

Rudd’s presence was important, as many of the local Chinese and Koreans residents were very upset when he lost the top job. They’d felt a strong link with the Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, who had spoken so often of the need for a closer engagement with Asia. Although Rudd didn’t visit Bennelong in the last campaign, his daughter Jessica and Chinese-born son-in-law Albert Tse did pay two visits, which had been widely reported in the local Chinese and Korean newspapers.

But that wasn’t the only factor. Local leaders told me they felt that the manner of his removal was disrespectful to the office of PM. Many considered it  inconceivable that an elected leader could lose his or her job in that way, and their faith in the parliamentary system had been shaken.

For an electorate like Bennelong, this is not a fringe issue. According to the 2006 Census, 59% of the residents were born overseas or have parents who were born overseas, compared to the national average of 40%. The largest ethnic communities are Chinese and Korean, with Indians also forming a large group. Maxine McKew holds the seat by a slender 1.4%.

Accompanied by three security men, a minder and a press secretary, he stopped and chatted, in Mandarin, to many of the local families – evidently he told them he had been a friend of hers for many years, and that she was doing a very good job for the electorate. Finally, when all the photos had been taken, the whole group moved down Eastwood Mall to King’s Seafood Restaurant and settled down for a lunch of yum cha.

As I observed the former PM trying to eat his lunch while being interrupted every twenty seconds, I thought about the words of one of the Eastwood locals. This is not a federal election, he’d said, but is in fact 150 different simultaneous by-elections. Because there are few big, philosophical issues, almost every electorate seems to fighting a different campaign, with unique rules.

My biggest rule should be —  stay away from events featuring singing littlies. There comes a moment in every election campaign when you are so emotionally burnt-out that a childrens’ choir can literally reduce you to tears.

Last time it was the Marist Brothers choir belting out “Jerusalem”, but this time it was the Feng Hua youngsters singing  “Edelweiss” that did it. By the time they got to “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forEVer”, my eyes had welled up and, glancing over at Rudd, saw that he was the same. But as they switched to Mandarin for the last verse, he rallied and joined in.

Childrens’ choirs, The Sound of Music, tears. This must mean it’s the final week.