Bernard Keane with the Liberals at the Sofitel Sydney, Wentworth

There was a carvery, bread rolls, sparkling wine and lots of suits and frocks — it was a dress-up occasion for most of the attendees at the Coalition election night event in Sydney. Staff of the Wentworth Sofitel glided between guests, carrying drinks trays and an apparently inexhaustible supply of party pies and quiches.

There was no party atmosphere, however, as the Coalition’s struggle to hold government became apparent throughout the evening to glum guests watching the TV monitors. The room was only ever half full at best; even the arrival of party legend John Howard failed to provide more than a brief surge of enthusiasm as guests debated what had gone wrong in the campaign. Not even the appearance of a delighted Bill Shorten on the big screen at the event could motivate the crowd to more than a few token boos.

[Rundle: slow days in kill city — on the road with Malcolm Turnbull]

When Malcolm Turnbull finally arrived, well after midnight, he addressed a two-thirds full room that jeered on queue at his invocation of Labor’s scare campaign on Medicare but otherwise seemed as puzzled as everyone else about the speech they were presented with. By then the carvery had been cleared away and the staff were collecting half-empty glasses. And for many attendees, half-empty was exactly how they felt as they filed out.

Josh Taylor with Labor at Moonee Valley Racing Club

We were stationed in the “Celebrity Room” on the first floor of the club. There were, at the very least, 99 red balloons in the room, but far fewer people there at 8pm. Sky News and the ABC were set up for live crosses towards the back of the wood-panelled ’70s-style function room, and media were funnelled into a cold room out the back. Mini pizzas, hot chips, and sausage rolls were scoffed by hungry journos.

Two Labor staffers had warned me before the party that it was going to be a dire affair, but their pessimism was misplaced. This was Labor’s night.

[Rundle: on the sugar-hyped Shorten express, as Bill gleefully loses the fight of his life]

Bleary-eyed but boyant, the Labor faithful’s mood in the room improved as the night went on. Cheers went up when Linda Burney and Mike Kelly won their seats. As the score drew closer, staffers wandered the rooms giving updates on the latest counts in key seats from scrutineers, and Labor’s communications director, Ryan Hamilton, was often seen crossing the room and calling staffers out back where Labor looked at the numbers and decided its next move.

At around 11pm, we were told Shorten would be speaking in two minutes. It wouldn’t be for another 30 minutes before he graced the stage to deliver his almost-but-not-yet-victory-speech. The red shirts (Labor supporters, not the ensigns first to be sacrificed in Star Trek) began chanting “we want Bill! We want Bill!”.

Young Labor kids were lined up to form a guard of honor for Shorten to the stage, and when the leader entered the room, he smiled and shook their hands as he and wife Chloe and their children made their way up to the stage.

“Labor’s back!” Shorten declared, adding that Turnbull had lost his mandate. We wouldn’t know the result tonight, he said. “Yes we will!” one in the crowd yelled.

He said Labor was renergised, reunified, and more determined than ever. After getting cheers from the crowd at every mention of Medicare — definitely a key factor in helping Labor’s night — Shorten left the stage and the night was over.

You could  tell it was a good night for the party as a few drunk revellers were carried down the escalator on my way out. My Uber driver said he had heard Labor won. Yes and no, I replied.

Sally Whyte with the Greens at The Forum

Apart from the bright green t shirts and political speeches, the Greens event could have been a standard Saturday night at a cool Melbourne venue. The crowd grew steadily over the evening, eating nachos and drinking craft beers, comparing the attitudes of their political foes while they were out on the hustings.

[Rundle: on the road with Di Natale — and why I will vote for the Greens]

The Greens opted for thank you speeches instead of concession or victory speeches from their candidates in the seats of Batman, Wills, Melbourne Ports and Higgins, while Adam Bandt was able to give one of just two victory speeches for the evening. Volunteers say the Labor presence in Bandt’s seat was minimal, so perhaps they have conceded they are unlikely to snatch it back while the popular Bandt is in the seat.

There were huge cheers for Bandt, leader Richard Di Natale and Senator Janet Rice, but once the speeches were done it was time to dance. While most of these volunteers had worked on campaigns that had lost, or were too close to call, they were still happy with the ever-closing margins. Like at the last election, they were promised if not this time, then soon, which was enough to celebrate.

Then DJ Andrew McClelland took to the stage, with his brand of pop hits and soul classics meaning that at one point the crowd was getting down to Beyonce while Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was projected on the big screen. With young people in light denim jackets, Blundstone boots and Gorman, it was kind of like a normal Friday night at McClelland’s Finishing School, but with added politicians on the dance floor. The only disappointment was at 11pm, when it was all packed up, just as it seemed the night was really beginning.

Peter Fray

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