Scott Morrison, Anthony Albanese’s Sydney childhoods, only 10km apart

The two men were born five years and 10 kilometers apart: the first in Sydney’s gritty inner west, the latter in the scenic eastern beaches. One stayed planted in his childhood stomping ground as it gentrified around him, shifting a mere 15-minute drive westward during his adulthood. The other migrated south when a golden political opportunity arose, embracing a new cultural milieu and severing ties with the slice of the city that formed him.

Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison: the kid from Camperdown and the boy from Bronte (later reinvented as Scott from the Shire). Two lifelong Sydneysiders running a six-week race to convince Australians to entrust them with the prime ministership.

Big waves at Bronte beach, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison spent his childhood.

Big waves at Bronte beach, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison spent his childhood.Credit:Edwina Pickles

As the country’s most populous city, Sydney would be expected to send a decent share of leaders to the Lodge. For the past three decades it has done far more than that, serving as an unparalleled prime ministerial launching pad. Five of Australia’s last seven prime ministers – Paul Keating, John Howard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Morrison – were raised in Harbor City and represented Sydney electorates in Parliament.

That dominance is guaranteed to continue, regardless of who triumphs on May 21. This election marks the first time since 2004 – when Howard defeated Mark Latham – that two Sydneysiders have led the major parties into battle.

Reflecting the city’s identity as a mosaic of distinct enclaves, rather than a homogenous whole, the Albanese-Morrison contest pits two competing visions of Sydney against each other. Densely populated inner city versus sprawling suburbia. Working class versus middle class. Townhouses versus McMansions. Progressivism versus conservatism. The cardinal red and myrtle green of the Rabbitohs versus the Sharks’ blue, white and black.

Parramatta Road, Camperdown.

Parramatta Road, Camperdown.Credit:Wolter Peeters

The policy differences between the Coalition and Labor appear less pronounced now than many past elections, with both parties eschewing promises of transformative change. Morrison and Albanese’s early life stories illuminate the fundamental differences in their world views that are not always apparent in their day-to-day political battles. It was in Sydney that the leaders’ ideologies were formed, with both taking an active interest in politics early in life.

Albanese’s upbringing helps explain his more collectivist politics – his faith that government can help lift people out of poverty through welfare support and public housing. Morrison’s early years led him to see individual enterprise and initiative as central to human flourishing.

Both leaders have used their Sydney biographies to shape their political personas and make themselves relatable to voters. They highlight the elements of their narratives they see as advantageous, downplaying those they regard as inconvenient.

The Prime Minister back in the day.  Scott Morrison and wife Jenny in 1985.

The Prime Minister back in the day. Scott Morrison and wife Jenny in 1985. Credit:Scott Morrison / Facebook

When Scott Morrison seized the prime ministership surprisingly in 2018, he introduced himself to it A Current Affair viewers as “a boy from the suburbs here in Sydney”. In a later talkback radio interview he said: “I grew up in NSW as a suburban boy …” It’s a description that omits as well as reveals.

To most voters, Morrison is closely associated with his current home in the Sutherland Shire – a connection he reinforces with his very public adoration of the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks rugby league team. The prime minister rarely dwells on his upbringing in beachside Bronte: it’s not something he highlights in his campaign advertisements or speeches. Bronte serves no useful narrative purpose for Morrison nowadays, except as a place he left behind and no longer identifies with.

When asked about his Bronte childhood, Morrison stresses it was not the embodiment of affluence it is today. In a 2016 interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Morrison described the suburb he grew up in as “more like the Shire is now”, adding that “Bronte wouldn’t feel like home to me today”. With a current median house price over $ 5 million, the suburb is certainly more exclusive than in Morrison’s youth. That said, it was never Skid Row. Morrison’s wife-to-be Jenny, who grew up in the southern suburb of Peakhurst, used to tease him about coming from the posh side of town.

Which is not to say the prime minister, 53, was the product of great wealth. After marrying, Morrison’s parents, John and Marion, moved into John’s aunt’s home on Evans Street, Bronte. The house was large enough for the Morrisons and their two sons to live with relative privacy in one part of the home while Aunty Frank occupied the other. Scott and older brother Alan shared a bedroom through their childhood and into their teenage years.

Scott Morrison with his late father John and mother Marion.

Scott Morrison with his late father John and mother Marion.

Morrison’s father John was a police officer who rose as high as chief inspector in the NSW Police Force. He was also a longtime member of the Waverley Council, serving a term as mayor in the late 1980s. Although nominally independent, John Morrison almost always voted as part of an unofficial Liberal block, reflecting the family’s fundamentally conservative values. While brother Alan showed little interest in politics, Scott delighted in fielding calls from constituents at the family home and helping his dad make campaign posters.

The Morrisons’ ties to the area ran deep: John was a long-term member of the Bronte RSL, the Bondi Junction Rotary Club and the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park group. The family worshiped at Waverley’s Presbyterian-Uniting Church. The Morrisons were also passionate amateur thespians: as a boy, Scott played the Artful Dodger in a community production of Oliver! and starred in a Vicks cough drop commercial. Reflecting the city’s class-based cultural divide, rugby union was the main game for the Morrison boys – not league.

Albanese, by contrast, loves to talk about what Americans would call his “log cabin story”: the tale of his humble upbringings in Camperdown public housing. The opposition leader, 59, has mentioned his working-class childhood in all three of his prime-time budget reply addresses.

Anthony Albanese on the far left, protesting at Sydney University about changes to the political economics course, June 15, 1983.

Anthony Albanese on the far left, protesting at Sydney University about changes to the political economics course, June 15, 1983.Credit:Susan Windmiller

Albanese’s mother Maryanne was born in her home on Pyrmont Bridge Road and lived there until her death in 2001. A disability support pensioner and single mother, she had rheumatoid arthritis. With Maryanne in hospital for extended periods, the neighbors would take turns in having Anthony, her only child, over for dinner. Albanese grew up believing his father had died in a car accident shortly after he met his mother on a European cruise. It was only later he discovered Carlo Albanese was alive and living in Italy.

Surrounding the Albaneses’ council estate was a metal foundry, a Grace Brothers warehouse and the Royal Alexandria Children’s Hospital. The Westons biscuit factory pumped out an intoxicating scent of baked treats into the surrounding streets. After school, Albanese and other local kids would ask the factory’s migrant workers to sneak them Wagon Wheels and other treats.


The community was working class, tribally Labor and strongly Catholic. Rugby league – specifically, the South Sydney Rabbitohs – was another devotion. By age 9 Albanese was handing out leaflets for Gough Whitlam, and joined the Labor Party as a high schooler. He says his formative political experience occurred in his teenage years when the council proposed selling off his family’s council estate. The residents campaigned vigorously against the plan and eventually succeeded in scuttling it. “It was a battle that was fundamental to my identity and critical to the person I am today,” Albanese wrote in The Herald in 2014.

Morrison’s schooling was entirely within the NSW public system: first at Clovelly Public and then the academically selective Sydney Boys High at Moore Park. Known to schoolmates as Scotty (no one yet called him ScoMo), Morrison rowed and played rugby union for the school. Former classmates described Morrison as a “middle ground” student to biographer Annika Smethurst, saying he showed no sign of being a future prime minister. Now dating Jenny, he studied geography at UNSW and completed an honorary thesis on Sydney’s Christian Brethren assemblies. After renting for several years, Scott and Jenny bought a two-bedroom California bungalow in Bronte in 1995, not far from his childhood home.

At his mother’s insistence, Albanese was educated in the NSW Catholic systemic system: first St Joseph’s Primary down the road in Camperdown, and then St Mary’s Cathedral College in the city. By early adulthood he had stopped attending church, although he still describes himself as a cultural Catholic. He became enmeshed in Labor left activism while studying economics at the University of Sydney. Albanese was suspended and fined after occupying the university clock tower while protesting against moves to end the teaching of political economy, a left-leaning alternative to orthodox economics.

Albanese and former wife Carmel Tebbutt.

Albanese and former wife Carmel Tebbutt.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Albanese now says he wants to govern in the style of Bob Hawke, but as a young activist he criticized Hawke for shifting Labor too far to the right – especially by abolishing free university degrees.

Albanese moved out of his childhood home at age 26, buying a two-bedroom, property in nearby Marrickville. After sharing with a roommate for a while, his wife-to-be Carmel Tebbutt moved in with him. Tebbutt served on the council before representing the area in the state parliament: the pair was nicknamed the “King and Queen of Marrickville”.

In 1996, after serving as assistant secretary of the NSW Labor Party, Albanese entered federal parliament as the member for Grayndler, which now stretches from Sydenham to Balmain. The country’s smallest electorate has changed dramatically since Albanese’s youth, as professional knowledge workers streamed in and the factors gave way to art galleries and vegan cafes. Albanese and Tebbutt lived in Newtown for six years before returning to Marrickville. The couple separated in 2019.

After serving as Tourism Australia chief executive and NSW Liberal Party director, Morrison leapt at a chance to enter parliament when his mentor, Bruce Baird, announced his retirement from the safe seat of Cook in 2007. He and Jenny moved to the area ahead of the local preselection ballot. He was thrashed by Michael Towke in the initial vote, but Morrison eventually triumphed after a torrid internal battle that remains controversial over a decade later.

In 2009, the Morrisons bought a single-storey, three-bedroom home with a pool in Port Hacking for $ 929,000. They rapidly embraced life in the Shire, joining the Pentecostal congregation at Horizon Church and becoming passionate league fans. They’d found the place where they belong. “It defines who we are,” Morrison said of his electorate following his upset 2019 election win. “And we sort of like to take what we know in the Shire and try to give it to the rest of the country.”

So the biographical battle lines are drawn. We’ll know on May 21 which leader, and which side of Sydney, emerges triumphant.

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