Federal MP Anthony “Albo” Albanese, is one of the nation’s most likeable and liked politicians.
The senior Labor figure grew up in Sydney’s inner-west with his single mother, Mary, in public housing, and jokes that she brought him up with “three great faiths: the Catholic Church, the South Sydney Football Club and Labor” – and he remained true the last two.
His life story has been detailed in a new authorised biography, “Albanese: Telling it Straight”, by political journalist Karen Middleton.
And on ABC TV’s 7.30 on Tuesday, he detailed the extraordinary search for the father he’d never known after several years after his mother died in 2002.
As a child, Albo was told that his mother had met and married his father while travelling overseas, but he died in a car accident.
When Albanese was in his mid-teens, Mary told him the truth: his father might still be alive, and they didn’t marry because he was already betrothed to someone in Italy.
“We sat down just after dinner one night and she — it was very traumatic for her, I think, to tell me,” he said on 7.30.
“I think that whole guilt associated with having a child out of wedlock in 1963 as a young Catholic woman was a big deal and, hence, the extent to which she had gone to in terms of adopting my father’s name, she wore an engagement and a wedding ring… the whole family just believed this story.”
Albanese carried the knowledge for another three decades without acting on it out of respect for his mother.
“I didn’t want her to think in any way that I needed something else. But I think she would get it,” he said.
When his own son, Nathan, asked “where’s your Daddy?” while visiting Mary’s grave, it changed things.
The MP said it hit him that “I had a responsibility to him as well — he carried the name Albanese — and to find out more about my father” and that time was of the essence.
But he had a photo of his father, Carlo Albanese, who was a steward on the Fairsky, and met his mother on the liner as it travelled from Sydney to London.
Albanese pieced together that a series of takeovers meant the business Carlo worked for was now owned by P&O in turn, Carnival Cruises. The politician turned to the company’s Sydney-based CEO, Ann Sherry, for help.
Sherry found a maritime historian who was heading to a conference in Italy and said he would investigate.
“It really was a needle in a hay stack,” Albanese said.
But the impossible came true.
“There was a box in an old warehouse — most of it had been destroyed — but the box actually had the workplace details and the address of my father,” Albanese told 7.30.
And he still lived at the same address. Sherry called Albanese with the news.
“She said ‘we’ve found him’, and it took my breath away because I didn’t think that would happen.”
It was 2009 and the then government minister wrote to his father’s family, asking for a meeting, without mentioning he was Carlo’s son.
Albanese travelled to Italy and explained his lineage to lawyer for the family. A meeting was arranged the next day, and he headed to a bar for a scotch when he knew his father was on the way.
“I was very emotional. It was a big deal, it was a big moment in my life,” he recounted.
His father walked in, opened his arms and they hugged.
“It was incredibly generous of him, I think, and it was a very poignant moment.”
Carlo had spent his life with the woman he’d told Mary he’d marry, and they had a son and daughter. The Australian had a half-brother and half-sister.
“All of a sudden, with the exception of my son Nathan, the three closest blood relatives to me, in the world, who I’d never met before were standing in this room and we sat down and conversed for about an hour and a half,” he said.
Albanese took his own family other to meet his Italian side several times, but in 2013, Carlo was terminally ill with cancer as the MP campaigned in alongside Kevin Rudd for re-election, with the PM knowing he might lose his loyal deputy at any moment.
Carlo died in January 2014.
“I was very pleased that I was able to have that final engagement with him. He was lucid and he told me, the last conversation we had was that he was glad that we had found each other,” Albanese said.
You can watch the full 7.30 interview here.
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