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DJ Albo in the House

Karen Middleton’s Albanese drops by the intersection of politics and music.

Anthony Albanese is a music lover, and his alter ego DJ Albo knows how to spin it. With a focus on 1980s and ’90s punk and indie tunes, his DJ playlists often feature musos’ musos like Pixies, The Pogues, The Go-Betweens, The Smiths, The Triffids, PJ Harvey, Hunters & Collectors and Joy Division. After a 2015 fundraiser gig, music website Noise11 noted, ‘…The Honourable Anthony Albanese, the Member for Grayndler, has remarkable good taste in music’. He's guest programmed ABC music show Rage, and in June 2016 more than 300 people turned out to rock out to the tunes of DJ Albo at a charity gig at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel. His reputation for quality tuneage is growing.

Through interviews with more than 70 friends, colleagues and adversaries, as well as over 35 interviews with the subject himself, acclaimed political journalist Karen Middleton has gained unprecedented insights into Anthony Albanese, the man behind the politician. Her book Albanese: Telling it Straight, tells the story of a beloved son brought-up with a strong sense of social justice, a young political activist with a reputation as a firebrand, a charismatic leader and independent thinker who antagonised both the soft-left and hard-right of his own party, a strategist with an uncanny knack for numbers, and a pragmatic opponent.

The book also digs up the foundations of DJ Albo’s musical preferences and the Member for Grayndler’s political ideals: both laid in a share house in Sydney suburb Enmore, aptly named 11 Liberty Street. The house was a lefty stronghold, and home to a constant procession of students, blow-ins, boyfriends, girlfriends and casual overnight guests. Long-term resident Alex Bukarica describes the residence as a ‘fairly derelict place’, and suggests that watching British TV show The Young Ones was ‘like looking at ourselves on the TV.’ Middleton writes that for many of the residents and visitors, during this time at Liberty Street ‘…The social and political lives of the young leftists became inextricably linked.’ Much of this common ground was established via the punk-rock soundtrack of their lives at the time.

From the pages of Albanese: Telling it Straight, here Middleton shines a light on these formative university days spent around a pool table in a share house like no other.

 

Anthony’s closest mates were all also in the Labor Party. Despite Alex’s initial doubts about Anthony’s musical taste… the group of friends formed through the ALP Club found they had a love of music in common. They all liked punk.

The Sex Pistols. The Clash. The Jam. They banged their heads to all of it.

There were lefty, folkie artists who were favourites too – The Pogues, Billy Bragg – and good Aussie, indie rock, much of which passed across the stage of the infamous live music venue, Selinas, in the beachside Coogee Bay Hotel.

‘Paul Kelly was really emerging then,’ Paul [Murphy, Liberty Street regular] says. ‘We saw Hunters and Collectors so many times. We saw [them] at Selinas, with Do Re Mi opening.’

Anthony was out two or three nights a week at gigs, venturing as far afield as Punchbowl and Dee Why, as well as to venues nearer home in the inner west.

‘When we weren’t attending political meetings I was seeing live music,’ he says. ‘This was a time when there was a vibrant live music scene in Sydney.’

It was a time when some of the gigs were free too – a boon for impoverished university students. They knew there was at least one failsafe gratis good night out each week at the Southern Cross, where the Cockroaches played, every Friday night.

Anthony and friends were also fans of a certain group of protest rockers gaining a strong following: Midnight Oil.

He had first seen the Oils play back when he was still at school at St Mary’s. A teacher asked him and his three closest classmates to go along to her younger sister’s high-school formal to help make up the male numbers.

‘We didn’t mind,’ says Anthony’s school friend, Mark Burgess. ‘A few bottles of Passion Pop and we were having fun.’

The shindig was being held at Sydney University and the then newly emerging band Midnight Oil was the entertainment. They quickly became a favourite. ‘Albo’ developed an ‘interesting’ dancing style, curiously similar to that of one tall, bald lead singer.

‘He idolised Peter Garrett when he was a kid,’ Alex says.

Two decades later, Peter would be serving alongside him in Parliament as the federal Labor Member for the seat of Kingsford Smith, after the National Executive fast-tracked his preselection.

Alex and Anthony saw the Oils play at Selinas, too. After one gig, they missed the last bus home and slept on the beach.

Albanese Karen Middleton

An updated edition of the personal story behind the very public political face of Labor’s Anthony Albanese.

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