And then came, without any doubt, the toughest words of all.
“This has been a tough campaign – toxic at times,” he began, preparing himself.
“But now that the contest is over, all of us have a responsibility to respect the result, respect the wishes of the Australian people and to bring our nation together.
“However, that task will be one for the next leader of the Labor Party, because while I intend to continue to serve as the member for Maribyrnong, I will not be a candidate in the next Labor leadership ballot.”
And so, amid cries of “no” from the crowd of true believers who had come this night to celebrate the elevation of Bill Shorten to prime minister and who had watched, hour by hour, that hope and belief crumble, Shorten announced the end of the great ambition and purpose of his life.
His old school mates had always believed Shorten planned to become prime minister since childhood.
All through the years of his rise and rise through student politics and the union movement to the leadership of the biggest union in the land, the Australian Workers Union, to his no-compromise path to preselection for the inner-west Melbourne seat of Maribyrnong in 2006, there was barely the need to say it. Bill Shorten was headed for the prime ministership. When, in late April and into the early days of May, 2006, he stood outside the Beaconsfield gold mine and became the spokesman for the most astonishing rescue of two miners trapped almost 1 kilometre down, the nation concluded that Shorten was on the path to The Lodge.
The ambition was there to see when he played his brutalist roles in removing two prime ministers, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, and his destiny seemed mapped out when he became leader of the Labor Party and stayed there for seven years, through three Liberal prime ministerships.
And here, 13 years later, in the most unexpected election result since Paul Keating retained the prime ministership in 1993 – why, to the Labor faithful, the most shocking result ever – Bill Shorten’s dream was dead.
He’d been around Labor politics for long enough to know there was no escape from it.
He’d lost the unloseable election. He’d be executed, whatever happened now.
So, with his wife Chloe at his side, he beat the executioners and did the job himself, even before the election result could be calculated properly.
He would, standing before several hundred of those who had come to celebrate with him, give one of the finest speeches of his career. It is often the way in politics. With nowhere to run, and nothing to lose, the good words flow.
The crowd cheered and clapped hands over mouths to stop from weeping too loud.
“Friends, over the past few weeks, it’s remarkable, millions of Australians have cast their vote and peacefully exercised their disagreements and their right to choose their representatives,” Shorten told them.
“People whose ancestors have called this continent home for 60,000 years, and 10,000 resettled refugees, many of whom voted in this election for the first time in their life.
“To offer yourself as a leader of such a great country, to seek to serve such generous and courageous people; it is an extraordinary honour.
“I leave the stage tonight but I encourage all Australians, particularly young Australians, never lose faith in the power of individuals to make a difference. Never give up. Never give up aiming for better.
“Better for your country. Better for your future.
“Because the things that matter most are the things that are worth fighting for. We can’t change the past but my word we can change the future! Thank you and goodnight.”
And with that, Bill Shorten and a lifetime of hopes and plansa were gone.
Tony Wright is the associate editor and special writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.