Up to the age of 14, Anthony Albanese had no inkling of the family secret, and no reason to question what he’d been told about his background by his struggling single mum.
Up until that moment, the boy who could well turn into our next Prime Minister believed his mum Maryanne when she said that his Italian-born father Carlo Albanese was long since dead from a car accident.
Finally, Maryanne told the teenage Anthony the truth – the rings on her wedding finger were for show, there had been no marriage, that Carlo had a wife back in Italy and was probably still alive.
Maryanne Ellery’s relationship with Carlo had been brief, but in conservative early 1960s Australia she thought it wise to concoct the fiction of a marriage, adopt his surname and claim she was widowed even before their boy was born.
As social mores changed, she felt able to tell her son the truth.
Some in those circumstances would rush to find their long-lost parent, but a young Anthony felt to do so would be disrespectful to his loving mum, suggesting she was not enough.
It would take him another 15 years to act on the information and start to search for his father.
Anthony Albanese’s mother Maryanne Ellery (right) on the cruise ship Fairsky with the handsome Italian steward Carlo Albanese (standing, left) who secretly fathered her only son
Aspiring Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (above on the campaign trail in Cessnock this week) has opened up about the family secret his mother kept after giving birth to him as a single women in the 1960s
And when he did, an incredible piece of luck and stunning detective work eventually tracked down the clue to his father’s whereabouts, in a box in an old warehouse in Genoa.
With the information he gleaned, and with some help from the Australian embassy in Italy, he was able to track down and contact Carlo.
What happened next was not a ‘reunion’, because father and son had never met.
But it turned out to be an extraordinary and emotional meeting at a time when Albanese did not even know if the materialisation of an illegitimate son from the other side of the world would be welcome for the happily-married Carlo.
‘The door opened, he walked in and opened his arms to me and was embraced,’ Albanese said, tearing up at his recollection of the amazing moment.
‘It was incredibly generous of him I think, and it was a very poignant moment,’ Albanese told Leigh Sales on ABC TV’s 7.30.
‘He also brought, and I didn’t know I had them, my half-brother and half-sister, Rogero and Francesca.
Maryanne Ellery (above as a young woman) was 25 when she sailed on the Fairsky and fell for handsome steward Carlo Albanese but came home with a secret after he learning he was already engaged
Maryanne adopted Carlo’s name after their shipboard romance and pretended he’d died in a car accident, leaving her a young widow to bring up Anthony in a council house in Camperdown
‘Suddenly other than (Mr Albanese’s son) Nathan, the closest blood relatives to me were standing in this room.
‘The meeting went for two or three hours. We sat there and we laughed and cried and … it was incredibly emotional. It took a lot out of me.’
Before then, Mr Albanese’s family had been the Irish Catholic Ellerys of Sydney with his mother Maryanne working as an usherette and his uncle George, a comedian.
In 1962, after saving hard for her fare – which in 1962 cost £88 to £193 pounds for a ‘one class’ and a ‘cabin class’ berth- Maryanne sailed for London on the SITMAR line cruise ship Fairsky.
Her brother had a gig working as a ship’s entertainer and also on the payroll of the Italian/English shipping company Societa Italiana Transporti Marittimi was a handsome young steward named Carlo Albanese.
Maryanne and Carlo embarked on a relationship, which continued after the Fairsky berthed at Southampton.
Anthony Albanese (above, aged 2 in 1965) said his single mother gave him unconditional love, confidence, and a taste for politics and rugby league
Maryanne Albanese (left) took the courageous step not to have Anthony adopted out, instead becoming a solo parent in the 1960s when there were no single mothers’ pensions
Anthony Albanese (above as a schoolboy) said when he was six his mother married in an effort to give him a father, but the relationship foundered after three months
The relationship continued after the ship docked, Nine magazines reported, but when Maryanne found she was pregnant, Carlo had his own news: he was already engaged to a girl from his village in Italy, and he left.
Maryanne was advised to adopt the baby out and a cover story was invented that the baby’s Italian father had died in a car accident and the shock caused her to miscarry her child.
But she couldn’t go through with it, and returned to Australia – with the name Albanese and the alleged status of young widow, but also pregnant with Anthony, who was born on March 2, 1963.
With no such thing then as a single parent’s allowance, mother and son set up home in a council house in inner Sydney’s Camperdown.
‘It was expected that I would be given up for adoption, but she … was strong enough to resist it,’ Mr Albanese said earlier this year, describing his mother as ‘really courageous’.
‘Mum had very strong values. She was very strong and very determined to not take nonsense from anyone.
‘What I was told was that (my mother) travelled overseas, met my father, married him overseas, returned to Australia and that he died in a car accident,’ Albanese told 7.30.
Albanese (above as a teenager) was 14 when his mother revealed that she’d had him out of wedlock and that instead of dying in an accident, his father might still be alive in Italy
Albanese, (above, centre, with then prime minister Bob Hawke in 1986) said his mother gave him three great faiths, Catholicism, rugby league and the Labor Party
‘That was what I was told, and from an early age, that was what I believed.’
Albanese said his mother gave him ‘unconditional love, confidence and an interest in politics’.
‘Mum was a rank-and-file member of the Labor Party. She used to listen to talkback radio. She had an awareness about her place in the world,’ he said.
‘She raised me with three great faiths: the Catholic Church, the Labor Party and South Sydney District Rugby League football club.’
She also tried to give him a father, marrying a man when Anthony was six years old, but the relationship quickly foundered and she separated from him three months later.
One night when he was in his mid-teens, Albanese’s mother sat him down after dinner and levelled with him – that she’d met his father overseas and that when she had become pregnant he’d told her he was already betrothed to someone else.
‘Mum said, “He might still be alive, if you’re interested in trying to find him”, I was very much, “Well, he chose not to be part of my life. I don’t need anything from him”.
‘That was something I think she needed to hear.
When Maryanne (above with Anthony) took him aside and told him the truth about his father, the young man did not want to go looking because ‘I didn’t want to do a disservice to her’
Anthony Albanese married Carmel Tebbutt, a future NSW deputy premier, in 2000 with mum Maryanne (right) alongside and they had a son, Nathan
‘I didn’t want to disrespect her, and I think if I’d said, “Yeah, I need to find him immediately,” it would have been saying she wasn’t enough.
‘And she was enough for me.’
Albanese and his then wife Carmel Tebbutt (she later became NSW deputy premier, and the couple separated in 2019) had a son, Nathan, in 2000.
After Maryanne Albanese died from a brain aneurysm in 2002, he would visit his mother’s grave at Rookwood Cemetery and when Nathan was about six he asked, ‘where’s your daddy?’
Mr Albanese decided that even if he had not felt he needed his father in his life, it was time to find Nathan’s granddad.
He had little more to go on than his mother’s black-and-white photo of the two of them on the Fairsky and a suspicion Carlo came from Naples.
The company that owned the Fairsky, SITMAR, had been bought by P&O, which was in turn taken over by Carnival Cruises, and Mr Albanese knew Carnival’s CEO Ann Sherry.
It was November 5, 2009 – he remembers it was a Thursday – and Anthony Albanese, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government in the Rudd administration was heading out of his office to a meeting when the phone rang.
Carmel Tebbutt and Mr Albanese were married for 19 years before separating in 2019, both having become Labor politicians for New South Wales and in federal parliament respectively
Mr Albanese and his then wife Carmel Tebbutt and son Nathan meet his father, Carlo Albanese, in Italy in 2009 after taking three years to track him down via a miraculous discovery
It was Ann Sherry from Carnival.
‘I’ve found him,’ she said – three words that would change his life.
In an abandoned site on a wharf in Genoa, a few boxes of dusty old files from the since dissolved SITMAR company remained, although most had been destroyed or disappeared.
Miraculously, the remaining papers included Carlo Albanese’s employment card from the 1960s with an address, and that information had been passed on to Ms Sherry.
When he took that fateful call, Mr Albanese was about to chair a ministerial council meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney.
He cried, and told his chief of staff he needed time to compose himself.
From that moment, he said, ‘I had this absolute sense that I needed to see him’.
Due to travel to Italy six weeks later to meet the European Commissioner for Transport, Mr Albanese contacted a relative who worked at the Australian Embassy in Rome to help him compose a letter in Italian.
Anthony and Carlo Albanese met one last time in December 2013, with Carlo dying a month later after telling his oldest child that ‘he was glad we’d found each other’
Anthony Albanese (above with Kevin Rudd in 2013) told the then prime minister during the election campaign that at any moment he might have to leaving for Italy to see his dying father
They didn’t know if the address from 46 years earlier was still any good, or if Carlo was still alive.
But six weeks later as he was flying to Rome, his cousin Lisa in the embassy received a call from a lawyer in Barletta, a coastal town in the Puglia region which forms the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’ on the opposite side of the Italian peninsula to Naples.
The lawyer was a friend of the Albanese family, and was willing to meet the Australian politician the next day.
Anthony Albanese introduced himself not by his last name, but as ‘the son of Maryanne Ellery’, and said he’d like to meet Carlo Albanese.
The next day both Albaneses walked into thee solicitor’s office and Carlo ‘just came in and put his arms out’.
Four months later, he returned to Italy with his own family for a ‘noisy’ big Italian Easter.
Of his later mother Maryanne, Mr Albanese said, ‘while she was alive, I didn’t want to do a disservice to her – but I think she’d get it.’
In December 2013, Mr Albanese went to Italy to make one last visit to his father, who was ill with cancer.
During the election campaign leading up to the September 7, 2013 polling day (when Tony Abbott was elected), Mr Albanese said Rudd knew ‘that at any time I might depart to farewell him”.
Carlo Albanese died in January 2014, having told his eldest child the month before that ‘he was glad we’d found each other’.