Jenny Morrison became a mother at almost the same time as her husband Scott became an elected politician. "I was stuffing preselection envelopes on my maternity bed," she remembers. Ever since they became a couple in their late teens, their world had centred around work, church and each other. Then, all of a sudden, she was at home all the time with a baby and her husband was barely home at all.
"It was hard," she says. "It was really, really hard. I can't downplay it." Sometimes she would sit on her doorstep on Thursday nights waiting for Scott to return from Parliament in Canberra, "holding the baby and thinking, 'He's nearly home!'" she recalls. "I don't know what I was wishing for, really. Because he would be off doing 100 things over the weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Then he'd go again on Sunday night.
"You'd have to be thinking with a whole different mindset that it was a bonus if he was home. Then you're not disappointed."
Morrison is chatting to The Sun Herald in the loungeroom of The Lodge, which became her Canberra residence very suddenly last August, though she still doesn't consider it home. She has stayed there only a handful of times, and, despite her love of interior decorating, has added no flourishes of her own. "I don't think it's my place," she says. That might change if her husband is elected to office in his own right at next Saturday's election.
So rapid has the turnover been in the nation's top office that Australians have barely been able to keep track of the prime minister, let alone his or her spouse. Jenny Morrison, 51, originally of Peakhurst in South Sydney and now from the city's Sutherland Shire, is rarely recognised, and she is happy with that. She jokes about being asked to tick off her name at official functions and being pushed aside by cameras.
If she has any ambitions as wife to a prime minister, it's to be the kind of person people can talk to at the supermarket. "I hope people would find me very relaxed and an easy person to approach," she says.
If she could model herself on a former prime ministerial spouse, she would choose Zara Holt, wife of the ill-fated Harold, because she admires her sense of style. But Morrison doesn't aspire to be a fashion plate, a networker, or an influence on public policy. "I would probably be less political than maybe the spouses that have gone before me," she says. "That would be my point of difference - I'm not really caught up in the machine of it all."
The Morrisons have known each other since they were in year seven, when they met on a church youth group outing to Luna Park. "He was really confident, and he was good looking," Jenny remembers. "When you are 12, that's important." They saw each other again a few years later, when Scott's hair was fashioned into "that Spandau Ballet curly-top bit from the '80s". He asked for her number on the train but never called. Then he dated someone else.
Eventually they got together in senior high school and married in 1990. They shared a love of films, music (Morrison likes Tina Arena, but not as much as her husband) and their faith. She suspected he was no ordinary spouse. "I always knew he'd do something," she says. "He's not one for settling for mediocrity, ever. I didn't know exactly what that would amount to, but I knew it would be an interesting life - and it has been that."
Morrison was accepted into a costume and theatre design course at university, deferred, and then studied nursing instead. She managed a childcare centre, then worked in retail until her husband became prime minister, when she pressed pause on her career.
Much of her energy during her 20s and 30s was focused on becoming pregnant, a struggle that became a "gut-wrenching" 14-year odyssey. "I so wanted to be a mum, it was the biggest dream for me," she says. "I remember the sadness I felt. I remember the despair that I felt.
"Sometimes I handled it much better through that 14 years than other times. That's what faith does for me. I didn't give up. I believed it would happen. It got harder to believe sometimes, then I got back on board."
At age 32, an IVF doctor told Morrison to give up trying. She took his advice for a while, until girlfriends encouraged her to get a second opinion. The second doctor diagnosed her with severe endometriosis, sent her into surgery, and, two years later, she fell pregnant naturally with Abbey, now 11. "It really was a miracle," she says. Two years after that, Lily was born.
While Scott was travelling the country, popping in and out of their lives, Jenny built a life for herself and the girls. It was tough. "It can be lonely because you want adult company," she says. "It's tiring because there's no one else to hand the children over to when you just need a little break, and that can play havoc on your mind as well."
Sometimes Scott's re-entry into the household was disruptive. "I hated it when [he'd] come home at 7.30. I'd think, 'That's when I'm getting them to bed,' " she says. "He'd been away from them and he missed them and he wanted to see them awake, but I'd be looking forward to that time of night when I just had a fraction of me time."
As Scott's political career blossomed, politics began to intrude more on the family. When he was immigration minister, facing intense opposition to his hardline stance on boat arrivals, the Morrisons were given a security detail. The federal police arrived the day Jenny was throwing a Frozen birthday party, complete with trees and fake snow at the local Scout hall. "I had pine trees inside the hall, and I had Australian Federal Police outside," she says.
She has found it difficult sometimes, but during the rough times, Scott "would stick to me like glue", she says. "And vice versa. We keep each other." Their friend, Lynelle Stewart, who has known both since they were children, and introduced them at the fateful Luna Park church outing, says the Morrisons have been "incredible in their resilience" through their challenges. "They really adore each other," she says.
Many people deeply disagree with the Prime Minister's stance on refugees, or with other views he has espoused over the years. Many personally dislike him as a result. Morrison has tried not to take that to heart. "You've got to have a really thick skin or be able to compartmentalise," she says. "I remind myself, I remind the girls, too, of who their father is. Those people haven't met my husband, they haven't had a conversation with him. He's a nice guy. He's genuine and he's fun."
Mostly, Morrison and the girls were able to keep their lives separate from politics. That changed eight months ago when Malcolm Turnbull was overthrown in a messy coup. The country was surprised, and so was Morrison. "I think she was in a little bit of shock at the rapid change at first," says Stewart, who stayed with her that week and is looking after the girls during the election campaign. "She had to keep the girls as normal as possible. She did an amazing job."
On the day their father became prime minister, Abbey and Lily's teachers called their classes together. "They said, 'This has happened to Abbey and Lily's dad ... this is where they come to school, this is their safe place, we treat Abbey and Lily with respect and they can come to school and feel comfortable here,' " Morrison says. "Beautiful."
The family moved into Kirribilli House. They could have stayed at home, but having AFP officers in their three-bedroom house and throughout the street seemed too much to ask of the neighbours. Every day Morrison does the hour-long drive to school in the Shire and picks up the girls again in the afternoon. Her commute can amount to four hours of driving a day, and more if they have to go to their singing or physical culture lessons.
Morrison has resigned herself to sacrificing Mother's Day - she's used to it - but will likely have breakfast with her daughters this morning before joining her husband at the Liberal Party campaign launch. She admits to being nervous for him but is looking forward to an election result, whatever it is. "Then we can just get on with things. [The girls] would like to know too - what house will we be living in? I think they will be genuinely happy either way."
- SMH/The Age