Last post of election results for the National Tally Room
The Museum of Australian Democracy has recently acquired a very significant object for its collection—the tally board used from 1980 to 2010 to display the results of Federal elections at Exhibition Park in Canberra. Donated by the Australian Electoral Commission, this important, unique and very large object encapsulates many aspects of Australia’s democratic electoral process.
Starting in 1972, the National Tally Room served as the Australian Electoral Commissions’ information and media centre for federal elections and the tally board was a key feature. The Belconnen High School Assembly Hall in Canberra served as the venue for the Tally Room between 1972 and 1977. Seeking more space, it moved to Exhibition Park in Canberra for the 1980 and subsequent elections. The Budawang Pavilion (see detailed map) was fitted out with television studios, ranks of desks for media, cordoned off areas for international observers, and seating for a public seeking to witness democracy in action. At one end of the room loomed the tally board—at 37 metres wide and 7 metres high, this massive wooden structure displayed the results for every Division in the House of Representatives.
The final night it was used was 21 August 2010—the contest between Gillard and Abbott. Imagine the view from the tally board of the sea of media, politicians, electoral officials and public intent on the results. Some are focussed on the media commentary being broadcast live. Some follow the result on desk top computers or smart devices tuned to the Australian Electoral Commission’s Virtual Tally Room. A few glance up at the tally board to check the results manually updated by Electoral Commission staff. As the results flooded in from across the nation the Electoral Commission staff on platforms behind the tally board swung revolving panels away from the viewers, updated the numbers and turned them back, possibly with a game show flourish. Anticipation on the turn of a panel was palpable – an unexpected swing, the bellwether result, glorious victory, narrow defeat, a minority government.
A time lapse of the installation and use of the tally board in 2007.
Australian Electoral Commission/Mark Arundel.
Even in an era of election night parties, televised coverage and online newsfeeds, the National Tally Room retained its popularity with many turning up in 2010 to witness the atmosphere, spectacle and drama. However, it was its final year. The early introduction of the Virtual Tally Room in 1988 started the erosion of the role of the tally board, allowing media organisations to choose to broadcast from their own studios. In the final years, the board was seen more as a backdrop to the action as attention turned to new types of screens. The considerable cost of building and operating the Tally Room also led to its eventual closure.
The tally board is a significant object for Australia. It is a powerful symbol of our open and transparent democracy. It supported a robust electoral system that chose to broadcast voting outcomes with a simple and public system of communication. It will live on in its new life as a remarkable and unique object in the Museum of Australian Democracy collection.