At 4.22pm on Tuesday, Claire Maloney arrived on foot at 44 Market Street, Sydney, clutching her same-sex marriage survey form. She had eight minutes left to vote.
“I ran – in heels – which was impressive,” Maloney said, describing her dash to the finish line to BuzzFeed News.
“You've got to basically navigate your way to the lift, get in the lift, go upstairs. And there was a lovely security guard up there taking all of the votes. He was even able to tape my envelope for me, because I hadn't sealed it yet. Which was very kind.”
The last day to get survey forms in the actual post passed by last week. On Tuesday, the serious stragglers in Australia's national survey on same-sex marriage only had the option of turning up in person at an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) office, in cities around Australia, to lodge their vote before 4.30pm.
Maloney, who works in Surry Hills, said she was “proud and disappointed” to have earned the dubious title of the likely last voter in New South Wales.
“I'm excited and also slightly humiliated at the same time,” she said. “I wasn't ever not going to put in my 'yes' vote, but despite all the messaging from everyone telling me to do it now, do it ASAP…. clearly I'm a slow learner.”
(L-R) Alex Greenwich, Claire Maloney and Shirleene Robinson.
Lane Sainty / BuzzFeed
It was a strange hour spent outside the Sydney ABS office, as two 'yes' campaigners – co-chair of Australian Marriage Equality, Alex Greenwich, and The Equality Campaign's Shirleene Robinson – watched the campaign through to the very end.
They kept an eagle eye on the bright red post box on the pavement, worried that some well-meaning voters might think today was the last day to actually post their vote, as opposed to hand it directly to the ABS.
A brief moment of panic ensued when one man approached the letterbox and quickly dropped in a letter that looked suspiciously like the reply paid ABS envelope – but he clarified it was unrelated mail, and he had sent his actual form in weeks ago.
Upstairs, on level 8, a security officer sat next to a little table, where he was collecting votes from the likes of Maloney. He estimated about 100 votes had been handed into him over the course of the day.
Stephanie Soto, 27, was one of those hundred votes. She arrived six minutes earlier than Maloney, at 4.16pm.
“Honestly, I'm just like, really, really, unorganised,” she told BuzzFeed News, laughing. “That's it! I'm just lazy.”
Soto, who lives in St John's Park in Western Sydney, caught a train into the city – a one way trip of an hour and fifteen minutes – just to make sure she handed in her form.
“I felt the guilt – like, oh no, I need to put it in!” she said. “I would change my bag and my vote would be in the other bag, and I'd be like, arrgh. A lot of things [were] piling up. And then I'm like 'OK, you know what, I need to just dedicate the day and get it out of the way'.”
Soto said voting “yes” was a “simple and easy” decision for her.
“I don't particularly want to get married, but why should I say no to someone else who wants to do it? I've got uncles who are gay, cousins who are lesbian. I don't see why not.”
Afp Contributor / AFP / Getty Images
A woman named Fiona, who declined to give her surname or say how she voted, arrived at around 3.45pm with surveys for both her and her husband.
She told BuzzFeed News the past few months had been hard – moving house, her husband sick in hospital – and it was the last chance she had.
“We did want to get it in, but yeah, we had all these things happen, so it was a bit hard,” she said, adding that her husband is “all good” now.
Alex Porter, a photographer from Sydney's inner west, was also a late voter due to a tough few months. She had been in a motorbike accident earlier this year, and is still recovering from multiple injuries – but said cheerfully, “I'm alive, I'm whole, I'm complete”.
“The last couple months [my injuries] have been playing up badly and I can typically only walk for 15 minutes at a shot,” she said. “I've been waiting for it to ease off, but it didn't happen – I realised the date and thought, sod it, I better get to it.”
Porter, who has photographed same-sex weddings in the past, voted “yes”, telling BuzzFeed News “I don't understand why it should even be a question”.
“I am very passionately supportive of equality,” she said. “I really, really hope the overwhelming voice I heard in support of equal rights for marriage is actually heard, and actually stated, and actually adhered to, and that the government grows the hell up and allows equality.”
The last-ditch votes came in the hours after the ABS delivered its latest – and last – turnout estimate, suggesting that a grand total of 12.6 million, or 78.5% of the voting population, had bothered to tick a box and return their form.
Greenwich, who had spent a few hours standing outside the ABS office throughout Tuesday, told BuzzFeed News he had heard the full spectrum of stories from people who left it to the last minute to cast their vote.
“We've heard stories of people who have just been disorganised. There was one lady from an Orthodox background who said she is voting 'yes' but has to be discreet about it. We've had people like Claire [Maloney] who have proudly embraced voting 'yes' and admitted they should have done it sooner,” he said.
At a press conference earlier in the day, one of the journalists had brought along his survey form to hand in upstairs too.
There weren't any “no” campaigners outside the Sydney ABS office. In a statement, Coalition for Marriage spokesperson Lyle Shelton said his side would continue to “defend Australian families” no matter the result – but right now, it's time for a break.
“I know that our team is looking forward to a few days off; it's been a long campaign and even the tireless get tired!” he said.
Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images
Tuesday marked three months since the government stood up after an emergency party room meeting to announce it would forge ahead with a public vote on same-sex marriage, and, perhaps more significantly, exactly one year since the Senate voted down a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
Greenwich, who said he had been taught by Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore to always campaign to the very last minute, said he felt “a little bit weird, a bit relieved” once the clock had ticked past 4.30pm.
“I feel a great sense of closure that the whole plebiscite thing is done … And a great sense of pride in the gay and lesbian community for the resilience and leadership they showed in a process we didn't want.”
Greenwich and Robinson, who have been campaigning for same-sex marriage for ten and six years respectively, much of that time working together, will spend the next week thanking volunteers and “looking after people” in the community who have found the experience of the survey tough.
“It's a strange, surreal moment,” Robinson said.
As for Maloney – she joked that it was “clearly amazing management of time and priorities” when asked what led to her last minute vote.
She is 34, so just makes it into the category of voters aged 18-34 – which polls suggest are less likely to have had their say than older voters.
“I kept on thinking, I'll post it tomorrow, I'll post it tomorrow. Then the penny dropped this morning that I actually hadn't yet. It's a cause that is hugely important to me, and hugely close to me and many of my friends,” she said.
“I saw everyone's statuses today, saying if you're in the 18-34 years old group, vote now! And I'm like, just scraping in with my poor behaviour.”