AT 5.30pm on Monday, Joanna Gash quietly closed the door on 17 years as the Member for Gilmore.
Moments later she received phone calls from her children asking if she was all right.
It was the first time Mrs Gash had not been working since she was about 15 years old.
“I hadn’t even thought about that,” Mrs Gash, surrounded by half-filled cardboard boxes, said.
“I’ve got two weeks to move out of my electorate office.
“I’m 69 and I’ve always worked. It’s the same with my children; we all have that work ethic.
“The country has been good to me and I’ve always tried to give back,” she said.
Hers has been a career with the highs and lows one would expect of such a lengthy stint in politics.
Depending on political persuasions she has been loved and loathed, helped and hindered.
The door to her Kinghorne Street office has always been open.
“Most people didn’t think of it as a Liberal office, it was just an office,” she said.
“We were the only electoral office that I know of that opened 8am and closed at 6pm.
“Keeping an open-door policy is about listening. It is how you find out what people are thinking.”
People came to her office with all sorts of issues, including many that did not come under the remit of the federal government.
“It’s not easy to go into a politician’s office so for a person to do so meant their issue was important to them. They wouldn’t come in if they didn’t have to,” she said.
She lists Main Road 92, the University of Wollongong’s Shoalhaven Campus, the medical school, the Kiama bypass and other growth in the area as her career highlights.
“Among those there are so many other things, little individual things like a war veteran coming in with an issue that we would work through.”
Among the high points and the low points was one constant: loneliness.
The travel away from family and home played a large part in Mrs Gash’s decision to not to run again.
“There have been many high points in federal politics, and many low, but it is a very lonely job because of the distance and all the driving. Driving home alone from Canberra late on a rainy night I’d question what I was doing.
“Then the next day someone would come in with flowers or a card to say thank you,” she said.
Her confidence in Liberal candidate Ann Sudmalis was another deciding factor in her retirement.
That confidence meant she could let Gilmore go and believe someone worthy in her eyes would be there to take up where she left off.
“I needed to know it was someone who could do the political and the community side of things – and someone who had the experience of living life too.”
Since announcing she was running for mayor last year Mrs Gash has had time to come to terms with her decision to leave federal politics.
She is now looking forward to spending more time in the Shoalhaven.
Her local government role will naturally receive more focus.
She was voted in as Mayor with an outcry against her dual role.
She hasn’t accepted the mayoral allowance for her first year. Instead, she put that $29,000 in a community fund.
The first allocations were handed out to 22 groups on Monday.
“As mayor I look forward to working with the new MP, whoever that might be.
“I hope we can work as a three-tier government.”
Looking ahead, she said her sole aim was to make the council change its perception to the people.
“There are many more things we need to do.
“Over the next year I want to see the road works we said we would do completed.
“Unfortunately for council I’ll be there a lot more making sure things get done.
“We have great directors and staff and I thank those staff for taking on the changes,” Mrs Gash said.