In a rare show of emotion, Julia Gillard chokes back tears as she describes the disasters that have afflicted the nation.
It was as unexpected as a red gum, impervious to all that could be thrown at it, suddenly toppling days after the storm.
Julia Gillard, scorned for weeks during the dreadful summer of natural disasters as lacking empathy, as wooden, as incapable of displaying emotion, finally could no longer withstand the strain.
Standing in the Parliament yesterday, she unfurled a muddied Australian flag recovered from the flooded Queensland town of Murphys Creek in the body-strewn Lockyer Valley, and her voice began cracking.
We had seen Bob Hawke weeping at the drug-addiction of his daughter and the brutality in Tiananmen Square; John Howard overcome by the massacre at Port Arthur and old battles at Gallipoli and the Western Front; Kevin Rudd choked up while consoling survivors of Victoria's bushfires two years ago and breaking down last year after the loss of his prime ministership.
But Julia Gillard? Until yesterday, she had seemed too controlled.
The flag, found by the crew of a military helicopter during a rescue mission, symbolised much, she made clear, about the summer that had visited so much horror and heartbreak upon Australians.
Ms Gillard said she was honoured when the helicopter crew, who saved dozens of lives during the flood emergency in the Lockyer Valley on January 10, had presented her with the flag.
''It was muddy and it was soaking wet, and they did so because it was a powerful symbol for them,'' she said. ''Of what it means to face the elements. Of what it means to be hurt. Of what it means to endure. Of what it means to be Australian.''
With each short sentence, Ms Gillard's voice faltered, and by the time she got to the business of courage, for which she said the summer would always be remembered, she could barely speak.
''It spoke to them of courage,'' she said.
''The courage it takes to keep filling sandbags even when your back is breaking.
''The courage it takes to hold your nerve in the dark as a cyclone races around you.
''The courage it takes to tell your children to run across the railway line, knowing it's dangerous, knowing they could fall but knowing it's their only hope of getting to safety.
''The courage it takes for a young boy, 13-year-old Jordan Rice, to say to his rescuer, take my brother first. And before that brave rescuer could return, Jordan and mum Donna were taken by the flood; but the legend of Jordan's amazing courage will go on.
''A hero in the purest sense of the word.''
As Ms Gillard struggled on, the House of Representatives seemed to be holding its collective breath.
Here was a woman whose visits to successively flood-stricken and cyclone-struck Queensland had been overshadowed by the easy warmth and, yes, tears of Premier Anna Bligh; a Prime Minister whom Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had described as ''unconvincing'' in her efforts.
But here also was a woman who, finally, was finding the sort of words that sought a passage directly to the heart.
''We can't replace the precious things that people have lost and we can't replace the lives,'' she said.
''We can't replace the door jambs full of pencil marks that recorded a child's height as they grew from toddler to teen. We cannot replace an elderly lady's letters, written to her by a wartime beau; we can't replace the baby photos that have been lost.
''We can't take away the grief from those who mourn any more than we can bring back the loved ones who are gone.
''But we can, we can face this together as a nation and we can support those who have lost so much. We can listen to them and ensure they feel the warm embrace of the Australian community.''
No less than Mr Abbott found himself moved by Ms Gillard's sentiments.
Delivering his own address of condolence to those brought low by water and wind and fire, Mr Abbott spoke directly to Ms Gillard, congratulating her.
''Whatever political disagreements we might have, she has shown a decent heart,'' he said.
Tony Wright is Age national affairs editor.