A Play-By-Play Of How Australia Nearly Won Eurovision 2016

Our wrap of the 2016 Eurovision song contest as the glitter settles over Stockholm.

We teamed up with Contiki to have Adam Collins on the ground for the 2016 Eurovision extravaganza.

The buzzer beater, the last minute goal, the six off the last ball. Pick your analogy, they all work for Dami Im in the small hours of Sunday morning as Eurovision victory was snatched from Australia by Ukraine at the last possible moment. After earning the maximum 12 points from Austria at the start of the count, she sat atop the leader’s board throughout with healthier margins by the minute until she was dramatically ousted by those voting at home, leaving her just 23 points short of lifting the famous microphone trophy.

Make no mistake here: Dami looked home. Her lead was a massive 109 after picking up her eighth stack of 12 votes from the hosts Sweden to end the jury ballot that was weighted for half the final tally. Two years ago Australia were chuffed to be asked to perform in the interval, and with such a giant margin, looked a certainty to win the bloody thing.

But this is where the new voting system introduced for the first time in 2016 was both deceptive and a triumph. Revealing in reverse order points allocated across Europe, Australia came fourth to add a relatively modest 191 votes. With Ukraine and Russia left in the final three (and, bizarrely, Poland despite carrying just seven jury votes) the tension surpassed any Eurovision count in modern memory.

When it was announced that Ukraine had nabbed a massive 323 popular votes, it was game over. At time of writing it is unclear where the popular vote broke down for Australia, but that geopolitical analysis matters little right now. Dami’s performance was once again elite. She all but lifted the Stockholm Dome with her final chorus, which was a prerequisite every time she stepped onto stage.

This wasn’t an act that relied on tricks; there was no key change and no dancing. Dami’s voice is what put her in the national spotlight to begin with, she backed it in, and delivered under the eyes of a couple of hundred million watchers on. From her semi final onwards the perfect storm looked to be forming for her ascendancy.

Russia had been the hot favourite from the outset, but was Sergey Lazarev’s song too cute? Too derivative of last year’s winner? When the London Sun did their best to embroil him in a porn scandal this morning, the contrast for Dami was her appearance on the front page of Sweden’s biggest selling daily endorsing her for the win. She was wound in from fifth favourite to outright second, those odds shortening from double digits to 3/1. It looked a race in two.

Indeed, it is ironic that the mathematics integral to finding a path to win over Russia included Ukraine pinching as many votes as possible from them via regional neighbours. Or so went the theory. Until they won it themselves. 

As the jury votes sprayed out across the countries with no obvious pattern, Australia also got top billing from Switzerland, Belgium, Croatia, Lithuania, Albania and Hungary. 14 others had Australia second or third, with strong support from the ravaged Nordic bloc (with all bar Sweden eliminated in the semi finals), through to the Baltic States, Cyprus, Georgia and our old mates the UK.

Which brings us to our winner: Jamala. The fifth last to appear in the decider (Dami appeared just before half way) her triumphant song 1944 was dedicated to her grandmother. Eerie and intense, sung principally in Crimean, the meaning was not hard to decipher when translating the lyrics, for instance: “When strangers are coming/they come to your house/they kill you all.” Cop that.

The impassioned crescendo, including a desperate wail, proved unforgettable for voters who endorsed the song emphatically. While Australia may have been punching above their weight in a foreign continent’s competition, Ukraine’s song was fighting a whole other battle, and doing it in style. It did so without support from Russia who gave their neighbour not a single jury vote, a favour that was returned (little wonder).

But for all the baggage Russia carried into the final performance, their man got the job done and won more popular votes than anyone; 361 all told. But after being so widely overlooked by the experts, in fifth place after the jury vote, there was just too much work left to do. Third place isn’t what he came here for. 

In fourth was a better news story in Bulgaria, Poli Genova rewarded for a ripper pop song, slightly eccentric appearance and energetic dance moves. Rounding out the top five were the hosts Sweden.

For those in a sweep, Germany have gone back-to-back for the wooden spoon with a miserly 11 votes, while the UK came in third last (with a much better act than usual) in proof that politics is never far from the surface in this old comp.

So does Australia get an invite back for a third year? That’s anyone’s guess. For now, it’s right to focus on the exhilarating performance of Dami Im. A class act, she told Junkee that she plans to use her new platform to progress the cause of children in poverty, with her next stop Uganda to visit her sponsor child before performing in Africa.

On all the available evidence with Dami Im we have a wonderful ambassador and an even better human being. Not to mention that incomparable voice. She did Australia proud.

See the birthplace of Eurovision with your own peepers. Contiki is perfect if you want to see Europe but don’t have months to negotiate your way around. Get up to 30% off European Encounters if you book now! 


Adam Collins is travel and sport writer, cricket commentator for ABC’s Grandstand, ESPN and basically anyone else who’ll take him