Old Parliament House Part 2

Then it was on to the Press Gallery. It was once said “You could hide nothing. If a Minister was summonsed to the Prime Minister’s office, the odds were he’d pass six journalist on the way.” I am sure if you asked any reporter they would say they were just as important or even more important than the politicians as they had the eyes and ears of the people. What they wrote could have an influence on the general public. “Journalism after all is the first rough draft of History.” Fred Brenchley, Press Gallery journalist 1960-74.

canberra123There was a lot to read about this area. It would have been a hard job deciding what to write about as each day, as there were hundreds of press releases left in the press boxes for the journalists. A bell would ring when an important press release was issued and this would see journalist running from their offices to get to the latest news. Newspapers employed the journalists so the number who worked in the Press Gallery often changed. The area didn’t look like it would have been fun to work in. Small little rooms filled with basic furniture. No lovely painting from the National Gallery of Australia on loan here.

The press area even had its own sound booth. That surprised me but it does make sense.

We walked through the press gallery to the Chambers. It gave a different view to the room. Love the lights. I hadn’t noticed them before.

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One thing that opened my eyes about the building was what was not written on a door. Why was that important? In the Press Gallery the word “Male” has been erased from a toilet door. The word was erased from the door in the early 1970’s. Why? Female toilets were few and far between. One day Gay Davidson met up with a female staff member who had a broken leg. She was trying to make the long hike to the nearest female toilet. Gay suggested he could stand guard outside the men’s toilet instead. This continued over the next few days and encouraged by this, other women started to use the facility as well. When the Sergeant-at-Arms learned what was happening the toilet officially became unisex and the word “Male” was removed.

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It wasn’t just the Press Gallery that lacked female toilets. Although women were eligible to be elected to the Australian Parliament in 1902, no female toilets were added to the working part of the building when it was built. The doors were marked with “Members”, “Senators”, “Officials” and “Male” (for the junior staff and visitors.) In 1943 Dame Enid Lyons from Tasmania was the first woman member and Dorothy Tangney from Western Australia the first woman senator elected. They joined 74 members and 35 senators, male members. Of course there was no female toilets for them so one had to be converted. A staff toilet was picked for their use. (Maybe the men thought it was a passing phase and women would soon disappear from the political scene.) It wasn’t until 1974 after Senator Kathy Martin of Queensland and Ruth Coleman of Western Australia claimed that women senators had the right to use the “Senators” toilets something more permanent was done. No, there wasn’t a lovely new toilet built for the women, instead the urinals were boxed in and “Ladies” was added to the door. I read that it did take some of the male senators a little time to realize the change and they complained about the inconvenience when they tried to continue using the toilet.

We ambled our way into a large room with the walls covered with a brief history of all our Prime Minister with voice recordings as well. I started off reading about the Prime Ministers that I could remember then moved on to those I didn’t. I didn’t read everything, as I would probably still be there. It was well done and I am surprised to say I found it interesting.

canberra 135There were other items on display as well. In one corner was the desk John Curtin had used in his home in Perth. John was once a journalist and an editor before he became a politician and Prime Minister between 1941 until 1945.

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While that was impressive the item that put a smile on my face was the toilet paper, in a display case.

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The next room had information on the Magna Carta and how this one document changed the world. It was first written in 1215 setting out fundamental guarantee of rights and privileges for people as a response to the cruel actions of King John. One of the clauses was to establish that even rulers must obey the law and no person, not even a King was above the law. To start with King John agreed but mere weeks later he had the Magna Carta annulled, as following the laws of the country was not something that King John was known for. As much a the King would have like that matter to end there, the document was soon reinstated and within twenty years it had became a uniting force for people. When it was first written it was written in Latin, as this was the language used by educated people. As the document was for the people it was eventually translated to English for the common person. Over time the Magna Carta travelled throughout the different countries of the commonwealth and arrived in Australia when we were the new dumping ground for convicted criminals of England. In 1901 Australian based our Constitution on this document.

As I walked along reading almost everything I came across a red chair. It was the one that the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) used when she accompanied her husband when he opened Parliament House in 1927. It was used in the chamber for official ceremonial purposes. The indistinctive chair seemed a little out of place. I would have thought if you were going to have a member of the royal family sit on it, the chair would have been a little bit more stylish.

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Not far from the chair we walked into a suite fit for a Queen. The suite was added on to Parliament House in 1972. The Queen had the use of the room when she visited Australia.

What surprised me about the rooms was that on display was a copy of the royal jewels. It was all there; her crown (that had been used by her father and grandfather) the Sovereign’s Orb and Sceptre, as well as the ampule of holy oil and the anointing spoon. I was totally amazed. I was not expecting that. There were other things as well but for me it was the crown that had my full attention.

Why do we have them? As the Queen is the head of State they symbolise that position. They haven’t always sat in the suite. They were first displayed in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. The Shopping centre featured a range of popular royal displays including a wax figure of Queen Victoria. When the display was removed in 2008 everything was donated to the Museum of Australian Democracy. I saw them once when I visited the Queen Victoria Building.

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Although important visitors also used the suite the furniture and décor were crafted with the Queen in mind. The area was a lot bigger than I was expecting. It even had a kitchen just in case the Queen wanted to whip up something.

From the Queen’s room we walked into the function room and then out. Our tour of the old Parliament house was over. We had spent more time that I though we would looking around.

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