We’re about to be gifted, courtesy of ‘Our ABC’ a new series hosted by Annabel Crabbe, she of the ‘take one pollie, add large dollops of dimpled charm and serve up’ cooking series.
It’s called ‘House’ and features Parliament House, a building that many in Canberra still think of as the ‘New’ Parliament House. ‘Old’ Parliament House is now the Museum of Australian Democracy – MOAD – and some who worked there in past years think a more suited acronym would be to omit the ‘O’.
What OPH lacks in modernity, it makes up in iconic Territory myth and legend.
Visitors like to photograph each other on the front steps, where in 1975 Gough Whitlam furiously declared that “Nothing can save the Governor-General”
According to local legend, on that same day, before that momentous denouncement and its implications had sunk in, Jim Cairns and Junie Morosi were strolling in the Senate Rose Gardens while the Prime Minister ate a lunchtime steak in the Lodge.
The Rose Gardens, heady with perfume when in full bloom, were planted –according to the story – with one shilling donations from people all over the country during the grim Depression years. Walk through the rose gardens and say a thank you to those generous souls.
‘Old’ Parliament House, designed by the first Commonwealth government architect John Smith Murdoch, was deemed ‘a provisional’ Parliament. Nevertheless, it sat stately, solid, from 1927 to 1988, years in which generations of Press Gallery journalists hurried through on their way to ‘the boxes’ where media releases, hand-typed and photocopied, were gathered.
A small, creaky lift that opened on the narrow passageway lined with wooden pigeonholes. Your correspondent once had the honour occupy that lift with the doyen of the Gallery, a certain Mr Oakes. (There was only room for the two of us.)
When it rained, a plank bridge gave access to the television studios and occasionally rain would penetrate the offices, causing the librarians in the ground floor Parliamentary Library to bring out plastic sheeting to protect their books and folios.
In the Press Gallery’ itself, notices in the institutional white tiled toilet allocated to ‘female reporters’ requested that tea leaves not be flushed. A blocked toilet caused serious logistical problems and journalists of the day, after a quick surreptitious look up and down the corridor would dash into the toilet reserved for the opposite sex and hope no one saw them.
The loo with the best view was the one at the front of the building on the first floor, above the main security desk. Its window looks across the lake to the Australian War Memorial and the slopes of Mount Ainslie, upholding another Canberra myth, that the located both Houses, one behind the other, was designed esoteric and cosmological occult principles by the architects of Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahoney Griffin.
As twilight settles, the ghosts of a hundred feral cats and kittens may appear, cats that once lived in hedges around the Senate tennis courts, fed nightly by a cat-loving public servant whose appearance brought moggies of all colours and sizes to purr around her feet.
Eventually, in the interests of public safety, the cats were trapped by orders of the National Capital Authority. House maintenance staff were subsequently observed to discreetly leave out bowls of mouse bait in inconspicuous places through OPH.
However, there is one natural phenomenon, one force of nature that affects both Houses at certain times of the year, the centuries-old flight passage of the Bogong Moths.
Once ingredients of feasts of the local Aboriginals, bogongs are now sources of irritation. Their fluffy brown bodies, wings wafting even in death, collect in heaps in offices, passageways and courtyards of both buildings, and, stepped upon, adhere to the soles of shoes of ministers and maintenance men alike.
I hope Annabel mentions the bogongs. They’re part of House history.
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