Mar 2019, Canberra, ACT
While in Canberra we catch up with friends who are passing through, getting an early start on their winter migration. One can only hope that they drive slowly or else they’ll run into the northern cyclone season. They’ve heard that Government House, Yarralumla, is having an Open Day so we pop on over for morning tea with the GG. We inspect a vintage Rolls Royce that was used in the past for Royal visits. Staff members are numerous and willing to talk about their jobs and the history of the building. It is rather apt that our Government House is on land that was a sheep station when the new capital city of Canberra was conceived. We meet a young woman who works for the Bravery Awards division and one of the Governors three aides, his Naval aide as there is a representative from each branch of the services.
The Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove and his wife wander about the lawns talking to visitors. He then gives an address to the media in response to the attack in Christchurch. He stands in front of the Bravery Garden, both the Australian and New Zealand flags at half-mast and he speaks off the cuff in his inimitable casual manner. We are moved to tears.
We tour Government House and marvel at the furnishings, the carpets and artwork. I am captivated by an inlaid wooden cabinet crafted from native Australian timbers but in a Chinese style with many tiny drawers. The inside of each door is exquisitely cut and depicts a possum on a branch with a surrounding geometric pattern of Queensland Maple so striking that it appears to be almost three dimensional. The timber is cut with the grain to emphasise the fur of the possum. We saw the formal study which overlooks the lake as well as the desks where new Prime Ministers are sworn in. We learn that elected Prime Ministers are sworn in in a formal room to the back of the house with the Governor General using a different table for his own signature. In a diplomatic snubbing Prime Ministers who have overthrown another to take office (ie they have not been elected by the people) are sworn in in a different room. Most of the flowers are from the garden and each room has elaborate displays and table decorations which are kept in fridges overnight. How grand it would be to have a fridge just for flowers. Around the grounds there are a host of historic cottages many of which are used as offices and a modern office block for the running of ‘the office’ of the Governor General, his wife and staff.
Footnote: For anyone who likes to have a sticky nose at such things, Admiralty House the Governor General’s official Sydney residence on the shores of Sydney Harbour, will be open on May 4th 2019.