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Kitchen — LF509South Wing, Lower Floor

LF509 was the main kitchen in the kitchen block, and is located on the lower floor of the dining and recreation block in the South Wing. It was from this room that hundreds of meals were prepared and cooked each day before being sent up to the dining rooms on the main floor via the dumbwaiters. It is understood that the kitchens provided all the food for the building, from snacks and main meals to catering for large events with visiting dignitaries. As Parliament grew, the increasing numbers of Parliamentarians, and staff put pressure on the entire building, including the dining and recreation facilities. By the early 1950s Parliament had grown from 109 to 181 Members and Senators, which put even more pressure on the kitchens. By the time of the Provisional Parliament House Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1977, the building housed more than 1,200 Parliamentarians, staff and journalists and it was calculated that more than 340,000 meals had been served during a 12 month period.

The basic layout of the kitchen remained the same from 1927 to 1988. The main cooking range was located in the centre of this room, the pot washing area sat at the North end of the kitchen and the vegetable preparation room (LF510), pastry room (LF508), the butcher’s room (LF511) and the cool rooms (LF512, LF513, F521 and LF522) stayed in their original locations. This attests to the soundness of the kitchen’s original layout and the continuity of the functional arrangement is a key component of the kitchen’s significance.

However, the equipment in the kitchen did go through various changes throughout the life span of the building, coinciding with changing technology. The most extensive of these occurred in 1950-51 when the kitchen was overhauled and modernised, costing approximately £20,000. Original equipment purchased in the 1920s was replaced and upgraded. The existing cool rooms were converted to refrigerant cooling, the coal burning range was replaced with a slow-combustion range, modern steam ovens replaced steam cooking appliances and the steam heated hot presses were either replaced with or converted to gas or electrically operated hot presses. More refrigerators and electric ranges were also purchased.

The food produced in this kitchen received mixed reviews. In 1978, Queensland Senator Ron McAuliffe publicly denounced the conditions in which the kitchen staff prepared meals and described the kitchen as a ‘health risk’. In 1983, the Chef nearly resigned and staff went on a 24-hour strike when Senator Ron Elstob complained that the food in the dining rooms would ‘kill a brown dog’. However, many of the chefs were well known for their cooking skills. The kitchen and dining staff ‘were very skilled and recognised throughout Canberra as being leaders in their fields’ and were often asked to give advice to the community and speak at TAFE (Hill, 2000: p. 38). Principal cook Reg Moriarty (who joined the kitchen in 1961) won honours for his cakes and bread and received the personal thanks of American President Johnson for his ‘pineapple cloud’.

The work of the kitchen was controlled by a chief chef who occupied an office on the main floor of the South Wing, which led him to be called ‘Upstairs’ by the kitchen staff. ‘Upstairs’ regularly caused problems for the staff and suppliers, such as making requests for products that were out of season or impossible to get, and as a result there was a strained relationship between the kitchen staff and ‘Upstairs’. Max Hill, a fresh food supplier to the Provisional Parliament House in the 1960s, tells of one story:

‘On one occasion a menu was developed that included mandarins, an order was placed with us for half a case. We immediately said sorry they are unavailable.’ ‘Upstairs’ said we don’t believe you try Queensland. We said, none in Queensland, well try Western Australia, none there either. Well we just must have them, where is the nearest place they are available? We replied, Singapore. Well fly them in for us! On this occasion the special party did not get their mandarins for time became too short, in any case the request to fly in a half case was absurd. The Chef later described to me the menu, and would you believe the actual need was for ten mandarins!’ (Hill, 2000; p. 37)


Hill, Max, THE BACK DOOR : memories of a supplier of fresh food to the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia: 2000.