Staff Office, Prime Minister’s Suite — M94.6North Wing, Main Floor
This room was used as an office for the Prime Minister’s staff in the Prime Minister’s suite.
This room is situated in the northeast corner of the Provisional Parliament House, an area that was occupied by the Prime Minister and his staff throughout the life span of the building. The original suite of rooms was occupied by fourteen of the Australian Prime Ministers, from Stanley Melbourne Bruce (Prime Minister from 1923-1929) to William McMahon (Prime Minister from 1971-1972). In 1972, due to a growing number of Ministers and staff in the building, the suite was demolished. New offices (for the Prime Minister and his staff), an anteroom (used for press conferences and as a waiting room) and bathrooms for the Prime Minister and his staff were built in its place. These particular rooms were only occupied by three Prime Ministers: Gough Whitlam (Prime Minister from 1972-1975), Malcolm Fraser (Prime Minister from 1975-1983) and Bob Hawke (Prime Minister from 1983-1991).
Despite the extra space in the new, larger suite, there was a large number of staff that needed to work in this area and still only limited space. While it is evident that many of the small offices in this suite had to accommodate more than one employee, plans suggest this room did not. This office appears to have been used by the principal private secretary between 1972 and 1988. Three principal private secretaries occupied it in the Hawke era: Graham Evans (1983-86), Chris Connybeare (1986-88) and Sandy Hollway (1988-90).
The principal private secretary had one of the toughest jobs in Parliament House. Personally chosen by the Prime Minister, the principal private secretary was the lynch-pin in the relationship between the Prime Minister, his staff, the public service, the Parliament and the party in power.
When this suite was built in 1972, a peephole was built into the door between the Prime Minister’s office and the principal private secretary’s office. This allowed staff to check who was in the office with Prime Minister and ensure he was safe. A peephole had been installed in the previous suite (1971), on McMahon’s request, and was requested by Whitlam when the new suite was built. During Fraser’s time in office the built-in bookshelf that already lined the adjoining wall in the Prime Minister’s office was extended to cover the door, but the peephole remained.
This office contains a cupboard that can be opened to reveal a large whiteboard attached to the wall. This wall still has handwritten appointments on it that are traced back to Hawke. Staff at the museum believed for many years that these appointments related to the final few months spent in the building in 1988. In the late 1990s a museum staff member was conducting a tour through the building. They revealed the whiteboard to the tour group when one woman, Jill Saunders (appointment secretary to Hawke), recognised her own writing. Saunders then corrected the guide, stating the appointments had been written in the first few weeks of Hawke’s term as Prime Minister in 1983. She had set up the board to use when they first moved into the suite but after a few weeks Saunders found it too hard to update the board as the principal private secretary was often in meetings and she was unable to access it. She decided to use her diary instead as the authoritative record, the doors were closed on the whiteboard and it was forgotten.
Farwell, Miles Interview with Michael Richards, 21/08/2002.