When the Governor-General, His Excellency David Hurley AC DSC, contacted the Queen to pay his condolences on the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, the story goes that she thanked him and began to reminisce about the 11 times the royal couple had stayed at Government House in Canberra.
She mentioned, in particular, a room on the ground floor near the portico, a room she used often, recalling it as a quiet, restful place which had a wonderful view across the gardens, asking if it was still there. It is.
That’s the sort of place Government House is. Yes, it’s the grandest house in the land, the place where people, often our unsung heroes, are honoured for their services to their community, their country. It’s also the place where visiting dignitaries stay – but it’s also a home, a home for the monarch’s representative in Australia, the Governor-General and Mrs Linda Hurley.
And you’re invited to see it for yourself on Saturday 7 October at the 2023 Government House Open Day.
Held annually, the event attracts thousands of people to the House, to walk through the ground floor and into the drawing room, dining room (it can seat 52 people if all the table leaves are extended, or 150 standing up), official study and out on to the spectacular lawns.
You can see it’s a home with the family photographs scattered about, with some of the artwork on the walls – particularly the plethora of Indigenous art which is understood to be a favourite of the current inhabitants.
Region was given an exclusive tour of Government House, prior to the Open Day, by Government House spokesperson Rob Ayling.
Although the private family quarters are upstairs, along with the guest bedrooms, the downstairs rooms tell their own stories, from the study with its leather chairs and chesterfield lounge, its flags behind the vast timber desk, pens standing tall in their holders, a silver seal and bookshelves with bound volumes and pieces of Australiana, including a Canberra boomerang and a kangaroo clock.
It’s also the place of legends. Like the room which saw the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 to stories of the G-G driving a golf cart, packed with visiting VIPs, down to the bottom of the garden to see a mob of about 50 kangaroos living their best life.
“They are,” Mr Ayling said, “the happiest kangaroos in the world.” Top-notch tucker, a very high fence – and not a few patrolling AFP officers to keep them safe.
Outside the House, amidst the hectares of manicured lawns, ancient and new trees, native and other gardens – and flowers everywhere, horticulture co-ordinator Glenn Huender leads a team of about nine gardeners, a multi-talented group that can also help manage parking on busy days as easily as digging weeds.
The house itself had the humblest of beginnings. Standing on the land of the Ngunnawal people, it was built as a simple farmhouse in the 1830s, on prime sheep country. Originally 1035 hectares, it grew to 16,000 hectares and 40,000 sheep by the end of the century.
After Canberra was chosen as the site for the new federal capital, the Commonwealth Government bought the property and, by 1921, the then Federal Capital Advisory Authority proposed that it be used as a vice-regal residence. Work began in 1925 to enlarge and modernise the house – and further works have been carried out regularly after that.
To look at it today, it stands as if it were always the one house, painted in a soft cream colour. Even the mixture of architecture works, from the oldest part, the stables, which houses the HR staff, to the portico which was added in the 1920s when the Duke of York visited.
As the nation grew, so did the House, with its plush cream carpets along with furniture and artwork bought by the Australiana Fund.
“We have so many dignitaries from all over the world visiting,” Mr Ayling said. “With delegations from overseas, we want to show off the Australian collection.”
Government House Open Day is on Saturday, 7 October from 10 am to 2 pm. Free shuttle buses will run from Floriade. More information is available on the website
Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.