The opening of Parliament House in Canberra on May 9 1927 was always going to be tricky. State v Federal tensions had been an issue from the moment the search for a national capital begun. The eternal rivalry between New South Wales and Victoria led to the choice of Canberra, a location within NSW, but equidistant between Sydney and Melbourne. Accordingly, NSW ceded an area of 910 square miles which became the Australian Capital Territory.
Only the Governors and Premiers of the respective States have been issued invitations to the opening ceremony of the Federal Parliament on May 9 next at Canberra, on the occasion of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. (The Western Australian, January 27 1927)
It was explained that there would only be accommodation in the infant Capital for 300 people, and therefore it would be impossible to invite State members of parliament. The Federal authorities allocated 1,750 seats to NSW residents to view the outdoor part of the ceremony from a grandstand. State politicians were offered first grab at the tickets.
In one of those rare occasions when the NSW government and opposition agreed on anything, both sides expressed their fury at what they deemed an absolute insult.
Worse was to come when more details of arrangements were revealed.
Members of the State Parliament making the trip will have to walk ‘a mile over fairly rough country’ if they want to reach the official stand on the day of the opening, and are also advised to ‘take field glasses with them,’ because the official stand allotted to New South Wales is some distance from the steps of Parliament House. Members of the State Parliament making the trip to Canberra will leave by trains leaving Sydney at ten o’clock and at midnight on the night of May 8 and reach Canberra at six o’clock the following morning. (Newcastle Morning Herald April 11 1927)
In the following photo, the Duke and Duchess pose on the steps after the Duke had opened the door with a golden key.
The other difficulty on the big day was providing food and drink. Only the privileged sat down to an official luncheon with the royals.
State politicians could order a food hamper for ten shillings. The ACT was ‘dry’, so alcohol was off the agenda and the picnic fare had to be washed down with tea.
Dame Nellie Melba sang the national anthem from the steps of the new building, but the NSW politician in their distant stand could barely hear a word.
At the conclusion of ceremonies the New South Wales parliamentarians were supposed to have been allowed into Parliament House, but they complained that gaining admittance was extremely difficult. Oh my word, how stressful it all sounds….. and then came the train journey home. This was turned into a debacle when a Federal Cabinet Minister tried to make amends with a last minute peace-offering.
A LONG DAY’S NIGHT IN CANBERRA
Members pointed out that they were to have returned to Sydney by a train to leave Canberra on Monday night at 7 o’clock, but the train did not leave till towards midnight. The reason for the delay was that a number of other state members had a attended a reception, which had been held at night. No official invitations it seems had been issued to state members to attend this gathering, but a verbal invitation was given during the afternoon by a member of the Federal Cabinet. However, this action on the part of the federal authorities was regarded as an insult by the majority of state members, who decided to stand on their dignity and not attend the night function, the invitation to which, they asserted, had only been given to them second-hand. (Examiner, May 11 1927)
People who read my articles on a regular basis might sense a certain similarity with another story featuring the NSW and Federal governments. It involved another excursion when transport and provisions were found wanting. On that occasion it was the Federal MPs with the complaints. Perhaps they had waited until 1927 to get their revenge! If you are interested in the earlier piece, CLICK HERE.
In five years time Canberra will be celebrating the centenary of the Parliament House opening. I might start stockpiling popcorn in readiness for the show. 🍿🍿🍿😎