Brian Walshe was an attendant in the House of Representatives in the provisional Parliament House from 1980 to 1988. He remained an attendant with the Parliament until retirement in 2007. He was born at Shepparton, Victoria, in 1934.
Interview with Brian Walshe part 1
B York: This is an interview with Brian Walshe taking place at Old Parliament House on the 14th of September 2007. Brian Walshe started work for the Provisional Parliament House in 1980 as a House of Representatives attendant. He will be speaking with me, Barry York, for Old Parliament House’s Oral History Collection. Thanks very much for your cooperation Brian.
B Walshe: A pleasure Barry.
B York: If we decide to make a transcript would that be okay with you?
B Walshe: Yes, that’s fine.
B York: And do you understand that copyright in this recording is owned by the Commonwealth?
B Walshe: Yes I do, yes, yes.
B York: And on behalf of the Chief General Manager I want to thank you too because this will be a very valuable addition to our collection. Can we begin at the beginning; can you tell me when and where you were born?
B Walshe: I was born in Shepparton, Victoria in 1934.
B York: And can you tell me about your family, parents…
B Walshe: My father was a PMG linesman and when I was six year old he decided to come to Wodonga with the PMG as a linesman. We lived in Dookie which was just out of Shepparton. And then we moved to Wodonga when I was six year old. And I spent all my school days in Wodonga, went to the old convent. The nuns taught me back in them days.
B York: What school was that, Brian?
B Walshe: That was St Augustine’s in Wodonga, in High Street.
B York: Okay. What about your mother, what did she do, what was her background?
B Walshe: My mother was just — She’d come off the land, my mother, yes. So, she was named Sadie Crabbe.
B York: Was she a Victorian too?
B Walshe: Yes, yes, she was a Victorian, yes, yes.
B York: From Shepparton area?
B Walshe: Shepparton area, yes.
B York: And what about the family itself? How many brothers and sisters did you have?
B Walshe: I have two brothers and five sisters. I did have six sisters, but Pamela when she was seven passed away, back in them days with diphtheria.
B York: Right.
B Walshe: Yes, so she passed away, but all my — My mum and dad have died, but my five sisters and two other brothers are still going pretty strong.
B York: Good, good.
B Walshe: Yes, yes.
B York: What were your parents’ names? Oh, you said — told your mother’s, but, yes, father?
B Walshe: My mother’s name was Sarah Crabbe and my father’s name was Matthew Walshe.
B York: Matthew Walshe.
B Walshe: With an e.
B York: Yes, yes. And can you tell me about the standard of living that you grew up with? How would you describe it?
B Walshe: Oh, it was a big battle, Barry. See, my mother, she just looked after the family, but Dad was a PMG linesman, but you know, we had our battles back in them days, which most people did. But we had great times as a family, and I’ll never, ever forget them, yes.
B York: I’m wondering about formal education. You mentioned the St Augustine’s, was it? The school?
B Walshe: Yes, I went to school at St. — Yes, I only went to grade six, Barry. Which, that’s not as high as the merit back in them days, and I left school when I was just on fourteen to go and work.
B York: And was there a reason for leaving school?
B Walshe: Oh, well, I just — I wasn’t that interested in school, Barry. I’d — And the nuns were pretty tough back in them days. And they were pretty tough on me because I used to do a paper delivery around Bandiana and Bonegilla in the morning. And sometimes I wouldn’t get to school till about ten o’clock, and they got down on me—I used to sway the nuns a bit because we used to get a lot of tips, and I used to put my tips in a little mite box for the orphans and that, you know. Back in them days. Yes, but…
B York: When you were at school did you have to have any ambition, like was there something that you wanted to do when you grew up, you know?
B Walshe: Oh not really Barry, no. I just wanted to get out and earn some money for the family, you know, help Mum along with the bills and that sort of thing so I first started with a hardware store. I lasted there about two weeks, I just couldn’t get on with the lady manage there and I left. Then I went into groceries after that. I was in groceries for nearly 20 years.
B York: And who—was that with a firm in Wodonga?
B Walshe: Yes, it was a firm—with Jacob’s Foodliner, they were the big chain of stores. After that he sold out to Woolworths. And Woolworths took over all his stores.
B York: So you were with them for 20 years?
B Walshe: Yeah, roughly 20 years, yeah.
B York: What were you doing with them?
B Walshe: Well I was—I was just a grocery attendant, filling up shelves—we used to sometimes, another friend of mine, John Gar [?] we would do night duties and fill all the shelves up for the next day. And make sure that—we used to clean the shops and everything like that. After that I left there and started with Valley Potatoes, a firm from Benalla that used to pre-wash potatoes. And then after—I think I was two years in Albury with them, and he asked me would I come to Canberra and—they bought Pat Smith’s out in Queanbeyan so I decided that, you know, take the family up to Canberra and see how it went. That was about 19—roughly 1972-73.
B York: So who did they take over in Queanbeyan?
B Walshe: Pat Smith.
B York: That was a grocery store?
B Walshe: No that was a—he’d wash potatoes. Pre-pack washed potatoes.
B York: I see.
B Walshe: So I managed that for about six years. And then they decided—McPherson and Turner were their names, and they decided to open up a big store in Albury, again. And they asked me would I come and manage—go back to Albury and then, and do that. So I had a talk to my wife and I said ‘no—the kids, I had a young family then, and I decided to stop in Canberra, Queanbeyan. And they said ‘oh well, we want you to go back, we’re going to close this one down’. So I just left, and the opposition heard of that and I went to that—Dick Currie was the name of the firm, direct potato supplies. So I went there and I managed that for possibly five years, and they closed that one down—it was owned by the Canberra Fruit and Vegetables, run by Dick Currie and Matthew Borderlucy [?].
B York: And were they in Canberra?
B Walshe: Yes they were in Canberra, at the fruit market just beside—they had a big building along the railway line beside the Fyshwick Markets.
B York: Ah yes.
B Walshe: And Jim Murphy had a store there.
B York: What year are we talking about, approximately?
B Walshe: About ’78. ’78-’79, yeah.
B York: And when did you get married?
B Walshe: Oh Barry, I’ve been married 40—I got married in St. Augustine’s in Wodonga.
B York: And that was a fair—few years back.
B Walshe: After that, yes. Well I’ve got nine children. Five girls and four boys.
B York: Very good.
B Walshe: And twenty grandchildren.
B York: Twenty?
B Walshe: Twenty grandchildren.
B York: That must keep you very happy.
B Walshe: It does, it does. So there will be plenty to do after retirement next week.
B York: Yes, and we should have mentioned that. Yesterday—was it yesterday?
B Walshe: Yesterday.
B York: In parliament.
B Walshe: In parliament, yes.
B York: Would you like to tell us what happened?
B Walshe: Yes, well it was a bit of a surprise to me, because I didn’t know that any of my family were coming along, and I was on the Opposition side but Sheryl, my supervisor, said to me that morning ‘Brian do you mind going onto the Government side today?’ I said ‘No, that’s no problem’, I had a feeling that there was something going on. Anyway at two o’clock, my supervisor come out before Question Time started and she said ‘Look up in the galleries’. And I looked up and there my front row taken up by my wife and a lot of my family and grandkids. I think we had 25 there and it was a great—it was a great surprise.
And after Question Time finished, the speaker got up and thanked me for all the service that I’d given to parliament for many, many years. He said some very nice words and then the Prime minister got up and spoke. He spoke for probably three or four minutes and he thanked me very much for all the work I’d done at parliament, it was great. And then Mr—leader of the Opposition, Mr Rudd got up and said some very nice words and they give me a great ovation by holding up—I held up parliament for a few minutes and then—mainly, 95 per cent of the members came over and shook my hand and the Prime Minister put his arms around me and thanked me very much. It was very emotional, it was a great day.
B York: Yes—you started work in the provisional Parliament House in 1980 didn’t you? As an attendant?
B Walshe: Yes.
B York: That’s 27 years.
B Walshe: 27 years, yes.
B York: Are you fully retired now Brian?
B Walshe: No, no I will—well Barry I told my supervisor that I’d finish when the Prime Minister calls the election.
B York: I see.
B Walshe: But I will finish up next week, I’m sure next week will be the last week of the 41st parliament. That will be my swan song Barry.
B York: So let’s talk now about how you came to obtain the job in Parliament House back then.
B Walshe: Well Barry after I finished with Canberra Fruit and Vegetables—well at the finish I was just looking after the fruit and vegies deliveries and all those things, I had five people delivering fruit and vegetables and then when Canberra Fruit and Vegies sold out to Iannelli, which was a big chain, you’ve probably seen Iannelli’s. And then they decided that they would stop delivering round hotels, motels, corner stores and all that, so they said to me that ‘we’re not having that anymore’ and my job was finished.
So I went home and told my wife, she was upset, and then I said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get a job’, and after that I was judging at the races at the time, and I said to Paul Feldsman who worked down here in the Transport office—and he was an attendant earlier, before he went into Transport, and I said to him ‘Paul do you know of any jobs going at Parliament House?’, and he said ‘I’ll let you know’. And he rang me on the Monday and said ‘come in for an interview’. And Mr Ian Cochran, back in them days, interviewed me and said—and the next day he rang me and said ‘When can you start?’
So I was really out of work for a week, so I started here as a parliamentary attendant. In my first year I was working at the lower aisle just down, just there. My job back in them days was to—as soon as you started work you’d go around and clean the minister’s and member’s offices, deliver mail during the day. I never had any chamber work because I was just a grade—you start off as a grade one.
B York: What was the interview like for the job? Do you remember being interviewed for it and what happened?
B Walshe: Oh no, Mr Cochran just said what experience would I have doing this job, and I said ‘I don’t have any Mr Cochran, but I’ve had some good positions in other—and I felt pretty confident I could do the job as a messengerial attendant. And he was quite happy with that and next day he rang me and ‘when can you start?’
B York: And were you living in Canberra at that time?
B Walshe: Yes I was living in Canberra, yes, yes.
B York: Whereabouts?
B Walshe: In Holder, in Holder. When I was in fruit and vegies I was in houses—it was the firm’s house, but after I finished there I thought ‘oh well’, I bought a house in Holder.
B York: And do you still live there?
B Walshe: I’m still there Barry, after 36 years yes.
B York: How would you get to work each day?
B Walshe: Well I had very good friends, and people who would work very close to me use to give me a ride to work. Yes so very rarely I caught the bus, but other messengerial attendants were—lived around. And later on I used to go to work with the Deputy Sergeant-at-arms, Thelma Dixon [?], she used to live around the corner from me and I used to come in to work with her. So over the last few months I’ve used the car—Joan never wanted it, she’d drive me to work.
B York: With the job, when you were starting off, was there any training for you?
B Walshe: No, no there wasn’t any training Barry, not like they have today. You just used to do your duties in the morning and do your—you’d probably get five or six mail deliveries and if there was any spare time you’d probably go around to the table office and help in there.
B York: What was the table office, what did that do?
B Walshe: Well like old records and that, there used to be an old chap, can’t remember his name now—and he archives things, and then we used to move boxes around, that was just—at the table office. So you would do away the time when the parliament sat, and you would man doors outside the doors.
B York: Anything else you want to say about the nature of the job?
B Walshe: Oh Barry—you meet some terrific people, like the clerks and the speaker and many, many members that make you very welcome to the House.
B York: Who was your boss at that stage? Was it Ian Cochran who was actually your boss?
B Walshe: No, no my principal attendant back in them days was Jock Bigge. It was a funny thing, I used to serve him with potatoes, he had a big fruit market at Kingston, had the best fruit in Kingston back in them days. So yes, Jock Bigge was my principal attendant back then. Went from Jock Bigge to Neville Gathercole. You’d probably know Neville wouldn’t you?
B York: I’ve heard of him, yes.
B Walshe: Yes.
B York: And were there any attendants who you worked with back then who went back a long time at Old Parliament House? I guess I’m really saying, were there elderly attendants who had started here in the 40s or 30s? Well not the 30s, but the 40s?
B Walshe: 40s—I don’t think so Barry, when I first started, Harold Whitby was a long serving—I started off working with him in the lower aisle box, but there wasn’t many—Norm Crawford was another fellow who had been around for many, many years. Geoff Brecht, he was the principal attendant in the Chamber, he was the supervisor in the Chamber. I learnt a lot off Geoff, he was a great fellow. I still keep in contact with Geoff. I’d say that Geoff would now be in his 80s. A wonderful fellow, I owe it all to him what I learnt in chamber work.
B York: What sort of things did would you have learnt, how would he have taught you?
B Walshe: It was mainly the bills and the—what to do—the amendments, Hansard greens, you know make sure you were always on time for duty—he was very good Geoff. Very, very good.
B York: With the Hansard greens, how did that work? What was your job relating to?
B Walshe: Well when they come down the tube Barry, we’d take them out to the members and they would correct anything that wasn’t there and then we’d get them back off the member and tube them back to Hansard.
B York: Would you take them to the members in the Chamber?
B Walshe: Oh yes, if they were there, yes. And if they weren’t in the Chamber we’d just put it on their desk, and if they didn’t collect them at night we would just place them back in the Chamber attendant’s box and give them to them the next day.
B York: I see. Just wondering, when you first came to Canberra and saw Parliament House, what were your impressions?
B Walshe: Barry I didn’t even get in to wrestling with politics, I first—when I first started here I’d never taken that much notice, but since I’ve been here, I’ve always been interested in politics and—it’s been a pleasure to serve in the House, both Houses. It’s—I think it’s been an honour and a privilege to serve on both floors of the House.
B York: Were you aware of the building, before you came to Queanbeyan or Canberra had you seen…
B Walshe: Oh yes I knew where Old Parliament House was, yes.
B York: But had you seen it, like in movies or pictures of it?
B Walshe: No I hadn’t Barry no. It was mainly when I first started that my interest in Parliament House was very strong.
B York: What about your parents, were they political at all? Did they have any interest in politics?
B Walshe: I don’t know if I should say this, but my father was very strong Labor man, and he thought that Ben Chifley was the greatest Prime Minister the country’s ever seen. And—but as I say, when I was young fellow I never took any interest in it at all.
B York: How many attendants would there have been back then?
B Walshe: Barry, roughly 33 permanents, roughly, and probably 30 sessional attendants. They just came when parliament sat, which—that’s my position at the moment. So we had about—probably about 63 attendants in the Old House.
B York: And what is it like now, has that changed?
B Walshe: Oh it has changed a lot now Barry, I think there’s only three permanents up there now, and there’s probably 20 sessional attendants.
B York: Gee, that’s all.
B Walshe: It is, it is.
B York: It’s not many.
B Walshe: Well they haven’t—they don’t do the mail deliveries and that sort of thing like we used to do here—half, quarter, wouldn’t be a third of the mail that comes through at the new House of what used to come here.
B York: Email replaced…
B Walshe: Yes that replaced that Barry, yes. They’ve closed a lot of the boxes down at the new House and they just open when the parliament sits. They have probably four or five attendants up there during the week to sort the mail and I think mainly now that the mailroom come up and deliver it the members’ suites.
B York: Was there a uniform?
B Walshe: Oh yes we started off with our old green uniform, I don’t know if you’ve seen that. It was just dark green pants and a green jacket. But we’ve had three or four changes of uniform over the years. Bob Halverson was the speaker at the new House, he changed our uniform and after that, Mr Martin, the next speaker changed it again. We’ve got a new uniform now, it’s brown with a green jacket and a greenish tie with the coat of arms on it. And the clerks wear the same tie—the clerk and the deputy tie and the assistant clerk always wear that tie. B York: What about the code of conduct, was there such a code relating to how you should address members and that kind of thing?
B Walshe: Well I’ve always addressed them as members or Ms, Barry, a lot of the attendants call them by their first name, but I’ve always called them by—either Mr or Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, Mr Speaker.
B York: Were there directions sort of written down for the attendants?
B Walshe: Yes there were directions written down, yes. But a lot of the attendants didn’t obey—but I always have—always called them Mr or Mrs, Mr Speaker, Mr Harris the Clerk or Mr Wright the deputy Clerk.
B York: Was there ever a sort of secrecy pledge that attendants had to take? I mean if you were privy to information that the media might be interested in for example, you know to stop—
B Walshe: Well I never got asked that Barry, but it was always—both sides of the politics were the same and you would never say one word against the Liberal or the Labor Party, you would keep that to yourself and we were always told that by our principal attendant.
B York: Were you told not to talk to the media?
B Walshe: Oh no, we were never told to talk to media, we would very rarely talk to the media, very rarely. They would get no information out of me anyway Barry, none at all.
B York: I was wondering if that was part of the code of conduct, that it was a formal requirement that would were told ‘this is part of the job’.
B Walshe: Well yes that’s right, when I had my interview, Mr Cochran told me that, yes, yes.
B York: You’ve mentioned that the hours differed when parliament was in session, you worked different hours, is that right?
B Walshe: Yes, we used to work till—when the parliament wasn’t sitting we started at 8:30 and finished at 4:24, and when parliament sat we would work from 8:30 till the House rose. Sometimes we would be sent home early—but they always had to have attendants on the doors, and chamber staff always had to be there till the—the House usually rose at 11 o’clock, 10:30 adjournment and 11 o’clock. But when the Government had special Bills and that to get through, they might sit until three, four, five o’clock in the morning, which I’ve been in the Chamber three o’clock in the morning and went home, back again 8:30 the next morning. Back in them days parliament sat at two o’clock, not like today, they sit at different hours up there now.
B York: Well how did it affect the family life when you had to work the extended hours?
B Walshe: Barry the family—my wife was pretty happy with the overtime coming in, which helped a lot. We had a young family, and every little bit of overtime helped back in those days. I think a grade one attendant’s money back in them days was $9000 a year, today up at the new House, it’s about $44,000 a year. So things change Barry.
B York: That leads to the next question actually about the unions. Were you in a union, was there a union for attendants?
B Walshe: Yes, we paid union fees, I think it was—they used to take $5 a week out of your pay, but over the last ten years I just pulled out of the union and I wasn’t a union member since I’ve been at the new House.
B York: Is there a reason for not staying in the union?
B Walshe: You know, it was just an extra bit of money I could use for home, no reason that I pulled out—most of the attendants did and I just followed—most of the attendants did pull out of the unions, I don’t know if there’s any attendants in the union today or not, I doubt it.
B York: Which union was it?
B Walshe: It was the—I’m not quite sure, it had something to do with parliament.
B York: It wasn’t the Miscellaneous Worker’s Union was it?
B Walshe: No it wasn’t that Barry, no it was another one.
B York: Not the Commonwealth Public Service Union?
B Walshe: That’s the one, that’s the one the Commonwealth Public—yes it was.
B York: Did you ever have industrial action or issues?
B Walshe: No, we never did, we never did, no, no. We never—the attendants never striked Barry [laughs], we were always there to do the job.
B York: When you started back in 1980, were there women attendants?
B Walshe: Very few, very few. Probably three or four. The sessional attendants, there was probably six or seven, but it was mainly men. But up at the new House it’s more women than men now. Things change Barry. We’ve got a lady supervisor up there now.
B York: Ah yes. Were there any women supervising in the old Parliament House?
B Walshe: No, no. There was Jock Bigge and Geoff Brecht and Neville Gathercole, they were the principal attendants when I was here.
B York: What were the areas, like the physical spaces in the areas that you mainly worked in?
B Walshe: Well I mainly worked in boxes, lower aisles or top aisles, there was different boxes—Kings Hall, we had time in there, I had time down in the mail room, they used to have four people in the mail room. They had a grade two running it and he’d have three other attendants because with the mail, there was so much mail coming in three or four or five times a day, and we would do that and other times—if we didn’t have mail duties to do, we’d go around the offices and clean phones and send—at the end of the week we would get boxed ready to send on to the members’ electorates, so it was pretty busy. Pretty busy as an attendants back in those days.
B York: And the chambers themselves, or the House of Reps, would that be where you spent most of your time?
B Walshe: Yes well in ’80 I think I went in there, when that photo was taken—roughly ’84, I was a grade one and there was a grade three position coming up so I put in for the grade three position and had an interview and I got the job. So some of the grade twos appealed against—you’re supposed to go from a grade one to a grade two, and then to a grade three, but this grade three position come up, most of the grade twos put in for it and I got the position as a grade three so I could work in the Chamber back in them days. Because back in those days it was only grade threes that could work in the Chamber.
B York: Strikes me that you took a lot of pride in your job.
B Walshe: Well I did, I did take a lot of pride in my work and I thought it was just a great privilege and honour to serve on the floor of the House. I’ll never forget the memories that I leave behind.
B York: Did you have access to all the facilities in this building? B Walshe: Oh yes, had access to all parts.
B York: I mean including tennis courts…
B Walshe: Oh yes I played a lot of tennis with the clerks, yes. I played Alan Browning, I played a lot of tennis with him. When I was first here I played game of tennis with Billy Snedden, yes. Bill said yes. Alan Browning was a top player and we used to have competitions against the library and the Senate and I think we held the cup for many, many years. Because we had a very good team, there was Alan Browning and myself, and Paul Feldsman, and Dick Liscombe were their names.
B York: And talking of the library, did you have occasion to go to the parliamentary library?
B Walshe: No I never—I’m not a book reader Barry—very rarely, the only time that you would go there if you were assisting the clerk or the speaker and you would take stuff to the library.
B York: So that would be part of your work?
B Walshe: That was part of our job. Yes, yes.
B York: Were you—did you work for particular politicians or was it just whoever needed something being done?
B Walshe: No it was just whatever area you were in, you would just go around and—mainly I would work over this side where ministers and members were and you would just look after that section. I did work up in—when Prime Minister Fraser was there and worked in that box, probably six months.
B York: When you refer to your work in the box, what do you mean by that? That’s the enclosed area the attendants…
B Walshe: Yes that’s the enclosed area where you’ve got all pigeon holes for the mail to go—we use to do mail runs on the area and just check the out-trays and pick up any mail that was there—on the hour we used to do that.
B York: And I should mention how we filmed you a couple of weeks ago, so we got the boxes—
B Walshe: Ah yes, yes.
B York:—got them on film, which I must burn a DVD and get to you. B Walshe: Thanks, thanks.
B York: Now I’m wondering also about any spaces that were out of bounds? For you attendants or staff generally perhaps?
B Walshe: No Barry, well I think the only place the attendants would be not allowed was in the Prime minister’s area, all the other ministers we were—you know you’d go in there and deliver your mail and talk to the staff, but we were never allowed in the Prime Minister’s area where they had a man there—you know if you wanted anything you would give it to him. We never had any access to the Cabinet room or anything like that, but that was really the only thing that was out of bounds to us, to the attendants. All the other areas…
B York: How did the attendants get on as a group, like among themselves?
B Walshe: Oh they were great—a great bunch of people Barry, they got on—get on very well together, yes. I never made any enemies here, a lot of great attendants have been and gone.
B York: And was there socialising among the attendants, like after work?
B Walshe: After work, yes, we’d go and have a drink Barry—yes, quite a few and with Silvio [?] and Geoff Brecht and Harold Whitby, we still meet once a year and go out for a lunch and that sort of thing.
B York: Where would you go for a drink back then?
B Walshe: Back in the Ainslie Football Club, or the old club—the servicemen’s club at Manuka there, near the football ground. Yes, we went there—so I hope to carry that on when I retire [laughs].
B York: Were the attendants back then, like an in-group or did they mix with other staff?
B Walshe: They mixed Barry, with the Senate attendants, they would mix in very well with the attendants from the Senate.
B York: And what about other workers in the building, like reporters and journalists and things like that?
B Walshe: We didn’t have much to do with the journalists Barry, we very rarely had anything to do with—
B York: Hansard reporters?
B Walshe: Oh Hansard reporters, yes. They’d come through the—mainly when the House sat, they would come through the back of the attendant’s box and onto the floor of the House. There was lot of people in the House—very nice people.
B York: And did you mix with them socially?
B Walshe: Yes, yes—not outside the House, but during sitting hours—I made a lot of friends out of the Hansard people.
B York: Where would you eat, your morning tea and lunch?
B Walshe: We had a meal room near the—just as you come in the door, and on the right—we had a big room there where we had probably 30—where we could put 30 cabinet things. We talked…
Interview with Brian Walshe part 2
—go and change them on, you’d come in dressed like this then you would change into your gear, and then we’d have morning and afternoon tea there. When parliament sat, we used to go down to the canteen where you used to get a meal on the house, we used to go to the canteen and have a meal.
B York: I see. So when you go to work in the morning, you used to walk up the front steps of the building would it have been?
B Walshe: Yes we usually walked up the front steps, or sometimes I’d get dropped over here and I would come in the rear—in the side door here.
B York: On the House of Reps. side.
B Walshe: Yes, as long as you had your pass, because there was the police—Federal police there and they had a lot of security there, but you know, great days.
B York: So the first thing you would do, you’d go to change into the uniform?
B Walshe: Yes change uniform and get to your box by 8:30 and then start your morning routine which was going around each minister’s office and members’, flipping the calendar over and cleaning the ash-trays because you were allowed to smoke back in them days, and yes make sure everything’s there and you’d go back and the first mail run would probably be there.
B York: And would it be the principal attendant that would tell you what you were doing that day? Did you have a pattern?
B Walshe: We had a pattern Barry, yes. But the principal attendant would come around—especially when parliament was sitting, he’d come around to each box and sit down and have a talk to the attendants and tell you how things were going and you know.
B York: And another question I wanted to ask, was about social clubs in Old Parliament House. Was there a formal social club? Or clubs?
B Walshe: No, well I don’t think there was Barry. I never was in a social club, but I was always mainly every day we’d play tennis and then we had a bowling club, which was straight over here, we’d play bowls sometimes at lunch time. We used to have weekend social days, but it closed down of course.
B York: Do you have memories of—you mentioned Billy Snedden before, that you played tennis with him. I was wondering about other members, especially Prime Ministers who were here, did you have any personal or incidental contact with—who would it have been? Fraser and Hawke?
B Walshe: Well you see, Mr Fraser—I never come in contact with Mr Fraser, sometimes he’d brush past you on the door, he would never say good-morning. But Mr Hawke, he would shake your hand as he went into the Chamber, always a very nice chap like that. He recognised the attendants—Mr Hawke he’d always—Mr Fraser used to come in the side door here, he’d always get by his driver left off there and he’d go straight up the steps, and Mrs Fraser if she was with him, she’d come and say hello to us at the door and go in the other way. But when the PM would—Mr Hawke when Prime Minister, he would come up the front stairs and he would pull up at the Kings Hall attendant’s box there and say hello and shake our hands—if there were people, the kids would clap him [laughs]. He was a great entertainer.
B York: Yes, yes.
B Walshe: They were great years at the Old House, I would have liked to spend more years down here, but I’ve spent nearly eight years, served nine years roughly, because we opened up the New House in ’88, so it was eight years, yes.
B York: Were there any members of parliament that you did develop friendships with or get to know more than others?
B Walshe: Oh yes there were a lot of members, I remember—Mick Young was a very good friend, Mick Young? Back in them days.
B York: A very good friend?
B Walshe: Yes he was and had great debates Mick Young in the Chamber with Fred Daly and—so they were great debaters and I’ll never forget Mick Young.
B York: How did that develop, that friendship?
B Walshe: Oh just as an attendant, just going into his offices, he’d always say ‘come in’ and—sometimes I’d have a cup of coffee with him, so he was the main one, Mick Young, that I was personally involved with.
B York: And did you do things together outside the building?
B Walshe: No we didn’t, no it was just mainly in the House.
B York: What do you think was the bond—the bond for the friendship?
B Walshe: Oh I just think we were country boys and you know, a lot in common. He was a shearer back in them days, great fellow. There were other great fellows in the House too, Fred Daly and Mr Anthony—great fellows.
B York: When you found out that eventually the move would happen to the new Parliament House, how were you prepared for that? Were you prepared, I mean did they—Old Parliament House prepare—how did they explain it and what measures were taken to make it a smooth transition?
B Walshe: Well when the new House was being built, we used to—they use to bring buses here and we’d go up to the new House and see where the Chamber was going to be, and you would have probably tours—probably once a month while it was getting built. That was mainly it Barry.
B York: Did it go smoothly?
B Walshe: Oh very smoothly, yes. Geoff Brecht who was the senior attendant in the Chamber, he went up to the new House while we were still down here, and he set up the Chamber up there. The Chamber box. But we stopped down here until—for I think two or three weeks before we moved—three of four of us stopped down here before we move up to the new House, because a lot of mail still came down here and we used to take the mail up to there before we got into the full swing.
B York: Was there any kind of party, to mark the move? Do you recall, was there…
B Walshe: No Barry there wasn’t, we never got involved with any big parties here for that—the only big parties were for Christmas time when the Prime Minister used to put on a do for the staff out at the—near the old member’s bar there?
B York: Oh yes.
B Walshe: Mr Fraser didn’t but when Mr Hawke was Prime Minister he’d invite the Press and the attendants—all the people that worked in the House, they would be invited to a drink every Christmas. But otherwise that was the main function once a year.
B York: Are there any events that stand out? Political or any kind of things that happened in the building in that eight year period?
B Walshe: The only astonishing thing is when—I think it was 10:30 this night, I was on the floor in that House there, and through this door came a dressed chicken, which was the member for Franklin, and he’s flapping his wings around—that was one of the unusual things that you’d see in the House. So he was pretty well escorted out by the Sergeant-at-arms, but that otherwise, I just remember the great debates between the members.
B York: Any in particular that impressed you?
B Walshe: Well I think the greatest of them was Mick Young, I feel that he was—he used to have the galleries in laughter with the things he used to say at Question Time and that. Paul Keating was a great Prime Minister, he used to draw the big crowds, not like today. Question Time is probably the galleries running half full today.
B York: With the chicken incident, if we can call it that, how sure you that it was the member for Franklin?
B Walshe: I’m very confident it was because I was pretty close to him, I could see [laughs]—the eyes were Bruce Goodluck’s. Yes, and I only heard, I had a morning tea at Parliament House Monday morning and I—when Mr Speaker spoke and he said he was the one that organised it. David Hawker he was one of the ones that led him in to the back of the Chamber, so it was definitely him.
B York: Ah so that’s really good evidence.
B Walshe: Yes it is really good evidence, coming from the Speaker—well he wasn’t the Speaker back in them days, but Mr Hawker said, he mentioned that at my morning tea on Monday morning.
B York: That’s last Monday? Just a few days ago?
B Walshe: Yes just a few days ago. Because I didn’t know that—I forget the other member that was with him at the time, but Mr Hawker, the member for Wannon was the one that got him up to the back door and pushed him in [laughs].
B York: And how did you feel making the move, were you sad to leave Old Parliament House?
B Walshe: Yes it was, I felt very sad leaving the old House because you know—with the ministers and members, you had them all around you and you’d be seeing members and ministers and—but now you hardly see—at the new House, you’ve got the ministerial wing of course, where the Prime Minister is and the ministers there all in one big section. And it’s different today when you go into—I’ve been working around the Leader of the Opposition mainly all the time I’ve been in parliament after all these years, you used to go in there, but today you go into the offices and every staff member is looking into the computers and that sort of thing now, you haven’t got that personal thing up there like you did down here.
B York: And how does it feel coming back to Old Parliament House?
B Walshe: Great, I’ve got some great memories of this place and I will bring many friends back here because I really enjoyed it. It was so compact this place—you’d see nearly every person that worked in Parliament House when you worked in this place, but at the new House you might not see people for weeks. Great memories of it Barry.
B York: Well I’m really glad that we were able to do the recording in the week in which you have your recognition.
B Walshe: It worked out pretty good Barry, yes. So yes it was a great day yesterday—all the things about me, and it was great, and having the family there—it was a great day.
B York: And what are your plans now Brian, after—
B Walshe: Barry I think Joan and I might do a bit of travelling around, I’ve never been to New Zealand or Tassie, I want to go and see those places. The members—I was talking to a couple of members yesterday—Mr Adams and Mr Kerr the member for Denison and he told me ‘come to Tasmania, give me a ring and we’ll show you around the place’, which I thought was great and I’ve got a daughter at Kalgoorlie, probably drive over there next year and see her—I usually fly over a couple of times a year, but I’d just like to drive over there—while the health’s still good. I leave both Houses with great memories, it’s been an honour to serve on the floor of the House and a privilege. And I’ll miss it, I tell you, I will miss it.
B York: Yes I was going to ask—
B Walshe: I’m going out Barry while the marbles are still working [laughs]. Yes, but no it’s been a great honour and I’ve met so many great friends and yes I’m going to miss it sadly.
B York: Do you think you’ll keep in touch with—
B Walshe: Oh I will, I will, I will keep in touch with a lot of the people—might play bowls, lot of the security people said ‘oh we got to keep in contact with you’, and that’s fine. But I’ve got 20 grandkids, so they’ll keep me busy Barry. I’ll be back and forwards to the house, I’m sure.
B York: Well Brian that was a very interesting recording, is there anything else you’d like to say before we finish it up?
B Walshe: No, Barry I’d just thank you for the opportunity to do this for you, I’m only an old parliamentary attendant, I just thank you very much for the opportunity—I’ve never done anything like this before, so may have been a little bit nervous for some of the questions you asked me but I think it all went pretty well.
B York: I’ll make sure we get you a CD copy for yourself and your family.
B Walshe: Thanks, thanks Barry.
B York: It’s a nice record of your time here.
B Walshe: Yes, yes.
B York: Right well thank you again Brian.
B Walshe: Pleasure Barry.
[End of transcript.]
This history has multiple parts.1 2
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