Carol Summerhayes was born in Sydney in 1942 and worked in the provisional Parliament House between April 1967 and April 1975, initially as Stenographer in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, Gough Whitlam, (working primarily with Graham Freudenberg, Mr Whitlam’s press secretary and speech writer) and from December 1972 as Personal Secretary to the Prime Minister. She subsequently worked in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet until 1995 when she became Deputy Official Secretary to the Governor-General. She retired in 1999.
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 1
E Helgeby: This is an interview with Carol Summerhayes. Carol will be speaking with me, Edward Helgeby, for the Oral History Program conducted by Old Parliament House. On behalf of the Chief Executive Officer of Old Parliament House I would like to thank you for agreeing to participate in this project. Do you understand that the Commonwealth owns copyright in the interview material but disclosure will be subject to any disclosure restrictions you impose in completing the formal consent?
C Summerhayes: I understand, yes, I agree.
E Helgeby: This being so may we have your permission to make a transcript of this recording should Old Parliament House decide to make one?
C Summerhayes: Certainly.
E Helgeby: We hope you will speak as frankly as possible knowing that neither the tapes nor any transcript produced from them will be released without your authority. This interview is taking place today, 20th January 2009 at Old Parliament House. Can we begin with a little bit of background on your parents and when and where were you born?
C Summerhayes: Okay, I was born in April 1942 in a suburb called Turramurra in Sydney. My parents were Juanita my mother who was born at Bellingen and died two years or so ago. My father was George Summerhayes who was born in Sydney in 1908 and died about 1976. My father had been in the Air Force through the Second World War when we lived in Sydney. He worked for his father when he came back from the war at the Metropolitan Business College in Sydney, which my grandfather, his father, had founded but they had a falling out at some stage and my father then joined the Commonwealth Public Service in Canberra and we came to Canberra in 1957.
E Helgeby: So where were you actually born?
C Summerhayes: I was born in Sydney, in Turramurra and my siblings were all born there. We came to Canberra to stay in ’57. I finished off school here. I did my first three years of high school in Sydney and my last two years of high school here in Canberra.
E Helgeby: Which school?
C Summerhayes: Canberra High School.
E Helgeby: When you came to Canberra where did you live?
C Summerhayes: We moved in to a house which had been allocated eventually to my family in Yarralumla which was on the edge of town. It was an outer suburb in those days. We had dirt roads up from where we lived to the American Embassy and lots of dust. No trees much, it was a pretty bare landscape. No lake we used to have to ride across the lucerne flats to school, not that I rode to school every day, but for sport on Saturday I rode my bike over. But, yes, very different from how it looks now.
E Helgeby: And this was when Canberra High School was at, what is now the ANU campus?
C Summerhayes: Exactly, yes.
E Helgeby: What was it like to live in Canberra at that time?
C Summerhayes: Well, as I say, I had only two years of high school here. It was very different from Sydney. We’d been living in an outer suburb of Sydney called St Ives, which was pretty much a market garden newly developing suburb, pretty countrified, lots of trees, kids with horses, not that we had them and freedom. Canberra was pretty much the same. So I didn’t really come from an inner city environment to a country environment but the suburban environment of St Ives was not very different from the country environment of Canberra. I remember particularly we came down here to have a look at the house that had been allocated to my parents. My father was a bit of a car buff, we had a Jowett Javelin. We set off from Sydney at sparrows one morning to come to Canberra and have a look at this house and we only got as far as the razorback and the car conked out. So we had to go back to Sydney were my father spent all the rest of that day with the bonnet of the car up hissing and spitting and cursing at this car. So the next morning we got up again, did the same trip, managed to get over the top of the razorback, got to Canberra and I remember we stopped at what was probably one of those old wooden bus sheds out on the Cotter Road for a picnic lunch. We could hardly eat it for the flies, there were just all these terrible little sheep flies. That is probably my strongest memory of that first vision of Canberra. I hadn’t been here before.
E Helgeby: So did you find it difficult to adjust to life here?
C Summerhayes: Not at all. I mean you had to make new friends, but I mean, every time you change schools you have to do that. School here was for me a bit different in that it was co-educational and the school I had been to in Sydney was an all-girls high school so I had that adjustment to make which was — adjusting from an all-girls school to a co-ed school is a bit distracting. I think probably people who had been through it would understand. But then I did the leaving in ’58 and I then joined the Public Service, there wasn’t really much else offering in Canberra for employment. Pretty much straight from school I became a clerk in the Department of Immigration.
E Helgeby: So what sort of responsibilities did you have there?
C Summerhayes: I think, it’s a bit hard going back that far. I think I started off in the registry, which I think probably is where they put people until they could get a fair assessment of you. I can’t remember the chronology of the jobs I had there but the main time, I think, was spent in the Passport Office. When we used to — Passports were all written out by hand and we used to have to bundle them up into batches and send them off to embassies overseas with sealing wax and string; this is in the late ‘50s, probably 1959. Writing out Passports by hand, having to write tidily, keep records. I was very much the junior in the office though.
Then I decided that I wanted to travel overseas so I left the Public Service, probably a bit brashly because I wanted to save money. So I became a governess out in the wilds of New South Wales up near Tamworth, because I thought I’d be able to save money by doing that. In order to save more money, in order to travel overseas. That didn’t really work out like I’d hoped so I came back to Canberra after about four months. Then I got a job as a stenographer, initially with the Department of the Army because I wanted to learn shorthand typing, in order to get a job in London, which was what I knew I’d have to do over the winter in the UK. So that is my employment history up until, probably about ’63.
I did actually work for the South African Embassy for a year before I went overseas, which was interesting. Then I had two years based in London, travelling, working, and then came back to — I was working in Australia House over the winter. Then I came back to Australia and I worked for solicitors for twelve months and then I got a phone call one afternoon from John Menadue asking me if I’d be interested in being interviewed for a job in Mr Whitlam’s office when he was — he’d just been, two months before, made leader of the Opposition.
E Helgeby: Stepping back just a little bit, where did you learn stenography?
C Summerhayes: I went to night school. I went to the Metropolitan Business College of course, a family company, I didn’t have to pay. My father’s cousin, John Serrucio was running it in those days.
E Helgeby: This was here in Canberra.
C Summerhayes: There was a branch of the college here in Canberra. The headquarters was in Sydney but there was a branch here in Canberra so I went at night to learn shorthand and of course I learnt Summerhayes shorthand because that was the family shorthand which my grandfather invented. He had been born in Young in New South Wales and had left school to become a — I think he initially he went to work for the local newspaper and he learnt Pitman’s shorthand for that job. At some stage later he became a court report. I don’t know whether that happened in Young or when he moved to Sydney and he just decided that Pitman’s shorthand, as I remember being told, had too many exceptions to rules. You would learn a rule and then you would have to learn the exceptions to the rule and he decided he could invent a form of shorthand which didn’t have those problems. So he created this Summerhayes shorthand which was only ever taught at the Metropolitan Business College in its various branches. I think there was a branch in Newcastle, and Parramatta, and Sydney and Canberra, but never outside of those places. So, yes, I learnt at the college, probably in the period which I was still working in Immigration I think. I got a job as a stenographer when I came back from governessing and so I must have mastered it by then.
E Helgeby: So you don’t actually have Pitmans?
C Summerhayes: No, you could only — people like me, average people could only learn one form of shorthand. You’d be far too confused if you learnt the two forms, but my grandfather having been dissatisfied by Pitmans. He was obsessed by shorthand towards the end of his life, he used to write his cheques in shorthand. But no most people wouldn’t manage, wouldn’t do — I know quite a few people who learnt shorthand. Rob Chalmers who was in the Press Gallery for a long, long time, he writes Summerhayes shorthand, there are still a few people around.
E Helgeby: So you said, it is difficult to make a comparison with Pitmans in terms …
C Summerhayes: Well, I can’t, no because I only learnt one form, so it was his judgement though that the problem with Pitmans was that there were too many exceptions to the rules.
E Helgeby: You mentioned that John Menadue rang you up and said were you interested in applying for this job basically …
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: … how would he have found out about you?
C Summerhayes: Well you see, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. He knew this man John Serrucio who had taken over, I suppose, my father’s position, in a way, as running the business college. I don’t know where he knew John from but John was my father’s cousin. When they got — I think they got approval for a new position. They were setting up a new office really. They had a few positions to fill. John Menadue rang John Serrucio and said did Serrucio know of anybody who might be interested in a job like this and Serrucio thought of me and gave, presumably, that is where John Menadue got the — well I know that is where he got the name from and so he then rang me and I came over here for an interview.
E Helgeby: Tell me about that, can you remember who interviewed you?
C Summerhayes: Yes, John Menadue.
E Helgeby: So he, himself.
C Summerhayes: He was Senior Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition. Yes, I remember that quite well. I remember one of the questions he asked me, which surprised me a little was, whether I was a member of any political party, which I wasn’t, but I was interested in his explanation. He said, we obviously wouldn’t really want to employ somebody who was a member of any other political party but we don’t also really want somebody who’s a member of the ALP. He didn’t explain at the time, but I think now it was probably because as a member of the ALP you could be a branch meeting and you could be putting your point of view and it could be misinterpreted as, maybe Mr Whitlam’s point of view, or somebody else’s point of view. So I think that was the rationale for that.
E Helgeby: What did it feel like coming in, doing the interview by a senior member of staff of Old Parliament House?
C Summerhayes: I was a bit overawed. I don’t think I’d ever been in here before. I think that was my first — the first time I remember being here. I had a friend who was working here and I had also — she was working for the government at the time and she probably gave me a feeling of what to expect in terms of the physical building and maybe how life was. Also I had friends who were journalists, who I remember they hadn’t been in Canberra very long themselves but very happy to offer advice on how things might be in Whitlam’s office. So I had a bit of background briefing, I suppose, from people who had some connection with the place.
E Helgeby: So can you remember where the interview was held?
C Summerhayes: I can, it was in room M57A, I think it is. John Menadue’s office in those days, initially in ’67, this was April ’67 I guess, backed onto the internal Reps courtyard. I think it had windows a bit like the ones where we have now with that, iron fretwork or whatever you call it there. I don’t remember any details of what sort of questions I was asked. I guess they were fairly routine about where I’d worked, what I’d done, as I said the questions about political involvement.
E Helgeby: Did he offer you the job?
C Summerhayes: He did. I can’t remember then and there or a little afterwards. I don’t even remember having to give referees. I suppose I did. He probably rang around a few people who — because I’d been in Canberra by that stage about ten years or so.
E Helgeby: What sort of salary?
C Summerhayes: I don’t know. I can’t remember.
E Helgeby: Was it better, would you regard it as an improvement or a promotion in relation to — compared to what you were doing in other departments?
C Summerhayes: Well, it certainly wouldn’t have been any more money than I would have got as a clerk in the public service, which I guess, what I’d moved away from at that stage. I moved back to that. In terms of what my weekly salary was, I can’t be specific, but, of course, we worked incredibly long hours so we used to get paid overtime, which brought one’s pay packet up a little.
E Helgeby: What was your first impression of Old Parliament House. When you came in here for the first time?
C Summerhayes: I suppose it was just the large size of King’s Hall and finding your way across that — because you know where the opposition corridor is, it is diagonally opposite. You come in the front door and you have to head, almost right across King’s Hall. As I got to know it later, a table which was there with the Magna Carta on it and Alan Reid used to be always leaning on it with one elbow, catching people as they went by. Beyond that, no I don’t have any marked impressions, just that size of King’s Hall and then, I mean we just went straight into Menadue’s office.
E Helgeby: Were you interested in politics before you came in?
C Summerhayes: Not particularly, no. I think probably if I had — how old was I, I was twenty-six or something, so I had voted and I suspect I hadn’t voted Labor. I didn’t think much of Arthur Calwell to be honest so I probably was more interested as a — I wasn’t a flibbertigibbet but I wasn’t particularly interested in political parties. Policies, I was more interested in how political leaders presented Australia overseas and I didn’t think that Calwell perhaps was the best between Menzies and Calwell. I remember noticing, when Whitlam became, I suppose Deputy Leader and I remember noticing something in the paper. I particularly remember — so I was reading a bit about politics. I just remember particularly Margaret Whitlam’s long hair which she used to wear in plats wrapped around her head. I’ve still got that image in my head of when Whitlam first came to my notice.
E Helgeby: Would you say that while you were working there you became interested in politics?
C Summerhayes: Oh yes, well you can’t avoid it.
E Helgeby: Part of the system.
C Summerhayes: Part of the system, well, yes it was work, it was the life blood of the place.
E Helgeby: Can you remember your first day on the job, working in this position?
C Summerhayes: I can, it was a bit dramatic. It was the day before my birthday and my birthday is on Anzac Day, so it was 24th April ’67, and — I don’t think it was a sitting week. It was the day before Anzac Day, so it wouldn’t have been a sitting week, but for whatever reason, Mr Whitlam was in town and Mrs Whitlam and several others of the staff. There was some sort of a reason to have a press briefing in his office. So — because I was employed to be the stenographer to Graham Freudenberg who was the Press Secretary I had the task of going into this meeting and taking a record of what was said. We had to take extra chairs in for the press to sit on so — took the extra chairs in, had the press briefing, took the notes, went back to my desk and the next thing, a chair came flying through the air, landed on the floor beside me. I turned around a bit cheekily and said ‘How threw that’ and there in the doorway was this tall E. G. Whitlam with this absolute puce face. It was a bit of baptism of fire for me. I’d soon withdrew into my shell a little and stopped giving cheek, but it was just one of those — he’d obviously tripped over this chair, which I should have thought. I suppose I didn’t think, but if somebody had suggested maybe it’s time to take those extra chair out of there, it mightn’t have happened, but it was interesting.
So I remember that particularly, beyond that I think there were quite a few people around and there was probably a lot of activity that I didn’t understand what was happening. They were only there for that day, the day before Anzac Day, then we had the holiday for Anzac Day and the following day I think some people were surprised that I’d turned up, after that first day day’s experience, they were a bit surprised that I came back for more. That day after Anzac Day, the 26th, the only people around were John Menadue and one other member of staff, so life was very quiet and I think I probably typed a speech or something like that, we could get on with those sorts of tasks.
E Helgeby: First of all, were you working in there, in a space next to 57A?
C Summerhayes: We had rooms M57 and M57A. I don’t know quite which was which. One was the waiting room where Irena who was the receptionist, sat, and she was immediately outside Mr Whitlam’s office and then we had the space between that door and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s office which was closer to King’s Hall. I think that was M57. One door was into Graham Freudenberg’s office and I was up against — Graham Freudenberg’s office was, say on my left here, and then we had a sort of a half wall, and I had a desk up against that half wall. My colleague Barbara Stewart had a desk right next to me, again up against this half wall. So we only ever had desk space, we didn’t have offices.
E Helgeby: Out of interest, what sort of equipment did you use, what type of typewriter did you have?
C Summerhayes: I think we must have started off, in ’67 must have started off with manual typewriters. I don’t — I know we graduated to those IBM electric golf ball machines, they were the first electric typewriters and we had those, but I can’t fix now the timing. Then we went — no we had Hermes electric, we ended up with portable electric typewriters but I think they were golf balls. I think we started off with a manual flick of carriage return and then moved on to the golf balls, and that’s about as far as we got in those days I think. We didn’t have word processors or typewriters with memories.
E Helgeby: What was the structure of the office like, how did you — where did you fit into this? There are a number of people mentioned in Jenny Hocking’s biography of Gough Whitlam and also in Graham Freudenberg’s book, his memoirs, where they mention a number of names. If I read some of them out to you could you perhaps tell us a bit about them as individuals. The first one is Irena Cuznik?
C Summerhayes: Irena Cuznik, yes, we used to call her the princess, the Polish princess, she died sadly a few years ago. She was the receptionist. She was working already in Mr Whitlam’s office when I started. She used to greet people as they came in the door. She was probably the person who ushered visitors in and out of his, gate keeper I suppose, in a way, because sat between the corridor and Whitlam’s office. She was a stenographer. It was fairly democratic. The men were working on high powered policy while we girls were just girls and we just typed. Life is very different now but in those days girls were girls and we didn’t — we used to occasionally say, we’re not paid to think, which I’m ashamed to think of, but that’s a bit the way it was.
E Helgeby: I intend to probe that matter with you a bit further down the track if I might.
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: So, did you have any direct dealings with her?
C Summerhayes: Oh yes, we were all very good friends. We had three girls in the office in those days. There was myself, there was Irena and the third was Barbara Stewart who had been working for Mr Whitlam as Deputy Leader of the Opposition. So she came over from Deputy days. I think the princess came in once he was made leader. I don’t really know the timing of when she came to the office, but I think she came at the time he was made leader in February, ’67. So we were the three girls and we were all stenographers and then we had the men. The Senior Private Secretary, as we’ve talked about was John Menadue and he really was the senior staffer who had an enclosed office with a door that could be closed, nobody else did.
We had, at that stage — so John Menadue he is a very nice soft fairly gentle man, who I took to immediately. He was fairly quiet, by contrast the other two men on the staff when I first joined were Graham Freudenberg and Peter Cullen who used to frequent the non-members bar rather more often than John Menadue did. On quite days Graham and Peter who used to look out for each other somewhat, would often just say, we’re down on — what’s the phone number — 169 or something. He would just leave a message to say we’re on 169 which meant they were in the non-members bar. But John was a son of a Methodist, straight laced family, he’s not as straight laced now as he was then. No, he was very nice. He moved off from that job probably about six months after I started because Race Mathews came into the job then. I think John went off — no I don’t know his life story. I don’t remember exactly where John went to, whether he went to work for Rupert Murdoch at that stage, which could have been the case, but he also ran for election. He stood for the seat of Hume. Now there weren’t Reps elections in ’67 so that must have been the ’69 election. The timing of his move is a bit unclear in my mind now but he was the Senior Private Secretary. He seemed to be mainly involved with a group of policy committees which the parliamentary Labor Party had established in those days. They had a committee that advised Whitlam I suppose, rather than the caucus, on say, Science policy and they had another committee which advised on say, Health issues. They were groups of, probably academics, interested experts who were sympathetic to the cause. John seemed to be organising, or be involved with those groups more than anybody else in the office.
Peter Cullen used to look after some sort of, I suppose internal party things. He had come, he had worked for Senator Pat Kennelly who was, quote, the king maker in Victorian ALP so Peter knew the ALP pretty well. He used to do a lot of the correspondence. There was an awful lot of correspondence come into that office with people with suggestions and Peter used to draft a lot of those responses.
Then Graham Freudenberg, the third male member of staff was Press Secretary, oblique Speech Writer. His strength really was in speech writing. He is a nocturnal creature who wasn’t always around for the afternoon press’s phone calls. They used to be gathering their stories in the morning and Graham was never there in the morning so other people filled in, answered questions, it wasn’t a rigid delineation of roles because that wasn’t very practical.
E Helgeby: There is a reference to another female member of staff in these two books, Lorraine Hall.
C Summerhayes: Lorraine Hall came onto staff after the princess left. Irena left, I think she left and joined Foreign Affairs. She went to Rome, to work with the Embassy in Rome where she met an Australian fellow and married. Lorraine Hall came into Irena’s job and she filled that receptionist position, receptionist-stenographer. We all had to do a bit of everything.
E Helgeby: So exactly what was your role in this office?
C Summerhayes: Do anything you’re asked to do really. It was, certainly I was the principle stenographer for Graham and most of my time was spent doing his work. He used to dictate very slowly and as I said he’s nocturnal. We would be here sometimes until ten o’clock at night and I used to sometimes time it to see whether my Summerhayes shorthand was up to speed. Instead of doing 120 words a minute as most good shorthand writers can do, Graham was dictating at 3 words a minute. Very slow, very deliberate, when the words came they were almost always the right words. He didn’t change much afterwards but he paced the floor, smoking, dictating but at such a slow pace it was painful, but anyway, that’s the way he worked. As I say, when the words came out they were usually the right ones.
E Helgeby: So you actually worked, as far as being a stenographer, you really worked with him?
C Summerhayes: Yes, I did, but I also had to — I took dictation from the leader, as we call Mr Whitlam, and I probably also used to have to take — if Peter Cullen had a whole batch of letters that had to be answered, one of us would go in and just take notes from him and do those letters. We all did a bit of everything.
E Helgeby: Including, perhaps, taking notes as you did at press conferences?
C Summerhayes: At press conferences, yes.
E Helgeby: What about those committees that you mentioned?
C Summerhayes: No, we weren’t involved in any of those, they used to — they probably weren’t as formal as committees but they were sort of — I don’t what they call them now, advisory groups, or think tanks, little think tanks or something. They just would look — devise a policy, look at the ins and outs, but it was something I don’t think happens much more, these days.
E Helgeby: When John Menadue left he was replaced by Race Mathews.
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: Can you tell me anything about him, as an individual?
C Summerhayes: Race came from Victoria. He had been, I think, a speech therapist and he came into the job about, maybe September/October ’67. Again, a nice quite sort of a man, not a boisterous politician. I was going to say, they didn’t seem to be the sorts of people who would be interested in a political life, but both he and John did — well Race became a member of parliament. They did have political aspirations but they weren’t — you wouldn’t have thought that of them, on meeting them first, I don’t think. They weren’t brash, outgoing types, it seemed to me, they were — they didn’t seem like that in the office anyway, they may have had other personalities outside …
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 2
E Helgeby: That is an interesting point. Gough Whitlam, himself, is such a strong personality. How did he get along with these two, or whether was it perhaps they were rather quiet and more that they could, and he could survive with one another.
C Summerhayes: Well, I guess they were counterfoils for each other in a way. I mean I guess in all these sort of situations the strong personality, especially when he is the reason that all of us are there, gets his way pretty much, most of the time. So, yes, we had to bend to the rules, or the ruler. I guess though, if there was an issue — I know occasionally, just on our part if there was an issue you felt very strongly about you’d talk back to him. You could sometimes prevail. I don’t know — I wasn’t privy to any disputes between Whitlam and those men or any others really. No, I think it was respectful on both directions.
E Helgeby: There are a couple of other people mentioned in here as well, Dick Hall.
C Summerhayes: Oh yes, Dick Hall, now Dick yes, Dick Hall came — he was a journalist, a Sydney knockabout journalist who came to Whitlam’s office from — now Peter Cullen moved on. I don’t know — I think Peter went out to the lobbying world. I don’t know exactly how or why that happened. Dick Hall came in and took over that position maybe in ’68, I don’t exactly know. He’s died since too. He was a little round, terribly well read, but scruffy looking. I always remember he had grubby finger nails. A very well read — and he was involved in policy things where I suppose Peter Cullen was more a party insider and Dick Hall, having come from a journalistic background was — had networks outside and was involved in almost talking policy to people outside the party. I think that was a bit more of his role. I think roles just developed as people’s skills or, what’s the word I’m looking for, aptitudes came to bare. There was no duty statements. It was just more, you just did whatever needed to be done in the office.
I suppose there were — Jim Spigelman was another person who worked in opposition. Jim came from Sydney, well he’s Chief Justice of New South Wales now. He was — had worked as a solicitor, I suppose a Barrister, but I don’t think he was old enough to be a Barrister, but he’d been involved in political activity as a student and he came into the office after Race Mathews moved on to stand for election for Casey in ’69. So sometime in ’69 I imagine Race moved out in order to campaign and Jim came into the position as of Senior Private Secretary.
E Helgeby: How were they to work — there for you in that short period of time, just over a year, with those that you worked with at least three different senior private secretaries?
C Summerhayes: Yes, it was a very easy going office. As I said before, it was fairly democratic. There was not really any hierarchy except that the Senior Private Secretary, if it came to a crunch, probably had more say so, or more the ear of the boss, than others, but it didn’t ever come to that. We were all doing — it was a very good team. As you say the membership of it changed a bit but we were all there for Whitlam. No friction that I remember. I mean occasionally we would get tired of these boys being down in the bar more often than we thought was fair, but we were only girls.
One of my funniest memories though of the very early days, in my very early days in the job. Somebody said to me, I don’t know who it was now, said ‘Look get this statement out to all senators and members’. So I diligently photocopied, or whatever we did, probably ran it off on a Xerox. I started to whip it around to all senators and members, Liberal, Country Party, Labor, the lot. I don’t know how far I got down this track and somebody said to me ‘When we say, all senators and members, it doesn’t mean all senators and members, it means all Labor senators and members’. So whether I had to go and retrieve, I don’t remember going back and retrieving anything from the government side of things but I got very close to delivering them. Just people take for granted understandings which sometimes take a while to develop.
E Helgeby: Did you find that transition perhaps from private enterprise and from public service into this political hotbed of activity, did you find that hard at all?
C Summerhayes: I wouldn’t say it was hard. It was very interesting. I think you had to keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut and just — often, I mean, we didn’t what was going on around us. There were issues, big issues, running and we wouldn’t have known what was happening. Sometimes you would and sometimes you wouldn’t know. But the sort of work I was doing though, I’m pretty adaptable and I think I soon learned that something had to be done. You had to find a way of doing it. We weren’t climbing Everest or anything, doing anything that was physically impossible, it was just a way of finding a way of getting something done. You had to be pretty flexible though.
E Helgeby: Well that brings me to the next point, a typical day in your day, what would that be like?
C Summerhayes: Well, I suppose it depends, as always, whether the House was sitting or not. When the House was sitting, dear, we used to burn the candle at both ends. We’d start at nine, usually at nine. There’d always — Whitlam was always up on his feet making speeches when he was Leader of the Opposition, so there was always speeches being typed and retyped, this was before word processors. Sometimes we’d even get to the stage where pages were going into the chamber as they came off the typewriter. He probably had a previous draft with him, which he might have had handwritten changes to, which was a fall back, but no we were sailing pretty close to the wind in terms of time pressures often. Then if there was a press briefing I’d take notes at that. Would I’d type up the transcript to those? I don’t know that I did unless there was a problem. I had notes against which we could check something if something needed to be checked. I don’t think I automatically typed them up.
Then we’d grab a bite of lunch and then we would — Question Time was always the busy time. That was usually pretty — we listened rather than did anything much during Question Time. We sometimes used to go into that little curtained alcove off the Chamber where we could stand, not for too long, but have a listen if something interesting was going on. Then afternoons were probably more of the same, just a lot of typing letters, speeches, there was always work to be done. There was always — we didn’t sit around reading novels or chatting, it was pretty busy.
E Helgeby: You said you actually — during Question Time, you were there listening, so you went to, what the public galleries or …
C Summerhayes: No, we didn’t actually go into the Chamber. We wouldn’t have done it very often but if it was a fiery Question Time you sometimes might just dash across the corridor for a bit of a look. There was a curtained alcove off the corridor which as far as we ever went, we were girls. The boys could go into the advisors seats but we didn’t ever go into the Chamber proper.
E Helgeby: You mentioned lunch, where would you take lunch?
C Summerhayes: We would dash down to what we used to call the sheltered workshop, the staff dining room. Usually it was a pretty quick lunch, we didn’t linger. We just grabbed something to eat, I guess, and back to the desk. In the evenings we had a longer break and we often used to eat over at the Lobby, especially — well we were earning good money and we didn’t have time to shop so you could spend money on a dinner at the Lobby because it was about the only time you spent money. Work was all consuming and you didn’t have the time or the energy to go spending your money on other things, so a meal at the Lobby was a nice break away from the place in a way. Then we’d come back at eight o’clock and we’d work until midnight and then we’d go to a party.
E Helgeby: When you say we, who, is that the girls?
C Summerhayes: Probably the girls in the office, yes. Barbara and I particularly. I think Irena didn’t work quite as long hours as we did. I don’t know why that was. She probably was there when the House was sitting, but Barbara and I particularly would work into the night. My job involving Graham was inevitably a nocturnal sort of, and Barbara is a bit of a night owl herself, so I think that’s probably the cause of the — when the House was sitting we just were there and the House in those days used to sit until whenever, but then when it got up we’d go off to a party.
E Helgeby: So the — did you at all mix, during the normal working hours with people from other sections, or other parts of Old Parliament House?
C Summerhayes: Oh yes, we were all — I think that’s the biggest — well I’m not working in Parliament House now but I think it’s true to say that the biggest difference between working in this building, the Old Parliament House, and working today in new Parliament House, is that we were all friends. We used to go to each other’s parties. We used to go out on dates with people from other parties. We used to go to parties in Billy Snedden’s office, play cricket. He had a cricket wicket taped onto the glass door onto the corridor and you used a paper ball and had a bat. I mean everybody mingled really — there were no intensities of political hatred, or anything like that, we just were all in this — maybe it was the age we were, or the stage we were, it was always good natured. There were a few people we didn’t fancy particularly.
E Helgeby: But you had contact during work — in a sense …
C Summerhayes: Probably during working hours we were all a bit too busy to be socializing but come the sunset people used to drop around to other people’s offices with a beer and sit and have a drink. So it was a bit more relaxed after dinner. You often were there because the House was sitting. The phones wouldn’t be ringing the way they would in the day time, so it was a bit more, there was a bit more social life in the evenings. People would drop into each other’s offices.
E Helgeby: Each other’s offices, would you drop into say the offices of the Liberal member or support staff?
C Summerhayes: I think there was more of them visited us, for whatever reason. I don’t know whether we were — no I probably wouldn’t have left my desk. I think I was probably a bit too diligent.
E Helgeby: So you would have to say that the working conditions here definitely affected their home, significant impact on your social life?
C Summerhayes: Oh yes. I mean we didn’t — you didn’t have time for a real social life because, by the time, especially in sitting weeks, by the time you got home on a Friday night and at that stage I was still living with my parents in Yarralumla. I was so tired on a Friday night after a sitting week I couldn’t talk to anybody but fortunately there was this television show on called A Family at War. I remember it was a life saver for me, because I used to get home and I’d say, ‘I can’t talk. I have to watch this’ and then I’d watch it and I’d toddle off to bed. So I avoided unpleasantness, but it was just — and then I’d sleep. If I didn’t force myself not to I would have probably slept for half the weekend and then, of course, you never saw any of your friends. So I had to make a point of not spending all weekend sleeping but trying to catch up with the few friends I did have outside of parliament.
E Helgeby: I was going to ask, did you manage to maintain, hold on to friends outside parliament?
C Summerhayes: Yes, I did, there was a little gang of friends that I’d known before I worked in Parliament House and we kept going through those years, but as I say, it was — you had to make an effort to keep the contacts alive. Friendships die very quickly if you don’t put something into them.
E Helgeby: So the working conditions here were — how would you describe them from an employee point of view?
C Summerhayes: Looking at it from today’s perspective, goodness, smoking. Graham’s office used to be called by the cleaners, the big ashtray. We all smoked though. I used to smoke. I had — I used to smoke, particularly when we moved around the corner here into the PMs office. When the phone rang, my phone rang, I’d light up a cigarette and then I’d have that and the ashtray. The phone would ring again, I’d light up another cigarette, sometimes I’d have two going at once. It was just habit, but I mean, it was — we all smoked in those days. So there was all this polluted air which we helped to pollute. We had, as I say, no space other than your desks space, no privacy, no panels between people so that you couldn’t hear what other people were saying. It was all open, real open plan. Yes, if anybody was shouting everybody heard. Working conditions, I mean they were — no complaints really. It was probably just the physicality of the place, particularly when — after 1972 when we moved around into the refurbished PMs office and the office I had there was about half the — it was just like a horse stable, me at one end and a girl who helped me at the other end, that was bad working conditions. No natural light, no …
E Helgeby: We might walk around and take a look at that.
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: You mentioned very, very long hours your worked. Was there a regular arrangement for payment of overtime?
C Summerhayes: We just used to fill in our overtime claim forms, with a record of the hours we’d worked and we got paid. They magical department did all that. There was no limit. The Commonwealth drivers — I don’t think it applied to us, but it applied to the Commonwealth drivers and it applied to the people who were Press Secretaries on the AJA Award. If they didn’t get an eight hour break they got double pay for the hours they worked after the short break, shortish break, but we didn’t have any of that. We often finished work at, well, midnight and were back on deck before that particularly when we were travelling, or during a campaign or something, but that wasn’t relevant to us. We got paid for whatever hours we worked.
E Helgeby: So what were you actually classified as? What’s actually your substantive classification?
C Summerhayes: I think it was just a stenographer classification. I don’t think there were grades of stenographer. I think we were all on the same basic, we’re girls, we were on the same basic pay. I never thought about it.
E Helgeby: So the overtime, in a sense, was the difference between having a job and having well paid job?
C Summerhayes: Yes, that’s right. There was an article in the Sydney afternoon paper, which doesn’t exist anymore, the Sydney Sun, and it was a story about — I think Barbara and Lorraine and me, and it was headed ‘Poor Little Rich Girls’. It talked about how we worked so hard. We didn’t have time to spend out salaries. It must have been 1969, before the election in ’69 they did a feature on the Whitlam staffers, but that is what it was headed ‘Poor Little Rich Girls’. I don’t think any of us were rich. We probably didn’t earn a lot of money but we earned more money than we could spend.
E Helgeby: And you didn’t have the time to spend it.
C Summerhayes: Didn’t have the time to spend it either.
E Helgeby: You mentioned this was, of course, sitting weeks are different to non-sitting periods. How did that impact actually on your workload?
C Summerhayes: Greatly, you know, non-sitting weeks you could catch up with all the filing, all the things you hadn’t done during the busy sitting weeks. Have a long lunch occasionally. Come in a little late, go home a little early, yes it did make a big difference if — well it was perhaps not always the difference between a sitting week and a non-sitting week it also had to do with whether Mr Whitlam was in town. If he was in town we’d be busy but if he wasn’t. If he was travelling or back in Sydney and not in the office life was quieter and at a more gentle pace.
E Helgeby: What parts of the building did you use regularly, and which did you hardly ever set foot in?
C Summerhayes: King’s Hall was obviously part of the thoroughfare. We never went down the — I don’t think I ever went down the government corridor. We always cut across King’s Hall to the opposition corridor, this is obviously up until ’72. The Parliamentary Library, we were in there a lot because being in Opposition we relied on the Legislative Research Service, or the Library as it was then called, for a lot of research work. So we were in and out of there with requests, or collecting things, or asking for whatever we’d been told to ask for. We didn’t ever really go to the non-members bar. We might have occasionally stopped by there. I don’t remember that particularly. The dining room, we’d have lunch and occasional dinners in. The Speakers Office, we used to have to be in and out of to get passes for people when they were visiting, to sit in and listen. I occasionally went up to the Press Gallery with press, put things in the boxes and ring the bell. But the Chamber, no, except as I mentioned we’d hang about in the vestibule, in that little, I don’t know if that is the right word for it, alcove, I suppose is better.
I remember, I’ve just remembered one really dramatic evening in the Reps when it was St John was getting stuck into John Gorton, and the drama of that was palpable. It’s really, forty years later, that really sticks in my mind still as a sort of — almost too much tension. I remember being in that little curtained alcove when that was happening. We couldn’t believe that this man was saying about his leader what he was saying.
E Helgeby: You mentioned, I suppose, here that you hardly ever went down or used the non-members bar. Yet your colleagues were obviously to be found down there.
C Summerhayes: Well, it was sort of a blokes place, and they used to tell each other their stories and I think that probably we would have been pounced upon and no — I am only speaking for myself. I don’t know whether Barbara spent time down there. It wasn’t really anything I wanted to do and as say I was a bit diligent. I was a bit inclined to be at my post, or not there at all.
E Helgeby: Coming back to an issue which you touched on briefly. The sort of equipment that you used in the office, did it change over the time that you were there?
C Summerhayes: Oh it certainly did. We talked about typewriters and the other marked change in technology, I suppose, was how we used to reproduce speeches. I remember when we first started off, we used to have to cut stencils. I don’t know whether you remember them, but they were this sort of waxy sort of paper, and you hit it with your typewriter and if you made a mistake you had to fill it up with pink liquid stuff and let that dry and then have another go. Then that went onto a press, gestetner I think they were called.
So that was the first method I remember, and then there came some things which I think were called multi-lifts or something. It was like a cardboard that you used to type on and you had a special rubber that you could, if you made a mistake, you could erase the error and correct it, that got I suppose, similarly put onto a plate of some sort, inked up. I don’t think we had photocopiers.
Then I remember the wretched Xerox, not Xerox, fax machines came in, and particularly in government we got very annoyed with these things, because they used to be able to get at us. When we were away somewhere Canberra used to be able to send work up to us, when we were travelling, concentrating on something or other else, so at one stage, I think we quite deliberately sabotaged the thing. We pulled the paper tray out so that we couldn’t get any more paperwork from Canberra, but that was, no mobile phones. I remember seeing somebody during an election campaign with some sort of a phone in the boot of their car. Then I heard about this amazing thing were somebody plugged their, then computer I suppose, plugged their computer into the wall and sent their story off to their newspaper, by just plugging their computer into the wall. We’ve seen so many technological changes.
E Helgeby: Did you actually get any form of word processing by the time you’d left?
C Summerhayes: Where would we have been at in ’75? I left in April ’75. We might have had typewriters with, say a ten word memory, or something like that, but I don’t think it was any more sophisticated than that. Certainly wasn’t computers, that came later, but I can’t be sure about that. Whether in April ’75 we were still on golf balls or whether we had these little ten word memory things.
E Helgeby: How would you describe your relationship with your colleagues in the office?
C Summerhayes: Very, it was very egalitarian and friendly. I don’t think — we didn’t have very many cross words. I did have one episode with Graham where I shouted at him, which he’s never forgotten, but he was being naughty and I just got cross. But generally, no it was a pretty happy place to work. We all — I guess in a way too, we had to combine against this strong man we worked for at times. If he was in a bad mood, and it’s fairly well known that he had occasional bad moods. We’d just sort of warn each other and keep out of his way, or stand up to him if we felt that had to happen. No, it was a pretty collegiate team. I don’t remember ill feelings. I think occasionally you might be a little bit of frisson of something, but it all blew over. I really honestly don’t remember any major difficulties with anybody.
E Helgeby: Did you intend to have anybody you actually would regard as your supervisor?
C Summerhayes: E. G. Whitlam, no, I mean Graham. Because I was employed to work for Graham, if he asked me to do something I would obviously do it. If he told me to do something I didn’t want to do, I probably still would have done it. But, no, we didn’t have that sort of — there wasn’t anybody you could go to. Well, sorry, you could have — I could have gone to the Senior Private Secretary, if I had a problem with say Graham asking me to work extraordinary hours that I didn’t think were reasonable and I’d wanted to pursue that I probably would have gone to the Senior Private Secretary, that’s the sort of — he would have been the supervisor in default I suppose. But I don’t think it came to that.
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 3
E Helgeby: What sort of interaction did you have with staff in other sections?
C Summerhayes: Other offices?
E Helgeby: Yes.
C Summerhayes: Well, as I said before I had friends that I had known before, well one in particular Jan, who worked for Harold Holt and then Leslie Bury before I went to parliament — she was working for Harold Holt when I went to Parliament House. She and I spent two years travelling overseas together. We’d met in Immigration and we’d gone overseas, had two years in each other’s pockets basically. So when I came to work for Whitlam and she was working for Harold Holt. It wasn’t a problem except when got to the stage — we were spending so much time, weekends in Sydney, and we were paying hotel bills to the point where it seemed sensible to rent a flat rather than pay hotel bills. So Jan and I shared a flat, which we just really used in non-sitting weeks if our bosses were in Sydney. But Billy McMahon for whom Jan was then working came to hear about this and said, sharing a flat with a member of Whitlam’s staff, what if Clyde Cameron were to hear about this. Clyde Cameron being a Labor member of the Reps from South Australia with fairly fierce capacity for poison, I suppose, is not a very charitable way of putting it. So Billy McMahon was worried that Clyde Cameron might hear that Jan and I, well that Whitlam’s staff and McMahon’s staff was sharing a flat, so he said to Jan, you know, you get out of the flat or you get out of the job. So we went our different ways. She got a flat of her own and I got a flat of my own. But that was the only time there was any problem with friendships between people from different sides of politics.
Now we used to go to the Lobby for dinner and we’d get up on the dance floor with ministerial advisors and go out on dates with people from the other side of politics. Have friendships, it didn’t seem, we had good relations, but as I say there were some people we didn’t fancy, probably because of their politics. I do remember there was a fellow called Peter Kelly who was a journalist and widely regarded as a DLP, Democratic Labor Party whatever, stooge, plant. We never liked him at all. We didn’t have any social interaction with him because of his politics I suppose. But a funny story I remember about him was, Ian Fitchett who used to be the Sydney Morning Herald correspondent and a great big burly man with a little tiny head. We always kept George the IV whiskey in the office for Mr Fitchett, but Mr Fitchett came in one night after dinner. He came up to me and he said ‘Have you got a band-aid ‘mugsy’, he used to call me ‘mugsy’’ and I said ‘What do you want a band-aid for Mr Fitch’. He said ‘I’ve just jobbed Peter Kelly in King’s Hall and I need a band-aid’. So what that would have been about. Whether anybody had seen him job Peter Kelly I don’t know, but we thought, well, interesting times.
E Helgeby: You’ve already mentioned it I think, I may know the answer to this one already, but your contact with your colleagues outside work, in so far as there was time outside work?
C Summerhayes: The colleagues I worked with in Whitlam’s office, probably not a lot because we were together so much in the working week that come going home time. I mean I might have gone to a movie occasionally with Barbara if we were there, but no we didn’t really socialize in the normal pattern of events. Of course if we were away on a campaign or a conference, or something like that, we’d all hang around together, but not out of working hours in a normal situation. I think because we’d already talked about all the things.
E Helgeby: Did you develop any personal friendships with people who were in the building during that time?
C Summerhayes: I had a few special friendships with people who worked in the building, no names, no petrol, but we used to have little romances. I don’t know how I managed them at times, no we did — people did. On the non- romantic side though, did I make any friends here, apart from people that I worked with — probably not. I got to know a lot of people but probably didn’t develop any friendships, or special relationships of the non-romantic kind.
E Helgeby: On to something quite different, were you ever a member of a union?
C Summerhayes: No, I don’t know why that was. I suppose, no I don’t know why that was. I only joined the union when I went into the public service, back into the public service proper. I think it was because we were temporary employees. It was just before the Members of Parliament Staff Act and we were only temporaries. So that was probably the reason why there was no insistence on union membership. I think I’m right. I don’t remember belonging to a union when I worked here. I don’t know what union it would have been. There probably wasn’t one. It wouldn’t have been the Federated Clerks Union, and as I say it was in the days before the MOPS Act. Your employment was only as long as your political master was — had a seat in parliament, which was a bit of a — well a financial disincentive. I remember wanting, I wanted to buy a home of some sort for myself. That is one of the reasons why I moved on from Parliament House to the public service proper, because I really couldn’t afford the luxury of a political job and get a loan. Women in those days were lucky to get a loan from the bank anyway, but if you had a political job, which was dependent on your master’s political fortunes the bank weren’t very interested in lending to you.
E Helgeby: You mentioned that the workloads obviously changed quite significantly whether you were in sitting weeks or non-sitting weeks, and also particularly if Gough Whitlam was away from Canberra. You also, I know you — from the two books that I mentioned, you also travelled with him, to what and where?
C Summerhayes: Well, we used to go up and down to Sydney when — because Sydney was his home. So when the parliament wasn’t sitting. He had a little flat here in Manuka which he stayed in when the House was sitting, or he and Margaret stayed in, when the House was sitting, if she was here, otherwise he would go back to Sydney. This is when we started to go back to Sydney on say a Friday. I didn’t do it every weekend, but if I had to work in Sydney on a Friday and a Monday and then parliament would resume on a Tuesday I was tending to stay over in Sydney for the four days rather than fly back here on the Saturday and fly back there on the Sunday. There was that aspect of travel. But he used to travel an awful lot. One of us always went. One of the girls almost always went with him. One or two of the men would always go but there was usually a stenographer. We went, well, just trying to think. There was a by-election in Capricornia, Rockhampton, the seat of Capricornia, I think it was September ’67. We went up and down. The House would sit till Thursday night, Friday morning we would fly up to Rocky, have the weekend up there campaigning, come back for parliament on Tuesday. So that was when a by-election was on we would do that sort of travel.
There was a by-election in Corio in winter ’67 I think it was. I spent three weeks in a pink overcoat in a toy shop. It was so cold I had to wear my overcoat in a half of a toy shop which had been turned into a campaign office, typing on a little portable typewriter, envelopes, which people would put fliers of some sort into. So for the period of a by-election campaign, one of us would be based in that place for a couple of weeks. Now I did Geelong, Barbara did Rockhampton, I used to go back and forth, she stayed there. And in the Corio election campaign I stayed in Geelong and Barbara did the back and forth.
State conferences we’d travel to, take a note, we just did travel, one of us did travel most places with him.
E Helgeby: You mentioned that you actually had a flat in Sydney.
C Summerhayes: In Sydney, yes, well as I said, if I had to be there Friday through till, the beginning of Friday through to Monday. I’d otherwise would have to pay hotel bills for three nights and while I got travelling allowance for that. I could, for the same amount of money, pay rent on a flat and so that’s what I did.
E Helgeby: So, what proportion of your time, over say a working year, would you spend?
C Summerhayes: Would I spend in the flat in Sydney — maybe a fifth, maybe as much as a fifth, a sixth, not any less than that.
E Helgeby: On travel with him, or I suppose, did you travel with Graham separately?
C Summerhayes: Well, no I didn’t travel separately with Graham because he wouldn’t have travelled separately. He would have been like Whitlam going back and forth to home in Sydney, so that meant that if they were leaving Canberra on Friday after the House got up on Thursday night. They would work in Sydney on Friday and Monday and then come back to Canberra for parliament on the Tuesday. So that meant that there were four days, they would be back home in Sydney, and I had a half home in Sydney.
E Helgeby: And you were still, here in Canberra you were still living …
C Summerhayes: Canberra, still living with my parents, yes, or with my mum, yes.
E Helgeby: At any time while you were working at Old Parliament House did you supervise staff?
C Summerhayes: No, not, sorry, let’s go back. I did in the period when I was Personal Secretary to the Prime Minister and that was from December ’72 to April ’75 and I don’t think for the whole of that period but for most of it I had a helper in that little dog box of an office we talked about. Helen, who used to help me. I used to do all the invitations, all the personal stuff, all the appointments and so there was a lot of correspondence to do with that and she used to help me with that. I wouldn’t say I supervised her but I guess I was senior in rank to her by a little bit. We just worked together.
E Helgeby: What sort of a boss do you think you were?
C Summerhayes: I hope I was — I like to think I was reasonable and — I like the idea of mentoring people. I wasn’t into throwing my weight around or anything. She was very good. She worked long hours. It wasn’t a very pleasant environment. So we got on fine.
E Helgeby: I think could we take a short break here. I’ll get some things organised.
C Summerhayes: Sure.
E Helgeby: Okay, I’d like to talk a bit more about Graham Freudenberg. I understand that you worked primarily for him, certainly during the first years in the office.
C Summerhayes: That’s right. I was specifically employed to be his stenographer, but as things worked out I was probably the only one who took shorthand from him, but I certainly took shorthand from other people, but I was Graham’s person that he used to call on to do his work.
E Helgeby: In his biography, a figure of speech he refers to the indispensable contribution to the work, crowning a collaboration that spans forty years, and referring to you. He also talks about a genuine partnership. She was my audience of first resort.
C Summerhayes: I think that probably, well, just a bit of background on the friendship with Graham. I worked for him obviously for those years between ’67 and ’72 and then I became, in ’72 when Labor was elected to government I became Personal Secretary to the PM and Graham worked in West Block rather than Old Parliament House. He found another secretary. Then we all went our separate ways. I went to the public service, Graham moved on from, well Whitlam lost the leadership. I used to keep in spasmodic contact with him, but then, my partner Phil moved to Bribie Island partly because we had gone to Bribie Island to visit Graham, just north of Brisbane. So we, Graham and I really reconnected again, and we used to see quite a bit of him when I was up at Bribie, and that’s when he started work on his memoir, a figure of speech which I typed for him, because, I could read his writing. I think he might have been referring to that being his audience of first resort, because I was doing — by this stage I was forty years older and I was probably having more input. Not editorial input, but sometimes just raising a question, saying I don’t understand this, or haven’t you repeated yourself. So I was a bit more involved in the writing of that book than I probably ever would have been as a thirty year old.
Then Graham wrote the books he’s recently had published on Churchill and Australia and I worked with him on that too, so when he’s writing in the figure of speech, introduction a thank you to me, I think he’s also referring to the collaboration on that book as much as the previous collaboration in Whitlam’s office. We had — as he says, it spanned, a carefully chosen word, it spanned forty years, so we’ve got a bridge end at each end. He’s a wordsmith.
E Helgeby: Just something which — some very potent words. He talks about your collaboration as being creative and mutual.
C Summerhayes: Creative and mutual, well I guess that’s because occasionally I wasn’t frightened to ask a question if I didn’t understand. I learnt an awful lot of things from taking notes from Graham. There were lots of words I’d never heard of before and I would ask for an explanation, often. I don’t know how — I think Graham is very generous, I think probably overly so when he says I’m creative. I think I was probably a bit more questioning than suggesting. Yes, there were some aspects of his — I don’t think in those days I would have been bold enough to make very many suggestions. I would have probably asked questions, if something wasn’t clear to me.
E Helgeby: So what was it like actually to work for him, or with him?
C Summerhayes: Well, it was fascinating. He could be frustrating. His hours were difficult to keep up with because I was there at nine o’clock in the morning and he wouldn’t slope in until lunch time munching a green apple, which is all he ever had for breakfast, smoking cigarettes. If we stopped doing dictation say at eleven o’clock at night, I would then go home, he would stay at the office, hand write a few more pages, leave them on my desk. I’d get in at nine o’clock. I would then type them up and so by the time he came in with his green apple at lunchtime, it was all done. Then we’d start again. He, as I say, used to spend a bit of time at the bar but I mean, I guess a press secretary has to liaise with his press colleagues, but he wasn’t always around when we needed him. He always left a phone number where we could find him.
E Helgeby: In his effective biography he refers to the technical aspect, he’s saying Summerhayes shorthand formed the technical basis of your collaboration.
C Summerhayes: Well, I suppose, as I say, he wasn’t a man who dictated at any great speed so I didn’t really need to be terribly proficient at shorthand. I guess I could always read it back and I guess that’s what he’s perhaps talking about, accuracy, rather than speed. You get to know, the longer you work somebody in that capacity. You almost know what they’re going to say next if you know the context in which they’re writing. So I guess that is what he meant by that.
E Helgeby: So how would he actually work. Was he someone who was thinking on his feet, or had he drafted things out in rough then dictated to you after?
C Summerhayes: I don’t think I ever saw him, except on the books, but when we were working here in Old Parliament House. I don’t think he really would have had a draft, a rough draft, I think he probably was all in his head. He would have given an awful lot of thought to it. He would have talked around it with Mr Whitlam, he was obviously writing speeches for him, so he would have asked him what he wanted to say, or how they wanted to approach, whatever the issue was. Yes, I think you’re right, he would think on his feet, but he — that’s why it took so long for him to dictate because he was thinking, I guess, what’s the next stage of this. If I say this now, when do I say that.
E Helgeby: There was a lot of corrections, a lot of back tracking?
C Summerhayes: No, very few, well, not very few — fewer than you would expect. Sometimes it was a reordering of things. Sometimes it was taking something out or rephrasing something a bit more diplomatically, but not a lot of corrections. As I say, when the words came out they were usually so well thought through that they didn’t need correcting.
E Helgeby: He also mentioned that he tended to measure a speech not by words but by packets of cigarettes and beer cans.
C Summerhayes: That’s right, well he used to drink, he still does, when he can, drink VB and still smokes profusely, aged about seventy-three now. He doesn’t seem to have a cough. Life is unfair isn’t it. Some of us gave up smoking when we were thirty-five because we were frightened of what it was doing for our health, but Graham never has, has no desire to give up. He’s much the same sort of man now as he was then, just a few years older, a bit shambolic, a bit untidy. Yes, you need to tidy Graham up sometimes.
E Helgeby: Was that the case back in the early days as well?
C Summerhayes: I don’t know that — he was married then and probably Maureen did a job of keeping him a bit sprucer but, no it really. I mean, we used to on occasion have to sew buttons onto Whitlam’s shirts, if Margaret wasn’t in town and there was a button missing. You’d have to get your, as Gough called it, your hussif out and sew the button to the collar or whatever, didn’t ever do that for Graham though, perhaps that’s where we drew the line.
E Helgeby: The actual, again, I’m quoting from his biography here, he talks about a genuine partnership, this is the early days, when he was writing speeches. Did you suggest corrections or changes or ways of, he might express things better?
C Summerhayes: No, I think that genuine partnership is written of more recent collaborations. I mean we worked together closely, but I wasn’t having an input particularly to what he was dictating, because I didn’t know enough about the world he was writing about at that time.
E Helgeby: He writes about you at the time …
C Summerhayes: But I think he’s writing now, with his recent experiences freshest in his mind, and he’s a very generous man. Those tributes to me are very generous and probably overly generous I think. Anyway, I know he values my contribution, but I don’t think it’s as great as he’s saying it is.
E Helgeby: There is also another comment here which is quite intriguing, he says, it was probably by the way of this dictation that I imperceptivly began to sound like Whitlam.
C Summerhayes: Yes, he’s well known for sounding for sounding like Whitlam, doing Whitlam imitations, not imitations, but he does tend to talk in the same sort of way as Whitlam tends to talk. That is perhaps proximity. You just — I guess when he’s thinking through a speech, or writing, dictating a speech, he’s thinking about how it’s going to sound when Gough says it. I don’t know why, but he says himself that he sounds a bit like Whitlam. He tells the story in his book about his mother hearing, or his brother saying to their mother, ‘Goodness me, Graham’s even starting to sound like Mr Whitlam’, and his mother said, ‘Oh well they do say that dogs end up sounding like their master’. So, it’s a well know thing that Graham — you couldn’t mistake him for Whitlam but he’s got elements of the way he speaks.
E Helgeby: Did you notice any of this yourself during the years you worked with him, then?
C Summerhayes: Not so much then. There were certainly — Graham would never go into the Chamber when Gough — and sit in those advisors seats when Gough was delivering a speech, because having written the speech Graham found himself, at one stage, and was noticed by somebody, mouthing the words as Whitlam was delivering them. I can’t remember the precise occasion, and I don’t know who it was who noticed that Graham was actually — you know sometimes when somebody is reading something that you know very well and you, sort of, sing along with them in a way. He was just inadvertently doing that. He was just so focused on what was happening, but somebody noticed and made some crack about the organ grinder, or I can’t remember the details of it. But from then on Graham would never go into the Chamber while Mr Whitlam was delivering a speech for fear of doing the same thing again.
E Helgeby: What thoughts did you have yourself about the material that you were writing, that you were …
C Summerhayes: Typing up. It was very interesting. There were lots, as I say, words I didn’t know. There were probably lots of classical references I didn’t understand, but I learnt a huge amount. I mean I think that’s the thing that I remember most of those years in Opposition, how much I learnt, about the English language, about words, about — yes. Whitlam himself was inclined to impart knowledge if it was appropriate, so it was a great learning experience for me.
E Helgeby: Was Graham — what was his background and his training?
C Summerhayes: He trained as a journalist, a print journalist with the Melbourne — I think one of the Melbourne daily papers. Then he went and worked in the news area of GTV 9 in Melbourne. So he was a journalist by training. He had trained in Brisbane where he grew up. Then he got a job as Arthur Calwell’s press secretary, when Calwell was Leader of the Opposition. They had a falling out, or Graham resigned from Calwell’s staff over a State Aid issue and had twelve months, I think it was, back at GTV 9 writing news stories I suppose, before Whitlam came to be elected leader and — Whitlam, of course, was Deputy Leader while Calwell was leader and he had known Graham. So it didn’t take him very long to get on the phone after he was elected leader and offer Graham the job of Press Secretary to him. So Graham came back to Canberra at that stage, but yes, a journalist by training. While he worked for GTV 9 he wasn’t really a television, he wasn’t really a television journalist in that he didn’t appear on camera but he wrote for the camera. The other interesting thing about him, is he learnt, when he was a kid in Brisbane he was employed as a young actor reading on the ABC. He said, very early in his life he’d learnt about writing for the spoken word, as distinct from the read word, so that’s part of his background. I suppose it made him as good as he is.
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 4
E Helgeby: So when you were away from Canberra, and he would travel with Gough Whitlam, and you were with him. So they would work together and he would, Graham would come back and ask you to help him write up the speech that the two of them …
C Summerhayes: I suppose that’s the way it happened. It was probably not as predictable as that. It was a bit higgledy-piggledy. Graham, he would perhaps in the aeroplane going somewhere talk to Whitlam about what it was he wanted to say. I don’t — I wasn’t party to those conversations so I don’t actually know how that worked. When we were travelling, it depended really on the purpose of travel. If it was a by-election it would be every night, or even an ordinary election campaign. Each night there would be a hand-out for the travelling press. In those days with those portable typewriters we had we used to have to use carbon paper and if there were more than six or seven journalist in the travelling party I had to do two strikes of everything, because you couldn’t get enough copies with the carbon paper with one strike. There was a routine to that. That was about four in the afternoon so that they had it in time for their news, or the daily papers deadlines. Always listened to the seven o’clock ABC news, never missed that. I think Gough got caught once where he didn’t listen to the news and something momentous happened and he wasn’t aware of it. So from that time on he always made a point of listening to the news so that he was up to speed with whatever was happening. But, no routines, there weren’t really.
Conferences you’d be basically, I suppose, preparing speeches was what I was mostly doing. If not typing them, photocopying them, stapling them, the days before automatic collators, spread things out on a great long table and just walk up and down collecting pages as you went, stapling.
E Helgeby: Did you have any help doing those type of things?
C Summerhayes: Yes, one of the other girls would have been, probably if it was a big occasion like that one of the other girls would have helped, if there was another one travelling. It was all about who was on the spot at the time really.
E Helgeby: So definitely a job on the move.
C Summerhayes: Yes, exactly.
E Helgeby: And Graham’s work routine would not change when you were travelling like that?
C Summerhayes: Not really. He was — he did like a beer or two at night and sometimes that meant that early in the morning he was a little more irascible because he was not asleep as he normally would be, that’s the only time we really had cross words. When we were away on a campaign somewhere and — it was a terrible story. It must have been — we were in Victoria. I don’t know whether it was for a by-election or what the reason for our being there was, but the Commonwealth car drivers were in some sort of industrial dispute. The driver we had wasn’t going on strike, as I think his union had asked him, because he wanted to get Mr Whitlam where he had to go, which was — anyway, but the point of the story. Graham and Peter Cullen in their cups decided that if Bruce, no names no petrol, if the driver wasn’t going to go on strike like he should have, they would stop him driving by letting down his tyres. So at two o’clock in the morning they let down his tyres. Now you can just imagine the morning when we all got up and started getting ready to go and catch the plane and the Commonwealth car had flat tyres. So I think that was the beginning of this day — then when we finally got the car going and got to the airport and got back to Canberra and Barbara wasn’t travelling. She used to do a lot of the transport arrangements, but she wasn’t with us on this occasion. So I was trying to find a car for Mr Whitlam and get him off to where he had to go. Graham was badgering me about where was his car, getting a bit more strident each time he asked me and I was brushing him aside until I finally got to the end of my tether and I turned around and I apparently stamped my foot and I said to him ‘Don’t you shout at me, you rude little man’ and swept off and finished what I was doing. Then was able to look after. That’s the only time I’ve really — he still tells that story, because I think it’s the only time I ever really stood up to him. No, perhaps not so, but it sticks in both our memories. It was a rare occasion. But yes, sometimes that sort of behaviour caused extra pressures on pressured people.
E Helgeby: This was the time when there had been the odd beer or two in there, in the evening?
C Summerhayes: Usually, late in the evening.
E Helgeby: When he was working here, there seemed to be a reference to beer and cigarettes even in the office here?
C Summerhayes: Yes, oh yes, that’s right. He did, he would. I don’t know whether he had a fridge in his office or whether he used to get the beers out of Mr Whitlam’s office. I don’t remember. I don’t think he had a fridge in his office so he would have had a little supply of beer cans probably in the leaders office. Yes, he’d sort of sip and smoke as he worked, different days.
E Helgeby: There is a, I suppose come back to, there is more than one hint that you had an influence on Graham’s style, as well, in a sense, on the content.
C Summerhayes: Can’t imagine so. As I say, I think what he’s written about me in that memoire of his, he’s really talking about now rather than then. I think that is what’s foremost in his mind, because I can’t imagine how I would have had any influence on his style. Because he’s very good at expressing himself clearly and not getting — using convoluted sentences. We used to laugh at John Gorton’s sentences because they were so convoluted. Graham even says in that memoire of his that how he learnt when he was studying, or learning, training to be a journalist, the importance of the first sentence in a paragraph being short, or something like that. I can’t remember exactly what it is, so he was very concise where he needed to be concise, and always clear, almost always clear.
E Helgeby: Anything else you can add on your with Graham?
C Summerhayes: With Graham …
E Helgeby: Any stories?
C Summerhayes: No more stories that I can think of for the moment. I mean not of those days really. We used to, as I say, people used to come around to the — to Whitlam’s office for drinks. I remember one night there was a bit of merriment going on in the office and Whitlam must have been speaking, for some reason Graham was lurking around the edges of the Chamber. Apparently this collection of, probably ministerial staffers from other places, and probably a few journos, were hanging around in Whitlam’s office, having a few drinks and making a bit — well Graham came out of the Chamber and said, quiet, you can be heard in the Chamber. This must have been fairly early in ’67 because Phil Davis who was then working for Philip Lynch who was part of the group having a drink in our office. He said, when Graham came in and said quiet, he said, ‘Who’s that?’, and they said ‘Well, that’s his office you’re in’. So he was occasionally he had to lay down the law to other people who were behaving like he normally behaved, I think.
E Helgeby: There was, as I understand it, you didn’t work exclusively with Graham in those early years.
C Summerhayes: No.
E Helgeby: Who, did you work for Gough Whitlam?
C Summerhayes: I used to take dictation from — or do things for whoever basically asked me. I mean, one of the earliest jobs I remember being asked to do, which was, I can’t remember how the request came to me, but Mr Whitlam wanted to get hold of a copy of Sir Samuel Griffith, Griffin, Griffith’s translation of Homer’s Iliad. So I got dispatched — he wanted to give it to somebody who’d just been appointed to the High Court. I got sent off to Berkelouw, the bookshop, to get hold of — organise to get hold of a copy. In the end they found a couple of copies. But all these little — I’d never heard of Homer’s Iliad. All these little jobs that you got given varied so much. Sometimes you’d be doing that sort of thing, sometimes you’d be going shopping for something to put into the fridge at the flat, because he didn’t have any milk, or he didn’t have any bread, or something like that, this is Mr Whitlam. Sometimes you’d be, as I say, sewing a button on, sometimes you’d be digging out a file on something, doing a bit of research maybe on something. A lot of the time you’d be answering letters. We’ve talked about speeches and answering the phone. The phone would go all the time. You had to handle phone calls. Lots of people with helpful suggestions. Lots of nuts. Just all sorts of thing.
E Helgeby: So, you mentioned the receptionist, was it not her duty to answer the phone?
C Summerhayes: She had the main switchboard sort of arrangement, but there would be times when she was on the phone and another call would come in and one of us would have to pick up. If there were calls to Graham, they’d come to me if he wasn’t there. So there was a lot of — just tick-tacking with the press, all those sort of work. A long time ago.
E Helgeby: Did you do any stenography with Gough Whitlam during that period of time?
C Summerhayes: Yes, I used to take notes from him often. I’m just trying — it wasn’t at all unusual for me to be taking notes from him. I can’t — I’ve got some of my old shorthand books and I can’t tell now who I was taking notes from. I didn’t actually mark it in the shorthand book, but not so much speeches but maybe if he had an idea for — probably more letters that he would be dictating. A lot of — yes, I remember occasions after the election in ’72 where he was writing thank you to all the congratulations he got. We did that by the pool at Kirribilli. We did a lot of taking shorthand by the pool somewhere because he’s a bit of a sun lizard, Whitlam.
E Helgeby: Well, that brings us on to Gough Whitlam. I had a fairly substantial interview with Jenny Hocking before she wrote the first volume of her new biography of Gough Whitlam. Is there anything you’d like to add, or can add to the things, comments you’ve made about Gough himself, for this interview?
C Summerhayes: Well, I think — I mean what I said then was, and I think it’s probably still what I would say, the relationship that I had with him was, it was interesting. When Labor came to power in ’72 we all had to fill in forms for security clearances and so I cheekily put him down as a referee and it had on the form the relationship to the referee. So I said to him, ‘What will I put there for relationship?’, and he said ‘avuncular’. I had to go and look that up, but in a way that typified the relationship. See my parents were separated. I didn’t have much to do with my father, so in a way he was a bit of a father figure to me. He’d said to me, I remember when he said it, we were at Tullamarine, not Tullamarine, what’s the — Essington airport, and he said one day, ‘Now, if you ever get married, I will give you away won’t I’. In the end I didn’t get married so he didn’t have that opportunity but — he would explain things. He liked — it’s the sort of man he is. He was, as I say, a sort of a father figure for me. He was — my father could lose his temper, so could Gough, so that wasn’t a great surprise for me to deal with. No, we had — I don’t know what happened in ’74. We had a sort of a falling out and I could never could find out exactly what that was all about, but that’s really I think — ’74 was a horrible year, but we’re talking about parliament house rather than political history, but that was really the start of my feeling, combined with this economic wish to buy a house that made me start thinking about moving on to the public service proper.
E Helgeby: I’d like to come back to that bit later.
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: The first question I would have, what was it like to be working in the Opposition leader’s office, which then transformed into the Prime Minister’s office. Did the office structure change, where there other, did your role change?
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: Talk about that.
C Summerhayes: Let me just — somebody asked me, when we were in the opposition days what my aim in life, what my ambition was, and I said, ‘Well, the person aspire to be is Mary Newport’. Now Mary Newport was the assistant to Tony Eggleton who was the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary. May is still, she is a very good woman, and she’s still around town, but just one little story. When I told this — it must have been Eric Walsh asking me the question because he made the response. He said ‘The trouble with that Carol is you’re not the perfect example of what’s wrong with a Catholic education’. But as I say, that was my aspiration then, to be Mary Newport. In other words to sit in her office, to be doing the same job for Graham Freudenberg, for Gough Whitlam in government rather than in opposition. But, as it turned out. After the election in ’72, and I didn’t know any of this was happening. I had always expected Barbara Stewart to get the Personal Secretary job because she had been doing that sort of work in all the opposition years but I was called in and told that the job was mine. She was going to be Mrs Whitlam’s secretary. I thought that was — it was never explained to me. I didn’t ask why but it had the potential for a bit of friction between the two of us, because we’d been good friends and working colleagues for a long time, but in the end it didn’t. Barbara seemed to accept it. So, when we talk about how things changed. I didn’t make the transition to government in the same job. I was in a very different job, in government, I was Personal Secretary, as I said, doing invitations and appointments which was what Barbara had been doing in Opposition. So that was all new to me. I’d obviously had to backstop her a bit in the Opposition days but I didn’t have, I had quite different responsibilities in government from what I had in Opposition. So that was very different.
The team, of course, if we were seven people in Opposition, we were thirty in government. I don’t know what number it was, but a huge number of people, which for me anyway, took the edge — took a lot of the pleasure out of the work. I found I was — I was doing — anyway we might get to government later but, it was very different from the Opposition days. In the Opposition days it was a feeling much more of being part of a small team. In a way you had a better idea of what was going on than from ’72 on you had very little idea. There were so many people involved in his life and his day that I was lucky to get a look in with the things I had to ask him about.
E Helgeby: So in one sense did you feel yourself sidelined a bit?
C Summerhayes: Sidelined, perhaps, and I know also it was because I had to ask him questions that weren’t very interesting. There were much more exciting things happening, like all the policy changes that came in government. I’ve got a list of questions there which is, will you accept that invitation, will you see this person or that person, which weren’t very high on his list of priorities. So it was a bit hard to get access and answers and that made life a bit difficult, trying to fob off people, or explain to them that you couldn’t give them an answer yet, that sort of thing. So it was — I don’t know I might have been happier if I’d been still working in the press office or something like that, but it wasn’t how it was.
E Helgeby: Was one of the, thinking of what is now in the Prime Minister’s suite, there was an appointments white board there, which was operated, used by his Appointment Secretary, that was not you?
C Summerhayes: No, I didn’t have a white board [laughs]. No I didn’t have a white board. It wasn’t moving fast enough for a white board. I don’t know who that would have been, maybe my successor, she might have done that, Denise Darlow. I don’t know. I hadn’t heard of that.
E Helgeby: The office obviously increased enormously, many times in size, so your routine changed radically as well.
C Summerhayes: yes, it was very different. I mean being in government, there’s just so many different people needing access to the man, and I was sort of the door keeper, but not totally because Peter Wilenski was the Senior Private Secretary and often he would arrange for things to happen. We weren’t very good at keeping each other informed, left hand, right hand sort of things, we had a few, fairly inevitable problems on that score, just when the dynamics of a group change. It’s sometimes hard to set up communication, get the communications established effectively. So we had — the transition from Opposition to Government is, well I think I prefer it to the other way around, but very difficult. Just a whole bevy of new faces, like that you don’t know. I didn’t even know Peter Wilenski and I remember during the ’72 campaign, somebody asked Mr Whitlam if he had time to see Peter Wilenski. I’d never heard of Peter Wilenski and he said, ‘What Peter’s got can wait until after the election’. So there were all these strangers who had close connections that hadn’t been there before. There was no jealousy on my part about any of that, it just meant that the world was very different, the workplace was very different, the working relationships were very different.
E Helgeby: Did you also change, in many respects, from being a stenographer to being a secretary, who did, perhaps limited …
C Summerhayes: I did very little shorthand. I would have still taken shorthand from Mr Whitlam, as to what little he — he still liked to write some letters though. I do remember in the very beginning in ’72 or ’73 he was simultaneously Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs or External Affairs. Letters between heads of state always have these flowery salutations and perorations and he’d written at the bottom of this letter, to himself, Dear Mr Whitlam, Foreign Minister, signed by Mr Whitlam, Prime Minister, with assurances of my highest consideration, giggle, giggle, giggle. It was just the sort of — one of the things about him was, he did have a very good sense of humour. He didn’t always appreciate other people’s sense of humour, but he had a — and he was good at telling stories.
I guess one of the other things that I was just thinking of moments, connections with him. In ’68, I think it was, the President of Italy was coming, President Saragat. I had spent three months in Italy in the early ‘60s, about two years before I came to Old Parliament House, learning Italian. So President Saragat was coming and Gough had this speech that he had been working on for quite a while because he knew of this impending visit. The speech finished up with a quote from Dante and when he said it, it was just so — his accent was so stilted and I said, ‘Come on, you’ve got to relax more’. I tried to coach him how to better, in my terms, for his Italian quote to sound a bit more Italian, which was really nice. It’s just one of those things. He let me do that. In the end I don’t think it made a whole lot of difference, but at least he heard me through and let me make the suggestion that he just needed to round his vowels a little more. You know the difference between the English and the Italian. So, yes, we mostly had a very good relationship. I used to call him leader, he used to always call me luv, always spelt. I think he saw himself as I saw him, as a bit of a father figure. I think he probably saw himself a bit that way too, in the Opposition days.
E Helgeby: You quoted that in Jenny Holdings book as well, saying it was like a family.
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: I presume you were then referring to the days when he was Leader of the Opposition.
C Summerhayes: Much more so, yes.
E Helgeby: And the same would apply to Jenny Holdings comments which says that you and Barbara Stewart were long standing staff whose commitment to Whitlam was central to the smooth running of the Canberra office. In other words a role of real significance.
C Summerhayes: I think that is probably true because we were the solid ones who were there most of the time. The others used to have various reasons not to be there, or they were travelling, or they were doing different things. But we basically made sure that the Canberra office ran. Whitlam wasn’t all that good at getting staff to work all that effectively for him. We’d often, well this is just one little example, we’d often bump into each other at the filing cabinet and you’d say, ‘What are you looking for?’ and they said, I’m look for, for instance, the Edward VIII file which was papers he had been collecting over the years, waiting for Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, to — well not waiting for him to die, but knowing that when he did die, he would have to say something. If you say, well I’m looking for the Edward VIII file and they’d say, well so am I. Sometimes he would get two of us going on the one task, but we managed our way around that. We used to keep the office and the paperwork working.
E Helgeby: And that role changed when he became Prime Minister?
C Summerhayes: Oh yes, very different.
E Helgeby: Describe in a bit more detail exactly what your role. In a sense, I presume by this stage you might have had a Duty Statement of some kind.
C Summerhayes: I don’t think so. It was just personal secretaries look after appointments and invitations and I suppose personal correspondence. I used to look after his bank accounts and his banking, yes, all those sorts of things. Well, from December ’72, when the election was, I think, there were quite a few overseas trips. Some of which I went on. They were sort of flurries of activity. We had to do various, fairly obvious things like work on speeches but then there would be all sorts of foreign affairs people also involved in the niceties of speeches. So roles changed enormously. My task really was, I suppose, to try and make sure his day was organised and that everybody who needed to know what was on his program for the day had a copy of the program for the day. If there were changes that the right people knew, but I mean, that was a cast of many.
E Helgeby: Did you control his appointments, effectively?
C Summerhayes: Well, not control, but maybe manage. I used to have the task of doing the daily program, but other people — things would change, they inevitably do, you know best laid plans. But you had to make sure that people who need to know whether there’s been a change, get to hear about it. So there was a lot, I suppose, of that coordination work was what I came in my later public service career to be doing much more, working in PM’s Department, which was all about letting — and the Cabinet office, letting people who need to know things, know them, thinking about who needs to know. That’s I think a large part of what I was doing then.
E Helgeby: Did you have help assisting you, in this job?
C Summerhayes: I did, I had one person who helped me, Helen, I can’t remember exactly when she came to work for me, but she was there for, probably, eighteen months, two years. And she did a lot of the basic typing of letters saying sorry we can’t. I used to say to her, say no to that, say no to that, say no to that, or say yes to that. We had pro formas and she would draft up things for me to sign and do that sort of work. The paperwork involving appointments was quite large. Then you’d have these other blocks of time allocated for trips or for conferences or …
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 5
C Summerhayes: … whatever else, so it was hard to look forward and manage diaries when you weren’t always aware of what was in people’s minds. Just the bigger team it just meant harder.
E Helgeby: This was the time that the PMs office was over on the Senate site, during the extension work, which was finished in early ’73?
C Summerhayes: Early ’73, so we were only over there for a couple of months. By the time we’d had a bit of a Christmas break it was only a month or two before we came back to the refurbished PMs office.
E Helgeby: And you worked in the corridor opposite his Senior Private Secretary’s office?
C Summerhayes: No I wasn’t in the corridor. I had this sort of horse box which was, as you look at the door to the PMs office, from that corridor, it was on the right. The Senior Private Secretary was on the left of Whitlam’s door, but I was tucked in behind and another corridor going that way. Yes, it was room without any natural light, without any air, you were there from nine am till whenever at night. It was — that was, I think, not very fitting. It was not very well thought through.
E Helgeby: Your hours though would have changed, perhaps have been as excessive as they were when you were working with Graham Freudenberg.
C Summerhayes: I think that’s probably right, as I say, I was getting a bit disillusioned by then anyway, ’73 was lots of, you know, exciting, lots of trips, places, travelling overseas. ’74 was a fairly horrible year, things, the economy went funny and things didn’t — I think there was — well there were a few political problems which made the atmosphere in the office not always very pleasant. Then, as I say, I just had got to the stage then of thinking, well no, I think I want to, a proper job, not a proper job, but a permanent job where I can have a bit more security. So all those sorts of things added up. John Menadue by then was Secretary of Prime Minister’s Department so he saw me into Gough’s employ. He actually — what I did in government was, when I decided that I wanted to move on, I applied for jobs in Prime Minister’s Department and then when I got them, I’d say, well sorry I can’t take it up because I’m still. I was entitled to do this. I’m still on Mr Whitlam’s staff until I got one, a promotion to a position which was the same level as I was being paid on Mr Whitlam’s staff and the department then said to me, ‘Will you take this one’ and I said ‘Yes I will’, but then I got cold feet about telling him I was going to leave. Well, I really didn’t know how to put it. I remember John Menadue saying to me from his chair as Secretary of Prime Minister’s Department, he said, ‘Do you want me to tell him’ and I said ‘No, John I’ve got to do it’. So, it was interesting, he saw me, as I say, Menadue saw me in and almost saw me out, but then I went to work in his department, so.
E Helgeby: There are quite a number of other issues in relation to your work prior to him becoming Prime Minister that I would like to come back to later, but I thought perhaps this might be a good time to stop for today.
C Summerhayes: Yes, that’s a good idea.
E Helgeby: We’ll come back to it in our next appointment in two weeks time.
C Summerhayes: Okay.
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 6
E Helgeby: This is 3 February and I am continuing the interview with Carol Summerhayes. Carol at the last meeting you mentioned a name which I hadn’t come across before, Mary Newport. You referred to her as some kind of a role model, could you tell me a bit more about that?
C Summerhayes: Perhaps not so much as a role model, as I think I said, that she was what I aspired to be, in that she was the secretary to the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary. I was hoping that with a change of government that’s the job I might end up with. In the event I didn’t I ended up with the job as Personal Secretary to the PM, but in the earlier days I guess I was thinking if I could be Mary Newport I’d be very happy.
E Helgeby: So can you tell me a bit more about Mary herself?
C Summerhayes: She’s still around Canberra. She worked for the Liberal government for a long time. She’s — I don’t really know her very well. She does good works, even after she has finished work I think she does a lot of work for the Catholic church in Canberra, but I really haven’t kept in touch with her. I wasn’t a friend but, as I say, she was on the other side of the political divide in those days.
E Helgeby: Going back a little bit, as well, Jenny Hocking, in her recent biography of Whitlam refers to Whitlam’s office as, quote - small, highly productive, slightly chaotic office structure – end quote. Could you comment on that?
C Summerhayes: Well, certainly small, there were only, I think, seven of us, and it was small. We were crowded. We had, I think, as was the way of things in those days, the men the advisors had offices of their own. Barbara Stewart and I shared a sort of open space outside the refrigerator where we just had a desk each, that was the extent of our personal space. So it was small, slightly chaotic, I guess she might have perceived that because we all had to do a bit of everything. It depended who was around when the leader asked for something, whoever was within earshot probably got the job. There was no real marked delineation of roles except generally I suppose. There was somebody who answered the phone and ushered the visitors in but if she was out of the office one of the others of us would do that. It just was a very flexible working arrangement. I think between, not just between we girls, but I think also between the men because Graham Freudenberg wasn’t a morning person so when there were press questions to be answered for the afternoon press, which had to be answered in the morning, somebody else would have to handle that. I think that’s about the only reason you could call it slightly chaotic, just that everybody did a bit of everything.
E Helgeby: The office, from how you describe it, functioned much along what then would be a typical gender divide.
C Summerhayes: I think that’s right. I think in those days, well, it was 1975 wasn’t it when Whitlam first appointed Elizabeth Reid as Advisor on women’s issues, but up until — that was a growing awareness, I suppose, of a need to address women’s issues. Elizabeth in fact, I went to school with Elizabeth here in Canberra, but she had in fact in her office, when we moved around here to the refurbished Prime Minister’s office in early ’73, she had a poster up on her wall of Goldie Meyer who was then Prime Minister of Israel, saying the caption underneath, saying, yes, but can she type. So there was an element of — we did the sort of junior, the less important work. The men did the thinking, advising, strategic sort of work. We weren’t really asked for our opinions very often.
E Helgeby: Well that begs an interesting questions, did you ever get involved in policy issues at all?
C Summerhayes: Very, very rarely. I do remember we had a bit of an outburst on the issue of abortion where I think a few of we girls in the office thought that the men weren’t taking enough notice of what women felt on the question. I know it was a very sensitive, in that pre-’72 period because of the importance of the Catholic church to the Labor victory, or Catholic votes I suppose. So it had to be handled very diplomatically, but we were, as women, a bit angry that women’s viewpoints didn’t seem to be as important, or didn’t seem to be listened to as much as we thought perhaps they should, nothing more than that. I can’t remember any other policy issue that I would have expressed a view on.
E Helgeby: On that particular issue, how did you express those views?
C Summerhayes: Oh I think we just said, you blokes ought to be listening to women for a change, or some fairly brief outburst, it didn’t last long.
E Helgeby: Well, there was also in Jenny Hocking’s book she refers to you and Barbara snapping at Whitlam and what is called the office, quote, longhairs, end quote. Now, who were the office longhairs?
C Summerhayes: Well, I think that’s a reference back to Arthur Calwell’s description of Whitlam’s staff. Arthur was very bitter about Whitlam getting the leadership. He described Whitlam’s staff as a bunch of longhairs, but in the context of Barbara and I snapping at Whitlam and the longhairs, that would have been the occasion, expressing our view about the need to listen to women’s views on abortion.
E Helgeby: But otherwise you kept the peace in the office?
C Summerhayes: We did, well we did, yes. We knew our place.
E Helgeby: There was during your time there, there was an interesting relationship in terms of that particular time and era. Ainsley Gotto and Race Mathews are referred to, quite a bit of information about their relationship in Jenny Hocking’s book.
C Summerhayes: And would you believe I did not know that that was happening. I knew that Race and Ainsley were perhaps friendly. I didn’t really — I was pretty naive and innocent. I didn’t really think about it anymore. I certainly didn’t know that they were living together, as serious as apparently they were. Race had lost his first wife. I think in — I don’t remember exactly when, probably ’67-’68. He only came in ’67 so it might have been ’68. So he was a widower at that time. No, it goes to show how discrete they were and how, I suppose, we didn’t think to gossip about people.
E Helgeby: Were there any other cases like that, relationships across the corridors?
C Summerhayes: Oh, many, many, yes there were lots of friendships, relationships across political parties, between people in opposing political parties. I mean I had a — probably my best friend at the time, I’d been overseas for a couple of years with, she was working, I think I might have mentioned it in the last interview. She was working in the liberal government and I was working on the Labor side but we were still good friends. I know of several other people who had really good friendships and they worked in opposing parties offices. It was about trust between the friends I suppose. If you weren’t going to — if you did spill some beans that you shouldn’t have spilled, you knew that your friendship with your friend would mean that it didn’t go any further. I think that was the bottom line.
E Helgeby: So that’s an interesting situation. Do you think that could happen today?
C Summerhayes: I don’t know. I don’t know enough people who work around here now, or in Parliament House now. I get the — I think 1975 drove a fairly, and the dismissal of the Whitlam government drove a bit of a shaft between the political parties. It did tend to intensify feelings in both directions. I think that some of those intensified feelings would mean that certainly in the period since ’75, the same friendly relationships didn’t exist between staff from different political parties. It wasn’t just staff. It was members of parliament too were friends. I mean Jim Killen used to spend an awful lot of time hanging around in the evenings in our office. There were several others who would drop by, friendships did span political parties, but they possibly still do. I’m not in a position to know now.
E Helgeby: You began in Whitlam’s office, Leader of the Opposition’s office in 1967. Apparently then there is reference to your participating, or being involved in the work leading up to the Corio by-election in July of that year.
C Summerhayes: That’s right, that was an interesting time. It was bitterly cold. You can imagine Geelong in July and as used to happen during by-elections. One of us, usually either Barbara or myself, would go to the place where the by-election was focused on, in this case Geelong, and there was another one in Capricornia, which involved Barbara going up to Rockhampton. She was there for two or three weeks, as I was in Geelong mostly for two or three weeks. One of us would be based there, I suppose, doing the liaison work between the local party people and the leader’s office. We had — the Labor party had rented, or been given the premises of a toy shop in Geelong, half of a toy shop. I sat for two or three weeks in my very pretty pink overcoat. I wouldn’t be seen dead in it now, but it was the thing at the time, typing envelopes. So here I am in Geelong, this exciting career I have, typing envelopes on a portable typewriter, not electric, in this toy shop, waiting for people to come in the door and ask questions I suppose. I don’t remember dealing with the public. I think it probably wasn’t the campaign office. It was just a space for a staffer like me. Barbara did the same thing. She went to Rockhampton for two or three weeks, when that by-election was at it’s height.
E Helgeby: The books say that this, Graham Freudenberg’s book refers to Whitlam and his staff, which I presume included you, actually lived in the Travel Lodge Motel.
C Summerhayes: We lived in Travel Lodge motels everywhere. We’d go from place to place to place, we always went to the Travel Lodge. You’d wake up in a Travel Lodge furnished room and you wouldn’t have a clue where you were because they all looked the same, they all had the same furniture, the same carpet, the same basic layout. So you had to sometimes work out where you were before you set out the door.
E Helgeby: Any memories of the time there, you must have been living pretty close together.
C Summerhayes: Well, we did it a lot. We did it for conferences, we were often travelling. It would normally be only, I suppose, Mr and Mrs Whitlam, if and maybe one of the children occasionally. Usually only one or two of the staff, maybe for a by-election there would be more people there for — but not a party any greater, I would say, than four or five. Somebody had to stay in Canberra and mind the shop, so that was probably the maximum number that were down there then. But no, I don’t have any particular memory of the Travel Lodge in Geelong because as I say they just all blur into each other, the Travel Lodges.
E Helgeby: Was that the year that Gough Whitlam spoke at a series of State ALP Conferences and you, among other places, had an event in Adelaide?
C Summerhayes: Yes, that was before the Corio by-election. It was over the July long weekend, when it was, it may still be, a tradition that the State Labor Parties had their conferences over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June. So we had been in Victoria for the Victorian ALP Conference on the Friday night when Whitlam famously got stuck into the Victorian executive and ripped strips off them, and was basically saying they had to play the game differently or there was no chance of Labor getting into government federally. So that created a huge ruckus. I think it’s even in Graham Freudenberg’s book. He said on that occasion, Arthur Calwell, as I said, bitter old man that he was, said that I don’t think you’ll be working for your new boss for much longer. So obviously the Victorians were feeling fairly cocky. Anyway Gough gave his speech on the Friday night.
We then went to Adelaide and we had a speech prepared for the South Australian State Conference but when we got to the airport Don Dunstan who was leader of the party, but not leader of government. I think he was only leader of the Opposition, I wouldn’t swear to that, met us at the airport and having read the papers about the reaction to the Victorian speech, asked Whitlam not to continue in that vein in South Australia, not to unset his apple cart. So, the speech had to be changed. I think that is probably the incident that you’re referring to, where we had to take the back — we had all the press copies of the speech printed up, so we had to take — I think fortunately it was just the back section of the speech. It was possible to separate the offending part of the speech away from the rest of it and so we did a bit of shuffling paper on the tarmac and in the back of the car, trying to staple things together, with this offending bits taken out.
E Helgeby: Did all work out in the end?
C Summerhayes: I think it all went very smoothly after that, and nobody really would have known that any of that had happened, except Graham’s written about it, which was good, reasonable, fact, how things happen, flexibility.
E Helgeby: Your flexibility.
C Summerhayes: Oh everybodys, yes.
E Helgeby: So you travelled with him, visiting, doing all the State conferences at that time?
C Summerhayes: Yes, one of us normally would go. We were away an awful lot. He always had either Barbara or I as a stenographer there, because there were always things needing to be worked on by us.
E Helgeby: In early 1968 Gough Whitlam resigned as Leader of the Labor Party.
C Summerhayes: He did.
E Helgeby: Can you remember that?
C Summerhayes: I remember, I do remember, a feeling of real trepidation. It was a very brave move and a very risky move. I just remember that feeling of trepidation. I think there was mixed opinions within the office about whether it was a good idea or not, but Gough was a bit inclined to do his own thing, in his own way, at his own pace. The other thing I remember particularly about that was a letter, the Jim Cairns letter. I think Whitlam decided to resign because he wanted to — it was to do with the Victorian ALPs influence. It wasn’t initially, there wasn’t a leadership challenge, but Jim Cairns decided to run against him. Jim Cairns wrote a letter, I suppose, to all the caucus members. The part of it that I remember was the sentence, whose party is this, his or ours. I thought that was a very telling phrase. I learnt later that actually Phillip Adams wrote that line, but whoever the author, it was just an interesting thing to think about. I suppose even from my — with my loyalty to Whitlam it just gave me pause for thought. In the end he squeaked back, but I think he felt it had been worthwhile.
E Helgeby: Were you aware that he was about to resign?
C Summerhayes: No, I don’t think anybody was. I don’t know. He may have sought the advice of some of the men, but no. I don’t know who typed the letter. I can’t remember that now but it probably was done by announcement first and paperwork followed.
E Helgeby: So the first you heard about it was when it was effectively in the news?
C Summerhayes: Yes, well, no in the office. I do remember the sort of space, it’s funny, where I was, just near my little desk, but no it would have been — he might have announced to us that he was going to resign. He probably would have announced to the staff, now I think about it, that he was going to resign the leadership and for whatever reason, because our jobs were on the line as well. I mean if he lost his job we would have lost ours.
E Helgeby: And your personal feelings about the time, were you concerned, worried for yourself?
C Summerhayes: Well, as I said, I was a little nervous. I suppose I wasn’t thinking too much about myself because there would always be other jobs to be had. No, I was worried for him. I was worried, I suppose a little bit for the team. If he were to succeed that everything would fold up.
E Helgeby: Then comes not that long after, the beginnings of the 1969 campaign, can you tell me what your work, what was your involvement with the campaign, from the beginning through?
C Summerhayes: It would have been the preparation of the policy speech and that would have been — I would have been taking notes from Graham, over a period, Graham Freudenberg, over a period, I suppose, weeks, before the ’69 campaign. Then, normally election campaigns are about three weeks, so we would have started travelling three weeks before on a RAF aircraft. Always Leader of the Opposition was allocated a RAF aircraft. In those days we were on a Hawker Siddeley HS748 which were propeller driven aircraft. They didn’t have — they might have had one. I don’t think they had the BAC I-IIs I don’t know the type of aircraft they had but we had the HS 748. So we rocketed around the countryside in this thing, from here to there, hoping off somewhere different every day. Every evening doing up a release, or every afternoon doing up a release for the press, which was designed to catch the evening television news. I suppose we did it about four o’clock. I think I’m right in saying that still in 1969 we were using carbon paper, so if we had more than six or seven journalists travelling with us, you’d have to do two strikes of everything, two strikes of any press release, because the carbon paper would only produce about six clear copies.
Then campaigns were a lot of public meetings in those days. Didn’t have any responsibility for taking notes of speeches. I think they were mostly, notes were prepared and he spoke from — if he used notes that would have been probably our record of the speech. It didn’t seem as important in those days to keep track of every word that was uttered.
E Helgeby: What was your role?
C Summerhayes: Well I was still principally Graham Freudenberg’s steno, but I was also, well, doing a bit of everything. We had to just — whatever was on we — I can’t be more specific than that really, because these election campaigns, every day is different from every other day, except, as I say, the four o’clock press release. Yes, we were travelling, we were sorting out rooms, looking after the press. They used to travel on the same plane, so because I was working for the press secretary I would have some responsibilities for trying to make sure that the press guys were happy, knew what was going on.
E Helgeby: Was Graham Freudenberg the press secretary as well?
C Summerhayes: He was still the press secretary in ’69, yes. But we all used to muck in and do a bit of everything. There were certain things that had to be done, like making sure the daily program — because people were in those days a little coy about advertising where they were going to be too far ahead. So that you didn’t want your meeting stacked by opponents, or this terrible man called the skull, we used to see at election meetings in Sydney. So sometimes it was only a day or so before that the program for the following day would be put out to the press. I mean, as I say, they were travelling with us so they had some idea but not the specific details always. So that sort of thing. Life went on. People ringing up with suggestions and speeches and letters and telegrams.
E Helgeby: Did you attend the public meetings?
C Summerhayes: Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, yes.
E Helgeby: It sounded that if there were times, the concern about having people intruding, interrupting.
C Summerhayes: Well, it was a thing that happened in those days. There used to be hecklers. The Opposition political forces would, if they knew there was a meeting on, just turn up and try and make it a little more difficult for the speaker, both sides, all sides did it. Some more effectively than others.
E Helgeby: Any particular ones that you can remember?
C Summerhayes: Not that I can remember, no. We had a bit of a police accompaniment, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland. I remember there were always plain clothes police lurking around in the wings because they could recognise political agitators like this guy called the skull, who was a Nazi sympathiser. A very big tall man and used to make a lot of noise but you’d suddenly see that somebody would spot the skull and you’d see that there would be one or two police that you’d recognise on either side of him. So that was the way that that sort of thing would generally be handled, if the person was identifiable, but sometimes they just were hecklers.
E Helgeby: Did you or Gough Whitlam, or anybody in the group, have any protection?
C Summerhayes: No, as I say, apart from special branch in New South Wales stuck pretty close. Queensland had special branch, Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s boys used to try and stick pretty close, but we used to try and avoid them. I mean they were there, presumably for the right reason but we didn’t trust them so much. But, no, there was no federal police protection. I think it was not until the ’72 campaign that an officer from Prime Minister’s Department travelled with us, Rod Straughan he was a civilian, but whether he was the security advisor, and that was not at the officer’s request. I think it was something that the government thought should happen. I mean Arthur Calwell, there had been that attempt at assassination of Arthur Calwell and I suppose they thought that Whitlam was perhaps a bit of a target for some people. State police forces, special branch were probably around and out in places and I didn’t know who they were so I wouldn’t have recognised them.
E Helgeby: And you didn’t feel threatened at any point during your travels, in any sense of there was a risk involved?
C Summerhayes: No, no. Maybe too naive, well times were different too.
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 7
E Helgeby: We have a couple of photos from the books here which cover this particular period of time, 1967 to 1969, both showing you with planes all coming off, on travels …
C Summerhayes: Oh yes.
E Helgeby: One showing you with Graham Freudenberg obviously …
C Summerhayes: Graham Freudenberg and my little — was this when we were getting off a plane, now that is a TAA aircraft. Graham in his overcoat. I’m in some funny looking coat, I think it was grey, a cotton coat, with boofed up hair and dark glasses. Whitlam used to hate us wearing dark glasses. He said ‘Take off those dark glasses. I cannot see your eyes. If I can see your eyes I can’t see you’, but obviously I was wearing dark glasses, I was still allowed to, we were outdoors, carrying a handbag, a sheaf of papers and a briefcase. The other one is old Graham and I standing the parliament offices in Martin Place setting off somewhere, that must have been 1967 so the other one is ’69. ’67 yes, well that was very early days. Again one handbag and two briefcases this time. We used to carry an inordinate amount of stuff around.
E Helgeby: What was in the briefcase?
C Summerhayes: Address books, they were always about that thick, note books, paper. I don’t know where the typewriter is here. I don’t know what else would be in there but it would be all, and probably, maybe files for particular places we were going to. They were fairly heavy but if you had one in each hand it was not a problem.
E Helgeby: What sort of typewriters would you actually bring along?
C Summerhayes: My recollection is that we had Hermes typewriters in the period leading up to ’72 and at some stage we transferred over to those IBM select a golfball machines. We had a very unusual portable version of that, I seem to remember that, but that was a fancy as we got.
E Helgeby: So there must be rather a lot to carry.
C Summerhayes: Oh yes, but as I say, if you had one in each arm you were balanced but they were heavy. We used to carry. Somebody used to carry Hansard. We always took Hansard with us. Whitlam had a habit of annotating on the top right hand corner of each daily Hansard his questions on notice, or his speeches and so whenever on an election campaign or on a by-election campaign we’d certainly have the great big thing of Hansards with us, with all those indexes on the front. He was a great believer in the record and the Hansard record.
E Helgeby: When you were travelling, what sort of pay arrangements were there for you? Did you get a daily allowance for hotels, or did they pay the odd bills for you?
C Summerhayes: We didn’t pay our own bills I don’t think. I don’t remember. I think that they must have been picked up. One of us must have signed for all the staff members and probably the bills would have gone back to the department. There was an arrangements whereby if you were forced to stay in the same hotel as your boss you could — the Commonwealth would pay for that, the whole amount. If that wasn’t necessary. If he was in Brisbane and you were in Melbourne, say, you couldn’t — you could only get whatever the stipulated travel allowance was for that city at that time. But in a situation where you had to stay in a particular hotel the Commonwealth would pick up the whole tab. I don’t remember any — we used to get travelling allowance though, but that was not during election campaigns. I think it was different during campaigns. Forgive me I forget the details. It was obviously not a problem.
E Helgeby: During ’69 ’70 that sort of period of time, did you travel overseas at all for work?
C Summerhayes: No, not, no, the only trip I did, quote overseas, we didn’t really call it overseas, was to New Guinea. When was that, the end of ’69, the beginning of ’70, that was fascinating. I mean I had been overseas before so it wasn’t, but I hadn’t been to New Guinea before. There was — the purpose of the visit really was to encourage the Papua New Guinea political leadership to think about self -government, because as Whitlam said to them, when Labor wins government, we are going to be — other people will put the words more precisely than me, but basically you have to learn to govern yourselves because we do not want to be a colonial power. The Labor Party doesn’t want to be a colonial power, so it’s going to happen, self-government. So there was a lot of resistance from ex-patriots, Australian ex-patriots in New Guinea.
There was some fairly nasty comments made. I think I was brought to understand racism a lot more on that trip. I was — we were in Port Moresby. I was sitting by the pool taking notes from Mr Whitlam and he had an appointment with a fellow called Ebia Olewale who was a member of the PANGU Party. The receptionist at this motel came down to us by the pool and she said, ‘Oh excuse me’, she said to me, ‘There is an indigene here to see Mr Whitlam’. I said, ‘I beg your pardon’, just like that. She said, ‘There’s an indigene here to see Mr Whitlam. His name is Mr Olewale and he’s a member of the House of Assembly’. I almost fell into the pool that somebody could describe an elected member of a parliament in those sort of terms.
The other thing that happened on that trip was we went up to Rabaul to address the Mataungan Association which was the Tolais of New Britain. They were a fairly feisty political grouping and that — when you asked me before if I’d ever been frightened, that is the only time, and it’s probably something to do with being out of Australia in a sea of absolute black faces. I was the only woman there. I was certainly the only white — I might not have been the only woman there, but I was certainly the only white woman there. That was interesting because we didn’t quite know how Whitlam was going to be received by them. So, yes that was very educational for me and still sticks in my mind.
E Helgeby: You said you were frightened.
C Summerhayes: Well, I just — we had a whole oval full of Papua New Guineans and we were — as I say, we didn’t know how they were going to respond to us. There had been, some of their leadership had been in gaol, and they wanted, presumably for political reasons, and they wanted them released. I think they didn’t understand enough of our political system to accept that Whitlam couldn’t organise their release. So there was some uncertainty. I hope my memory is right on this. There was some uncertainty about how they would react to that news that he couldn’t help them in releasing their leaders, getting their leaders released from prison. So there was just an element of, there’s an awful lot of them, if they decide that they don’t like us, it could be nasty. We were on the oval, that Matapat Oval at Rabaul which I think has since been covered by volcanic ash. It just was the only time I felt any physical nervousness really.
E Helgeby: Did you have any extra security on that occasion?
C Summerhayes: We must have had, we must have had some — I don’t remember them. I’ve seen photographs since. I don’t remember seeing any, but the territory administration would have had people driving us, so presumably there would be some territory police there, PNG police there, but I don’t remember that.
E Helgeby: Did you sit in on any of the meetings Gough Whitlam had with the Papua New Guineans in either of those venues?
C Summerhayes: No, I didn’t there were quite a few, Kim Beazley senior was there. The thing I remember most about him on that trip was him saying that what we are here to do, or to say to the Papua New Guineans is the only way to learn to play the fiddle is to play the fiddle. They were basically saying you’ve got to — and also explaining why, having a political party, because there was even — they were so undeveloped politically that there wasn’t even understanding of the purpose of political parties. I remember hearing somebody explaining in pidgin, trying to explain in pidgin why have a political party, and it was to do with — I can’t talk pidgin, but it was him fella think along same road, sort of simplistic, as pidgin always is. But I didn’t sit in on any meetings, no.
E Helgeby: So your job was preparing speeches.
C Summerhayes: I would have been preparing speeches, yes. I think I was the only staffer on that trip, Barb didn’t come, so yes I would have done all the keyboarding, and arrangements, and you know, getting him in and out of the car. That was the other thing, making sure a car is there and all those sorts of physical arrangements that somebody has to do.
E Helgeby: Then Gough Whitlam went to China in 1971.
C Summerhayes: In 1971, yes, and I wanted to go and I couldn’t. I wanted to — I wanted so much to go. I even offered to pay my own way but I think the powers that be decided it would all get too complicated if somebody like Carol was allowed to go. There would be a cast of thousands in a line behind her, so it was better to, say no to me, which was disappointing, but that was all about, well it was about lots of things. Wheat sales were very important, a very important issue in our relations with China. We got a letter of invitation from, whichever the appropriate body in China was, like the People’s Friendship Society, or something like that. I had the task of posting the reply to this invitation and I apparently I put an Australian stamp on with a sheaf of wheat on it, so they thought that was pretty clever.
E Helgeby: Did you prepare, type up, or take the dictation with the reply to the invitation as well?
C Summerhayes: I can’t remember now. I probably did. If I had the task of posting it I probably had typed it. It would have been a fairly formal response.
E Helgeby: And it didn’t go in the diplomatic bag obviously because there wasn’t any.
C Summerhayes: It didn’t go in the diplomatic bag no. Well there wasn’t a diplomatic bag, that’s right. No, that was a very — another brave venture because Whitlam did seem to be going out on a limb but only days later Nixon announced he was going, President Nixon.
E Helgeby: What did you do instead?
C Summerhayes: I think I had a holiday. I think I went, took a couple of weeks off and I went to Honolulu, had a bit of a break, yes that was good.
E Helgeby: Was this because Graham Freudenberg had gone?
C Summerhayes: He went to China, yes, so it was easy enough for me to take a bit of leave.
E Helgeby: On Gough Whitlam’s return to Sydney you uttered some famous words.
C Summerhayes: Well apparently, famous, it was one of those situations. He always used to put something on his hair, whether it was California Poppy or Brylcreem it was always fairly close to his, his hair was fairly close to his head. At some stage during this trip to China he ran out of whatever this product was and he came back with freshly washed hair and it was all sort of a bit fluffy and I said, ‘Oh leader, that’s a much better look, or something like that’. I think he decided if that is the way people responded, he might just leave it like that and forget the product. I don’t think he’s used it again.
E Helgeby: Yes, there are two versions of it, I noticed anyway. Graham Freudenberg says you said ‘Oh leader your hair does look nice’, and the other in Jenny Hocking’s, ‘Oh leader that’s a much better look’.
C Summerhayes: Yes, well I don’t remember now which of the two. It might have even been somewhere been the two. The general idea was that’s a vast improvement.
E Helgeby: Can you remember his reaction when you said it?
C Summerhayes: He would have puffed up his pigeon chest a bit and been quite happy to hear it I think.
E Helgeby: Then in — we come to 1972 and …
C Summerhayes: Another election year.
E Helgeby: Another election year. There is an interesting comment in one of the books about the — you going to the Hydro Hotel with Graham Freudenberg to prepare the speeches.
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: And there is a reference to you having, you’ve been quoted as saying that the sloping floors of that hotel made you feel as though you were falling into the valley.
C Summerhayes: It’s a 1930s, 1920s-1930s building the Hydro. I had never been there before. Graham and his wife and I went up there for three or four days just to work, to get away from the phone and to — for Graham, principally to be able to think clearly. The front of it, obviously onto the main highway and then there was a long corridor which went down towards and through. It actually did — with glass windows looking down the Megalong Valley but the floor did actually fall away. As I say you had this glass window with this great valley down there, it was a bit — feelings of unease I think.
E Helgeby: In a situation like you were there, how did Graham Freudenberg, what was his work routine, around which you obviously operated?
C Summerhayes: Well, I would have thought — he would probably surface much later in the morning than I would. I don’t remember the physicality of where. I remember that corridor. I don’t remember the physicality of where we actually did the work. It might have been in a sort of a sitting room or something like that. He would, as he did in Canberra, pace the room, smoking all the while, up and down, up and down. At some — not very rapid speed, which wasn’t a challenge to my shorthand speed. I could have written it down in longhand. I probably could have typed it as he dictated it, his dictation pace was so slow, but that was the way we worked. So then, probably we’d break for lunch and then we’d — this was when Maureen was with us, so we were thinking of her. Then resume, if we’d started before lunch, then we’d resume in the afternoon and then I would say that we’d — however many hours later, we would stop and then I would have the task of typing it up. But the main thing was for Graham was to get it dictated. I think he had the thoughts in his head. He wasn’t really interested in looking at what he had dictated and correcting it as he went. He was trying to get the thoughts that he wanted all into my shorthand book.
E Helgeby: How did he get — had he had briefing sessions with Gough Whitlam before you went up there?
C Summerhayes: I don’t honestly know, but he would have had to, he would have talked to him certainly about what he wanted to say in the policy speech. I mean it was all fairly structured. They’d gone systematically through separate policy issues and worked out what — well it had to be in the — it had to be approved by the federal party before it could — policy generally was approved by the party. Not specific policy initiative. I mean aspects of policy but the general policy would have been fairly clear. No I don’t. I don’t know what went on between them but I imagine there would have been serious sessions of talking about what was — what should go into such a speech.
E Helgeby: Did you attend the policy launch?
C Summerhayes: I did, that was at the Blacktown Town Hall and we were standing in the wings, I remember. Lots of people wearing It’s Time t-shirts. Lots of well-known faces that we could see from where we were. A funny little old lady in the front row, who I think we’d seen her at a few political meetings through the campaign who was obviously a very keen Whitlam fan. She was there at the dais, the stage, trying to shake his hand. I don’t know whether they, police sat her down or what happened, but yes it was very exciting.
E Helgeby: What was the atmosphere like?
C Summerhayes: As I say very exciting. There was a lot of hoopla. There’d been a lot of effort put in to making it look good, and making it work, and make it exciting. It wasn’t staged though. I mean the speech had been cut down. The full policy speech had been cut down for television, so that for the period of the live telecast of it, Whitlam got to say what he wanted to say. So bits fell out of the middle, but, no it was very exciting because I think we all had the feeling that this was it.
E Helgeby: You personally, how did you feel?
C Summerhayes: Oh I was excited, yes, it was exciting, yes. I had a couple of friends there with me. We all went out there in some sort of a. I suppose it was a Commonwealth car, anyway.
E Helgeby: The actual campaign, tell me about your involvement in that?
C Summerhayes: Well it wouldn’t have been very different. It wasn’t very different from the 1969 campaign. These sort of things followed their own sort of patterns. It was very much the same as the ’69 campaign. Both campaigns — I think you weren’t allowed to do television broadcasts after a Wednesday night, so Thursday, before the polling day seemed to be the last public meeting and then Friday we would always have a long lunch, an end of campaign long lunch, because you couldn’t do any more television, or radio. I think there was a blackout. I don’t know two or three days. I can’t remember exactly, but certainly from Friday there was no more news casting, so we often had very enjoyable, long lunches, but we were all pretty exhausted by then.
E Helgeby: Was your role any different to other members of staff, for example, Barbara Stewart?
C Summerhayes: Barbara would have been more involved in the logistics of travel. She was always the one who organised flights and cars. I was, as we know, working for Freudenberg. Barbara was more the logistics manager, I suppose, booking hotels. She also looked after all the — this didn’t apply during election campaigns, but she’d look after invitations and appointments and that sort of thing in the Opposition days. But no, we would have all done a bit of everything, as you always …
E Helgeby: Did she also travel?
C Summerhayes: She did. During campaigns Barbara and I would almost always be travelling and Irena would stay, or Lorraine would stay in Canberra and look after the Canberra end of things. Probably one or two of the boys would have stayed in Canberra or they may have alternated. Graham seemed to always travel. Senior Private Secretary was almost always travelling, during campaigns.
E Helgeby: So Barbara would have travelled with — would she travel with Graham at all, or was that only you who would do that?
C Summerhayes: Usually me, there may have been occasions when I wasn’t there and she would have slipped into my shoes for a bit.
E Helgeby: So when you come towards, had your dinner on the Friday night, what happened, can you recall the election day?
C Summerhayes: Saturday morning, I certainly would have made sure I went to vote if I hadn’t already done so.
E Helgeby: Were you back in Canberra then?
C Summerhayes: No, we were in Sydney, ’72, no we were in Sydney. I can’t remember the day itself. It would have been fairly flat. I mean there wouldn’t have been anything to do workwise. It was mostly done, and we were all at Cabramatta, at I think it was the Sunnybrook Motel we stayed the night at, so we would have gone out to Cabramatta at some stage during the afternoon I’d say, either to the Whitlam house or to the motel, and then, just wait for the results. Don’s party sort of thing.
E Helgeby: What sort of expectations did you have of the outcome of the election, also what might happen to you?
C Summerhayes: Well, the outcome of the election. I think there was a genuine expectation that we would win because by then Mr McMahon was being laughed at a bit. The butt of many jokes and you never — Prime Ministers don’t often come back from that sort of treatment. I think in his own mind he’d sort of thought he wasn’t going to make it anyway. The Liberals and business and the various people around didn’t think that the Liberal Party was going to be returned to government. So there was an expectation of victory, yes. For myself, I just thought, I don’t think I knew what to expect. It was, sort of, another, whole other life. In fact it didn’t turn out to be as enjoyable as Opposition but that’s not why you’re in politics, to stay in Opposition.
E Helgeby: What were your expectations, or hopes, for what you might be doing after the election?
C Summerhayes: I don’t think I had any. I don’t think I’d thought beyond the fact that I was working for Graham Freudenberg and I presumed I’d still be doing the same thing in government. But as it turned out, and I don’t know why this happened, a few days after the election I was told that I was going to be the Prime Minister’s personal secretary. Barbara went to become Mrs Whitlam’s personal secretary and I was very surprised by that because I had no inkling that was going to happen. I didn’t ever ask why. I suppose I accepted that they thought that was a better way of doing it. But it could have caused a bit of a strain between Barbara and I. I think if I were here I would have been a bit disappointed that she hadn’t got the job as personal secretary to the PM when she had been doing that sort of work for him in Opposition, but anyway it didn’t turn out like that.
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 8
E Helgeby: The day, the Saturday night election results, where were you then?
C Summerhayes: We were in Cabramatta. I think we were at the Sunnybrook we were all watching television sets. Lots of people on phones, as always happens on election nights, people talking to scrutineers. Was there any media around? There probably was. Just the building excitement I guess of the result. I don’t think the result was clear. I remember McMahon gave his concession speech, not too late in the evening. I don’t know exactly when. It will be there in the record. It is also interesting that Phil Davis who is a friend of mind, who is working then for — he’d been seconded to McMahon’s staff from Philip Lynch’s staff. He tells the story of being in the McMahon home in Bellevue Hill Saturday afternoon, surreptitiously trying to draft a concession speech, because he had the feeling that — well he was professional. It could be needed. It may not be needed but if it was needed it was better to have one written out then start thinking on your feet. So he was surreptitiously trying to write this. Somebody came into, wherever he was in the house, and said ‘What are you doing?’. He said ‘Trying to bury everything’. He wasn’t announcing the fact that he was drafting a concession speech. But in the end, when McMahon did deliver his concession speech that night. It was very dignified. He handled it very well. He was generous to people he should have been generous to.
E Helgeby: Had Graham Freudenberg drafted any speeches for Whitlam?
C Summerhayes: I have no idea.
E Helgeby: Either an acceptance of victory or of defeat?
C Summerhayes: Not that I recollect. I would have thought Gough would have had all that in his head. I’ve still got my shorthand note books from around that time. It’s interesting to try and decipher them now but I wasn’t taking notes between the Friday before the election when I took down a piece to go into the Age on the Friday. Then next entry I’ve got is the press conference at Mascot on the Sunday, the day after the election. Now, if Graham had dictated something, in the way of a speech for Mr Whitlam on election night, that’s about where I think I would find it. As I say, I think it was probably all in Mr Whitlam’s head already.
E Helgeby: So after the victory is in his hands, what happened in relation to …
C Summerhayes: I think we probably had a few drinks. I think — I remember Mungo MacCallum who was a journalist, is still a journalist, going outside, shaking his fist at the sky, saying I told you the sky wouldn’t fall in. Yes, lots of celebration. We probably tried a few on, I suspect, until the small hours. Then stayed in Cabramatta. We must have had to scurry around on the Sunday because we got a plane from Sydney back to Canberra on the Sunday. So I imagine as soon as we surfaced we would have been heading back to our respective Sydney bases to get back to Canberra.
E Helgeby: Were you all travelling together?
C Summerhayes: We did, yes we did, we came back on a RAAF aircraft in the afternoon. I remember Kep Enderby was out there at the airport to meet us, and a crowd of several hundred, or scores. I don’t remember exactly how many people but it was very exciting.
E Helgeby: This was at Mascot was it?
C Summerhayes: No, Kep Enderby was there to meet us in Canberra, when the plane got to Canberra.
E Helgeby: You mentioned a press conference at Mascot.
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: Can you read out some of the material you’ve got recorded from that occasion.
C Summerhayes: Okay, so this is Mascot 3rd December press conference, ’72.
Good afternoon gentlemen. I think you have already been told that Mr McMahon has decided to tender his resignation to the Governor General next Tuesday morning and to advise the Governor Gender that he should call me to form the next government. Mr McMahon also got in touch with Sir John Bunting the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department. After that — Sir John Bunting and I spoke on the telephone and I am having talks this afternoon with him and Sir Keith Waller the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Cooley, Chairman of the Public Service Board, and Mr Harders the Secretary of the Attorney Generals Department. That is what I’m going from Mascot for and why we’re doing this interview, sorry, from Mascot where we are doing this interview.
Do you have any other plans Mr Whitlam — was asked.
He said, No they are the only arrangements I have made to meet the four departmental heads that I have mentioned.
He went on — you were asking me about how the election night was, what we did afterwards.
Somebody at the press conference then went on to ask Mr Whitlam. What have you been doing this morning Sir? He said, What time this morning? I suppose I got to bed about two o’clock and you probably would have as clear an idea of what I was doing in the first two hours of the day as I would. Then the post office rang me shortly after three, to give me the text of a cable from the United States.
He was still living in 32 Albert Street, Cabramatta, with a regular phone at this stage.
The post office — to give me the text of a cable from the United States, observing the description on the cable that it was urgent. I think it could have waited until this morning. Then I suppose I woke up in the natural course, about quarter to five, and since then I suppose, giving the minimum to ablutions and associated activities. I’ve been on the phone, or meeting callers, or having breakfast.
Question, Have you spoken to Mr McMahon?
Yes, as I said, Mr McMahon and I spoke this morning. He rang me this morning while I was having breakfast with our dear neighbours and he told me of the arrangements which I have already mentioned to you.
Question, What was the tone of his conversation?
Whitlam, He spoke in the same generous terms, as he spoke on television last night.
Gives a bit of a feeling for how he felt at the time.
E Helgeby: Yes, and then after that you all flew up to Canberra?
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: And then you were met by Keb Enderby?
C Summerhayes: Oh and various other. I am sure there were other people there. I remember Keb because a friend of mine was working for him. Yes, there would have been lots of local Canberra people there.
E Helgeby: Was there another press conference then?
C Summerhayes: No, I don’t think so. I think he went into these meetings with the departmental heads and that’s when they would have — because at this stage he was still — I suppose thinking about the idea of the duumvirate that he had with Mr Barnard for the period before caucus could — before seats were settled and before caucus could meet and elect a ministry. So he would have been talking about how to proceed, I suppose, in this intervening period.
E Helgeby: During those first day or two, did you work exclusively for him, or did you continue to work with Graham Freudenberg?
C Summerhayes: Look, I think it was so different Edward by then. We would have still been operating out of our Leader of the Opposition office. There would have been throngs at the door waiting to get in to see Mr Whitlam. I don’t think anything was normal. We weren’t doing anything normal. We did one terrible though. When we packed up and left that office. I believe Snedden must have taken over the leadership of the Liberal Party after McMahon. Whitlam had been away on a trip. He had brought back for Barbara and me a chastity best which he got somewhere or other. We inadvertently left it in the cupboard, in the leader of the Opposition’s suite, when we moved around. I guess it was one of those things, somebody hoped that somebody else would pick it up. Anyway, that was the legacy — anyway it was all treated with much merry laughter.
E Helgeby: Where did he pick that up?
C Summerhayes: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. It was a gruesome thing, but no I don’t remember.
E Helgeby: What did he say when he presented it to you?
C Summerhayes: Oh well it would have been some joke about how he thought that we needed to — he would have made some joke about being careful. He liked to play the father figure a bit I think.
E Helgeby: You mentioned that in many respects you regarded him — he was regarded as a father figure.
C Summerhayes: There was a bit of that, yes. My parents had divorced. My father was living away from Canberra and I didn’t see anything of him. I hadn’t seen anything of him for quite — not until December ’75 actually. So in this period, when I was working for Whitlam, I hadn’t any contact with my father. So yes, he filled that space a little bit.
E Helgeby: So, Sunday turns over into Monday, can you recall what you did then?
C Summerhayes: I think we probably — there was a lot going on. It is interesting to go back through the shorthand book and see the various issues that were covered. There was a meeting — well I was taking notes from whoever I was taking notes from, everybody. A South Australian Premier was knocking on his door, wanting a change in policy on something or other for South Australia. The Western Australians were also knocking on the door saying, we need your help to turn over this policy. So there was a lot of that sort of thing going on. My notebook is full of notes about those sorts of issues.
E Helgeby: Did you sit in on any of these meetings?
C Summerhayes: No.
E Helgeby: Did he, or someone, dictate to you afterwards?
C Summerhayes: One of the blokes would have sat in on the meetings, I’d say, and then come out and dictated something to me.
E Helgeby: Can you give an example?
C Summerhayes: I probably can. Okay, well there is one to Sir John Bunting confirming the appointments to his staff. Now, I haven’t got dates to these, so that’s just a letter to Bunding giving the list of people who had been appointed to his staff.
Then there is a note to Sir Frederick Wheeler, who was Secretary to the Treasurer, saying I understand the PM has discussed with you his conversations with the Premier of South Australia, Mr Dunstan. Mr Dunstan spoke to me after speaking to the PM and these brief notes of our conversation, may perhaps assist your officers in preparation of the papers which I understand the PM has requested, and it goes on through.
Then, there is something here too about the population of the Torres Straight Islands. The Queensland government, for its own reasons, has recently overestimated the population of those Torres Straight Islands likely to be effected by any boundary change, presumably boundary between Australia and Papua New Guinea, and so that addresses that.
Then my notebook gets into all these thank you messages. I think that probably for the first two weeks of government that’s about all I did, is type up these thank you letters. Some of them, I think, give an indication of Whitlam’s respect for the parliament and his opponents. The first one I’ve got is to Sir Robert Menzies, will I read it? Okay:
I was profoundly moved by your magnanimous message on my election to this great office. No one is more conscious than I how much the lustre, honour and authority of that office is due to the manner in which you held it with such distinction for so long. No Australian knows better than you, the private feelings of one now facing the change from years in Opposition to the years in Leading the Opposition, to the burdens and rewards of leading our nation. You would, I think, be surprised to know how much, despite the great differences in our philosophies, I have profited from your example, in particular, your remarkable achievement in rebuilding your party and bringing it so triumphantly to power within six years, has been a deep inspiration to me. My wife deeply values the message and good will from Dame Pattie. To both of you may we express our very sincere wishes for health and richly deserved happiness, not only for the new year, but for many years to come.
There is one there to Tom Hughes who was the Liberal, he is still a QC, was he Attorney General? No, I’m not sure. Anyhow,
Dear Tom, I was very touched by your most generous letter, while I am bound to believe that the twenty-eighth parliament will be a great improvement on its predecessor, it will be very much the poorer for your absence. I know that there will be greater opportunities for your qualities to be used in the service of Australia in the years to come. Sending this note, against your insistence, does not cancel out your claims on that drink. So I guess, in a way, it just illustrates those friendships between political opponents, and the respect he’s got for the parliament.
There is another one here to Frank Forde who was a Labor Prime Minister for, I think, five days between Curtin and somebody else …
E Helgeby: Chifley.
C Summerhayes: Dear Frank, I was delighted to have a message from the senior of Australia’s two living Labor Prime Ministers, may the duo last long.
So the other — well he’s the senior, the other, Gough is the other one, two living Labor Prime Ministers. You’ve got to sometimes read through these things to get the point.
This one to Doug Anthony. Dear Doug, Congratulations on your unopposed re-election as Leader of the Australian Country Party. Thank you for your message on my own election. I note that you intend to be Deputy-Leader of the Opposition. I can only repeat your own words to me, you really don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for. I know that in our new roles, the personal warmth between us will continue. Margaret joins me in sending Margo and you the very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
E Helgeby: So these were all — he did these during the first weeks of his …
C Summerhayes: It would be the week, or ten days, after the election.
E Helgeby: So you, at the point, had been appointed his Personal Secretary?
C Summerhayes: Yes. There is one here to Lord Casey. Again, I’ve just picked these one out because they are to political opponents. There are plenty more to political supporters.
This is to Lord Casey. Thank you very much for your message. I have been very moved to find that some of the most generous expressions conveyed to me have come from that distinguished band who led the Liberal Party from Opposition to government, twenty-three years ago. My wife joins me in sending you both our sincerest respect and our warmest wishes for your health and happiness for many years ahead.
The last one is to McEwen. I think McEwen, his parents must have known McEwen, just from memory and from this text. Your letter of congratulations gave me the greatest pleasure, as Mary and you know I inherited a high opinion of you both. In the parliament that opinion grew. I have benefited from my contacts and conflicts with you over the years. Margaret and I hope that we shall continue to see both of you from time to time. We wish you health and happiness in this New Year.
And, sorry, one more. Right Honourable John Gorton, Dear John, oh it’s interesting, Right Honourable John Gorton, CH MP brackets ‘omit PC’, in other words we didn’t refer to the Privy Councilorship because we didn’t approve. Dear John, Many thanks for your note of congratulations. I shall try to advance some of the causes which you were the first Australian Prime Minister to identify. Margaret joins me in all good wishes to Betty and you.
So just that sort of generosity, is something that a lot of people don’t always see in Whitlam.
E Helgeby: Once his Prime Ministership took off, in a work sense, what happened to all the staff that had been in his office as Leader of the Opposition?
C Summerhayes: Well, Peter Cullen moved on, no Peter had already moved on, in the Opposition days. Dick Hall moved on. He stayed for a few months and then he moved on. Graham became an advisor and moved over to West Block which he thought was a good idea but turned out not to be. He found that that was very, he got isolated from the action. Barbara went to work for Mrs Whitlam. Lorraine, who had been the receptionist, she went to work in the press office. We had many more people on the staff, so there were some new faces. I for my sins, went into that little office there, outside the PMs office where the Personal Secretary worked. That’s about it I think, well, Jim Spigelman, was Senior Private Sec. He stayed on. Peter Wilenski came in as the Senior Private Secretary to the PM and Jim was number two. I think that’s about the extent of the Opposition staff and where they ended up in government.
E Helgeby: So who was appointed as the new speech writer, or did Gough Whitlam not have one?
C Summerhayes: It was still Graham. Evan Williams was appointed to the staff and he wrote quite a lot of the speeches, but Graham was still the principle, the speech writer of the principle speeches I suppose. Press Secretary was, actually Eric Walsh. We had a Media Secretary David White, as I say a lot more faces on the office staff. Yes, we had private secretaries, for all those little offices along that corridor were full with staff.
E Helgeby: You describe briefly your new role in our first session. It was to arrange, to do his private correspondence, like you were just quoting?
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: And in addition to that you arranged his meetings, appointments?
C Summerhayes: I looked after his diary basically. Whether, who — I needed to know, I suppose, who he was going to see. Sometimes I didn’t necessarily make the appointments. Somebody else would have arranged it but they would come to me to fix a time, or to tell me, so that it went on the daily program, because we had this absolutely essential piece of paper that everybody had to have, that set out the program each morning and all the appointments. So sometimes, yes, I’d have to pass on bad news to people he didn’t want to see, or good news to those he was prepared to see. Invitations — he wasn’t always very happy with the questions I had to ask him, so I did find it hard to get access, because I was asking not very interesting questions, a lot of the time. People had more interesting things to ask him, like, when do we recognise China, and when are we getting out of Vietnam, and I’m saying, does he want to see Joe Blow from Fairfield or something. So there was an element — the job was less pleasurable than I think I’d enjoyed in Opposition. It just was all very different.
E Helgeby: Did you deal with people who wanted to see the Prime Minister in person or over the phone?
C Summerhayes: Mostly over the phone, occasionally in person, if it was a member of caucus I’d have to go knocking on the door and ask if he would see so and so, but mostly it was done on the phone, or by letter I suppose.
E Helgeby: So, did you, you talked about, you arranged meetings but you also made sure, part of that was making sure that people actually turned up for these meetings.
C Summerhayes: Didn’t really need to do that you know. It seemed to normally happen, that people would arrive. There’d be things like — if somebody was coming to see him about X Y Z you’d often have to arrange for somebody from the Prime Minister’s Department to be a note taker. That was one of the differences, that there was almost always a note taker in a meeting. Sometimes a staff member, sometimes a departmental officer, if there was some sort of expertise required, a technical meeting say, you might have somebody from the department who knew more about the subject.
The other thing I guess I was doing was organising travel and passports, all those sorts of things had to be fixed up.
E Helgeby: Did you travel with the PM?
C Summerhayes: I did for a few trips. I didn’t go on all of them. We went on a few trips in ’73 and a few in ’74, one or two in ’74. He did like to travel overseas.
E Helgeby: Can you tell me about those trips, where were they to and what was your role?
C Summerhayes: Can we just take a break.
E Helgeby: You’d like a little break, yes.
Right, I think we might leave the rest of this talk about the ’74 to — ’72 to ’75 period until the next session, and particularly the details about travel and those things, to give you a bit more time to think about that. If we could then move on to the next issue that I want to raise with you which was — the amount of contact you had with parliamentarians over the years. Who, in particular, that may be were special, became special in some way, to you?
C Summerhayes: Well I suppose in the leader’s office it was inevitable that we had a constant flow of parliamentarians, in and out the door. They weren’t always there to see Mr Whitlam, depending on the hour of the day. Sometimes they’d come — we didn’t have room in the opposition office for people to linger, whilst business was going, while the House was sitting. The office was a bit too small for that, but certainly in the government days, I used to often have people like Jim Killen would come and sit for half an hour beside my desk and rabbit on, about whatever. We used to see a bit of him in the opposition days. He was notorious for playing practical jokes on people. I do remember in the opposition days, he, at one stage rang up the Labor Whip, Gil Duffy who was a very neat, tidy, little northern Tasmanian, former Methodist Minister, who was quite a natty dresser. Killen rang him up one night pretending to be from the London, Taylor and Cutter, I think, some sort of a fashion magazine, crinkling paper in the phone as he rabbited on saying that he’d heard that Mr Duffy was a smart dresser and wondered if he could interview him.
Then another time, the Minister for the Navy was Malcolm Mackay and for some reason we call him, his oily, he wasn’t a friend of ours, but he was called ‘His Oiliness’ and Killen was playing tricks on him by sending wine or grog of some description, that he hadn’t ordered around to his room. He’s always come into our office and have a bit of a chuckle about the latest tricks he’d been up to. He and Whitlam had a very close relationship, especially after politics, but even during politics they used to exchange banter, across the chamber, and across the room in the office. He was a constant visitor, probably the most constant from the other side.
Dudley Erwin was the Government Whip and it was his job, I guess, to know what was going on. He used to spend a bit of time. That is where Ainsley Gotto started her parliament career, working for Dudley Erwin. Yes, he was fun. He used to socialize a bit with us.
Frances James was another, now he was — for most of the opposition years he was in China, in prison, but after, in government he used to come to Canberra and he had been at school with Gough Whitlam. There is a lot of stories about their time at school together. He’d been a prisoner of war, of the Germans in the Second World War. He wore the most grotesque contact lens, which he would take out and clean in front of you if you weren’t careful, they were about a quarter of the size of a boiled egg. It must have been terribly painful. He had very bad eyesight. He was a lovely chap who was from a very different world from me. He was editor of The Anglican. He used wear a cape and a hat and swing around the corridors. He gave me a cook book which I’ve still got, which just is inscribed, to Miss Summerhayes from FJ.
So there were those sorts of people. There were our own friends I suppose from other offices who used to come by for a pallet cleansing ale at the end of hard day at the office. We all used to go to parties after the House had got up, but we were young, we could do it. Journalists, a lot — journalists didn’t come to the office quite so much. I think they realized that there were — there needed to be restrictions on them hanging around an office and listening in to what was going on. You couldn’t really countenance having the same sort — they wouldn’t. They’d drop in for a beer if they were invited but they probably wouldn’t come uninvited. A lot of my friends, even today, are people, journalists that I met then. We used to go to the movies together on Saturday afternoons and go on picnics and kept in close touch for years and years.
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 9
E Helgeby: Could I just quickly go back to the parliamentarians. Did they — you mentioned Jim Killen, and James, did they come to continue to visit your office when you were the Prime Minister’s personal secretary?
C Summerhayes: Jim Killen certainly did. Yes, I’ve got vivid memories of him sitting there as I smoked my way through the day, or the evening more likely. He’d be more likely to visit in the evening when — after dinner and looking — he had to be in the place because of the need to be there for divisions, but not a whole lot — it wasn’t. He couldn’t have been a minister then. Sorry, I’m thinking of the opposition times, when he used to sit. In government, yes he certainly used to spend a bit of time sitting beside my desk, rabbiting away.
E Helgeby: What about — you mentioned the three were, in effect, from the other side of politics, what about members of the Labor Party? Did any of them come?
C Summerhayes: I’m just trying to think of anybody, well Bill Morrison, there were quite a few people who, probably the more outgoing social types, and also people who may have visited us because of the office we worked in rather than anything else. I guess they were being seen. I don’t fully understand what they motives would have always been, but — There was a group of old Senators who used to send us a box of chocolates every Christmas. There was about six of them. There were other people who were close to Whitlam, who would come. There were other people who we didn’t see. Certainly in opposition, that office was, as I say, not very big so there wasn’t a lot of room for visitors. You could hear everything that everybody said. There was only two of the offices, Whitlam’s own office, and the Senior Private Secretary’s office, that had a door on it. So anything that anybody said could be heard by everybody else. I guess — there were times when you’d have to say to somebody, look I’m sorry I’ve got to do such and such, do you mind, and they’d get the message and go.
E Helgeby: Did you ever — any of these parliamentarians ever become what you might call a friend?
C Summerhayes: No, I didn’t ever — no I didn’t have any friendships with any parliamentarians, interesting.
E Helgeby: This is on either side of?
C Summerhayes: No, I mean, I’d say Jim Killen was a friend, but I wouldn’t ring him up if I was feeling down. He’s not that sort of friend. He was just somebody that I knew quite well because we’d spent a bit of time together, but in this place, but a limited sort of areas of common interest.
E Helgeby: With the press, you said that, you certainly seemed to have developed some friendships.
C Summerhayes: Yes, I think it was, perhaps they were more my own age. They were interested — they were leading — a lot of them, if they were married they didn’t have their children at this stage, or they weren’t married, so we used to go to the Saturday afternoon picture theatre, or we used to go on picnics. I’m still in touch, still friends with three or four of them.
E Helgeby: Who are they?
C Summerhayes: Well, Barry Wain was a journalist for The Australian and he — we first met him in September ’67 at the Capricornia by-election. John Lombard was, when he was working here, working for the Sun News-Pictorial. I’d met him, actually through an outside parliament connection. So he, he’s an Irishman. He came to Canberra to work in the press gallery about a month before I was put onto Mr Whitlam’s staff. He was helpful in saying that I should know, having been here a month, he was informing me that I should know that Mr Whitlam was a very hard taskmaster. So John is still a friend. Still see Laurie Oakes. An awful lot of them, some of them unfortunately, have not survived. I see Mungo occasionally, Mungo MacCallum. I’ve seen John Stubbs although he’s not well now. So there were quite a lot of the younger ones that I’ve kept in touch with.
E Helgeby: Did you — did you have any dealings with Alan Reid?
C Summerhayes: No, he was not — he was of an older generation and he was not trusted by the Labor side of politics. He used to hold court, you’ve probably heard this story before, but he used to hold court in King’s Hall. There was that glass table with the Magna Carta in it which was, as you were looking from the front towards the library, on the left, as you were heading for the Opposition corridor. He used to loiter on that in the mornings, with his elbow on the glass thing and just catch passers-by, and snippets of information. He was writing for Packer so he was not, the Packer press wasn’t friendly to Labor, so no I didn’t have anything to do with him.
E Helgeby: Did any of the journalists ever come into your office looking for information?
C Summerhayes: They would have come in with direct questions for Graham, you know, legitimate questions, but not sidling up to anybody for sly information, I don’t think. There is one story which Phil Davis’s friend tells, he was working for Philip Lynch at the time, and he used to come by occasionally with a bottle of beer in a brown envelope and have a drink in the office with us. When he did come in and Whitlam saw him, he always called him corporal, and he’s day, ‘Corporal come in here and tell me what those bastards are up to now’. Just because Phil worked for the other side, but there wouldn’t have been any information exchange that shouldn’t have been. It was all a bit of a joke. It wasn’t a serious attempt at political espionage.
E Helgeby: The relationship with the press, you meant there were a number of others you had dealings with and there were social occasions as well?
C Summerhayes: Yes, more social, probably — except when we went away on trips, we’d obviously spend time in the plane or over dinner, or whatever, with the journalists, overseas trips certainly. The trip to Papua New Guinea, we had about five journalists on that trip, so yes we were in each other’s pockets quite a bit, but then we’d retreat. We’d go off and do whatever work we had to do and not be in their company at that time, but socializing over meals and so on was very natural and comfortable.
E Helgeby: Were there any other, back to the parliamentarians, were there any of them that you particularly admired and respected, either side of politics?
C Summerhayes: I suppose there were people that you liked better, for whatever reason, than some other people. There were certainly people that I disliked and disrespected, like Vince Gair. He’s a terrible man and he — poor Margaret Whitlam, who protocol arrangements would have it that she had to sit beside him at formal parliamentary lunches and so on, just because of his relationship as leader of his party and her relationship as the wife of the leader of the opposition. Protocol had it that that’s the seating arrangement. She got so upset by his behaviour she asked to be moved, which was very hard for protocol to do, but that’s what protocol’s about, its making people comfortable, so she was moved. People that I’m particularly admiring of, look not off the top of my head. They all were different, we all had — I can’t think of anybody that I — some people you admired for their — like St John for standing up for what he believed in, but you thought, I’m glad he’s in their party and not ours. He’d be a political thorn in your side, but he was a man of principle which I think we hoped they all were, but some more so than others.
E Helgeby: There must have been one politician that you particularly admired.
C Summerhayes: E G Whitlam, of course.
E Helgeby: Gough.
C Summerhayes: Yes, and the one I knew best. Yes, there was nobody else particularly that I was close to. I guess we all went off into different directions when the parliament wasn’t sitting. You’d sometimes travel on a plane with somebody. I mean there was a nice fellow from Adelaide called Don Jessop who was a Liberal, who was always a gentleman, but didn’t have meals with him, or anything like that. A nice man but …
E Helgeby: What was it about Gough Whitlam that you particularly admired?
C Summerhayes: I suppose his real sense of purpose and his real sense of wanting change for the better. I mean, as I say, when I started working for him in ’67 I knew very little about him at all. I’d just seen him on the television and he would have only been elected leader of the party about two months before I joined his staff. He had a style about him, an educated style about him, which I respected. He had a sense of humour, most of the time. He was thoughtful. He was, as I say, inclined to be a bit of a teacher to people. I didn’t mind that because there was a lot I didn’t know. A lot I learnt in that time I worked for him. Yes, he was kind. He even offered to give me away, if ever I were to get married. So that sort of relationship. Yes, we used to have a lot of fun, laughs.
E Helgeby: What influence did he have on your sense of politics?
C Summerhayes: Oh, I think a lot. I think osmosis very relevant to me anyway, about how you absorb your political values. I probably hadn’t thought about it — I hadn’t thought about it much before ’67 and gradually I came to be aware of all the various issues and what politics was really about. The issues that were important and yes, you keep hearing these words in the end that — if you didn’t agree with them, or have some sympathy with them, you probably shouldn’t be there.
E Helgeby: Did you become a Labor supporter, or motive, as a consequence of …
C Summerhayes: Yes, I certainly did, yes. As I said in the first interview. I don’t think I voted Labor before 1966 general election probably would have been my first. I don’t think I would have voted Labor then because I didn’t have very much time for Arthur Calwell. I wasn’t thinking too much about policies, I was too superficial at that stage.
E Helgeby: Did your values change over the years since then? Have you still remained a Labor voter?
C Summerhayes: Yes I have. I think because, yes, the things I believe in. So I worked with — Paul Keating was a young MP. I first remember him coming in to, bringing Annette into the office, when we were in the PMs office around the corner here, and introducing her to the staff. He was so proud of her. So I worked — I’ve known him that long and worked with him, because I worked in the Cabinet Office after I left Parliament House, and I worked at Government House, and Hawke I worked with him. So I’ve seen, I’ve still been close-ish to some of these people throughout. So it’s still — yes, it’s still the way I feel.
E Helgeby: So it’s pretty clear, one might term the period as your formative years?
C Summerhayes: Yes, my formative political years I’d say, yes, very much so.
E Helgeby: But apart from him, Gough Whitlam himself, there is no politician that you’ve worked with directly that would stand out for you?
C Summerhayes: Not particularly.
E Helgeby: And of the ones that you did not admire or respect, you’ve mentioned Vince Gair, are there any others?
C Summerhayes: No, I think he’s enough. No, I’m not singling anybody out. I think they’re — there were people, as I say, that you liked more than other people. Now why do I have this dislike, or apparent dislike of Malcolm Mackay I don’t really know the man. It’s just what other people thought of him and something in his background which meant he was given this nickname, of his oiliness. He’d been some sort of a Minister of religion, which I think is where it — and had something to do with some petrochemical company which is why the nickname came. No, no feelings now like that.
E Helgeby: Vince Gair was it your personal dealings with him, or what you learnt about him?
C Summerhayes: No, I didn’t, what I learnt about him, and the only other thing. At the time of the VIP aircraft issue in ’67 I think it was, when Gorton revealed in the Senate that there were passenger’s manifest from these flights when Harold Holt had denied their existence in the Reps. Vince Gair as leader of the DLP got hold of one of these manifests which was involved probably an election campaign trip of Whitlams’, and saying, now ‘Who are all these staff?’. He went through all of our names, ‘Barbara Stewart, Carol Summerhayes … one must be the masseur, one must be the hairdresser, and one must be the’ some other silly thing, so that put me off him too. It was nothing more personal than that. He’d never manhandled me. I’ve heard of others who he has, but.
E Helgeby: What about the press, any there that stood out as being either ones that you admired in some way, and some that you did not trust?
C Summerhayes: I wouldn’t use the word admire or trust, no it really was about who they wrote for. I mean it was a political judgement, I guess one’s making, isn’t it. But some of these other ones they were friendships, which probably, our politics coincided. But, no there were a lot of really nice people in the press gallery, yes, we all had shared times together which I think makes for friendship doesn’t it.
E Helgeby: Did any of them ever tried to get some information from you that they perhaps otherwise wouldn’t get?
C Summerhayes: I don’t think so. I can’t remember it. They would have got fairly short shift if they had tried. I mean no I would never have, I would never have given anything away, so I don’t think anybody would have even tried to get — I don’t think they were in to that sort of thing. We didn’t have much to tell anyway. I mean it’s a different thing when you’re in government from in opposition.
E Helgeby: As the Prime Minister’s Personal Secretary you would, presumably have some information that might be of interest.
C Summerhayes: I suppose I probably did, but no, nobody ever came to me with questions.
E Helgeby: That would be parliamentarians or anybody else either?
C Summerhayes: Not that I have any recollection of at all, no.
E Helgeby: During your years here can you think of any funny, happy incidents that happened, that stand out?
C Summerhayes: I can remember a happy incident. It was the Trudeau visit and we had a — there was a Ball in King’s Hall. I can still remember. I borrowed a dress from one of my sisters, pink again, that’s twice I’ve talked about wearing pink. It was such fun. I think that had to do with his youth and vitalism, maybe how we are all feeling. I don’t even remember when that was, but that was happy, fun. We used to have a lot of fun. We used to play cricket in the office and have dancing parties. Talking about — just harking back to parliamentarians. I do remember a party in Billy Snedden’s office when Andrew Jones the youngest member of parliament at one stage, that young man from Adelaide. People were dancing with each other at this party and he whistled to me, asking me for a dance. I just turned around and said, ‘Excuse me, I’m not your dog’ and swept off. Now, I mean, I probably — he was younger than me, so I could give him a little cheek I suppose. But sorry, where were we, we were talking about happy occasions.
And sad occasions, yes I can remember a sad occasion when — I can’t remember — it was something to do with Tasmania. It think it was when the Tasmanian Labor Party lost government, state government, and Clem Lloyd who had been on Lance Barnard’s staff, this is in Opposition days. He came down — he was a great big burly bloke. He came down the corridor for the Speakers Office towards Barnard’s office and he was in tears. It was all about — just seeing a big man in tears like that. It was apparently all about Labor’s loss in Tasmania, how seriously some people take their politics, or how they take it to heart.
I can’t single out any other specific really happy occasions, but there were lots of them.
E Helgeby: These dances and all sorts of functions, where were they held?
C Summerhayes: In people’s offices. We’d have a cricket pitch. Did I tell you this story last time? You’d tape the wicket up onto the glass door, leading out into the corridor with just masking tape and the ball would be made out of rolled up paper. They had some sort of a kid’s cricket bat and so it was quite serious. Lots of people out ready to catch.
E Helgeby: The offices in this building are rather small.
C Summerhayes: Yes, I don’t know how …
E Helgeby: These were small parties, or very crowded?
C Summerhayes: They were very crowded I think. No, they weren’t really small parties. Bills and Papers used to have parties. We didn’t always go over to the Senate because there was a bit of a them and us thing between the Reps and the Senate. Bills and Papers weren’t as much party givers as the Senate Papers office were, so we used to toddle over there occasions, but more often than not we’d stay on this side of the House. We’d go over to Lionel Murphy’s office occasionally for a party or two.
E Helgeby: That’s an interesting comment, what do you think it was that made the relationship between this side and the Senate side a bit different?
C Summerhayes: I don’t know, but it always was, there was an element — it wasn’t the real House of parliament, it wasn’t the real parliament, it was — I wouldn’t say that publicly. There was certainly a feeling that the Reps was the more important House, that’s where power rested and where important things happened.
E Helgeby: And that permeated down to the staff level?
C Summerhayes: I’d say so, and don’t forget the Senate’s I think, probably you’d say it’s rise in importance a lot of that was due to Lionel Murphy and the committee systems that he established. Before that I think it wasn’t unreasonable to say that the Senate was a bit of an old man’s club, where people who had served parties loyally were safely stashed. It wasn’t full of bright young things or particularly ambitious young things, I don’t think, Murphy was unusual.
E Helgeby: So the staff, his staff and your, and Gough Whitlam’s staff would not have much to do with each other?
C Summerhayes: We got on quite well. I think I can remember June Walters from Lionel’s staff and George Negus was there for a while. No, we got on alright with them but we didn’t cross that King’s Hall very often to go over to the other chamber. Well, it showed in ’75 didn’t it.
E Helgeby: And that even applied to the parties?
C Summerhayes: Yes, it did a bit. We had — friendships really were focused around what was going on in the Reps.
E Helgeby: What would you say would be your fondest memory of the time that you had at Old Parliament House?
C Summerhayes: I’d say probably the Opposition days were the happiest times and towards the end of Opposition particularly when we knew that things were looking good electorally. Yes, I think that was probably when I was probably happiest. It was a big learning curve in the early days, when I first started here so by five years later in ’72 I felt a lot more comfortable with what I was doing and how things worked. I started off being asked to send something to all Senators and Members when I first started in Whitlam’s office, so I copied it for all Senators and Members, Liberal, Country Party, DLP, the lot, just thinking literally and not savvily, yes, I think that was probably the happiest days.
E Helgeby: What would be your worst memories of your years here?
C Summerhayes: My unhappiest days, I suppose, the same sort of question, probably towards the end ’74 wasn’t a nice year really, for me, ’74, but we’re going to talk about that later aren’t we. That’s the only negative time I remember.
E Helgeby: No specific events but more the time.
C Summerhayes: Yes, I think probably my own sort of things that were happening with me, yes.
E Helgeby: Alright, shall we leave it here for today and we’ll come back to the other issues next time.
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: Thanks.
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 10
E Helgeby: This is 16th February and I am continuing the interview with Carol Summerhayes. Carol last time we finished just after the Labor ministry had won, or was sworn in December 1972. Can you talk us through what happened then, in terms of your regular routine, after that time?
C Summerhayes: Okay, I do remember that in the earliest days after the election, we came back to Canberra the day after. We operated out of the Leader of the Opposition’s office N57 for a couple of weeks, certainly while the duumvirate when Mr Whitlam and Mr Barnard split the portfolios between them until caucus could elect the ministry, we worked in the corridor outside. Talk about open government, as they said, we were actually working in the corridor, because there were extra people obviously. The staff was bigger and then needed more space and so we expanded beyond the Opposition office. Then we were moved, just in terms of physical arrangements, we moved around to the Senate side, because there were renovations happening in the PMs office, which Mr McMahon had set in train. The PMs office was not available for Mr Whitlam and so we had — I think it was August before the office was complete and we were able to move back in. So it was about eight or night months we were out on the Senate side, which was problematic, especially when you are a member of the House of Representatives.
My day, I certainly spent the very early part of the Labor Government taking letter after letter and typing up. I had weeks where I was working, taking notes from Mr Whitlam, often by the pool at Kirribilli, coming back into the office, typing them up until midnight or one a.m. for a couple of weeks, that was just getting rid of the thank you letters. Then, I guess, we came back into a routine which involved weekly cabinet meetings, lots of requests from people to see him, all of which I had to handle as personal secretary. Just arrangements to do with his time. How he got from A to B and keeping drivers and police informed of where he was going, what he was doing, and the people who were organising functions. Cabinet press conferences — I wasn’t any more involved in taking records of press conferences, I’d moved on from that job. So I was really much more involved with, totally involved with what he did with his time, who he saw, where he went, that involved mostly on the phone all day.
E Helgeby: Did you actually vett those who wanted to come and see the Prime Minister?
C Summerhayes: Vett, no I don’t think I would have automatically said no to somebody. I probably would have always checked, if not with the PM, maybe with his senior private secretary. I mean there were probably some people I could tell, he wasn’t going to be able to see, but I can’t remember making many of those decisions by myself. I think — because you didn’t always know — particularly in government, you didn’t always know what was going on and therefore why some particular person might want to see the PM. No I would have — we used to have staff meetings and we’d sit around and talk about requests for meetings and try and do an initial sift that way.
E Helgeby: Who was his senior private secretary at the time?
C Summerhayes: Dr Peter Wilenski was his first Senior Private Secretary. It’s funny I didn’t even know who he was. He was an ex-foreign, he came to the PMs office from the Department of Foreign Affairs. My Whitlam had met him when I think they visited Vietnam in ’67. I didn’t know the man at all so he was a total stranger to me when he came into the office.
E Helgeby: What did you think of him?
C Summerhayes: He was, he is dead now unfortunately. He was a very bright, intelligent guy and I think he did very well in that job, given that he hadn’t worked in a political office before. He hadn’t worked in Parliament House before, as far as I know, so it was a whole new world for him, as government was for us.
E Helgeby: Was he your direct supervisor, in any sense?
C Summerhayes: I suppose if I had a problem I would have gone to him with it, in that sense, but I didn’t work through him particularly. I usually worked directly to the PM, as I say, we used to try and do an initial sift through things if that was appropriate.
E Helgeby: So what would be a typical day for you in terms of the actual working with the Prime Minister?
C Summerhayes: So I think a typical day would probably have been on the phone. At one stage in ’74 Eric Walsh who was in the press office and I had a discussion about who had received, or made the most phone calls. I said, okay, well let’s keep a record of phone calls. So I diligently did that, I’m a bit of a record keeper, I’m not sure that Eric did. But I’ve still got the bits of paper which keep track of a day, one day, I think the 5th March ’74 I made and received eighty-two phone calls, fifty of them by lunchtime. It was interesting just to look through and see who the people were that were calling and what they were about. I reckon about twenty percent of them were about invitations, asking about invitation, about twenty percent were — another thing which I had forgotten took up an inordinate amount of time was finding a representative for the PM to go to, say a funeral or a function that the PM wouldn’t go to. People were always asking for a representative and somehow, in those days, I don’t think now, but in those days it feel to me to find somebody to represent the PM. So about twenty percent of my calls were about that sort of thing. There was about fifteen percent were requests for appointments, another fifteen percent were about travel arrangements, talking to the air force, talking to drivers, talking to police. I guess the rest was about, I suppose, letting the Lodge know who was likely to be there for lunch, looking after the occasional electorate matter.
One man must have been here to see Mr Whitlam and got a parking fine, so I had the job of, firstly ringing the police and trying to get him off the parking fine, and then having to ring whoever the appropriate — it wasn’t the police, it was the department of Urban Services, as they are now. So, little things like that one had to do in that job, just a range of issues you had to handle.
E Helgeby: Did you put calls through to the Prime Minister at all, or did they go through someone else?
C Summerhayes: No, they went through the main switchboard. No, I think if anybody wanted to speak to him I couldn’t put the call through. I might have been able to technically but I wouldn’t put the call through. I think they’d ring again on the main switch. I mean we had this complicated system of buzzes with all these lights and little square, coloured boxes on this great big consul thing that sat on this desk. We had buttons for everybody, but I don’t think I could transfer calls.
E Helgeby: So if you wanted to talk to the Prime Minister, or needed to talk to him, what would you do?
C Summerhayes: I had a buzzer I could press direct. I just pushed the buzzer on my consul and it would light up on his. If he wanted to talk to me he could pick up the call.
E Helgeby: So you were then, basically call you?
C Summerhayes: Yes I’d pick up. It was an intercom thing, it was probably not telephone lines. I didn’t understand the technology.
E Helgeby: So this is the way, over the years, from 1972 then onwards, was this fairly typical of what you would be doing?
C Summerhayes: I think it was a fairly typical day. If somebody important had died I spent, I don’t know how many calls I made, twenty calls about this funeral, when and where and telling me the department, who was going to represent — well finding a representative. One, I suppose, sorting out if the PM wasn’t going to be able to go and then finding somebody to represent him, and then telling the department, telling the archbishop’s office, telling drivers, all those sorts of little things. I think these days the department probably does a bit more of that, but people were checking on what was happening at the Lodge, who was coming to lunch.
The Ceremony and Hospitality people were probably the ones in the department that I had the most to deal with. They would ring about visiting firemen. I’ve got a memory of one, the Korean Embassy asked if one of their Ministers visiting Canberra could, and this is, as I say, in March ’74, so it was fifteen months after the election, could call and see the PM. So I checked and went back to the department and said, no, he’s not going to be able to see the PM. The next thing I get a call from the Korean Embassy putting their case. So you had to be prepared to handle that sort of telephone call.
Also, I think, all I could do at that stage, I have to go back to Foreign Affairs for advice on this. Because — not so much in ’74 but in the very early days Mr Whitlam was both PM and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, so he was filling both jobs, which was an occasion for funny little bits of correspondence. When he wrote to himself, from one — holding one position to the other position, let’s say Prime Minister to Minister for Foreign Affairs, he’d write the substance of whatever the message had to be, and sign it off in his handwriting with the usual diplomatic flourish, saying with assurances of my highest consideration. Just little self-mocking things that he was prone to do.
E Helgeby: Any events that stand out during those first two years, the first eighteen months, two years of your work?
C Summerhayes: I suppose my work was — I was very much stuck to the telephone. I used to, like we all did, smoke in those days. Sometimes I’d have — I’d always seem to get to a situation where I was lighting a cigarette, when the phone rang I’d light a cigarette, sometimes I found I already had a cigarette going in the ashtray. So it was very bad for our health, apart from people who didn’t smoke who had to put up with it, the smoke we created. I did give up shortly after that I must say. But, yes I was really trapped in my little office with the phone.
The overseas trips which were a large part of the way people remember the Whitlam government, which isn’t quite fair because everything still hummed along. But they were, in a way, a bit of a break from that long routine of days shut in an office dealing with — in a way I was dealing with things that weren’t very exciting for him. Hum drum requests for appointments. They weren’t the sort of exciting decisions on recognising China, or getting out of Vietnam. I had the hum drum, nasty sort of day-to-day issues to deal with. I wasn’t always — I didn’t always have good access. I couldn’t always get my boring little issues under the Prime Minister’s nose because he had other things he was preferring to do, but it had to be done. I had to persevere.
E Helgeby: Overseas trips, can you tell me about some of those that you went along on, and what would be your role on those sort of trips?
C Summerhayes: Well, I guess on almost all of the trips my role would have been about — I for my sins was cast with looking after all the gifts that we had to take, and that was a whole other world. I must say, I was very disappointed, well disappointed, critical at the time. We didn’t get any advice from Foreign Affairs about what we should take. We’d go to — say if we went to Zambia, well we couldn’t take a copper, set of copper cups and sauces, would we? I mean coals to Newcastle, but we didn’t — we might have known something as glaringly obvious as that but then again we mightn’t have. I remember getting chipped by Jim Ingram who was High Commissioner in Ottawa when we went there for a CHOGM meeting in ’73.
I was looking after the gifts and it was suggested we give something to a member of his domestic staff, who looked after the Whitlams, perhaps. I had a very nice little, I think it was something like a camphorwood box, it didn’t have anything in it, but it was a nicely decorated box, and Mr Ingram chipped me for giving — this person was I think Chinese and he said, you do not give Oriental people empty boxes. It may have been a beautiful box but you don’t give an empty box. We didn’t get any advice from the experts, the Foreign Affairs experts, we really had to wing it, and so that wasn’t always a comfortable …
E Helgeby: How would you manage to reach any decisions on what kind of gifts to bring if you got no advice?
C Summerhayes: Well there was a gift store in Prime Minister’s Department full of all sorts of trinkets and things. We’d say, okay we’re going to see the Emperor of Japan. I think, sometimes the gifts were very appropriate, and that is where somebody had some input, but it was usually for people at the higher level. I think he was interested in tropic fish, or something or other, there was some specific interest he had, where it was perfectly obvious what the PM could give him. But, as I say, when it got down the line a little we just had souvenirs, Australiana, I suppose. It wasn’t terribly kitsch, it was probably a bit up-market from that but it was the sort of thing I was talking about, the decorative box. But yes, we had to just sort of guess and hope that things were appreciated. Other times it would be embarrassing. I remember that when we were in Japan, in think in ’73, and we were at the gift exchange time. The Japanese were very formal in these things. In their intensity about getting an equilibrium between the value of the gifts, they were prepared to do, what we were never prepared to do, and they asked. Somebody came to me from the Japanese Foreign Office and said, present Mrs Whitlam, give to Mrs Ohira, how much it worth? So I had to quickly look at my list of gifts and prices, saw the number that had been notionally allocated to the value of the gift that Mrs Whitlam was giving Mrs Ohira and I doubled it, because they’re not retail prices, they are wholesale prices. So, what else can you do? But that was their — the importance for them was to have reciprocity in value so that was why they were asking.
E Helgeby: What was your role, otherwise on the trips?
C Summerhayes: Apart from the gifts. I got a bit hung up on that didn’t I? The gifts, the tips, who goes where sometimes, whose got to be — something had to be sorted out, which staff members went. Not that I was making decisions but we had to know who was to go to which place, for talks, or for lunches or for dinners. Somebody had to keep an eye on making sure that everybody in the party knew where they were expected to be and I think a bit of that fell to me. There were still be correspondence happen. There would be cables going back and forth. A lot of time would be spent on somebody dictating a cable and then us keying it in and getting it into the diplomatic traffic. Briefing was often being done at the last minute. You’d get something in, probably by phone, if an issue had arisen that you needed briefing on, we had to type all that sort of thing up.
E Helgeby: So your work was more like a secretarial?
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: Then perhaps your normal duties?
C Summerhayes: Exactly, and then working for people other than the PM. On a trip like that, whoever, there weren’t many of us who were able to transcribe shorthand, so we got a fair bit of work from everybody really, even departmental heads, or departmental officers, if they didn’t have stenos travelling, which they normally didn’t. It would fall to us if it needed to be done.
E Helgeby: Would you also work with Protocol Officers in the countries that you visited?
C Summerhayes: Not so much because we almost always had a — somebody from Ceremonial and Hospitality as the visit coordinator who would have done the planning for the visit before we left and would be familiar with arrangements where expected. So no I wouldn’t be the direct liaison with any of those sort of people. I think that the Ceremony and Hospitality people did that. They were in the department so that was their role.
The first trip we did was early in January ’73 and we went to New Zealand. We set off for New Zealand. My dear mum drove me out to the airport. It was very exciting. I think it was the first time she’d ever been inside the RAAF base gates. We were going to get a VIP, thirty-four squadron plane to Sydney. No, I’m sorry, go back one. We were going to fly on a BAC111 from Canberra to Wellington. So we took off from Canberra. We got beyond, no just shy of the half-way point and the plane blew an engine. It only had two, so we had to turn around and head back for Australia. There was a lot of triaking, were we going to make landfall, with only one engine. I think we were losing a bit of height as we were moving along. I remember saying at the time when we crossed the coast, how nice it was to be looking down at the coast, rather than up at it. There’d been an argument on the plane — not an argument, a discussion about whether we should land at the first sign of Australian land, the safest option, at somewhere like Jarvis Bay, I suppose, or Nowra. But the air force, I think, put the case that it would be better if we went on to Canberra where there were spare parts, where the plane could be fixed and presumably turned around, if that was going to be possible. So while all this was going on Mr Whitlam was very naughty and made comments, quite deliberately, in the hearing of Sir Arthur Tange who was Secretary in the Department of Defence at the time, whose ultimate responsibility, the RAAF plane, I suppose, was. Whitlam said, ‘I wonder what Warwick Smith’s qualification for Defence are?’. He just was suggesting that this might be — in a very mocking way, a sacking offence for poor old Sir Arthur. Anyway, we got back to Fairbairn. To this day I can remember Sir John Bunting who was Secretary of Prime Minister’s Department in the — it’s not there now, but the departure hall at RAAF Fairbairn, picking up the phone, dialling Qantas at Sydney and saying to the girl on the switchboard ‘Oh it’s Sir John Bunting here. I need a plane for the Prime Minister to go to New Zealand’. Now you can imagine the girl on the Qantas switchboard thinking, oh here we go again, another nut case, but poor Sir John. It was one of those situations where there wasn’t a fall back, nobody had thought that this might happen, I suppose. But in the end it got sorted and we then, later in the day, flew on a RAAF Mystere in Sydney and we picked up a commercial Air New Zealand flight and got to Wellington late at night. We missed the Saturday afternoon races, which I don’t think anybody cared about. So the trip picked up twelve hours after it should have, but we had this interesting little interlude on the way.
So that was the first overseas trip. I think the other thing I particularly remember, as I said, I smoked and I did the unforgivable thing of lighting up a cigarette at a meal. I think everybody would have smoked after the meal but it was before the Royal toast. I didn’t even know that you weren’t supposed to smoke before the toast. I did learn that lesson the hard way. Somebody chipped me.
E Helgeby: How were you seated on the plane. Did you travel all business class or first class, or were you back in the tail end?
C Summerhayes: It depends what the aircraft was. On that trip, well, if the BAC111 wouldn’t have lost its engine. There was usually seating at the very front for the principle, the PM and Mrs, and usually there were two other seats. I think it is much the same now. Then there was a section for staff and then at the back of the plane there tended to be more seats where the press often travelled. It wasn’t a particularly big aircraft. On the Qantas, when we travelled a bit later that year on Qantas chartered aircraft because there didn’t seem to be a RAAF aircraft that travelled those distances without a lot of refuelling and an extra crew. It was probably a first class travel for the principles and we were probably business class equivalent and I think probably the press were between — What do they call it premium economy these days? But I don’t remember the configuration being particularly different. I think we probably sat in business class sorts of seats, as they were in those days, nothing like what they are now.
E Helgeby: What other countries did you travel to when you were with the Prime Minister?
C Summerhayes: We went, we had a busy year in ’73. We went in February to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and that was very much showing the flag to our Papua New Guinea neighbours, because, as we talked about last time, Whitlam’s insistence that independence, or self-government was going to be thrust on them, whether they liked it or not, and that was, I think, just part of that agenda. Then Indonesia, of course, because of the importance of Indonesia to Australia.
In April we went to Western Samoa for the South Pacific Forum, which was another little world, little Apia and Aggie Grey’s place people had heard of. Aggie Grey’s Hotel, it was no bigger than Barlings beach at the coast, a tiny little place, but all the South Pacific leaders turned up for the meeting. Then we went on to London where I had my birthday. So I had three birthday cakes on that trip. I had one in my hotel room with champagne, at the Berkeley Hotel in London. My birthday is Anzac Day and so it was a holiday day. Then we went by plane from London to Rome and we had another birthday cake on the aircraft to celebrate Carol’s birthday. Then when we got to Rome we went out to dinner, the PM the Ambassador, the full shebang, and we had another birthday cake. So I had a very celebrated birthday that year.
July we went to Mexico and the US and that must have been about the time of Watergate. I remember — ’73. I think it was that trip where people were just glued to their television sets watching the Watergate trial. I don’t know whether I’ve mixed it up with another trip, but I don’t think so. It was like we used to be transfixed here watching the cricket. There televisions sets everywhere you went and people were fixated on what was going on, it was really interesting. But we moved on from the States to Ottawa where there was a CHOGM meeting which is where I mentioned my faux pas with the empty box. So that was good to be in Ottawa for a spell. We had about a week there because this conference lasted about that long. We had a lot of fun. We a security guy travelling with us. I think he was from the Attorney Generals, I think he was from Attorney Generals. He had a lovely sense of humour. He had seen in a trick shop somewhere in Ottawa a dog’s, like a dog’s leash. It had a lead which was artificially stiff, like a little harness that would go around a dog, but you didn’t have to have a dog, you could just walk along with this thing. The invisible dog we used to call it. So we used to take that out. I think sometimes we got a bit hysterical about silly things because there was — we did have a lot of fun. Anyway, the angry ant had this invisible dog which he would totter around the hotel where the conference was. He’d put it in the lift and the Africans — I don’t know whether you feel the same way, but I just find African people, a lot of them have got very similar senses of humour to us. I think it’s probably the British element. So these beautifully berobed African leaders of some Commonwealth country, or other, would spy at this little man with this little invisible dog. What a lovely dog, what’s his name, anyway, this little invisible dog even got a pass for CHOGM so that was one of the fun times.
E Helgeby: When you say we, how many of you were there?
C Summerhayes: There would have been about half a dozen personal staff travelling with him then.
E Helgeby: Including yourself?
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: Who would the others be?
C Summerhayes: Well, there would certainly have been Eric Walsh, somebody from the press office, Wilenski, there’d be two or three people from the press office, probably. Lorraine always went and one or two others. Barbara always went and I sometimes went, sometimes didn’t, Graham, as a speech writer, normally would go. So there would have been maybe six to eight was the normal compliment on a trip like that.
E Helgeby: Barbara Stewart what was her role at the time?
C Summerhayes: She was looking after Mrs Whitlam. Mrs Whitlam often had a very separate program from what Mr Whitlam was doing, sometimes, in fact, when we went to New C Zealand that time. I actually went on one of Mrs Whitlam’s trips, Mrs Kirk, I think, took her down on a plane down to the South Island and so I was allowed to go on that. So that was a nice little treat. But yes, Barbara looked after Mrs Whitlam’s interests, and she, as I say, was doing very different things, sometimes to what he was doing. But she also would hop in and help if something needed to be done for the rest of us.
CHOGM Ottawa, yes, well we didn’t have any more invisible dogs. I think they tried to take the invisible dog to the next CHOGM. I don’t know what happened, but anyway.
We went on in October ’73 to Japan and China and that was very exciting.
E Helgeby: That was the trip you didn’t have, earlier on.
C Summerhayes: That’s the trip I didn’t have earlier on. In fact I just remember today, that trip I didn’t go when Whitlam was leader of the Opposition he brought me back that jade ring, so that was a nice consolation prize. But, so this was my first time to Japan or China, and it was very exciting. The arrival ceremony at Beijing airport, Zhou Enlai was there. There were hoards of school children with lovely coloured banners and so on, the usual sort of rent a crowd. It was very exciting. Seeing faces like Zhou Enlai and I think Deng Xiaoping was the Premier then. We had — that was a very successful visit. We actually had Peking duck in the Great Hall of the People. We had a special lunch put on by Zhou Enlai at the end which nobody was expecting. We had banquets. Everybody had to go to everything. There is a photograph of the travelling party. There must have been about two hundred people. I don’t know — maybe not, maybe one hundred and fifty, but there was people from all sorts of places in that photo, Chinese as well as Australian.
E Helgeby: So you would …
C Summerhayes: Could I just have a break, I’ve got a frog.
E Helgeby: Alright a short break here.
Interview with Carol Summerhayes part 11
E Helgeby: Okay you were talking about the trip to China which was a very special event.
C Summerhayes: It was, we had — apart from all these grand banquets we had to go to, everybody had to go to these. The more the merrier. We didn’t always know what we were eating and we had to drink these excruciating toasts in, what somebody described as aviation fuel, maotai that’s sorghum based liquor that the Chinese insist on. We felt we had to get to the bottom of the glass because it was an insult. We were always toasting the friendship of China and Australia and down the hatch, ‘gambei!’ we used to have to say.
We had one very funny evening when, I think, we had a dinner on our own without our Chinese hosts, in the guesthouse, where we were staying. I don’t know why but we — the mood of the gathering was such that Tom Burns who was, I think, Secretary of the Queensland ALP at that time and had been on that earlier visit to China with Mr Whitlam. I have a photo of him actually standing on a table in this restaurant and everybody was singing The Internationale usually with a cigarette in one hand. It was very special. I think everybody felt it was a great breakthrough for Australia to finally, get real and recognise China. So that was elements of fun.
We went out to the Great Wall. We actually walked up the Great Wall which was really steep. I had to walk up backwards at one stage. It was bitterly cold, but it was fascinating just to see such a different place. Not much of old Peking left in those days. We did see a couple of old restaurant, sort of places, which was probably where we were dancing on tables, but much of the old city hadn’t survived.
We went on from China to Japan and the atmosphere was obviously very different, much more formal in Japan. We didn’t get to go to any of the formal functions. I remember that Peter Wilenski and Jim Spigelman went with the PM to the audience he had with the Emperor. They had to dress up in morning suits, so I was busy taking photographs of them in their morning suits, so we could send them back to their mums. It was very formal. I’m just trying to think. We went to Nara. We got a bullet train and we went down to Nara which is where that treaty of friendship between Australia and Japan, it’s called the Nara Treaty. I remember we went to a Geisha House there. I’d never been — I hadn’t been to Japan before. I hadn’t obviously been to a Geisha House. The real tradition of entertainment carried through these girls with the white painted faces sang their Japanese songs, then we were expected to sing Australian songs in return, which was a bit of a challenge. I don’t think we knew anything that was proper. Yes, so that was a very interesting little interlude.
E Helgeby: Before you leave China and Japan how did you cope with that, particularly in China, the heavy emphasis on drink?
C Summerhayes: Well, you just had to keep, you just had to cope really.
E Helgeby: You hadn’t been prepared for this, no one had warned you about this?
C Summerhayes: The frequent toasting, no, but we came to realize that you had to start pretending or just saying sorry, I’m out of here, without offending people. They were very insistent. I mean Chinese, yes they were very insistent. No, it was not — we didn’t have any dramatic events or anything. I think we realized that this couldn’t go on too long, this constant toasting.
E Helgeby: After China and Japan what?
C Summerhayes: After China and Japan, which was at the end of ’73. I guess what was sort of happening with me by then. I think I mentioned in one of our earlier talks that I had wanted to buy my own home and I did that at the end of ’73. I bought a little Town House up at Hackett so I moved into that early in ’74. I can see, as ’74 went on I was getting more involved in the nesting process, of actually making a home and so on. But still life went on busily at work but, yes I had other things in my life than work, which in the Opposition days I don’t think there was very much in my life other than work. By ’74 when I had my own place I was, I think, starting to get interested in a more normal life I guess.
E Helgeby: Did that effect your willingness or ability to take part in the overseas travel for example?
C Summerhayes: No, I was always keen to go away, but I didn’t always make the list. I don’t know. I think, something went funny with my relationship with Mr Whitlam in ’74 and I don’t know what it was. He used to occasionally get sets on people and I think it was my turn for a bit, so you just had to shrug and get through that. It happened to all of us at times. So I didn’t go on all the trips in ’74 but I didn’t mind that terribly but I’ve always been very curious about travelling. I did go in January-February we had a trip to South-East Asia which involved Malaysia and Thailand. We popped into Vientiane in Laos for about four hours because it was part of Indo-China but because the Vietnam War was happening it was the only country in Indo-China where it was felt safe the for the PM to go. So we just blew in and blew out of that dusty little place.
We went on to Burma. I remember particularly in Rangoon there were great big lumps of what was, apparently, jade in the car park outside the hotel. They were mining, in these great blocks of this valuable stone and they didn’t have — that’s how disorganised I suppose they were. I remember looking out the hotel window and seeing these great big lumps of jade stored there. I was really impressed with the Burmese and we saw the — we did the normal touristy sites, went to temples and so on.
We went on to Singapore. We had — in fact it was nice there. The press took Mr Whitlam and all the staff out to dinner to celebrate the seventh anniversary of his being elected leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, so that was a nice little recognition by them. Went on to Sabah where Darto Stevens who had been Malaysian High Commissioner here in Canberra, in his little Sultanate Brunei. And then we went on to Manilla where the Marcos’s were well and truly in power. We went on a cruise overnight on the Presidential Yacht and we went to Corregidor and Bataan but I didn’t know much about them by that stage. I didn’t know their importance. I mean I was told and learnt, so that was daunting, not daunting, what’s the word — impressive place, because that is where MacArthur made his last stand wasn’t it.
So, I think that probably that was my last overseas trip, that one, but they were interesting, because we’d go places and get lectures from the leader on historical aspects of this, that and the other, archaeological sites in Mexico. We went to archaeological sites because that’s what his interest was. We did other things obviously, it wasn’t just site seeing, but there was a lot of it.
E Helgeby: During 1974, of course there was also a period, that was the double dissolution election …
C Summerhayes: That’s right.
E Helgeby: … any memories of that? Did that effect your work? How did you feel about the situation at that time?
C Summerhayes: I think it was — double dissolution, was also a bit double disillusion I think too. I remember, just little things were starting to get to me. As I said, I was enjoying having a home and a social life of my own and things in the office were less than ideal, I suppose. I mean, for instance, on the day that we knew the new Governor General was going to be announced in the office. We didn’t know who it was going to be. I didn’t know who it was going to be. We were invited to go over to Nugget Coombs office in East Block. He was an economic advisor to the PM. I thought to myself, Nugget Coombs must be going to be the new Governor General. So we went over there for drinks expecting, they’ll just say, well guess who is the new Governor General and then five o’clock, along comes the announcement, it is Sir John Kerr. That is how out of things, an illustration of how you really didn’t know what was going on, which you have to expect in a position like that, but it just was one of the little, I suppose, instances for me of the job not being quite as fulfilling as it had been.
But that time of ’74, of course, we had real economic problems. There were the oil price rise, and I know there were — I overheard a conversation in the Cabinet Anteroom between Sir Frederick Wheeler who was Secretary of Treasury and the PM about the possibility of tax cuts being offered and the comment being made that, well, yes, that may be but you didn’t always have to deliver on them. That, sort of, really disillusioned me. I was probably a bit too naïve to think that politics wasn’t full of nasty compromises, but I really was still a bit politically naïve, I think, even after all those years of working in the place. The realities of government, I suppose, brought the reality home.
The other thing that happened that I didn’t like very much was Vince Gair being appointed to Dublin. This was part of that — I thought, why give somebody like that, that sort of a job. Just little things like that started to irk me a bit.
E Helgeby: On the one hand you mentioned that you felt a bit, not quite in the loop in one sense, but on the other hand you were still engaged personally, in a political sense. You had a commitment to the …
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: … to the movement and to Labor.
C Summerhayes: Yes, to Whitlam probably more than either of those. It was just a bit of a personal disillusionment of the reality of politics, of being in government.
E Helgeby: So the actual events of the election and all the things that happened leading up to the election, before and after, didn’t in a sense effect you?
C Summerhayes: I think it was April when Snedden announced that they were going to block supply, which set the wheels in motion. We had a trip up to Queensland which was very pleasant, a bit of a break. Whitlam used to do that about once a year, he’d just take a couple of weeks in Queensland. Well in Opposition he was always preparing his questions on notice and I think he got into the habit of doing that. I do remember we walked for hours along the beach over Easter and we — I think that was when the Vocadex machine which was a precursor to a fax machine. I don’t know if I’ve got the word right. It was sort of the original fax machine. It used to have a tray that you pulled out and put whatever special paper in and shut the tray and then the words would appear on the paper. We got so sick of all this information coming through from Canberra while we were up there in Queensland that we actually sabotaged the thing, with Prime Ministerial approval I think. So that we could have a bit of peace and quiet and not be bombarded with all these bits of paper coming out of Canberra. In the old days, of course, before faxes, I had to take it down in shorthand over the phone, so I shouldn’t have been sabotaging the fax machine, but it just got to that stage where it was — well yes, just escape.
E Helgeby: You said we, who?
C Summerhayes: I think Mike Delaney was my culprit in crime on that occasion, but in terms of who was in Queensland, well it would have been Mr and Mrs Whitlam. There would have been probably only a couple of other staff. One of the Whitlam children, Cathy may have been with us. I can’t remember precisely.
E Helgeby: And yourself?
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: And anybody else?
C Summerhayes: Mike Delaney I think was the only other person. I haven’t got a very clear memory, but there wouldn’t have been very many people. We would have gone really for them to have a break and I guess to do a bit of work.
E Helgeby: Tell me a bit more about that. Was that a working holiday?
C Summerhayes: A working holiday, it was like a working holiday. In fact, was it that time? Yes, it was. There was a member of Reps called David Tomson who was a member of the seat around Townsville. I don’t know what it was called then. He had been in the army, Brigadier I think it was and he and his wife ran a rather nice resort at Palm Cove and that was where we went for this week or two. They were very generous hosts and we had a really nice time. He came to parliament sometime after that. We went fishing. I actually, one morning, caught two fish and I when we came back to Canberra we went to the Lodge the next day and we had the fish for lunch. So there were family occasions like that sometimes, even still in ’74.
E Helgeby: You mentioned the word disillusioned, which I thought related also the Prime Minister, and yet it sounded as if you had, at a personal level, there must have been a fairly reasonable relationship.
C Summerhayes: Yes, I think it ebbed and flowed a bit. I mean we used to have our set-tos occasionally, well, it’s interesting. I’ve got a sort of memory of having a fierce argument with him one day. I can’t remember what on earth it was been about. Well, I said to him at the end of it, I said, ‘I can’t read your expletive-deleted mind’ and he always had the last work. He turned to me and said ‘Well, speak to somebody who can’. Obviously I was very frustrated and we’d had a set-to about whatever we’d had a set-to about, but you could — he was that sort of person. You could have cross words and then move on, didn’t hold grudges particularly, but as I say, there was something. I don’t know what happened over ’74. I was getting disillusioned, I think, with the job, and as I was saying before, more interested in life outside work and probably didn’t want to work the hours. I’d been at it for seven years by then, working those long parliamentary hours and I think I probably was just thinking, maybe it’s time to move on and do something else.
E Helgeby: Did your job change at all during that last year you were there?
C Summerhayes: No, it wouldn’t have. It would have still been this constantly on the phone. It was just managing invitation, appointments, people, movement. As I was saying before it was a real break to go on an overseas trip because somebody else had made all the arrangements. I didn’t have to do it all. Ceremonial and Hospitality people would have put all the arrangements in train for flights and things like that, so for me it was a break to even have them go on a trip and me not go.
E Helgeby: You didn’t have any trips after January-February 1974 roughly?
C Summerhayes: That’s about my memory of it. I could be — I don’t think there was, no. I think that was about it, because by we were into the double-dissolution election which was a close shave. I think we got down, things weren’t as easy politically. I think probably there wasn’t as much travel done. There may have been trips. I don’t know now. There may have been trips that he went on and I didn’t go on, but I can’t remember now.
E Helgeby: Was during this period, both before and certainly later, the early part of 1975, a lot of things happening in parliament …
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: … things that were effecting the work of the government. How did they effect, what was your reaction to this?
C Summerhayes: Well, work went on. I mean for all the crises that there were, the day-to-day business of government still went on. Didn’t really effect — I mean there might be a little more tension around the place, with something going — as they were, but my daily routine didn’t change because of them. I think probably out there in the public service at large, apart from Treasury, people got on with the business of government; things continued.
E Helgeby: And then in the early part of 1975 you must have decided to resign?
C Summerhayes: Yes.
E Helgeby: What let you to do that decision?
C Summerhayes: Well, I think it was a combination. I guess I had made up my mind that I was going to move on. From about mid-’74 I recognised that if I was going to have a mortgage which I had, I couldn’t afford the luxury of a political job, because if Whitlam had lost his job I would have lost mine. So I decided to apply for to become a member of the permanent public service. So I applied for jobs in Prime Minister’s Department and was interviewed, had to go through the mill. If I got the job I would say thank-you but I’m going to stay in the PM’s office, which I was allowed to do, until I got a job at the level I was being paid at in the PMs office. Then when I got to that level — I remember Keith Pearson ringing me up, saying will you take this job, and I said, yes I think I will. So I’d go to the level financially that I needed to be at, so as not to lose income.
E Helgeby: What level was that?
C Summerhayes: I think it was a Class Six, be about right. So then I had to summon up courage to tell Mr Whitlam that I was going to leave which took me a long time. I had, in the end John Menadue, who had actually employed me in Whitlam’s staff, who was by now Secretary of Prime Minister’s Department. He rang me up one day and said, ‘Well Carol would you like me to tell him?’ and I said “No, John I have to do it myself’. It was interesting to see John at the beginning and then at the end.
E Helgeby: So how did you tell Mr Whitlam?
C Summerhayes: I just think I — I don’t have a very vivid, I don’t have a memory of the details but I would have talked him through the fact that I wanted to have a house. I didn’t want to work the hours.
E Helgeby: Was that the real reason why you left?
C Summerhayes: I think that was the principle reason. I mean, you work the hours happily if you’re enjoying the job. I suppose I wasn’t enjoying the job as much. I mean that little office around there which was the personal secretary’s office, it was like a coffin; no pun intended. But was just — there were two of us in there and it was just very unpleasant, no outside lights, no air. It just wasn’t a nice place to spent fifteen or eighteen hours a day which was what I was doing. I think all that, everything happened together.
E Helgeby: You didn’t consider applying for another job, or seeking a transfer to another job within the PM’s office?
C Summerhayes: No I think I’d had enough of parliamentary jobs. Although I went from — the PMs office, I went to the Parliamentary and Government area of Prime Minister’s Department and my first job there was to be in charge of a register of Committees’ of Inquiry. A bit like the Rudd government which is accused now of mirror jobs, looking into everything, Whitlam was accused of the same thing, establishing inquiries about every possible thing. Some bright spark in the department decided this would be a good job for me, to look after this register of Committees’ of Inquiry, which involved keeping details of memberships, and reporting times, just so that there was some central information base about what was going on out there. When I left a lot of the others in the staff had left also.
I mean there was — about the time I left in March ’75 there’s a story about — I’ll just read it to you. It is headed, Gough’s Old Guard Goes. The number of old time Whitlam and Labor Party supporters working on the staff of the Prime Minister seems to be dwindling. Most of the people who in Opposition days battled, often unrewardingly for Mr Whitlam, and who surged triumphantly into office in ’72 now seem to be finding other jobs. Of the core of Mr Whitlam’s old Opposition office only Mr Graham Freudenberg, his speechwriter and close advisor remains. This is the situation following the resignation last week of two of his staunchest staffers, Carol Summerhayes, his Personal Secretary and Lorraine Dwyer of the Prime Minister’s Press Office. Even Mr Freudenberg association with Mr Whitlam since 1972 has had its stormy moments. [I know what that’s a reference to.] Miss Summerhayes and Mrs Dwyer won respect from the press for their work for Mr Whitlam and the government. Now he stands almost completely surrounded by staff who have joined him since he came — blah blah blah.
E Helgeby: Where was that article?
C Summerhayes: That was in The Australian, 18th March, ‘75. It was a column by Ian Moffitt, Perspective. And then Laurie Oakes in the Melbourne Sun July ’75, so four months later says, Another top member of the Prime Minister’s personal staff has resigned. He is Mr Geoff Blunden [Geoff died about two weeks ago] who is giving up a twenty-three thousand three hundred dollars a year job. Mr Blunden has applied for the job as Assistant National Secretary of the ALP, half his present salary, but he made it clear last night, he was leaving Mr Whitlam whether he got the Labor Party job or not. He is the fifth Prime Ministerial aid to leave since the middle of last year blah blah blah — It says, Wilenski and Spigelman went off to head departments. Eric Walsh resigned as Press Secretary to become a Lobbyist, Carol Summerhayes left her job as Mr Whitlam’s Personal Secretary to go into the public service.
E Helgeby: There must have been a reason why so many people resigned about that time?
C Summerhayes: I think …
E Helgeby: You knew these people?
C Summerhayes: Yes, they all had different reasons. I mean Wilenski and Spigelman got jobs as Departmental Secretaries, running their own show, which you would, and I think there was an element of a bit of a personality clash with [INAUDIBLE]. Eric Walsh left to better himself as a Lobbyist. He is still a successful Lobbyist. I just think, in a way, in government, the job changes. There are some many other people out there working for the government that you don’t feel personally as connected, committed.
E Helgeby: Was there a sense of disillusion with the Labor Party or Labor policies?
C Summerhayes: No, no it wasn’t political thing like that, it really was personal, I suppose, tiredness.
E Helgeby: That applied to you too.
C Summerhayes: Oh yes.
E Helgeby: You didn’t change your political beliefs?
C Summerhayes: No, I’m really talking for myself. No, no I didn’t change my political beliefs, and I didn’t change really my respect for Mr Whitlam, but I just was tired I suppose, as I say, I wanted a house and an outside life. I’d bought a car. I got to like cooking and things, just making a home, having friends and not spending all my time in this dear old building.
E Helgeby: During your subsequent career, did you come to Old Parliament House at all?
C Summerhayes: Yes, it wasn’t very long after I moved over to the department that I was back here again for the Premier’s Conference. I had this job looking after these Committees’ of Inquiry and somehow I got seconded to the group that was working on the Premier’s Conference so I was over here — they used to last two or three days in those times. I came back. I worked in the Parliamentary and Government for a long time and I used to have to come over here, sometimes with Briefing for Question Time. I did the — coordinated the Briefing in Prime Minister’s Department in Question Time for the PM for a couple of years. I came back — when I worked in the Cabinet Office there would be Cabinet meetings here. I wasn’t at that stage probably — I don’t know whether I was ever a note taker in this building, possibly not. I think that by the time I was in the Cabinet Office they’d moved up the hill. So I was in and out of the place a bit while working in PMs Department.
E Helgeby: What did that feel like coming back here from the outside, so to speak?
C Summerhayes: Well, one was always a little proprietorial about the place, having worked here for so long, but no I didn’t have any regrets. It was nice to be able to scuttle back into the West Block and get away from the hurly burly.
E Helgeby: So in your subsequent career you came back here while Mr Whitlam was still Prime Minister and then Malcolm Fraser?
C Summerhayes: Yes, I actually had to note take in that Prime Minister’s suite, the refurbished one in ’73, when Fraser was PM and I note took for a conversation he had with some Indian Naval person. I was working in the Defence section of PMs then. I was a departmental note taker, so that was interesting. One had to do a bit of everything. You always — well I mean I think I behaved as a public servant should behave was to work for the elected government of the day. ’75 brought out all sorts of intense feelings politically between opposing parties, which I think was the difference between our time in Opposition certainly, and the later times. I just think those intense feelings, that 1975 brought about have just made a difference. I don’t think it is ever going to go back to how it was before then.
E Helgeby: Did you have any dealings with Mr Whitlam after you left the building so to speak?
C Summerhayes: Oh yes, I still see him occasion. I went to several of his birthday parties with big Os on the end. I think the last one was his 90th which was a lovely party. I saw him only about two months ago at two book launches. I haven’t seen him for the last six or eight weeks though. I do see him at functions. I don’t go calling on him when I’m in Sydney but, no it’s still nice to see him and Margaret and the kids. I saw those children grow up pretty much, so I’m very fond of all of them.
E Helgeby: Looking back what thoughts and feelings do you have about your years working at Old Parliament House?
C Summerhayes: Well, it was fantastic. It was exciting and it was fun and you felt that you were in the middle of what was important. I must say, there was an element of thinking everything that was important was happening inside this building which wasn’t the case. But we really did live a very — a life very limited by the walls of this place. We used to have our little restaurants that we darted off to for meals and things but it was almost always in a group of people who worked here together, or worked here, whether in the same side or not. So, no it was a very formative — I’d had a couple of years overseas by the time I came here, so I was probably not quite the little girl from the sticks but I learnt an awful lot. I met a lot of fantastic people. I’ve worked on some really interesting — in some really interesting times. It was a fantastic experience, really was.
E Helgeby: There is a major new development underway at Old Parliament House which focuses on the story of Australian democracy. Now, the word democracy is a term which means different things, in different places, and to different people. What does democracy mean to you?
C Summerhayes: I’ve probably got a fairly simple view of it, about, I mean, it is about direct representation. It’s about people having an equal say in who gets elected, I suppose. I think it is about, our system seems to have survived fairly well with basically the two party system, although we’re not — we’ve got the different situation at the moment in the Senate. So who knows how it will be in the future but up till now. You know we’ve transplanted government, in a way, into Papua New Guinea along the same lines as ourselves and they seemed to have survived. They haven’t really had coups. They haven’t had military coups, so I think the system that we have here, which I call democratic. I suppose as you say it means different things to different people, but seems to work fairly well for Australians. I think Australians like the fact that the Senate is a bit of a check on the House of Reps. The House of Reps might not like it but I think that Australian people like to think there’s a bit of a check up there.
E Helgeby: What role do you believe this building continues to have today?
C Summerhayes: I know it’s being used, isn’t it, in a step back in time to how parliament used to be. I think it would be an awful pity to gut it and turn it into flats or something, which would be good, nice trees, plenty of sporting facilities. It’s got a bit of a mixed series of usages, hasn’t it, with restaurants and exhibitions about the electoral office and the electoral system. I don’t know what else is on here at the moment. The shop is a nice little shop. It’s got a few disparate users, hasn’t it, but I’d rather it was used — it’s a bit of a monument to politicians I suppose. What do you think?
E Helgeby: Some would call it a museum of sorts.
C Summerhayes: I think it’s interesting as a museum. I think it’s interesting for the intimacy of the spaces, the Chambers. The fact that now, well back in this building the press gallery — the entrance to the press gallery was about ten feet from the entrance to the Prime Minister’s office. On the other side, the Opposition side, the same thing. So you’ve got pressman who’ve got a legitimate cause to be in the corridor, loitering, not loitering, hanging around. In the new Parliament House, the Caucus Room which is part of that general area with the PMs office and the Leader of the Opposition’s office, they’re as far away from the PMs office as you could possibly be. I think that has an impact on the Leader’s proximity, availability, feeling that he is just one, a member of Caucus rather than some isolated position. I think this building did work very well in terms of — because of its size and intimacy I suppose, but it still produced 1975. The tensions of ’75.
E Helgeby: Worth keeping?
C Summerhayes: Worth keeping, yes.
E Helgeby: Any last points you’d like to make?
C Summerhayes: I don’t think so, no I don’t think so. I’m very conscious that my memory of thirty-five, forty years ago is imperfect but I’ve enjoyed going back and thinking about these sorts of things. What was obviously a very important time for me, so thank you.
E Helgeby: On behalf of Old Parliament House I’d like to thank you again for your willingness to take part in these interviews. If you have any further thoughts about things you would like to add to anything you have said, or correct for that matter, just get in contact with us and we can arrange for an addition session if you would like that.
C Summerhayes: Okay, thank you.
This history has multiple parts.1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
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