Caroline Cooper MVO, born in England, worked at the provisional Parliament House between November 1976 and 1979 in Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s office, initially as Private Secretary to Press Secretary David Barnett, then as Private Secretary to Chief of Staff Dale Budd. She also worked at the provisional Parliament House from early 1980 to March 1983 as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister’s wife Tamie Fraser and then for some months in Malcolm Fraser’s Melbourne office. Subsequently she worked in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet from 1983 to 1997.
Interview with Caroline Cooper part 1
E Helgeby: This is an interview with Caroline Cooper who worked in Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s office from 1976 to 1983. Caroline will be speaking with me, Edward Helgeby, and will help me for the Oral History Program conducted by the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. On behalf of the Director of the museum I would like to thank you for agreeing to participate in this program. Do you understand that the Commonwealth owns copyright in the interview material, but disclosure will be subject to any disclosure conditions, restrictions you may impose in completing the rights agreement?
C Cooper: Yes I do.
E Helgeby: This being so may we have your permission to make a transcript or a summary of this recording should we decide to make one?
C Cooper: Yes, no problems.
E Helgeby: This interview is taking place today, the 28th of February 2011, at 1:45pm. Can we begin with your family background? Where were you and when were you born?
C Cooper: I was born in England right after the war, about three days after V-Day, because my father had been sent home from prisoner of war camp, so he was a military officer in Royal Herts Artillery and my mother had ran a ballet school, in England. So grew up in England, but boarding school, the usual thing, sent away to school. And, yes, I think I had a second rebirth when I was invited to join the British Foreign Office and left England.
E Helgeby: What year was this?
C Cooper: I joined the British Foreign Office in 1965.
E Helgeby: And were you then posted to Australia?
C Cooper: No I was never posted to Australia. I was first posted to East Africa and that was just magic, after the grey of England. The colours and the spaces and the wide horizons and the wide skies, I just left my heart there, it’s still there. So that was Kenya in 1965 right after Mau Mau. Then I had a couple of other postings and eventually came down to Fiji, which they saw as a hardship posting, so was able to take a little look at Australia, and I thought that might be quite a nice place to live, because I didn’t want to go back to England, so I made my way down here.
E Helgeby: So you actually decided to come and by yourself?
C Cooper: I bought my own passage—well my parents had died by then. And I came to Australia and I was very, very lucky because I suddenly saw an advertisement in the newspaper looking for a secretary in the Prime Minister’s office.
E Helgeby: So this was for you the very first job you had in this country?
C Cooper: It wasn’t quite the first job but it was the first significant job for me, and I thought that advertisement would change my life.
E Helgeby: And just for the record, which year did you actually come to Australia?
C Cooper: I came in 1974.
E Helgeby: And where were you settled?
C Cooper: I went to Sydney first, and then I was invited to go work in Paris for a year, which I did, with my first boss that I worked for in East Africa. So I went to work for him in Paris, then I came back to Australia, had enough of him, so I came back here.
E Helgeby: So what, your career, before you came to Canberra, that was in Sydney?
C Cooper: In Sydney I worked for a place called World Travel Headquarters, which was one of the big travel agencies, and they were eventually bought out by P&O. They used to run the old Women’s Weekly discovery tours. They were a very big name in Sydney — Sydney was great in those days, it wasn’t quite as hectic and frenetic as it is now.
E Helgeby: Stepping back just a few steps, your education, what sort of an education did you have in England?
C Cooper: Education right through to A-levels and college, I don’t know what they’re called in Australia, two years at college after school where I got my Diploma in Business Studies. And it was then — I was really in the right place at the right time because they said to me ‘perhaps we better get you a job and would you like to go work in Lloyd’s Bank?’ and I was like ‘hmm, okay’. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about that. I hummed and hawed and somehow or another, and I can’t remember quite how it happened but the college received a message from the Diplomatic Service Administration Offices it was called, which was the administrative arm of the British Foreign Office, and saying did you have anybody that could go for interview to the foreign office? And they said ‘well you don’t have a job you better go for this interview’. So I went up to London, had an interview with the Foreign Office, and got accepted. So I was so lucky, so lucky, otherwise I would still be in a bank in England. I’m very, very lucky. So that was really the start, I was really fortunate.
E Helgeby: How many years did you work in the foreign office?
C Cooper: I was there from ‘65, which was just after UDI [Unilateral Declaration of Independence] of Rhodesia and I worked in the Rhodesia Department. Through to about ‘74 which was when I came to Australia. As usual, as everywhere else, all the men were the diplomats and all the women were secretaries.
E Helgeby: That was your job?
C Cooper: I was a secretary, yes. I started off in this ghastly typing pool, on a manual typewriter, with a supervisor who chain smoked all day long. And then you were called up to the offices, to the diplomats rooms, and you had to take dictation and go away and do all these things. It was very hierarchical, and quite Dickensian really I suppose in a way.
E Helgeby: For the record, what sort of shorthand speed did you have for typing?
C Cooper: I had about 120 shorthand speed and had my typing speed recorded at one stage and it was 90 words per minute. But it was never quite good enough for Hansard, they’re really exceptional.
E Helgeby: Did you use Pitmans?
C Cooper: Pitman’s yes, which I still use, I’ve even used it on these notes I’ve got here.
E Helgeby: So your reason for coming to Canberra was you decided to apply for a job?
C Cooper: I applied for the job in Malcolm Fraser’s office, and I came for an interview with Dale Budd, so I was pretty well straight out of Paris, and I came to talk to Dale Budd who was the Chief of Staff in those days.
E Helgeby: This was in 1976?
C Cooper: In 1976 yes.
E Helgeby: Can you remember what sort of time of year that was?
C Cooper: November.
E Helgeby: So about a year after Malcolm had come to power?
C Cooper: Yes, yes. I got accepted into the job and they said to me at the time you’re a bit overqualified for the job, which was to be one of the secretaries in the main office, they said ‘you better go up and work for David Barnett’. And David was the media secretary or press secretary it was called then, so I started off working for David in the Press Office.
E Helgeby: So the particular skills that you brought to the job, in a sense, that you would have impressed when you were interviewed, sounds to me like it must have been more than just the fact that you could type 90 words per minute.
C Cooper: Yes, and I’d travelled and had a bit of experience and might have been a little bit older than some of the other girls. Possibly the foreign office experience rounded me a bit.
E Helgeby: When you came to Canberra in November of?
C Cooper: November of 76, — and I lived at Brassey House. That was a story in itself.
E Helgeby: What was that like?
C Cooper: It was alright at the time, you get to meet lots of people, if you’re new to Canberra. It was a good place to meet people, and it was full of army officers and just a few women, so quite a nice place to be.
E Helgeby: From what you’re saying I assume you were single at the time?
C Cooper: I was single. I actually met my husband there, my ex-husband.
E Helgeby: When you started out where did you actually work? Where was your office?
C Cooper: The first office was with David Barnett up in the Press Gallery, yes, up in the roof. Yes, very cramped little room, very cramped.
E Helgeby: What was your first impression of Old Parliament House when you first came to Canberra?
C Cooper: I don’t think I had any real impression of it. I’m not aware of having any impression of it at all, because it’s in the foreign office in England or it’s in embassies around the world, so I wasn’t overawed or anything like that. But I do recall, people dispute this, but I do recall the Aboriginal Tent Embassy’s not there in ‘77. I don’t know when it was put there but yes, people kept saying to me ‘Oh no, no it has been there forever’. I said ‘No it hasn’t’.
E Helgeby: So you worked your initial job from ‘76 onward and worked with Fraser’s Press Secretary. Can you tell me a bit about what the job entailed and your impressions of him and how he worked and so forth?
C Cooper: Well, I think in the Prime Minister’s office overall — I have never worked so hard in my god damned life, never worked so hard. I think I said before that I used to go to the loo and I would be shaking with tension, just absolutely shaking, because we would work very hard, very intensely. I really should have learnt to pace myself, but to me it was a totally different thing. I think the foreign office was like a holiday in comparison. We worked very hard indeed and there are always media clips to be gone through, and this was of course in hard copy. We had ordinary typewriters. We didn’t have televisions in those days, atrocious conditions up in the roof, very cramped, our desks were piled up with newspapers, and of course the press would be wandering in and out all the time, then they would shitty with us if we turned the paperwork over because we didn’t really want them to see what was going on. So they’d get very agro that we actually caused them not to be able to see what we were doing. I remember Ken Begg coming in one day and George Negus, all those luminaries of the Press Gallery, Michelle Grattan, Peter Bowers, Laurie Oakes, they’re all there, Mike Steketee and most of them are still there.
E Helgeby: How did you actually work within that office? Did Barnett have you constantly taking dictation of press releases?
C Cooper: I think we must have been, but he had an off-sider who was probably drafting press releases. So, you know, it’s very difficult to say, but I really can’t remember what I did for David apart from being his secretary and working tremendously hard, and making cups of green tea.
E Helgeby: When you say tremendously hard what sort of, in that particular job, what sort of hours would you have?
C Cooper: Probably not as long as in the main office but we’d get in around nine - I think most people who work at Parliament Houses, and that’s old and new, come in a little bit later because they’ve all got to work long hours and of course if parliament were sitting they would be working until eleven o’clock at night. So we drew up a roster so we weren’t always doing the eleven o’clock at night – and there were a couple of other girls there. So we’d share that late duty and you know always you could go home for a break for the two hours I think it was, six till eight, you could go home and have a meal and come back, so but you’d still be there sitting there till eleven o’clock and later, and then back at work nine o’clock the next morning. But it was a different story in the main office.
E Helgeby: If I can stick to David Barnett, what was he like to work for?
C Cooper: He was gruff but there was a heart of gold under that. I’m very fond of David but I know that he has his gruff persona which became gruffer as the years went on. So yes – he had a funny sense of humour too. So he was fair enough.
E Helgeby: Was he an easy boss for you?
C Cooper: I don’t think so, I think coming straight from that protective foreign office I was a bit of an English rose. I found that was a bit hard for me to adapt to. And other people who were Australian, or had been working there longer, or had been working at Parliament House longer probably found it a lot easier to adapt. And it got to the stage that — and again I can’t quite remember the details, but they said to me ‘Look perhaps this isn’t working out. Would you like to come down and work in the main office and work for Dale?’
E Helgeby: When they said perhaps it didn’t work out, how did you feel about that?
C Cooper: Happy.
E Helgeby: So, from your point of view it didn’t work out either
C Cooper: I think so, I think I was getting very stressed.
E Helgeby: Stressed because of the nature of the work or stressed because of the working conditions?
C Cooper: Probably the nature of the work, and the working conditions. I haven’t really sat and analysed it so I can’t give you a straight answer for that.
E Helgeby: Tell me about the nature of the work. What was it about the nature of the work that was different?
C Cooper: I think in some ways — I’m a very organized person and the press office could never be organized. It was so on spot, immediate, and we never had time to file anything properly, and I said your desk was piled high with newspaper clippings and newspapers, nothing was ever really filed where it should have been. We didn’t really have the facility or the advantage of having a really good record system. So you know, you had to react to things very quickly or be proactive, try and react to things in advance, and particularly if Mr Fraser wanted something put out right away. So David would have to be right on to that, and seeing ahead.
E Helgeby: Did you have any scope for your own initiative?
C Cooper: No, I don’t think no, I didn’t because I actually became a writer in later years but I never did any writing or drafting for them. And he had an off-sider it was Alister Drysdale was his offsider and Owen Lloyd came in at one stage. So we had the three men and about three girls, and another lady came in, Janet, someone whose name escapes me. So we gradually got more staff but I think it was completely disorganized in its own little way, I mean it worked.
E Helgeby: And that was one reason why you were not comfortable
C Cooper: I think that is yes, I never really thought about that before, I think that could be it, and just suddenly going into that working climate and not being prepared.
E Helgeby: So how long did you actually stay with Barnett in that office?
C Cooper: It must have been about a year.
E Helgeby: So we’re talking about sort of late ’77 or something like that?
C Cooper: Yes, yes.
E Helgeby: Stepping back a bit to a more general background, were you interested in politics before you came here? Or was the fact that you worked here make you interested in politics?
C Cooper: I’ve never really been interested in politics, my shutters come down. I love working at a place that excites me or has a buzz about it, and Dale Budd once said he didn’t really want people who were liberal cronies working there, not that I was Labor, I wasn’t Labor, but I was Liberal, but I’m not a political animal, whereas quite a few people who passed through the PMs Office, of course, it was their training ground. But that’s not what I was about I just very much enjoyed working there.
E Helgeby: Or not as the case may be, for the first year.
C Cooper: Or not for the first year, yes, for my initiating year.
E Helgeby: So did you have any regrets taking that job when you came here?
C Cooper: No, no, I was very happy.
E Helgeby: Again, this is a little bit back there, do you have any recollection of your very first day on the job working for everybody? What it was like to come in here with, I presume you had no experience working in a press office, what did that feel like, what was it like?
C Cooper: I remember there was — I can’t think of names, there was another girl working there who was a bit overpowering, and she knew I had just came out from England and new to Canberra and she said ‘Oh well do you know where to find the post codes? You know, if you need a post card’ I said ‘Yes just look in the back of the telephone directory’. I always felt a little bit intimidated I think, which is a pity because I was working to David and she was working for the other person, so that was probably another form of stress for me.
E Helgeby: Did David not give you any instructions or guidance, just expected you to be fully functional from the moment you started?
C Cooper: Absolutely yes, hit the ground running, yes.
E Helgeby: Well, the first day on the job would have been…
C Cooper: The first day on the job was the worst, I think you just mucked in and I was probably shown around and took it from there.
E Helgeby: Within the context of this particular job, I think it was the structure of the office where there was Barnett himself as the Chief Press Officer and then he had one or two assistants.
C Cooper: He did, yes.
E Helgeby: And then there were two or three?
C Cooper: Two or three girls, yes.
E Helgeby: And you worked with each one-to-one?
C Cooper: Yes, each one us worked to one of the press people, and then we’d go overseas with them as well, so when the PM went overseas he would take the press secretary, the press secretary would take one of the girls — and I was mad as a cut snake once because they were off to Paris and he looked at me and said ‘Well you’ve been to Paris haven’t you?’ and I said ‘Yes’ thinking that he would say ‘oh well you know all about Paris’, he said ‘Oh that’s alright well you don’t have to come with us on this trip’. The rug from right under me.
E Helgeby: How would you describe a typical day working for Barnett? What was it like? When did you start? Did you get any breaks?
C Cooper: We must have, look I can’t remember the details. I know there were media reports of us working so hard that we were getting outrageous amounts of overtime, like a thousand dollars a week, which is nothing these days.
E Helgeby: But you did get paid overtime?
C Cooper: Oh absolutely yes, and if you didn’t have an eight hour break you got paid double the next day. So we were paid quite well. Enough to pay your doctors bills, I must say.
E Helgeby: So working conditions were controlled even though they were excessive hours?
C Cooper: They were controlled, oh absolutely, and we would write all those down. I think I’ve still got those, my timesheets. So yes you’d crop up quite a lot of money and get double time the next day, but you know you’d get back to work and you’re absolutely exhausted. There were times I would finish work at four in the morning and I’d go home have a shower and come back to work. It was not good for the health, and I remember coming out with spots all up my arm and nobody knew what it was, but I think it was just stress. But it was quite funny because if you went down to the café to have dinner, and you could get whatever you liked, the café was very good, but I remember us coming back and you’d get a three course dinner or a roast and two veg and gravy and they would slop all of this meal into a milkshake container, that was your dinner for the evening. And I also remember what was lovely, because we didn’t have, like they have now, television monitors in House, we just had speakers, and we’d have Question Time on the speakers. But when the Question Time was not on we would play music, it was so gorgeous, and I just needed that time and they would play one of Schoenberg piano concertos and it was heavenly, it was so beautiful. I still love that piece of music. I can’t remember if it was his first or second piano concerto, but for somebody to have the foresight to play that beautiful music and just in those lulls between the frenetic activity between Parliament House or Question Time, it was just heaven. It was really nice.
E Helgeby: So an average day would be from eight am in the morning?
C Cooper: Yes.
E Helgeby: Until, you said, maybe ten, eleven?
C Cooper: Until probably eight because if you worked in late you’d have to stay till eight, or if parliament wasn’t sitting we might go home at six. But if you came back you’d do a break from six till eight, and then you’d be there till parliament rose.
E Helgeby: So the press office work was never done?
C Cooper: Yes, and I think we had to be active and proactive and on the ball and just keep those press at bay, in the nicest possible way.
E Helgeby: When you talk about proactive and reactive, does that apply, did you have a chance to be that?
C Cooper: I think the office in general, or David, would have to lead that, but we would have to be reactive to what Fraser wanted. We would have to be proactive if we knew something was coming up. You know, they call them spin doctors, so if we knew something was about to hit the fan then it had to be dealt with before it did.
E Helgeby: And that was a term you used back in those days?
C Cooper: What hit the fan?
E Helgeby: Spin doctor.
C Cooper: I don’t think so, I don’t think so no.
E Helgeby: You lived at Brassey House while this was happening, during this period of time.
C Cooper: Yes.
E Helgeby: How did you travel to and from work?
C Cooper: I had my own little car, and I used to be able to park out the front of Old Parliament House. There must have been very few people there in those days because I used to bomb in at nine o’clock in the morning and just park outside by the steps usually, very easy, nothing like the congestion that there is now.
E Helgeby: Now stepping away from David Barnett for a moment, your next phase you went from 1997 you were asked to go, it was suggested to you that you go down to the general office?
C Cooper: Yes, and work for Dale Budd.
E Helgeby: Okay, what was his role at that time?
C Cooper: He was Chief of Staff, he was called Principal Private Secretary, but it correlates to Chief of Staff, and Dale was wonderful. He was the calmest man in the hottest crisis, he was just lovely.
E Helgeby: What was your job in that office?
C Cooper: I was his secretary. So I didn’t do the diary or events or anything else. Again we had a number of advisers like Alexander Downer and David Kemp, Alan Jones the shock jock and each of them had their own secretaries, and I worked for Dale, so that was that direct link through to him.
E Helgeby: What changed for you in terms of the way of working in this office compared to the way you worked before?
C Cooper: Probably much more that it was more organized, and I was more used to the work. Dale was, as I said very, very calm, gave very, very clear instructions or you could go and ask him if you weren’t sure, he and I got along very well indeed and he was just lovely.
E Helgeby: That was then the end of ‘77 roughly?
C Cooper: Yes and that would’ve been until about ‘79, a couple of years, working for Dale.
E Helgeby: And your job was basically similar to what it had been but in a different environment?
C Cooper: Pretty similar in that it’s shorthand and typing, you know, as girls did, yes, on the old manual typewriters. And then we started getting electronic typewriters, and then at one stage we even got electronic typewriters that had memories, which was really good for the electoral secretary that would come up and work because she would be sending out a hundred standard letters because there was some issue that happened. So they were really, really good for her to use, yes standard paragraph A, whatever.
E Helgeby: In terms of, again, sort of working in the more mechanics of the office then, did your role change?
C Cooper: Pretty much the same, pretty much the same because I would also muck in with the other girls when we were doing speech writing, and Petro Giorgiou was all of a flurry every time we did a speech and he was like a human dynamo, and that was so, so busy. And that was again times when we’d be there until four in the morning writing and rewriting speeches, and there were no such thing as computers in those days.
E Helgeby: And so you actually worked for more than just Dale himself?
C Cooper: No, I did work for Dale but in those times when there was a speech on or something major was happening we would all muck in.
E Helgeby: How many were there actually in that office?
C Cooper: Well, there were the two girls that did the events and invitations, somebody who worked for Alan, somebody who worked for Alexander Downer, somebody worked for David Kemp. I think there were girls who were designated to work for their advisors, and we had — Ken Haden was another one, he had his own secretary. We had the Cabinet people, and then we had the lady who was on switchboard all the time, Margot Reedy, and she’s still in Canberra, so just a handful of girls, a handful.
E Helgeby: The books say that Malcolm Fraser’s staff in 1976 was about nineteen all up.
C Cooper: Yes that could be about right. Yes well if you include the people upstairs and Tamie’s secretary, you know there was one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, easily nineteen yes, because then it grew to about twenty-six I think before I left.
E Helgeby: Again, typical day working for Dale Budd was it any different to working for David Barnett?
C Cooper: Much more organized, much more organized, and also because we were doing all different sorts of paperwork we weren’t grappling with the press. It was a more protected environment because we had the police sitting outside our door, so people couldn’t just wander in and have a look over our desks or over our shoulders of what we were doing. So it was an environment I liked much better.
E Helgeby: Which office did you actually occupy at that time yourself?
C Cooper: What I call the main office, just Mr Fraser’s office was right down the end of the corridor and I was just as you walk in, with a group of us just outside from where the police sat.
E Helgeby: How many of you could actually manage to squeeze into that office? It’s not very large.
C Cooper: About six in that little office there, yes. It doesn’t look very large now so I’m wondering if they’ve made it smaller.
E Helgeby: And all six were actually secretaries for various people who worked around?
C Cooper: Yes, girls, yes.
E Helgeby: And you spent about two years there roughly?
C Cooper: Roughly two years I think until about ‘79. I was with Mr Fraser when the Hilton bomb went off, and so that was ‘78 because I think I got married that year and then we went off to Sydney for a year and then I came back, that’s when I came back to work for Tamie.
E Helgeby: So you actually left the office?
C Cooper: I left, we spent a few months in Sydney, and then I came back. So I was working with Malcolm when we were at the Hilton.
E Helgeby: That was in ‘76.
C Cooper: ‘76 was it? The Hilton bomb?
E Helgeby: Oh sorry.
C Cooper: Must have been ‘78.
E Helgeby: ‘78 sorry yes. So from what you’re saying the job must have had an impact on your social life.
C Cooper: Oh, I had no social life at all, no. I remember one of the girls said, who joined us, she said ‘And oh I’ve signed up for evening classes’ and we said ‘No you haven’t’, she looked at us with big wide eyes, I said ‘Sorry’, but you just don’t have time to do that, you really don’t. But I think you just had to give your whole life to the office.
E Helgeby: How did that work out, you said you met your husband in Brassey House?
C Cooper: I met my husband in Brassey, and we actually did get married. We had fine time to do that, but we didn’t have a honeymoon, just went straight back to work.
E Helgeby: This applied right throughout your period working in the Fraser office?
C Cooper: Yes, I think you just had to be really dedicated, you didn’t have to be truly Liberal but you did have to be dedicated and want to do the best, and we did want to do our best for Dale.
E Helgeby: So then, I’m a little bit confused about the time you’re telling me, you took a year off then came back in what was it 1980 and decided to work for…
C Cooper: Tamie.
E Helgeby: Tamie, so then you must have left your job to go to Sydney?
C Cooper: Yes, my husband got posted to Sydney with the army, so then I came back.
E Helgeby: So did you resign from the job here?
C Cooper: Yes I suppose I did, yes, and then they rang me up and asked me if I would like to go and work for Tamie.
E Helgeby: This was about a year later?
C Cooper: Yes.
E Helgeby: And what did you do in the meantime in Sydney?
C Cooper: Oh, I was working, in Sydney. Bob was in the army there but I was working at a Jewish college, so that was pretty easy stuff it was very interesting.
E Helgeby: Again sort of domestic things, were there any parts of the Old Parliament House that you used every day, apart from your office?
C Cooper: Yes, the loos [laughs].
E Helgeby: Perhaps apart from that. Did you go to the dining room?
C Cooper: No, not much, no, there was a gorgeous little post office downstairs where you could get fabulous first day covers, that was lovely. God I don’t know what happened to all of those but we used to buy-up big.
E Helgeby: What about the parliamentary bar?
C Cooper: No, no, that was for the media and the pollies I think.
E Helgeby: Certainly now there was a staff bar especially for women as well.
C Cooper: No, we never went there, no.
E Helgeby: What about the tennis courts and the facilities around?
C Cooper: We could use those yes, we used those from time to time.
E Helgeby: When you had the time?
C Cooper: When we had the time, yes. I think they used them on weekends actually, to be perfectly honest. Imagine spending all that time with your work colleagues and then playing tennis with them on the weekends as well.
E Helgeby: You’ve mentioned in a sense you’ve talked about the very long hours but was this a seven days a week operation?
C Cooper: No, no, we’d have weekends off and just before the weekend they’d put out a list of contact numbers for everybody — did we have mobiles?
E Helgeby: No.
C Cooper: No I don’t think we did, it would be phone numbers for everybody and then people would put down, because they were really sick of it, they’d just put not contactable for the weekend. While I was working with David Barnett we would be tasked with taking Malcolm Fraser’s weekly talk, I think to his electorate, but we would have to take it to 2CA or 2CM, so somebody would buzz me on my pager when that was ready. So I had a pager number, so whoever was on duty would have the pager with us and they would go and collect this tape or something and take it to the radio station, then they would feed that back to Warnambool or somewhere.
I wanted to talk about the Hilton and I wanted to talk about going down to Nareen as well.
E Helgeby: We’ll come back to that, we’ll add you if I can.
C Cooper: But those little pagers were something else.
E Helgeby: Did he ever attend sessions in the chambers?
C Cooper: No.
E Helgeby: Simply due to lack of time or lack of interest?
C Cooper: Both.
E Helgeby: You mentioned equipment and that there were changes of use while you were here but describe what kind of equipment, machines you used when you first started.
C Cooper: We had portable typewriters.
E Helgeby: Portable typewriters?
C Cooper: I think there were just — I’m not quite sure if they were electric or whether they were just ordinary old manuals.
E Helgeby: Ones with carbon paper?
C Cooper: That’s right they didn’t have carbon paper they had ones that go through once — and actually if a spy came and got them you had to throw them in the classified waste because people could actually read what you’d written, so again that was a bit of an issue. So they must have been part electric typewriters with those one off spools.
E Helgeby: And what changes went over the years you were there? I mean that was from ‘76 onward by 1980.
C Cooper: Well Mr Fraser asked us to go and look at comparing computers there, or word processors I think they were going to be, they weren’t even computers. So we went and looked at those but nothing ever happened, we didn’t get them. We had this electronic typewriter with memory and — but we didn’t use that so.
E Helgeby: Why not?
C Cooper: Because our work wasn’t so repetitive as the electorate secretaries were. She had, like I said, a thousand people would write in about dog licenses or something, whatever, and she had to send out a thousand replies, the same standard paragraph, so she really, really needed that. So we had that one typewriter, occasionally we could use that for speeches, but no, God no, those speeches were hard work and wasn’t just a matter of moving paragraphs around you’d have to start over again.
E Helgeby: Did you actually have any influence over choice of equipment? When they went looking at other choices?
C Cooper: No, no, I probably did have and didn’t realize how much influence I might have had.
E Helgeby: Might have been?
C Cooper: Yes, yes. I really did not use my influence as much as I should have and I think coming from that English background you don’t push as much as you could, and I think the Australians, even though they don’t realize it, are a bit American, and they’re much more thrusting, and so again I felt at a bit of a disadvantage, it’s my own fault.
E Helgeby: Was there something you were aware of yourself, perhaps a difference between you and the Australians?
C Cooper: No, no, I can see it now.
E Helgeby: In hindsight?
C Cooper: Yes. We tend to shrink away.
E Helgeby: What was your relationship with your bosses like?
C Cooper: Which ones?
E Helgeby: I’ll just talk in general with David Barnett.
C Cooper: Oh just fine, I saw David quite recently actually, we had a laugh. He and Dale Budd and myself were at Malcolm Fraser’s launch of his book recently at the press club, so that was good. I’m fond of David, we do work together very well.
E Helgeby: And, from what you were saying, that definitely applied to Dale Budd, you got along very well with him.
C Cooper: Yes, I think the greatest thing I had for Dale was respect…
[End of part 1]
Interview with Caroline Cooper part 2
C Cooper: …and that’s why it worked so well.
E Helgeby: Not so much respect for David?
C Cooper: He was a different person. I felt that we were battling all the time, completely different. David was a character, I think maybe media people are different.
E Helgeby: What about colleagues in the office, how did you get along with them?
C Cooper: Very well, there was one girl, you know we just had our head down tail up most of the time, but there was one girl whenever she wore a particularly red dress we would keep out of her way, she was dynamite. But other of the girls I’m still in touch with and they were good, we have meetings from time to time, but we’re just scattered but I’m still in touch. I rang up the Premier’s office in Victoria the other day and one of the girls answered and I thought oh my God it’s Kathy, so she was down there, and another one has gone to Perth and we’re suddenly in touch again. So there are always those links, and for me it’s as good as having been to school together because school friends are all in England, so these are my school friends in a way that I keep in touch with.
E Helgeby: Interesting, did you socialize with your work colleagues while you were actually working here?
C Cooper: No, because we didn’t really have time. Occasionally we would go out if Malcolm had a birthday party or something like that, we went out to Gold Creek or we’d do something, no very rarely. I think we wanted to just go home and put out feet up.
E Helgeby: Did you have any, what sort of interactions did you have with staff in other sections of Old Parliament House, working here in Old Parliament House?
C Cooper: No, none.
E Helgeby: None at all?
C Cooper: I mean I just knew them, we knew the people that worked along that row there, it was Doug Anthony’s office and Tony Street’s office and I think John Howard’s office was downstairs, Andrew Peacock’s office was downstairs, so we knew people but we didn’t socialize, or I didn’t socialize.
E Helgeby: Just due to the long hours?
C Cooper: Yes, I went in, I went home, that was it.
E Helgeby: Were you ever a member of a union?
C Cooper: No.
E Helgeby: Now in terms of, again thinking broadly, did your workload change during sitting weeks of parliament or when your boss or Prime Minister was away?
C Cooper: Absolutely, yes. A bit like in new Parliament House, when the politicians left on a Thursday night you would absolutely feel the tension drain out of the office, like a huge sigh of relief, and you’d just know you’d have a few days to catch up and do things quietly and have time to do things. I’m just a critically organized person, so that for me is good. And so absolutely things changed, it was high tension high performance during sitting weeks in both old and new Parliament House.
E Helgeby: In the job I understand you would travel, take me through that, what sort of places would you travel with them? For example did you go to Nareen?
C Cooper: Yes, not every weekend, but we were rostered on to go to Nareen.
E Helgeby: Was this when you were working for Tamie?
C Cooper: No this is when I was working for Dale, for Dale Budd. So I was one of the girls, and again, we’d take it in turns to go down to Nareen for the weekend.
E Helgeby: What was your role there? Was it any different to your normal role?
C Cooper: I found it quite different because actually we were the link between the Prime Minister and the rest of the world. There was a little room just off the room we’d work in where we had security things and you had to decode telegrams and things. God knows how I did that, but we did.
E Helgeby: That’s an interesting one, tell me about that.
C Cooper: Well it was a little room, and I think that, probably just as well I can’t remember the details, but if something came in for the Prime Minister we would have the means to decode it and trot down to the House with it and go find him out in the paddocks. So we were that critical link, it was just one person, it was us, or me. We’d have Victorian police come down and we’d have the Federal police come down, then the girl, whoever it was on duty, would go down and sleep in Nareen homestead. Whereas, I think the boys, usually the boys from Victorian police and Federal police would sleep in the cottage.
E Helgeby: So, again, there’s one of you who would go down to Nareen.
C Cooper: We’d fly down with Mr Fraser from Canberra to, Tullamarine no, the little one, Essendon, we’d go Canberra to Essendon, take the RAF plane down to Essendon, then we’d change onto one of these little four-seater things and fly into Nareen and just before they’d fly in they’d be in touch with the police down there and the police would drive up and down the paddock to chase the sheep off the runway. And one time apparently the fog was so bad that Malcolm had to go to the front to the pilot and say ‘Oh this is Mr Jones’s paddock now turn left here’, it was just guiding them over the paddocks through the fog, just hedge hogging, it was pretty scary.
E Helgeby: It sounds pretty scary.
C Cooper: It was very scary.
E Helgeby: Was there only one of you? Or did Dale Budd always go?
C Cooper: One of us, no Dale didn’t come down at all. It was usually Tamie, Malcolm, and the policemen, Federal police, and the secretary, that was it. And you’ve never seen such big spiders as you’ve seen at Nareen, they were massive, like the span of my hand.
E Helgeby: I take it that since you had access to, and you actually did so often, decoding, you must have had the top security clearance. Was that something that happened before you started initially?
C Cooper: It probably got upgraded when I went to work for Dale because David, no doubt he was cleared, but we wouldn’t have had access to that sort of material, we certainly wouldn’t have had it up in the Press Gallery.
E Helgeby: How often would you go down to Nareen?
C Cooper: Maybe once every six weeks or so and depends sometimes he wouldn’t be going home, so you know he might be going somewhere else over the weekend.
E Helgeby: And did you follow on such other travels?
C Cooper: We went overseas, I went to Papua New Guinea with him. I think Andrew Peacock came with us when he was Minister for Foreign Affairs, that was a very interesting trip up to the highlands and to Lae and I went on a huge trip with Mr Fraser. We went through to — I’m trying to think of the course we took, it was practically around the world and we went to London, no we went to New York, western America, then to New York, from New York to London we flew Concorde and had an aborted take-off and all had to get off and shoot back into the terminal, trip back to the terminal, then we flew to London, and then we flew to Germany, and then back through Singapore, and I think we went through Mexico, so we went on quite a few trips. Some of which were with Tamie and some were with Dale or Malcolm Fraser.
E Helgeby: What was your job?
C Cooper: Again, Secretary.
E Helgeby: Working for?
C Cooper: It must have been with Tamie because we went to Mexico. I remember some amazing lunches in New York with all the female glitterati, it was quite interesting, Mrs Estee Lauder and people like that, and Mrs Alexander Haig, so that was fascinating.
E Helgeby: Did you ever go to accompany them, Fraser or anybody else of them, to say CHOGM?
C Cooper: I’m trying to think.
E Helgeby: There was one in 1977 in London, and in 1979 there was one in Lagos.
C Cooper: No, I certainly didn’t go to Lagos, and I don’t recall the one in London. We went to London in 1981 because that was Charles and Diana’s wedding, and I remember Tamie had a spectacular kind of daffodil yellow outfit with a daffodil yellow hat and she looked gorgeous. So that was quite exciting to be in London at that time, it was really good, but again working it wasn’t such pressure being overseas, you know parliament wasn’t sitting so we could get through invitations or the day’s work, have time to go out and do things, maybe go to the theatre.
E Helgeby: But you were basically on call?
C Cooper: Basically on call yes, we took a doctor with us on all those trips. The doctor we had with us was just an adorable person, John Ray. He met and married the manageress of Blair house, which is the President of the USA’s guest house, so he married her and brought her back to Australia. Had a few marriages in that time.
E Helgeby: The 1981 there was actually a CHOGM meeting in Melbourne as well.
C Cooper: Ah yes, we were involved in that and I was working for Tamie and Tamie had a huge spouse’s program organized for that.
E Helgeby: What was your involvement in that?
C Cooper: Pretty much supporting her and talking to CERHOS, which is Ceremonial and Hospitality Prime Minister’s Department because there was a lot —they actually put together the program for her and we took the spouses’ out to Dame Elisabeth Murdoch’s place. I think they had a lunch out there. She did things out at Ripponlea, she had a fashion parade, she met all the wives and she said ‘Oh my God’, she said that morning she must have met about fifty-four wives sort of, quarter of an hour after quarter of an hour, after quarter of an hour, she said ‘All those cups of tea’, but she was lovely she was a beautiful hostess.
E Helgeby: Did you attend any of those socials yourself?
C Cooper: No, I think I might have gone to a dinner or something like that, there was a big ballet I seem to recall of the three musketeers, but it all went very well.
E Helgeby: So by this point your role had changed?
C Cooper: My role had changed I was working for Tamie.
E Helgeby: What happened, you said you were in Sydney and you were rung up and said would you come back and work for Tamie as her secretary, tell me about that?
C Cooper: Her previous secretary was leaving, I think she was getting married as well, so she was leaving, and it just so happened that Bob and I were coming back to Canberra, which I was delighted, I hated Sydney, and this job came up. Again I’ve been very lucky, I just happen to be in the right place at the right time and so that job came up. Tamie rang me up and she said ‘Oh you sure you want to do this?’ she said ‘You’re just standing around holding bouquets’, I said ‘Oh sounds great’. And she was delightful, we had enormous fun, and I had my own office, which was the first time I had my own office which was wonderful.
E Helgeby: Where was that?
C Cooper: It was actually in PM&C, so I was diving between PM&C and the Lodge and Parliament House, I was doing this triangular trip — but I would draft most of her letters for her, would send out invitations for her, for most of the functions at the Lodge if there were private functions. The start of each parliamentary sitting she would give a lunch for the spouses of the MPs, and in those days it was all wives. She and I would sit round these three tables, or three or four tables, and we’d match everyone by colour, red for Labour, blue for Liberal, green for National, whatever it was, so we’d match up all the wives or spread them around. Henry Dannerjeff from one of the hotels was the sort of ‘maître d’ and he was just wonderful. If we were in a flap he wasn’t, he was always so calm and one day we had the seating plan all pinned up on a board, and the whole board went smack onto its face into the wet grass. I said ‘Oh my God Henry what will I do?’ he said ‘Leave it to me, leave it to me’ he took it away and ironed it and brought it back. It was so gorgeous, everything was fine, it was just adorable. But then, of course, some of the spouses started to be male, so they got their noses put out of joint, so then it wasn’t just a wives lunch, it became a spouses lunch at the beginning of parliament. And you know about every time the, well in those days, the wife of the Prime Minister, it became a tradition I think when Margret Whitlam left the Lodge, I’m sure this is a public story now, she left a note for Tamie, you know welcome to the Lodge, hope you’ll be happy, and so when Tamie left the Lodge she left a note for Hazel Hawke, and we’d just always hope that that tradition was carried on. And it was Tamie who started off the Australiana fund because after she’d been in America, and seen the Americana fund and all the wonderful things they had there and all the heritage, and she came back here and said there was nothing, she said there wasn’t even a salad bowl of Gough’s, and she started up the Australiana fund to have some of the heritage pieces put in the four official establishments, which is the Lodge and Kirribilli House, PMs, Government House and Admiralty House, Governor Generals. So all these lovely pieces of Australian heritage are now going through these four residencies.
E Helgeby: Were you involved in any of that?
C Cooper: In so far that I was always talking to people like Dick Smith and Dame Helen Blaxland and they were always on the phone with bright eyes and Dick was always ringing up with bright ideas, so not involved in the critical part of it or the instigation, but in the ongoing running definitely.
E Helgeby: In the note you gave us about the interview you mentioned that part of your job was Tamie’s, not only running her office, but also dovetailing her diary and therefore her commitments with the Prime Ministers, what was that like?
C Cooper: Well she had a rule that whenever it was school holidays she wouldn’t do any engagements, which was good, and it gave me time to just breathe a bit. Because Phoebe was still at school, at Geelong Grammar, so she’d be at home. I think the others probably just left school. But they had four children and she wanted time to be with them, so unless it was something really crucial that she should be with Prime Minister, then she wasn’t going to do any engagements. In the program itself we’d just underline things where she was going to accompany Mr Fraser to functions.
E Helgeby: Who made the decisions as to whether she should?
C Cooper: There was a program meeting with Dale and we’d look at future invitations, and we’d say ‘Well I’ve had this invitation’ or ‘This organization wants them both there, can we do it? Well no they’re already both committed on such and such a day’ so it’s one of those strategy meetings.
E Helgeby: So when you say we, you mean yourself and Dale?
C Cooper: Myself and Dale and the two girls who did the events and invitations, possibly a couple of the advisors, and we all sat in Dale’s office and talked about the future, the forward program.
E Helgeby: And this was a fairly substantial job?
C Cooper: Yes.
E Helgeby: Did you travel a lot with the Prime Minister?
C Cooper: Yes, and it was always good to have her there I think too because you know how Malcolm can be.
E Helgeby: But in addition to that she had her own commitments in terms of activities that she was involved with and engaged in, can you tell me a bit about that?
C Cooper: Yes, quite often the Liberal Party would ask her to do things or the CWA or sort of feminine type things, or people would write to her and say ‘Look we got a real problem here in Blackall or somewhere down in Albany or something. What do you think, you could come to see us and put it right?’ and she actually — just going to sideline, but she was always very good in saying ‘I’m going to pass this on to the Minister who is going to report back to you, look into it and report back to you’, she was very good like that. And I think people used to know that if they wrote to Tamie, something would get done because if they wrote to the Minister they’d probably get shoved off. But then a letter to the Minister from Tamie would probably get action.
E Helgeby: And that was a letter that you wrote?
C Cooper: Well, I would draft it and we would pass it forward to the relevant Minister and hopefully it was dealt with.
E Helgeby: Did the job actually involve a lot of, you know you would have to contact — deal with a lot more people than you had in any of your other two jobs.
C Cooper: I think so, and it was much more social, if you know what I mean. Yes, it was a completely different job again really, a completely different set of people, and you’re dealing with the, perhaps the western Victorian set and the Toorak Set and the Adelaide Establishment, which was a lot of their friends so it was quite different.
E Helgeby: Did you feel okay, was that an interesting part of the job?
C Cooper: I loved it, I love that job.
E Helgeby: Was it your diplomatic training background?
C Cooper: Maybe.
E Helgeby: Would have been a great help.
C Cooper: Yes and there were, for instance, where she was invited to attend a church service for, maybe it was the ninetieth birthday I can’t remember, for the Queen mother, so one of those birthdays of the Queen mother. So she attended that and got interviewed.
E Helgeby: Did you generally attend with her at any of these things?
C Cooper: I would yes, it was almost like a lady in waiting job, except we didn’t get a dress clothing allowance, which I would’ve loved.
E Helgeby: You were offered this job, without having you approach to do the job, how close — had you met Tamie a lot while you worked for Dale and David Barnett?
C Cooper: Yes absolutely, we knew them all, so she must have been happy.
E Helgeby: You were very comfortable working with them?
C Cooper: Yes, but I’ll tell you a story. How are we going for time? There was one Royal visit where Tamie and Malcolm were going to go out to the airport to meet the Queen coming into Canberra. You can imagine the timing is critical to the last second because the Prime Minister had to be at Canberra airport two minutes before the Governor General, so that they could greet the Governor General, and then the Governor General had to be there two minutes before the Queen arrived so they could all be there to greet the Queen. The motorcade was ready — vroom vrooming — at the gates at the launch all ready for them to hop in the car and drive straight to the airport with the motorcycle outriders, and Tamie comes flying down the steps of the Lodge and their big Spinone ‘Droopy’ rushed up to Tamie and slobbered all over her pale pink outfit. So Tamie flew back up the stairs ripping her clothes off as she went and had to change and come back, and these timings are so critical. I don’t know how she managed it. But dear old ‘Droopy’ was such a big floppy sloppy Spinone that he slobbered all down her beautiful pale apricot suit.
E Helgeby: But everything went along schedule, on time?
C Cooper: Everything was okay, yes.
E Helgeby: One final point under this general broad heading, did you ever supervise other staff during these years?
C Cooper: No, not really, no. I might have been senior to them but I didn’t supervise them.
E Helgeby: Why was that?
C Cooper: I just didn’t, they weren’t my responsibility.
E Helgeby: When you were, for example in Tamie’s office, did you initiate any changes in the way things went on, practices, procedures?
C Cooper: No but again I think I brought my organizational skills into that job. I did up the filing system and I organized everything the way I wanted it and it ran much better. So I think that was the job I liked best of all. I adore working for Dale but I really enjoy working for Tamie too.
E Helgeby: Shall we take a short break here?
C Cooper: Okay.
[End of part 2]
Interview with Caroline Cooper part 3
E Helgeby: I would like to ask you a few questions about, particularly relating to stories and events, things that happened and people you had dealings with during your time at Old Parliament House and working in Fraser’s office. You mentioned in your notes you had particularly vivid memories of someone like Alexander Downer, could you tell me about him?
C Cooper: Yes, he was one of the advisors and I think he helped with speechwriting and so on. I didn’t actually work directly to him but he was quite friendly. He was more friendly than he was as Minister [laugh] than he became as Minister.
E Helgeby: Friendly in which way?
C Cooper: We were part of the team. Alan Jones, who again was another speech writer-advisor so these are all people who were honing their political careers, in their training ground I think. I don’t know what their background was before that. If you read the latest book about Malcolm you would think that David Kemp was the only person who worked in Malcolm’s office but, in fact, there were many people. They’d only gone to David because David happened to be in Melbourne. He was a Melbourne person. He was certainly one of the chief advisors and speech writers. I probably had more to do with Petro than any of them.
E Helgeby: Well, tell me about Petro.
C Cooper: Well, he worked us and he worked himself very, very hard, he worked us ragged.
E Helgeby: What actually was his responsibility?
C Cooper: Advisor-Speech Writer and they would do both. So he needed all the resources to get a speech done and it seemed to be always at the last minute and always having to be re done six or seven or eight times, until the wee small hours. He was — he drove us really, really hard. I liked Petro. He was the only one after the election who came up and gave me a big kiss. After the birth pangs of this wretched speech was over then he would be nice to us and I thought mate, it’s a bit late now. When the tension was over, so he was all consumed with tension, and we were consumed with tension working very hard and he would be shouting and yelling and getting us to redo it and do it again.
E Helgeby: How did he actually work, let’s say, he was told Fraser wanted a speech on something, what was his approach like?
C Cooper: Well, I can’t remember, I just remember seeing all these pieces of yellow paper from Malcolm’s speeches and writing all over it, and we’d have to start again. Do pages ten, eleven and twelve and thirteen again for the seventh and eighth time.
E Helgeby: So you would get a draft, done a rough draft by the time you got involved with it.
C Cooper: Yes, yes, and there would just be changes and changes and changes.
E Helgeby: Did he stand over you and dictate?
C Cooper: Well, he would be running in and out with pieces of yellow paper, so it was all a flurry. I actually worked more with Petro than with any of the others.
E Helgeby: As a speech writer, was he good?
C Cooper: I suppose he must have been. I guess it’s for others to decide. It must have been not just speeches for parliament, but speeches for events, and openings, whatever it was that Malcolm was doing at the time.
E Helgeby: And, in a sense, at the stage that you got in, was he pushing you really, really hard to do things?
C Cooper: Yes, I think so, and shivering us along. I’ve got to have that in five minutes, hurry up, hurry up. It didn’t make me work any quicker I must say.
E Helgeby: And when you said, not just you, there were others?
C Cooper: There were other girls, yes, a team of people working.
E Helgeby: So you all had to, everyone had got bits and pieces to do, to put it all together.
C Cooper: Yes, and you’d hardly have time to get a sandwich to your mouth, it was very intense.
E Helgeby: This is during the period you worked for David Barnett?
C Cooper: No, for Dale Budd.
E Helgeby: Did Dale himself get involved in speech writing?
C Cooper: No, no.
E Helgeby: So he just handed you your resources?
C Cooper: Dale was the calm captain guiding the ship. I am very disappointed that Dale didn’t get a bigger mention in this latest book. He gets three or four lines and they obviously hadn’t widened their research and gone to talk to Dale which they should have done.
E Helgeby: It’s interesting that you should say that because the Patrick Weller book which was published in 1989…
C Cooper: Ah the first one yes.
E Helgeby: …he actually said, made a comment in the book, which says that Dale Budd was probably the ultimate Ministerial Advisor.
C Cooper: He was, he was, yes, nothing fazed him. We had that famous hole in the door which everybody says, oh my God a hole in the door, but it was Dale could see whether Mr Fraser still had his visitor in there. He didn’t want to burst in if he was having private talks or something. There was nothing wrong with having this hole in the door but it seems to have been such a talking point around the traps in Canberra, at Old Parliament House.
E Helgeby: Back to Alexander Downer did you actually, you mentioned that you had vivid memories of him, there must be something that struck you.
C Cooper: Not vivid, I remember his name and his mother Lady Downer was part of Tamie Fraser’s Australiana Fund because she was of that connection in Adelaide. Adelaide, I don’t know what you call them really [laughs] she was quite nice, not much more I can say about Alexander.
E Helgeby: Alan Jones, of course, these days has a particular reputation.
C Cooper: Yes, he does.
E Helgeby: What was your impression of him?
C Cooper: I found him different because he didn’t have that university background. I mean, maybe he did, but he seemed a little bit more of a breath of fresh air than the others, he was different. We did work for him, pretty much the same scenario, getting speeches ready for him too. He was a little bit easier to get on with. I liked Alan, he was different.
E Helgeby: I seem to remember reading that he didn’t stay very long?
C Cooper: No, possibly he didn’t, I don’t know when he left or what he did after that.
E Helgeby: And David Kemp was he there at the beginning when you started, was he there?
C Cooper: No, I don’t think he was, he may have been. He had that terrible tragedy in the middle of it all, around about the time of CHOGM when his wife and two of the children died in a car accident, that was pretty awful, and he sort of staggered on, managed to continue on.
E Helgeby: What was the relationship between him and Dale Budd in terms of the office structure?
C Cooper: Well, Dale was the boss. He would have had — I don’t know quite whether he had responsibility for the speech-writers and advisors or whether they came in a cluster and spoke directly to Malcolm. Dale was probably more administrative, with administrative charge over all of the office, just making sure that everything went smoothly. As to his input in to the advisors and what they did. I don’t know whether that came from Malcolm through Dale and to the advisors, but maybe Malcolm spoke directly to the advisors. I’d say that was probably more like it, he’d say Petro I need a speech on this, I’d say. It wouldn’t go through Dale I’m sure.
E Helgeby: Somewhere the book refers to Dale Budd’s coordinating responsibility, although the office was not strictly hierarchically structured, actually Fraser sort advice from whomever he wanted and everyone he wanted.
C Cooper: I think so, yes, I’m sure he’d just call somebody in, if he wanted them.
E Helgeby: Where you ever party to, witness to any of Malcolm Fraser’s interactions within the office?
C Cooper: No, no I just remember being called in on occasion and being given things to do. I was terrified, and he’d just suddenly say, okay, reply to that person, and you’d say, I can’t reply to that person, or whatever it was he wanted done at that time. Or occasionally we were on the plane with him and we were just bumping along through the clouds he would suddenly turn to me and start dictating and so I had to whip out this pen and a pad and be ready there with something. No warning, no warning at all. There was a girl called Cathy Quealy who is now working for the Victorian Premier and she was a very good coordinator too. She was one of the few people who would answer back to Malcolm and he took that, he was fine with that.
E Helgeby: In the office, you were in the office in some form or another between ’76 and ’83.
C Cooper: Yes.
E Helgeby: Did you ever get a sense of office politics?
C Cooper: No, I got more of a sense of it in the press I think. While I was with Tamie I was on my own. I appreciate I’m not one for politics, office politics. No, there was a little, probably a sense of the people — the two girls who worked up close to his office and then that little tiny room where they had to have a daylight light because it was so badly lit and they never got out. They were very close to him, they were his Personal Secretaries I think they called them, so there might have been a little bit of one-up-man-ship there, but it was very covert is that the right word, nothing that we would have noticed at the time.
E Helgeby: So no joking proposition?
C Cooper: No, I mean really, you’ve got to work together, birds heading in the same direction.
E Helgeby: So your impression of the office in general was that it was a good team?
C Cooper: Absolutely, yes. There was a guy called Bill Clarke I think his name was, who used to sit in the Cabinet Room whenever Cabinet was on, and we’d go and pinch Cabinet sandwiches from him. Then after Cabinet was over he would bring the Cabinet sandwiches in to us and we got fat on Cabinet sandwiches [laughs]. I’m sure Ozzy [Ozvaldo Meneghello] was there, Ozzy worked there too as a Cabinet attendant. That was how Ozzy started out and then he went and made a squillion dollars with his cafe in new Parliament House which is called ‘Aussies’, that was named after Ozzy. So he started off as Cabinet Attendant with the Cabinet sandwiches.
E Helgeby: You mentioned briefly your interaction with Malcolm Fraser, for example, when you travelled with him on the plane and so forth.
C Cooper: Yes.
E Helgeby: What was your impression of him as a politician and as a man?
C Cooper: I couldn’t say as a politician because I am probably too close, as a man, I think he never really relaxed with us. Maybe because we were staff, but I always said of him, again I respect him, but I always said of him, that he would talk at you but not too you. Whereas Tamie was so personal and Tamie was just the lovely person to go along with Malcolm to make everything be nice and people to be happy and relaxed. I remember the first time, when I met her formerly and she came, almost running up to me, she shook my hand and said ‘How lovely to meet you’. She was just gorgeous and I thought, isn’t that nice, because she makes other people feel good. Malcolm was just a bit stiff. Clearly he was a good politician but he didn’t quite have the social skills I don’t think. Maybe if some of that was background, western Victoria, but then Tamie had a similar sort of upbringing, she was also western Victoria, but it was like chalk and cheese.
E Helgeby: David Kemp’s some views in the press biography about working with Malcolm, he says, that Malcolm could invariably be quite unfair in his arguing for particular positions. His arguing with staff. Did you get any sense of that?
C Cooper: I believe he did argue a lot with staff. I think he gave David Barnett a hard time. I think that was quite well known. In looking back perhaps that was one of the reasons that it was filtering down through David, who was tensed up because of Malcolm giving him a hard time, and giving him a kick in the backside.
E Helgeby: Did you ever witness anything like that?
C Cooper: No, no.
E Helgeby: The word was around the office?
C Cooper: Yes.
E Helgeby: So, life was not meant to be easy.
C Cooper: Yes, but he didn’t initiate that quote, that came from somebody else. I don’t know whether you’re going to bring this up later but I also, after the election, I had a fourth go at Malcolm’s office because he asked for me to go down and help out with his office after the election.
E Helgeby: We’ll come to that, yes. In 1980 Malcolm Fraser turned fifty and there was a birthday function referred to in the biography. Where you present at that function?
C Cooper: Well, I can’t recall it, to use a well-known saying, I can’t recall, but I do have the script of the song that was sung at the time. I think that there’s been a bit of a media beat-up because it made no particular impression on me at the time. If we did sing it. If it was at the Lodge then I was there.
E Helgeby: This was apparently an impromptu, the one I’m thinking of was an impromptu birthday party at which someone wrote a speech to the effect that Fraser wasn’t easy to work with but they were proud to be doing so.
C Cooper: Oh yes.
E Helgeby: To which Fraser was supposed to have responded, unsmilingly, well it’s all voluntary you know, normally you have to work here. And this is Alister Drysdale who remembers this.
C Cooper: [laughs] Alister said that, ah.
E Helgeby: You have no recollection of having…
C Cooper: I don’t remember that. I’m beginning to remember the party, I think. I’m sure it was at the Lodge but I could be mistaken. But, again, you know how media will take something and make a huge deal out of it and just that little song that was made up for him, it was nothing special.
E Helgeby: You have the — can you quote the lyrics?
C Cooper: I’ve got the wording, yes.
E Helgeby: You can’t quote them for me now?
C Cooper: No, I can’t because I can’t recall them. But we did have one party at Alister’s place in the early days. I can’t quite remember what the occasion was but we had to come as a — in fancy dress. Two of the girls turned up, Kathy and Lesley they turned up dressed as one of Malcolm’s speeches [laughs] they had pinned these yellow pieces of paper all over themselves, came as Malcolm’s speech.
E Helgeby: What was his reaction to that?
C Cooper: Perhaps he cracked a smile, I can’t remember.
E Helgeby: What was the relationship between Tamie and Malcolm from your perspective?
C Cooper: Fine, I’m sure he would have relied on her a lot. I think Tamie was his — she made things easier for him, I’m sure. Particularly on campaigns and things, she would go around. Malcolm was not very good at small talk and she was very good at that, so she would go around and chat to the dear old souls. Go round the tables. I don’t think he had that facility for interaction with people. Evan as a politician, presumably he was very good at giving speeches, but then you’re not actually directly one-on-one, so the one-on-one was difficult for him. I’m sure he relied on Tamie a lot for advice.
E Helgeby: Did Tamie ever take any, as far as you know, any active role in any, what you might call political matters, that you might have — there were major issues at the time, for example, things like Aboriginal Affairs, Immigration and Refugees?
C Cooper: Not actively, no.
E Helgeby: Did you have any sense of Tamie ever being involved in that?
C Cooper: No, the only time she would — this is when I talked about the correspondence, and we’d pass things on to the Ministers and we’d hope that they would follow things through. No, not really. There was something I was going to say, though, about Tamie and politics — Oh that’s right, during parliament when parliament was sitting she would give dinners at the Lodge for selected MPs, in the dinner break between six and eight. She would call it the ‘eat it and beat it dinners’ [laughs]. Everybody had to be in there and out again by eight o’clock so they could be back at the House again at eight. That was quite a good way for a bit of bonding. It would have been good for Malcolm too but that was at Tamie’s instigation.
E Helgeby: Did you attend any of these dinners?
C Cooper: No, I didn’t, they were purely political.
E Helgeby: Well, an aspect that has come up in other interviews we’ve done over time with people who worked around Old Parliament House at the time, those sort of same period. I suppose you could call it the gender divide, the traditional male-female roles.
C Cooper: Yes.
E Helgeby: When I say that, what would your reaction be to the kind of environment you worked in?
C Cooper: Yes, it was a gender role. I was a secretary the men were advisors. Cathy Quealy might have been astride that, in a way, because she was a little bit more senior to us. I’m not quite sure what Kathy’s role was, but definitely Malcolm relied on her. There was just no question. The men were the advisors and the girls were secretaries, that’s the way it was. It didn’t bother me because that’s the way it has always been for me. I wasn’t thrusting or trying to become an advisor.
E Helgeby: You mentioned this Kathy you talked of, what was her role in her office as far as you know?
C Cooper: I’m trying to think. She was a very, very good coordinator. When we had election campaigns, she would sit down and work out where everyone had to be and when. Somebody had to be in Toowoomba or Mount Isa on a Tuesday then she would work all of that out. She had a very, very good brain. She was an amazing girl.
E Helgeby: So, was she in some way your supervisor?
C Cooper: Not really, Dale was, just can’t remember what her role was. I might have it written down somewhere. I’ll find out and let you know. Yes, Cathy would have come closest to being astride that fence.
E Helgeby: But others, there was the boys and there were the girls.
C Cooper: The boys and the girls, yes.
E Helgeby: And that didn’t change during the years that you were there?
C Cooper: No, we did have one woman who came in to work as an advisor in the Press Office, Janet Keogh and she didn’t stay very long.
E Helgeby: Why do you think that was?
C Cooper: I think she didn’t like it very much.
E Helgeby: You mentioned elections and that was one of the roles, election times, well there were three elections in the time you were there…
C Cooper: Yes.
E Helgeby: …’77, ’80 and ‘83
C Cooper: There was a Referendum as well.
E Helgeby: …and a Referendum as well. What impact did elections have on your work?
C Cooper: We were tripping around the country and working out of hotel rooms. Working out of hotels in ‘woop woop’ where the only lighting was some sort of blue light on the wall or something ghastly. The conditions we had were just awful. We would fly around on the BAC 1-11 the old RAF aircraft which were tremendous things because they took about twenty-six people, they would take the office. You would set up wherever you landed.
E Helgeby: You said take the office, do you mean the whole office?
C Cooper: Probably again, Cathy would have organised it. It would be just, somebody would go for five days and somebody else would take over and we’d swap over.
E Helgeby: Did that mean people like Dale Budd and his advisors would they all go with him?
C Cooper: Yes, not all of them but they would have staggered it.
E Helgeby: And you travelled with him all the time?
C Cooper: Not all the time, no.
E Helgeby: And when you did travel were you based here in Old Parliament House?
C Cooper: No, when we were travelling we were travelling and working out of funny little places.
E Helgeby: No, I’m thinking, when they were away.
C Cooper: When they were away we were based in Canberra definitely. I think in one of the elections, I think I must have been working for David Barnett, because a letter came and I was actually feeding them information that was coming through and letting them know what was happening in Canberra. I got this really nice thank you letter, saying, thank God we had Caroline here in Canberra to let us know what was going on. It was before the days of instant communication, emails and things.
E Helgeby: No tweets in those days.
C Cooper: No.
E Helgeby: So the impact and those that were worked when you were travelling, that was just even more intense than usual?
C Cooper: It was very intense, but you didn’t know it wasn’t going to go on for a long, but we took the big steel boxes with the typewriters in. I think they might have had walkie-talkies in those days, something like that. There was some policeman with us, some local police. I remember being with Malcolm in some place, and he turned around and there must have been about six Commonwealth cars behind him. He said ‘Get rid of those Commonwealth cars’. It was just awful going through some place with all these Commonwealth cars and this poor little country town, thinking oh my God, is the Prime Minister wasting our money, the taxpayers money. It did look frightful actually, so they cut down on that.
E Helgeby: Out of curiosity, did you ever travel in the same car as the Prime Minister?
C Cooper: No.
E Helgeby: Or were staff in…
C Cooper: No, we were in different cars and even when we went to Nareen, Malcolm would be picked by his driver, but I would follow behind in the police car. It was terrifying because Malcolm would usually drive and it was so frightening. Along the dark road to Nareen from the airport, or wherever it was, I can’t remember, maybe it was coming from somewhere else. But there isn’t a side of the road, at the side of the road were all these trees, and we were going I don’t know how fast, it was just terrifying with all these trees looming out of the darkness and I thought we’re going to be killed. Malcolm was a hoon of a driver and the police had to keep up. So I’d just duck down in the back seat and close my eyes, it was terrible.
E Helgeby: You talk about leaving an airport at Nareen, but you also described it as a paddock.
C Cooper: It must have been — maybe we landed at Coleraine or Hamilton, it must have been another time, but we did actually land in the paddock at Nareen most of the time, where they had to clear the sheep [laughs].
E Helgeby: During your time you worked in his office, there were a number of political crises, major events that happened. One of those was the 1978 Hilton bombing.
C Cooper: Oh yes.
E Helgeby: Walk me through, where you — how this came up, where you were, what was happening?
C Cooper: I must have been working for Dale at that time. We’d, again it wouldn’t have been the entire staff, but some of us would have been staying at the Hilton. So we were able to watch the PM greeting all the Heads of Government who were coming in for the meeting. It was the day before Valentine’s Day and I was engage, Bob and I were engaged. The Hilton had two entrances and I think for some reason they’d decided to move Mr Desai [Morarji Desia, India’s Prime Minister] to the back entrance of the Hilton for security reasons. It was the other end that the bomb went off and of course that was a mystery in itself. I had gone to bed and the next thing I heard was this reverberating boom and I just knew what it was. I just knew what it was. Brian George, the butler, slept through the whole thing. I think Amanda who was Tamie’s secretary at the time slept through most of it. But I woke up and I got up. I think I may have just gone to bed. Somebody said, ‘Something’s happened in the lift well’. I said, ‘No, it sounded different’. It sounded like a bomb. I’d never heard a bomb but it sounded like one, it was a reverberation, this huge boom.
Then, of course, gradually we got to realize it was a bomb and what had happened. I think Malcolm called in — then we were all up and about. Dale had us up and ready. Malcolm called in Neville Wran. I remember seeing Neville Wran come in to talk to Malcolm and what were we going to do because they were able to go down to the retreat. I can’t remember where the retreat was going to have been, maybe it was at Bowral. But then we were going to by road, or would we go by rail, would we go by helicopter. So everything had to be made through the night, all the plans. In the end they decided to put all of the Heads of Government on Chinooks and fly them down to Bowral. So we were taken by car down to Moore Park. I remember the driver of the car saying ‘Now we’re going to head to MP’ over the radio [laughs]. It was all so hush hush.
The shock really set in the next day for all of us. It was fine at the time and then we started to get, kind of trembly and a bit shaken later in the day when we went down to Bowral. I remember sitting in the Chinook with knees against knees with Rachi Suskesinessumara [phonetic spelling] who was about seven feet tall [laughs] imagine his knees. Down we went to Bowral. Of course, my husband to be wanted to send me flowers for Valentine’s Day. So I rang him in the middle of the night and I said ‘I’m alright’ and he said ‘What are you talking about’. I said ‘There’s been a bomb’ and so he immediately went to switch on the tele or something and found out what was happening. Of course he couldn’t send the flowers because everything was banned from coming into the Hilton. The post boxes in the lobby of the Hilton were all taped up.
We were flown by Chinook to Bowral and that is where the retreat took place. Of course by then the horse had bolted, it was too late, things had happened and the man had got killed. I think somebody later died as well, one of the other guys. Then we came back by road from Bowral and, again, as I say, it was too late but on the crests of the road there were these tanks. The army had put these tanks and there were helicopters over the motorcade and things like that.
E Helgeby: What did that feel like for you?
C Cooper: Well, as I said the shock set in the next day. I don’t know. I didn’t feel as if I was living through history or anything. I just remember another thing that happened down there. They were giving a dinner. Everything went on as normal. They had a big dinner at Bowral and they were waiting and waiting and waiting for the dessert to arrive, or the main course or something. The certain person who had been doing the catering, who is quite a famous catering person. Tamie eventually got up from the table to see where she was. She was in the kitchen with her feet up watching ‘Home and Away’ or ‘Days of our Lives’ and there were all these MPs waiting for their food [laughs]. So there were humorous things among the drama.
It must have been very intense for Malcolm that night, to know there had been a bomb, to know somebody had been killed. We had all the Heads of State and the security around the place.
E Helgeby: Were you called in to assist in any shape or form during the day?
C Cooper: No, but we did actually, we were around if needed. I don’t remember much about the rest of the night but some people did sleep through it. I remember the windows shaking too, they shook with the reverberation.
E Helgeby: Any other major events happen during your stint in the office, that stand out?
C Cooper: No, I always enjoyed going down to Nareen, that was good, except for the spiders. Tamie would often give you breakfast in with the shearers. She’d make you toast with the shearers. Or you’d go and talk to Malcolm in the little cosy sitting room they had. It was a home. It was their home. He said he used to like, well obviously loved Nareen. It must have been a big shock for them to lose it. But he loved to go through it on his motorbike because it blew the cobwebs away. It was a nice place to be. It was different, instead of being at Parliament House, strung out with tension and hard work. It was hard because it was very responsible to be there, but it was different hard.
E Helgeby: Did you enjoy it?
C Cooper: I loved it.
E Helgeby: That particular part of it?
C Cooper: I loved that, yes, I really did, yes.
E Helgeby: Because you were, perhaps, close to…
C Cooper: Close to what was happening but also because I enjoy working on my own, if you could call it that, I mean, being responsible for him and whatever happened. There might have been another Hilton bombing while he was there and then you could get him back and do everything, use your wits. So I did grow as a person in the PMs office.
E Helgeby: One thing I wonder about — what is your view on politics. You mentioned that you weren’t very political, or interested in politics.
C Cooper: I’m not political, but I’m not a Labor person and I think even Malcolm has turned away from the Liberal Party these days.
E Helgeby: I wasn’t actually thinking from that angle. But did you ever feel uncomfortable about what you were doing in any sort of philosophical sense?
C Cooper: Absolutely not, no, very happy. That was what we were doing. We were of the faith but not fanatical [laughs] as I said, because we respected Dale we would do whatever he wanted, or whatever Malcolm wanted. We were privileged. It was a privilege to work there. I don’t think we’ve said that earlier. We felt very lucky. It’s fantastic to be part of that, up there at the top and then working for Tamie and Malcolm.
E Helgeby: Did you have much contact with Ministers or other parliamentarians?
C Cooper: A little bit.
E Helgeby: Which ones?
C Cooper: I remember one day coming out of the office. I can’t remember, Malcolm asked me to go and find something out, I can’t remember what it was. I went down the stairs and I said, I need to find out X Y Z. Don Chipp was on the staircase and I think he’d just deserted the Liberal Party or something and Don Chipp said ‘Whose it for?’ and I said ‘Malcolm Fraser’ and he said ‘Well, in that case I’m not telling you’ [laughs] and continued to walk down the stairs. I said ‘Oh thanks’ so I don’t think I was very politically astute actually. But, yes we’d meet Tony Street and Doug Anthony and also, of course, the wives when I was working for Tamie. They were lovely. Tony Street’s wife was a sweetheart, she said, ‘Whenever I can’t remember anybody’s name I just all them darling’, hello darling, hello dear [laughs]. Margo Anthony, so I got to know the wives and the spouses, they were lovely, very nice.
E Helgeby: Of course I am thinking more of the men in this case…
C Cooper: The pollies, the men of course, of course you were.
E Helgeby: …the pollies, any that you actually had regular dealings with?
C Cooper: No, not regular dealings, we just knew them, we knew them by sight, we knew them by name, they knew us. But not regular dealings as such, they would come into the office.
E Helgeby: So the contact you had with them was fairly casual?
C Cooper: Yes, sporadic.
E Helgeby: You may have answered the next question. Were any of the politicians or Ministers or parliamentarians that you met that you particularly admired or came to respect as individuals or as parliamentary operators?
C Cooper: Yes probably Doug…
E Helgeby: Doug Anthony?
C Cooper: Doug Anthony, I was very fond of him.
E Helgeby: Why was that?
C Cooper: I don’t know, he just had that nice aura. He was somebody who would talk to you and be — remember you next time he saw you, which a lot of people don’t. I probably had more dealings with him. Mainly on the House of Reps side rather than the Senate.
E Helgeby: As Deputy Prime Minister you would…
C Cooper: Yes, we would have had a lot more to do with him. And dear little Tony along the corridor so those people along that corridor. Not much to do with John Howard or Andrew, although Andrew came on some of the trips with us.
E Helgeby: The converse here, were there any parliamentarians or Ministers who you came not to admire or respect, for whatever reason?
C Cooper: Not that I can recall.
E Helgeby: All good chaps.
C Cooper: All good chaps, terribly good chaps.
E Helgeby: What about the press, you clearly had quite a lot of contact with the press while you were working for David Barnett, name names, what do you think of them?
C Cooper: They’ve got their job to do and sometimes it was our job to get them to write what, perhaps what Malcolm or David Barnett wanted them to write, and sometimes it was their job to find something we didn’t want them to write. I think it was always an on edge sort of relationship. But Michelle Grattan, was very sweet, when Bob and I got married she gave us a wedding present which was sweet of her, very nice. Some of them good, they were funny, because that’s how they are, they’re people of words, so they can play with words and be funny. I remember Mike Steketee complained to David because I pronounced his name wrong when I just arrived [laughs] because I didn’t know. It was a job.
E Helgeby: Did any of them stand out in your mind, as good people that you — in a similar way, admired or perhaps not admired?
C Cooper: No [laughs] sorry.
E Helgeby: Did…
[End of part 3]
Interview with Caroline Cooper part 4
E Helgeby: Did any of the press or anybody else approach you trying to get you to let them have some information which was meant to be kept confidential?
C Cooper: No I think we were always aware of that and we wouldn’t have done that. I was taken out to dinner once, and I think I was expected to be friendly or to be grateful for this, and that’s one way that people do that, to soften you up, but it didn’t work. Whatever it was I can’t even remember now, but I do remember being taken to dinner.
E Helgeby: You don’t remember by whom?
C Cooper: No, probably just as well, or what for.
E Helgeby: Was there a sense within the office that this thing was something you had to beware of?
C Cooper: Oh yes, I mean sure presumably we — I’m sure at one time we would’ve been told, everybody was always aware of that sort of thing, and it wasn’t always from the press, could be from anybody, and that’s why we were given our security clearances. And of course, I was lucky having come from the foreign office I was probably, in some ways even now, I’m more aware of security issues than a lot of Australians, because I think a lot of them go ‘gung ho’ about things, and we were very ‘gung ho’ about security before the Hilton bombing.
E Helgeby: So in terms of the press operation while you were — did that change some when you worked for Tamie, did people still try to get some information from you?
C Cooper: No, I probably knew less then because it was more social. No they weren’t trying to badger us or squeeze information from us.
E Helgeby: Now this is quite a different angle, were there any, what one might call humorous or funny incidents that happened to you, or around you, in the time you were here?
C Cooper: I mentioned one about ‘Droopy’ slobbering all over Tamie’s skirt before, probably not so funny but every morning when Malcolm would come to work and he would roll up at the side entrance, the Prime Ministers entrance of the House of Reps, and he was so tall and he would always look like he was looking down his nose at the media, and Tamie said ‘When you get out of the car stand in the gutter’ she said and then the press are on the same level as you. So he dutifully stood in the gutter every time he got there for a media interview, because they’re always waiting for him when he arrived.
And another bit naughty incident was when one of our advisors was very closed sort of person, he wasn’t — yes anyway, he was always shutting his door, and we didn’t know what he was doing in there, we had no idea, always shut his door. Cathy went one day to try and open it, it was locked, and she’s rattling the door, and she says ‘Are you in there? What are you doing? Open the door’, there was no answer. She said ‘Open the door, I want to come in and ask you something’, whatever it was, she said ‘What are you doing in there? Are you playing with yourself?’, so I think he might have come to the door then. But she shouted it out for all to hear, now that Malcolm could have heard it down the corridor. Didn’t say those sorts of things in those days. And there was a time, as I said about dear Henry Dannerjeff who ironed my seating plan that had fallen in the wet grass, he was just gorgeous. I was in a kafuffle about that, so he came to the rescue. And he was the most sweet man and he’d say ‘Oh you’re here Caroline. I know the event will be a success’ and you think oh yes how nice, he was just gorgeous. We had good times, we had good relations with the people at the Lodge, there were some very loyal people. Brian George was a Butler who went, I think, to work for Kerry Packer, Brian since, just died recently actually, some very good chefs. Women’s Weekly did a thing on Tamie and followed her around for a day, which probably took two days but you know, a day in the life of.
E Helgeby: Were you involved in that?
C Cooper: I beg your pardon?
E Helgeby: Did you take an active role in that yourself?
C Cooper: Yes I was in it, we were chatting on the plane and taking photographs of her. Tamie was not a good flyer, she was a white knuckle flyer, and I wasn’t much better so between the two of us it wasn’t very good, and particularly when we had the aborted takeoff on the Concorde.
E Helgeby: Tell me about that that sounds interesting.
C Cooper: Well we were flying from — Geoff Yeend was on board as the secretary of PM&C, we were flying from New York to London and, big deal you know, we’re on Concorde and Jackie Onassis was on the plane too. It was exciting, we didn’t know what to expect and Tamie said as we got on, this guy in greasy overalls got off and she looked at him — in retrospect she knew that obviously there had been something wrong with the mechanics or the hydraulics, and we all got on and sat in our places, thundering down the runway because its little motor stays down when they’re taking off and then we suddenly scream to a halt. We didn’t know what was going on. You don’t know what to expect in Concorde. It’s like going to the moon or something for us, and so then they came around and said ‘Sorry there’s been a slight problem we probably have to go back to the terminal’ and so we thought well we don’t know if we’re coming back to the Concorde or if we’re going to fly on this aircraft so we took all our goodies out of the front seat, you know the playing cards and the souvenirs and the menu, stashed them all under out arm in case we weren’t going to come back and trooped off to wait in the terminal and whatever it was. They fixed it and took off again. It was quite exciting to be on it, it’s very narrow, sort of much more tubular than any other aircraft, and only half full. Tamie said when she saw that man with the greasy overall getting off she knew something was wrong.
E Helgeby: What would you say would be your fondest memory of the time you spent here?
C Cooper: Gosh, well I think working for Dale was good, I mean overall working with Dale, but working with Tamie, but I wasn’t actually working for Parliament House when I was working for Tamie, although I was to-ing and fro-ing, so I loved those two jobs. I loved them, and I think you’ve got to love a job to be good at it. So it’s overall good feeling about it being a privilege and an exciting time to be there, right up until March [‘83] where I just knew that was the end.
E Helgeby: So what would you say then, correspondingly, would have been your worst memory of your time here?
C Cooper: I think the first few months in David’s office, in the press office, just getting used to the flow, to people, to the Australian way of working, things like that.
E Helgeby: You mentioned the Australian way of working, and yet you had actually spent some time working in Sydney.
C Cooper: I had yes but that was different, it wasn’t as, well it didn’t have David Barnett working there for a start, I mean Parliament House is different, a different story.
E Helgeby: Why did you decide to leave the job?
C Cooper: Why did I decide, oh I didn’t decide, they lost the election in March ‘83, so we were out on our, kicked out onto the gutter, then those days we had no payment, there was no payment like there is these days, we got no money, no job.
E Helgeby: You actually did have a job.
C Cooper: Well I didn’t because I was personal staff, had I been a public servant I would have hopped straight back into the department I belonged to, but I did have a job in that Malcolm asked me to come and work for him in Melbourne, so that was very lucky. And Dennis White, that was another one of the advisors. Dennis went as supervisor again, three girls, it was Dennis and three girls, and we had boxes and boxes and boxes of letters to Malcolm which did never get through saying sorry you’ve gone or we’re glad you’re gone or whatever. All these letters that had to be got through, and Malcolm’s future to be look after, what was he going to be doing, his memoirs, he’d never flown on a commercial flight, it was all so new to him, it was all so new.
E Helgeby: How long did you do that job?
C Cooper: About three months I think.
E Helgeby: Three months?
C Cooper: Yes, we were working out of his office in Commerce Street and he would be dictating and my one hundred and twenty shorthand wasn’t quick enough to keep up with him.
E Helgeby: So was that the reason you started to up and go?
C Cooper: No, no, I think it was just about the end and I was ready to come back to Canberra.
E Helgeby: So what happened then, did you move to the public service?
C Cooper: I was kicking my heels, I came back to Canberra and I was kicking my heels and somebody rang me up and said ‘We’re doing the South Pacific Forum, would you like to come and work on that team?’ so I said ‘Yes that’ll be good’, so I did that. So that’s when I went into, or went back into the Prime Ministers Department.
E Helgeby: During your subsequent career, I mean that time onward, did you have any contact with Old Parliament House or did you come here?
C Cooper: No, I never went back.
E Helgeby: If you look back on the years that you were, what sorts of thoughts and feelings do you have about your years working here?
C Cooper: Well as I said earlier I think I grew as a person and I grew in my career, if you can call it that, being secretary, I shouldn’t decry it. I learnt my own way of working. I learnt how to cope. I learnt to enjoy the work I was doing and learnt to be proud of what I was doing, so yes it was really a big learning curve for me but it’s one I enjoyed learning and I’m proud of and pleased to look back on.
E Helgeby: If you look at the building of Old Parliament House today, what role do you think it plays, continues to have?
C Cooper: Memories, I did wonder what was going to happen to it once they moved up to new Parliament House, and I think for a long time nobody knew. I always thought it would be absolutely wonderful as a music conservatory. All those little rooms, rehearsal rooms, performance rooms, yes, hopefully the Museum of Australian Democracy is going to give people a sense of how democracy works and what the history is. I’ve only seen part of the collection. I know the Governor General has given a piece to it and people have been researching so I think it’s time is yet to come, and you know like a hundred years from now if we’re still on this earth it’s going to be amazing, an amazing place to be, and hopefully the whole of this building will be used because I hate to see it empty really, and it’s a pity I think, to see all these empty rooms.
E Helgeby: Any last points you’d like to make?
C Cooper: No I can’t think of any at the moment but thank you for your time.
E Helgeby: Thank you very much for contributing and being willing to take part in this interview.
C Cooper: And anybody who’s listening I hope you weren’t too bored with me.
E Helgeby: As we mentioned when we spoke to senior staff member Michael Richards, we may try to organize a further interview, separate interview, on the memorabilia.
C Cooper: Talking about the public service career yes.
E Helgeby: And all that matters is we’re looking at, if you were looking at possibly donating to us.
C Cooper: Possibly donating, yes. That would bring out a lot of memories I think because like the Royal visit or the Charles and Diana visit in London or Malcolm’s visit, staying at Blair House in Washington, the Presidents guest house, that was exciting.
E Helgeby: So hopefully we’ll have to come back to that.
C Cooper: We’ll do another one, we’ll do one with pictures.
E Helgeby: In the meantime, thank you for contributing today and certainly if you find that there are things you would like to add to what you said today about any of these matters when you get the recording of it, then we can arrange another interview session so this can be added to the original.
C Cooper: All good, okay.
E Helgeby: Thank you very much.
C Cooper: Thank you Edward.
This history has multiple parts.1 2 3 4
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