Recorded: 10 October 2007
Length: 6 hours, 51 minutes
Interviewed by: Barry York
Reference: OPH-OHI 141

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Interview with Frank Jennings 1  

B York: This is an interview with Mr Frank Jennings whose distinguished career at Parliament House included periods as private secretary to Prime Minister Menzies and Prime Minister Holt. He will be speaking with me for the Oral History Program of the Old Parliament House. Now, on behalf of the Chief General Manger of Old Parliament House, thank you very much Frank for agreeing to do this recording.

F Jennings: My pleasure Barry.

B York: Is it okay to call you Frank in the course of the interview?

F Jennings: Absolutely.

B York: Do you understand that the Commonwealth owns copyright in the interview but disclosure will be subject to any restrictions you impose.

F Jennings: Yes, I understand that.

B York: That being the case, may we have permission to do a transcript of the recording?

F Jennings: Sure.

B York: Thank you. We hope you will speak frankly knowing that neither the tapes nor any transcripts will be released without your authority. The interview is taking place today on the 10th October 2007 at Old Parliament House.

Now I would like to begin at the beginning. You have told me that you came to Canberra in 1950 but can you tell me something about your personal background. When and where you were born, something about your parents, what they did for a living and so on.

F Jennings: Sure Barry. I was born in Ballina in northern New South Wales in 1930, the depression years. My early schooling was in Ballina until I was about ten or eleven and we moved out to Empire Vale which is only seven miles out of town.

In town dad was a mill hand at the timber mill in Ballina. Mum had done some work as a seamstress but basically with four or five kids she was kept at home. Dad took over a sugar cane farm at Empire Vale when his brother joined the army.

In those days a farmer, I forget the terminology now, but it was an occupation where you didn’t have to join up - it was a protected occupation. Dad had done a small stint in the army but was discharged in 1942, I think it was, 1942 - on compassionate grounds when my younger brother died. He then took over from his brother on the cane farm.

I spent a year there at the primary school, which was a one teacher school, one teacher, six classes, so that was different. I then, while still living on the cane farm, took the bus or rode the bike, mainly rode the bike from seven miles into Ballina to high school. So that was my early bits. I finished my Leaving Certificate in 1946. I was still sixteen at the time.

I went to Sydney. I was interested in science so I went to Sydney and fortunately had a letter of introduction to the General Manager of Timbrol Limited which was a coal tar bi-products company in Rhodes in Sydney. They had three laboratories so I was able to get a job in a laboratory which suited me fine. That went for about eighteen months I suppose. Until I found, while doing industrial chemistry analytical tests, my lecturer said ‘Can’t you smell anything Frank?’ as I was trying to break down some compound and determine what was in it. I said ‘no’. He said ‘Well, you’re filling the laboratory with arsenic fumes, and if you can’t smell arsenic fumes, you’re in trouble’.

So that turned me off the industrial chemistry bit and I went back to farm for a while. I did a year or two banking. Then the missionary spirit got me and I thought I’d go to Papua New Guinea as a Cadet Patrol Officer. So I applied to the Department of Territories, which we had a trusteeship arrangement with Papua New Guinea and I was accepted as a Cadet Patrol Officer with the Department of Territories. But I thought, I’ll leave the bank go up on the farm and toughen up and brown up a bit before I head north and I had an accident there and put a twenty-two bullet through my right foot. But there was no permanent damage really and so I thought I’ll get to Canberra, I’ll get to the Department of Territories, and eventually I’ll get to New Guinea, that was my thought at the time. But the big surprise — and the Public Service Board — I did the Public Service exam and the Public Service Board accepted me in the base grade and gave me a position in the Department of Territories. I thought I could move from there and then eventually head north. They had also arranged accommodation at Reid House at the time.

The big surprise came when I arrived at Canberra airport I was met by Bob Jordan and John Hammond from the staff section in the Prime Minister’s Department. They said ‘Are you Mr Jennings?’ and I said ‘yes’. ‘Ah alright well, we’ll get your bags and we’ll take them to Acton Guest House where you are staying, and then we’ll go on to the Prime Minister’s Office and show you around’. And I said, ‘No, you’ve got the wrong man’. I pulled out my letter from the Public Service Board which said, Reid House, Department of Territories. And they said ‘Oh no that’s all been superseded, we needed a base grade clerk, we had a look and we get first pick’. So that’s how I ended up in Prime Minister’s Department. It didn’t please me at all because it wasn’t my plan and I had no idea what Prime Minister’s Department did.

B York: Frank can I just go back a little bit and ask a little bit more about your background. When you went to Sydney did you say that around 1948.

F Jennings: 1946 - end of ’46.

B York: Was that the first time you had left home? Had you been living with your parents?

F Jennings: Absolutely the first time I’d left home. I was the first member of our extended family ever to move further than Lismore, which was twenty-one miles away. So it was frightening. My aunties thought my mum and dad were just crazy. This was immediately after the war and there was a fair bit of feeling about the European migration at that stage coming from war scenes to our quiet Australia. My aunties thought they’d never see me again, quite frankly. They thought I’d be carved up, or whatever, when I went to Sydney. But there was this anti-migrant feeling to a degree at that stage. But, yes, it was a big jump for me, and for my family to see me go, but I was a determined young fella.

B York: I was wondering about your education. You ended up studying industrial chemistry.

F Jennings: Chemistry, yes.

B York: Does that mean that at school you developed an interest and a desire to work in that field?

F Jennings: I did. I was particularly interested in science and at school, at the Ballina Intermediate High School, that was a central school for the district we only had chemistry. We couldn’t study physics. At the intermediate level I was fortunate enough to get a bursary and I tried to have this bursary applied to transport me to Lismore, which was a bit further away, where I could study physics for my last two years in high school as well as chemistry. But the system was such that, you go to the nearest school which meant that when I got to Sydney, before I could push ahead with my industrial chemistry area I had to do a supplementary year and catch up with physics. I studied industrial chemistry for eighteen months or two years, I suppose, before I went back.

And then in the bank, again, I had this study thing. I’ve always felt that you’ve got to get some background and so I started studying banking when I joined the bank, hoping to get into the economic area.

But those days, the police force, the teaching service, and the banks, they just sent you anywhere. And after a spell in Lismore in the bank, when the inspector was coming, I told my accountant that I would like to get back to Sydney where I could study economics at Sydney Uni. Also I had a girlfriend there. I had full board at this house. I was pretty keen on this girlfriend. I would like to get back and catch up with her again, but the economics, of course, was the thing that I pushed forward as the most important thing. After the inspector came, the accountant told me, ‘Oh you’re right, you’ll get your transfer to Sydney. You’re due for a transfer. You’ve been here long enough. You’re well trained.’ And the transfer came through and it was Walgett. And I thought, Walgett, that’s in the middle of the desert. It was my first time off the coast. I wasn’t amused with the banking service and so I had no qualms about resigning from that after, I suppose, nine months in Walgett.

B York: You mentioned about New Guinea that you had the missionary spirit.

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: Did you mean that literally, what got you interested in New Guinea?

F Jennings: Yes, it was virtually the missionary spirit thing. When I was at home I was teaching Sunday school and things like that. Although I was a bit of a mix. Dad was a Methodist and mum was an Anglican, and so I was a bit of a mixture. So I did have some religious feeling that there was support needed up there in the native areas. The Cadet Patrol Officer type situation sounded pretty idyllic, adventurous, plus a situation where you could do some good for people. That was partly the feeling there.

B York: Did your religious attitude develop from your parents?

F Jennings: I think so, mum was pretty strict on getting us to Sunday school and church, and so on, while we were at home. But that religious fervour faded when I went to Sydney. I went to a couple of churches there, a Methodist Church and a Baptist Church. Because I had met a couple of Baptist missionaries who had been in China and I was very friendly with their kids. So I was going to two churches at that stage. Particularly, with the Methodist Church where I would go there after work.

At the Timbrol factory after a while, I was the Chemist on Duty on the weekend, and often after being at work I’d go to church on the way home sort of thing. Some of the little old ladies were complaining that I wasn’t properly dressed for church. And I thought, oh, if that’s your attitude you can do without me. Science wasn’t a thing that they approve of, they thought science was anti-religious and so again I couldn’t go along with that and so I eased off that religious fervour.

B York: Where there any other attitudes of your parents that influenced you?

F Jennings: Dad was always methodical in his work. Apart from working in the timber mill he was a good cabinet maker. A lot of his instruction on taking care of your tools or being accurate when you are marking or making things, second best wasn’t good enough. Some of his fine work was beautifully done, his timber work. So there was that. Mum’s attitude I think - mum was always encouraging, as was her mother was always encouraging me in the school area. I was a smart little bugger, in the family, or at least I was a goer. Mum and ma were always very encouraging with the learning. I think that kicked me on for quite a while, really.

B York: How many were there in the family?

F Jennings: There was - I am the eldest. I had a brother and two sisters. Then the younger brother who died with the hole in the heart when they couldn’t do anything about it in those days. Of course in these days it wouldn’t matter they can fix them up pretty readily.

B York: I was also wondering, though, with your parents or other adult influences in your childhood, teenage years - were there any political influences? Did your parents have political, strong opinions?

F Jennings: I wouldn’t have a clue what their political affiliation was, no. Politics was not something to talk to kids about. There was no talk sex, politics and religion, and there was certainly not much talk about sex either. Religion got a bit of a run but the other two they were missing.

B York: Yes, okay, fair enough.

F Jennings: No, I was a bit - I suppose I got a bit head strong and ‘I-am-ish’ after a while but certainly mum didn’t discourage that. Dad didn’t put any pressure on me, not to push ahead with the interests I had.

I played a lot of sport. I was very sporting active. The basic principle that the parents drove into us at that stage - healthy body, healthy mind and some spirituality. I remember they often said, ‘We don’t like you playing with those kids over there because they’re not nice’. They never explained what not nice was, but you knew. To a large degree, you took a lot of notice, more notice in those days than subsequently, I think.

B York: When you moved to Sydney. I mean that was obviously a very big step in your life. Did you miss Ballina at all, or Lismore, or that area?

F Jennings: Not really, because I was never really into the surf or whatever. I could swim but I wasn’t a strong swimmer. I didn’t crave for the water. I was pretty much focused that I wanted to get ahead. I wanted to do something in the scientific area. With my bursary, I know, most of my text books, as much as I could get away with, were scientific books. A lot of it was tied up with the future of science in terms of what they could extract from the sea. The beginning of plastics, the beginning of nuclear energy stuff. I recall were the things that kicked me on. Science was the future as far as I was concerned, at that stage, until they found I didn’t have a decent sense of smell.

B York: Yes, dear me, your future may have been very different. Well, you would have remained in the science area.

F Jennings: Absolutely, that was my plan at the time.

B York: So, shall we talk now about Canberra?

F Jennings: Sure.

B York: You mentioned how you were greeted at the airport.

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: What I would like to know. I take it the government had flown you down?

F Jennings: Yes, they gave me a voucher to fly me and they arranged the accommodation, here in Canberra, as it turned out at Acton Guest House rather than Reid House.

B York: Had you been to Canberra before?

F Jennings: Never, no.

B York: Well this is an opportunity to talk about how it was, and what you remember about Canberra as a place back then.

F Jennings: Sure, there were about, I think, about 27,000 people in Canberra at the time, in ’50 ’51. The two big shopping centres in Civic and then you had shopping centre in Kingston and Manuka. There wasn’t a lot more. There was, I think, on the northern side, where I have mostly lived. Anytime I’ve been in Canberra it’s mostly been on the northern side, it’s always been on the northern side, but from Acton Guest House. I remember the old big shed, the Workers Club was just away from Action Guest House and the Royal Canberra Golf Course was there, this was pre-lake time.

Well Acton Guest House had about, I think something like, three hundred single people, male and female living in it. Well, when I say single, I think there was room for about three of four married couples the rest were all singles. So that was again another big change for me being involved in a big group of singles, where you had to learn to sift out your friends, one way or another. That was a great social learning curve for me at the time and I met some very good friends there. I finished up marrying one of them.

B York: Ah, that is a good friend. So met your wife actually at the Acton Guest House.

F Jennings: I met my wife at Acton Guest House. She was a ‘call’ girl. She worked at East Block at the exchange, the postal exchange as it was at the time, at the back of East Block. Quite a few of the girls at Action worked there. I was very fortunate, in that I met an older guy, Bert Shepard, who was a telecommunications guy, again working at East Block. He came from up the northern tablelands at Tingha, a little in mining place, but he took me under his wing a bit, a couple of country boys. We became good mates. He was best man at our wedding. Bert is still here in Canberra. I saw him when I was down last year.

So there was a good learning curve there. There was a tennis court so we got involved with sport. I quickly joined the Turner Cricket Club and Norths Hockey Club. We had plenty of table tennis at Acton Guest House and inter-guest house competitions. So I was still into that healthy body bit until I rolled a car over in 1953 and broke the right shoulder and so that put an end to the sporting activities.

B York: That was here in Canberra?

F Jennings: No it was, after we were married, we were married in ’53. The sort of things we did those days. I didn’t have much money, of course. You know a young clerk in the Public Service and I bought old car, this old Austin A30, I think it was, no Austin 8, it was a little tourer, about 1930 model, an oldie. Bert was good at mechanics. So we got this car home, at the back of Acton Guest House, immediately put it up on blocks and stripped it down and reconditioned the engine, and that sort of stuff. A couple of mates could do that in those days with the sort of engines that you had.

It sounds foolish now but in this Austin 8 tourer, after Betty and I were married, we drove up to the Gold Coast which was a fairly long way to go in an Austin 8 tourer. But on the way back I threw a con rod and it went through the side of the block and so we had to get some repair work done on the Cranback Range. Then when I went back to pick it up, I hadn’t gone very far when I - it was just after a REDeX Trial - I don’t know if you remember the REDeX Trials but there were a lot of unsealed roads around in those days, the highways, and the Pacific Highway a lot of it was unsealed, if not all of it. After this REDeX Trial there were a lot of ruts in the road and coming over the Cranback Range, I didn’t get my license until I was twenty-three and so I didn’t have a lot of driving experience. And going downhill, and I was crabbing across the road with a three hundred foot drop beside me. I was breaking, all this sort of stuff, instead of changing down gears. I thought I was going to going to go over the top. I got down to the bottom of the hill, and turned a hairpin bend and I relaxed but my inside wheel hit a rut, spun the car around the way it was coming and rolled. I thought I am going to roll down this three hundred foot drop but I was caught by a three strand barbed wire fence. As I tried to struggle out of the car here was a policeman and another guy, on the spot, there was another accident just around the bend. That’s where the shoulder got broken and that’s where the spot ended, at that stage.

B York: How long were you at the Acton Guest House?

F Jennings: I would have been there for about two and a half, three years, I suppose. That was, as I say, an interesting exercise in learning how to live with this group of some three hundred people.

B York: And your wife, you mentioned Betty, it is Elizabeth, is it, her name?

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: And was she a Canberra person?

F Jennings: No, she came from Ungary, out near West Wyalong. Her people were wool and crop people out in the country area. She and her sister were both at Acton Guest House, Betty and Ann Kettle. And there were a number of other people from that area, who had come to Canberra for work. They came here from everywhere virtually. I remember some of the people from Acton Guest House were from as far away as Perth.

B York: When did you leave the Guest House? I’ve been wondering.

F Jennings: I left after we were married. As soon as we were married we went over, I think it was to Lawley House for a while and then we rented a room with a little old asthmatic lady near the Manuka shops. So we lived with her for several months until our government house became available. You had to be engaged to get on the list. So once we were engaged we got on the list. It must have been late ’53 or ’54 when we moved to O’Connor, Boobialla Street, O’Connor. Which is now probably an inner suburb. We were the second last house on the western side I suppose, whichever side it is, we were the second last house out of Canberra, at the edge of Canberra at that time. Professor Oliphant was on the hill and there was one house beside us which you can say was further out. So that’s how Canberra has grown since the early ‘50s.

Probably one of my biggest recollections at the time, it would have been ’51 or ’52 there were some big fires around, bush fires. In particular they were around Stromlo, and Stromlo at that stage even had pine forests around it. There was a call on radio for all able bodied men to front up at the Workers Club and at work we just told, go. So we went and got into our old gear and then into trucks and went out to Cotter and Stromlo area. I thought it was humorous at that time but it was pretty serious actually because the fires were coming up to the road and on the other side of the road were the pine plantations. Now, Bert and I, I had come from cane country, where you get used to lighting fires and controlling fires, and Bert was a bush boy. We started burning back from the roadside and, of course, there was a hue and cry, people were jumping on us ‘we’re here to put out fires, not light them’. We got no support at all for that one, but fortunately the fire was held back. I’ve got a clear picture in my mind of a tall constable who was here at the time, Charlie Upton, and Charlie was in the paddock. He was trying to herd sheep and he had a knapsack on his back. You can get a picture of this tall policeman with a knapsack on his back trying to rush sheep between two fronts of fire and the sheep would just duck back behind him all the time. It wasn’t humorous for some people but it looked funny.

B York: Was Betty in the Public Service?

F Jennings: Yes, was a telephonist at the exchange at East Block.

B York: That was part of the Public Service?

F Jennings: That was part of the Public Service, that was the PMG I think at that stage, Postmaster General Department. But that was part of the nature of the Public Service, the PMG. They had a social group called the Postal Institute. At lunchtime I would often go downstairs in East Block, because that was where my office was at the time. I’d have lunch with the PMG boys as much as anything, and we’d be playing table tennis or snooker, or whatever, and socialising there. So it was good to get that interaction between the departments at the time.

B York: Was there a religious dimension to the social life here at all? Did you keep going to church in Canberra?

F Jennings: No, I’d given the religious side away at that stage. It was the healthy body and the healthy mind, the spiritual bit dropped away. I believed in the principles but not a lot of the regalia.

B York: Okay, that explains it well, yes. So you’re first position here, what level were you in Public Service terms?

F Jennings: I started as a base grade clerk in Registry, this was supposed to give me an idea of what the department did, and whatever. As soon as I could I enrolled for uni but I had missed too much of the first term and so I pulled out of it at the second term.

B York: So were you able to do that as part of the Public Service position, or was that something you were doing independently?

F Jennings: Something independently, at that stage, although I think there was some support from the Public Service, but I think the support was time off for lectures, support. So the first year I gave the study away and after about nine months in the Registry, which was just - you were given a pile of letters and you were told to find a current file, sort out the subject, find a current file. If there is no current file, make one, and then send it to the appropriate area. So after about eight or nine months of this, this got a bit boring. Letters were coming in addressed to the Prime Minister, but so what, I wasn’t doing anything active about it. So I started to jump up and down and I said ‘Look, you promised me I would get into a policy area before I was here too long. It’s been nine months’. So they said ‘We’ll move you’ and so they moved me into correspondence. Okay, this was a step, this was acknowledging letters.

The interesting thing there. I had this Class 6 chap above me. The sort of guy who would always be a Class 6, I think. He was in charge of this correspondence and the typing pool. I would say - I refer to your letter concerning such-and-such, reply will be sent in due course, and he would cross out concerning and put regarding. Okay, if you like regarding rather than concerning I can - I refer to your letter regarding such-and-such and he would cross that out and put concerning, and I thought I can’t win this one. I refer to your letter concerning such-and-such and - something else, and he would cross it out and make another sentence. This went on. The girls in the typing pool were getting angry with me because they would have to retype my letters. So I got sick of this and I told the staff clerk that I was going to apply for a job in Customs, because a lot of the people at Acton Guest House in Customs were able to get from the base grade to Class 6 or 7 or 8 fairly readily just by doing their darg. It wasn’t a very difficult exercise. That horrified them in the department that I would think of going to Customs. Clerks in Prime Minister’s Department thought that was just about the end of the earth, a bit like going to interior, or immigration which were three departments - if you had any ambition you wouldn’t be heading to at that stage. But once I put that application in, and dropped a copy to the staff clerk, they found an Assistant Research Officer position in the Economic Division. I got quite relaxed in the Prime Minister’s Department after that.

B York: Was there any training for you when you started in the Public Service?

F Jennings: Not that I recall, it was just on the job. Initially I was allocated to some guy who was probably in his sixties at the time to do this filing of the new letters that were coming in. Basically there was no fixed training. It was on the job learning. I was fortunate once I got into the economic area. The First Assistant Secretary was Bob Drury. Bob was from Dorrigo, another country boy who had come to Canberra. He’d done his economics and moved on nicely. He encouraged me quite a lot and fed me quite a lot of work. As I did the work successfully he fed me more and more and this annoyed some of the people who were already graduates. At this stage I probably only had only one or three subjects down on my Commerce Degree which I was doing part time at the Canberra University College. Some of the graduates were a bit annoyed that I was being fed work.

[End of part 1]


Interview with Frank Jennings 2  

F Jennings: Particularly in relation to Premiers’ Conferences, and briefings of the PM on Premiers’ Conference material, agendas and so on, where they felt that they should be doing it because they were the graduates. I was only three subjects into my course. But, quite a number of economists there at the time were ones who had been in the armed forces, where I was too young for that, and had done their CRTS training after coming back to Australia. But, I think, people like Bob Drury - I think I was pretty practical in the way that I handled…I wasn’t very academic in the way that I handled correspondence or briefings and things like that. I think that attracted their attention and got them to feed me more work.

B York: Yes, and with the Economic Division, where were you located physically, where was the work place?

F Jennings: Physically in East Block, still in East Block.

B York: Still there.

F Jennings: Yes, still in East Block. I remember some of the earlier stuff that I got involved in I was Assistant Secretary to the Interdepartmental Committee on GATT, the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade. Assistant Secretary didn’t mean much, it only meant that I was collecting all the statistics and doing all the filing of the stuff coming from GATT and sorting out in terms of anti-dumping and all that different categorisation, international statistics and things. I thought that was great.

B York: When would this have been?

F Jennings: It would have been about 1953, ’54. I would do a lot of the statistical stuff, graphing our imports/exports all that sort of thing. I thought that was pretty magic. Involved in some of the early activities of the Colombo Plan in terms of requests from Asian countries for particular technical support. I would pass this on to the States or the other Commonwealth Departments who might have the sort of staff that could handle those sort of things. Like, if they wanted water resource stuff, you would pass it on to the States but also to the Snowy Mountains Authority at that stage. It became quite interesting. I felt as if I was doing something at that stage.

B York: It would have catered to the sort of motives that you had for wanting to go to New Guinea, I suppose.

F Jennings: It offset those pretty quickly because, I think…I had to be doing something useful, and something useful wasn’t just acknowledging letters. I think I only had three subjects in my degree, which meant I’d been in the department for three years when I was appointed Acting Research Officer, for which you had to have a degree. So, from then on there were very few times, when I was performing in my substantive position. I was always acting beyond my formal position. I appreciated that. I mean, I didn’t get the money. Well, I did get the money in the Acting position, but I didn’t get the formal designations. By the time I finished my degree I think I was Acting Senior Research Officer or something similar.

B York: And did your wife continue to work after you were married?

F Jennings: Let me work the children, the first child was about eighteen months…so she probably worked for twelve or fifteen months after. We finished up with six children.

B York: So that was about 1955 to?

F Jennings: 1955 to, when did I go to Queensland ’68, yes, about ’68 we had the baby.

B York: Can you tell me, you mentioned how you lived in Boobialla Street and you were working at East Block. How would you travel to work each day?

F Jennings: I travelled by car or bike.

B York: By bike, okay, you had a bit of a biking background, didn’t with your schooling in Ballina.

F Jennings: That’s right. Certainly when I was at Acton Guest House I walked to East Block from there. When we moved to Boobialla Street it was bike or car.

B York: And would that be shared car or your own car?

F Jennings: No, own car. I had graduated from the little Austin 8 Tourer at that stage, I think, to a Hillman Wagon because I could put a couple of kids in the back of the wagon.

B York: With Old Parliament House, or the Provisional Parliament House as it was then, what’s your earliest recollection of actually coming to the building?

F Jennings: Well, I suppose my earliest official contact with the building would have been during Premiers’ Conferences.nThis would have been probably from about ’51 ’52 as early as that when…my first contact with Premiers’ Conferences was as a messenger. At that stage the Hansard reporters would take down the debate and we would get the first rough of that, take it over to Prime Minister’s Department and run it off, run off the number of copies. I wouldn’t, but some of the officials would go through it for any corrections and run off the copies and get them back and deliver them to the various State delegations. So I started off as a Messenger from East Block to Parliament House and while on the Premiers’ Conferences, at one stage probably in the ‘60s I probably had more association with Premiers’ Conferences than anyone else. Having started from that courier position to perhaps preparing briefs for the Prime Minister to, sort of, formally putting some of the reports together later. And the final one…it must have been in ’68, it would have been in John Gorton’s time as Chairman, but I was sitting up at the centre table with Geoff Yeend. Geoff was the Senior Advisor and Head of the Department at the time and I was up advising Geoff. So I worked my way right through from Courier, well not right through, but sitting up at the table with the PM and his Senior Advisor and that was pretty interesting.

B York: I guess before you came to Canberra you would have been aware of the Parliament House building, is that right?

F Jennings: Only from schooling which was fairly minimal in those days. You did history and geography and whatever, so in as far as it came into the history bit you would have had a little. But, again, there wasn’t a lot of Australian history in that, say up to ’46, most of our history was British history since Industrial Revolution days. So there wasn’t a lot of knowledge of Parliament House, pretty limited. 1927 was known and a few things like that, Reps and Senate, and the requirement of the Governor General to assent the Bills and things, we knew some of the basics but that was it.

B York: Other people have said a similar thing. It makes me think that the iconic nature of the building is quite recent. I’m wondering if it’s a Bicentenary perhaps, or whether…I’m old enough to be able to remember the ‘60s and ‘70s. I think we would have seen, in Melbourne, we would have seen Old Parliament House on television occasionally but it didn’t seem to have the iconic status.

F Jennings: No, I think it might have acquired the iconic status once the new Parliament House was built.

B York: Yes.

F Jennings: Yes, sometimes it bothers me that people want to keep old things, just because they are old. What’s wrong with taking photographs and putting them on disks or something. But, I think the concept of this building probably grew when the new one was built. I can see now that there seem to be more and more people coming here and that is because of a lot of the things you are doing to attract people to the building. But it is creating a specific Australian history that many of us didn’t have. Well, you can see the difference in Canberra from 27,000 when I came here to what 300,000 odd thousand now.

B York: More than 300,000 now.

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: We have about, well we have more than 50,000 school kids come through the building each year now.

F Jennings: Yes, well that’s valuable from the Australian history point of view, we didn’t have that.

B York: And they’re learning the civics of it too, and that’s part of it…

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: But, I’m wondering did the building impress you at all. What where your first impressions of it?

F Jennings: Well, certainly it was that white building that stood out. Particularly if you went to somewhere like the War Memorial. It stands out pretty dramatically in the area, in the triangle. To me it was always the building, together with say, the two big centres in Civic, your Melbourne and Sydney Buildings. Then from then, of course, you’ve got your library and some others that have built up. But, when I came here this was, as far as I can remember, the building if you had one. It was white, it stood out, except on a winters morning.

B York: What…the fog and the mist?

F Jennings: The fog and the frost.

B York: And what was the natural environment like?

F Jennings: The rose gardens were there then. The coloured trees were very distinctive, like the ones around East Block and West Block and here. So it was here, that’s right, Parliament House, Hotel Canberra, and the Albert Hall. Well, the Albert Hall was the centre of a lot of social activity but they were the distinctive buildings here.

B York: And further on, there was no lake.

F Jennings: No lake.

B York: No National Library.

F Jennings: No.

B York: What would have been there when you looked out from the entrance?

F Jennings: Lucerne flats with a few sheep from time to time, yes. The Molonglo River with some willows. Well, the river was there and depression area was there, in terms of land form. But I think they used to cut two or three crops of lucerne a year. It was a very prolific area. You’d see the irrigation going and the harvesting and so on from time to time. And there were some areas where sheep just roamed.

B York: When you say just roamed, they would have belonged to farmers.

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: And farmers would have been grazing them.

F Jennings: Yes, in that area.

B York: When do you think that stopped, from your recollection, when were there no longer…

F Jennings: When they decided to put the lake in they must have bought those farms out. Because they would have been, like the rest of the place, on a ninety-nine year lease, there would have been no free-hold, it would have been all ninety-nine year lease country. So they would have to buy out the leases, I imagine, when they decided to put the lake in. I’m not too sure about the timing of the lake now.

B York: ‘64

F Jennings: ’64…I know Menzies was pretty keen on the lake and the authority, what was it called?

B York: National Development

F Jennings: National Development Commission

B York: National Capital Development Commission, I think it was.

F Jennings: Yes, that was it, yes he was very keen to promote that.

B York: Before, we, of course I am very keen to ask you about Menzies and Holt. But just a couple of other questions about actually working in the Public Service back then.

F Jennings: Yep.

B York: Were there codes of conduct and codes of dress?

F Jennings: Yes, codes of dress, yes. There were certainly no thongs and jeans or t-shirts. Yes, you were expected to be, well, up in the scrub would have been your Sunday best, I suppose. Yes, certainly — I’m not too sure about the codes of conduct. I don’t know if each department — no the Public Service Board would have had a code of conduct of some sort. But I don’t recall any hard and fast rules of dress, for instance, when most people were getting around in a collar and tie or a suit and tie I got into safari suits because I thought in the summer time I thought they were more appropriate and that was acceptable. It drew a lot of comments, but, I could cop that.

B York: What sort of comments did it draw and from whom?

F Jennings: Well, comments from some senior officers I think and from junior officers about being different, I suppose, and how inappropriate it might be, but it wasn’t against the rules. I even wore the safari suit when I was working in Parliament House and there was no objections, although all your members at that stage were in jackets and ties.

B York: Yes.

F Jennings: There might have been a requirement for a tie then, I’m not real sure on that, but a safari suit with a tie just didn’t sit too well.

B York: No, and we’re talking about the 1950s. We’re talking really the Cold War period I’m wondering about the security clearance aspect. Did you have to go through a clearance?

F Jennings: I certainly did. There were two sorts of clearances in the department. In the Prime Minister’s Department, Les McSpiran was our Security Officer in the department and he was in charge of the Cabinet records as well. He took the role very seriously. I remember soon after I came — and once I got through my nine months’ probation period I think it was, I think it nine months at that stage. Before I was then allowed to go into the Public Service proper, as a permanent member. I think Les sat me down and gave me the one, two, three on security and on the various classifications of documents. I suppose it was when I went around to the policy area in the economic area, it might have been before then, I had a session with one of the ASIO officers. It frighted the hell out of me. At one stage there I was almost afraid to go to sleep for fear I would talk in my sleep. Some of the briefings I got there about not being caught in situations where you might be blackmailed for information. No sexual behaviour outside our marriage. None of this homosexual stuff or anything like that, this was all blackmail material. It was pretty heavy briefing. And, of course, as I moved further up and in the service and got more involved in more highly classified material — because in the economic area it was just — the material was probably confidential, maybe, it wouldn’t be much secret stuff at that stage. You would be seeing some Cabinet documents and advising on the Cabinet documents and some things. There would be confidentiality in that but the briefings got harder as you moved up. When I was later personal assistant to Sir Allen Brown when he was Head of department, I saw then every cable that came into and out of Commonwealth department. They would get you up to top secret and beyond. Then there was more severe, presumably severe, checked, background checks and also briefing checks.

B York: In that initial one that you mentioned after your nine months probably. Was there an interrogatory element to it?

F Jennings: No, it was purely telling you that you had to be careful because there were – there could be people around who would want to get information about the government and the government defence and foreign affairs and so on. You could be subject to persuasion to release documents that you might see within the department and that just wasn’t on. No question of whistle blowing in those days and handing out confidential, or secret reports to the media, very much frowned upon.

B York: Where you in a union?

F Jennings: Yes, the Australian Clerical Officers Association. Yes, I didn’t…I paid my fees and that was about it. I didn’t get involved with union activities. No, I was interested, even after I resigned and went farming in Queensland I got a bill from the union saying that you owe us a year and a half subscription, or something, and I said, well I resigned at such and such a date, at the end of 1968. Yes, but you didn’t resign for the union, you might have resigned from the Public Service but you didn’t resign from the union. I ignored the letter.

B York: Did you work regular hours or where you on call?

F Jennings: I suppose, I worked regular hours for the first five or six years until I got the position of Personal Assistant to Sir Owen Brown. That was after I’d worked in the economic area. I probably worked with him for a couple of years I suppose. Of course working for the permanent head it can’t be an 8.30 to a 4.51, I think were the hours at the time. But to offset the times I might work after 6 o’clock or beyond he was quite happy for me…when he was busy at a conference or something, somewhere he would allow me to duck over to Parliament House to get my hair cut. I used to get my hair cut with the barber downstairs and that was fine. It kept the barber going. He’d get a few local Public Servants as well as the parliamentarians.

B York: I wondering if you can describe a fairly typical working day. I mean before you worked for the Permanent Head?

F Jennings: Before then it was an 8.30 to 4.51 and — except when you had something like the Premiers’ Conference, it was just a standard day. Work varied, that’s one of the things I liked about the Prime Minister’s Department once I got into the policy areas. You never knew what you were going to have to cope with the next day, basically. There was always something new, like there was the Colombo Plan, the general agreements on tariffs and trade, imports/exports statistics, things like this. Then 1956, I think it was, was the first Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East Conference at Broadbeach, the first one held in Australia. Where Lord Casey was the Foreign Affairs Minister and he was the boss boy of that. Foreign Affairs didn’t have enough, or External Affairs, I think they were called at the time, didn’t have enough staff to act as liaison officers for the various delegations and I was seconded for Foreign Affairs for that conference. That was something new and exciting. That was another real enjoyable experience, and a learning experience, which I was always ready to grab.

And, of course, in the economic area there was always something new cropping up. Although the hours were regular the content of your work varied quite a lot. At the time — and once I got to advising on Cabinet submissions, advising to the PM on Cabinet submissions. Prime Minister’s Department at the time, I think was, not so much a post office, a coordinating department. We were the department that everything to the States, or from the States, had to come through us, to the other departments. We would coordinate advice from other departments. Well in terms of Cabinet submissions and things like that. So it was really a coordinating thing rather than just being a lot of experts in our own, in any particular area. So it was a coordinating thing, to pull advice together for the PM make judgements. So, I think, my basic training there was learning how to access what was required in terms of government policy, or the PM. What the PM would require to make a reasonable decision on a subject and which departmental advice you would need to have. So you would draw in the advice. I remember the first Cabinet submission I was put on a desk to advise on, and it was on forestry research. I’m a cane cutter’s son, I’m a cane farmer’s son, what do I know about forestry research? Nil. So I had a talk to the Department of National Development, to the Forestry School and a few things like that and put them together with this submission and read the submission and then if I thought there was some extra advice needed from other departments, from Treasury for instance. If the submission didn’t indicate that they had been in touch with Treasury or National Development or some other, Department of Interior was involved, I would see that that extra advice was obtained. On the basis of that you would form a judgement as to whether the PM should agree with the recommendation, whether it should go to a committee, and if so who should be on the committee. So it was — things like that that the department — the way that the department operated, to a large degree at that stage.

B York: And as you said it was very interesting work.

F Jennings: Absolutely.

B York: Stimulating.

F Jennings: Absolutely, stimulating.

B York: Where you ambitions? Where you aiming to become Private Secretary, initially?

F Jennings: No.

B York: At what point did that enter your consciousness as a possibility?

F Jennings: It never did, until — I’m not sure if it was Sir Allen Brown or Jack Bunting — I think it was Sir Allen Brown called me in one day. And, of course, when the Permanent Head calls you in — ah, what have I done now? And, he said, ‘Sit down Frank’. He said, ‘The PM is going to retire in two and a half years’ time’, he said, ‘when he is seventy’. He said ‘He will be retiring’. He said ‘I want you to go over and be Private Secretary and see him out, until that time’. I was just rocked. I was ‘rapped that he thought I had the capacity to do that, which was great, as far as I was concerned. It wasn’t really — he wasn’t really asking me if I wanted to do it. It was virtually an instruction from the Permanent Head. I want you to go and look after the PM’s office until his time was out. He knew — the Permanent Head knew two and half years before Menzies retired that was what he was going to do, not like the situation today. You would have seen that people say, he is arrogant, but he said ‘I don’t think you will have any trouble working with him’. He said ‘I think you’ll have more trouble with Hazel Craig’. His other Private Secretary who has been with him since 1937 or maybe even before, it’s her Prime Minister, so she is possessive. She has been there a long time, and she understands how he works, so you might have more trouble with relationships there than with the PM himself. I didn’t have any option really. I had no intention of aiming for this job. I hadn’t applied for this job. It was thrust upon me, if you like.

I think, the way I’ve talked to my kids and grandkids now, is that, you can aim in certain direction but who knows where you’re going to finish up. You grab the opportunities that come your way. You can to some degree gear yourself in some direction, but you’re not always going to get where you think you’re going to get initially. Life can be quite interesting if you go with the flow, and it flows in an interesting direction. I had no plans for that job but I had no regrets, at all, at having it offered because — it’s not the sort of thing you would even think of rejecting. I mean if you’re in the Public Service at all. I mean the opportunity to get to work with someone of Menzies stature, who had been there for so long, as Prime Minister. To get a position — you would have to understand how Cabinet works, how Parliament works, and all the goings on between the political side of the party and the PM and so on. Just too big to miss.

B York: You had been acting Private Secretary, hadn’t you, in 1956, is that right?

F Jennings: I did for a while, yes, at that stage. At that time the PM and Dame Pattie were going to London for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference. He took with him both his Private Secretaries, Bill Heseltine and Hazel Craig and his Press Secretary Hughie Dash and Sir Allen Brown from the department. I think, probably his wife went as well, Lady Hilda. So, the time I was working with Sir Allen, as his Personal Assistant and he said, ‘Well, as I’m going too I want you to go and just look after the PM’s office while we’re all away’. I said ‘Well, what is there to do if the PM is away?’. The staff left would have been, I think there were two Assistant Private Secretaries, Betty Greenwood and Marie Helsford. I’m not sure whether Mary Newport was there at the stage, but that was the Press Secretary’s Secretary. So there were three girls and there would have been Al Stafford and ‘Chigee’ who were the attendants outside the PM’s office, who looked after the telephone to the PM, and the tea and coffee, and the drinks in the Anteroom, and the Cabinet Room, for the Ministers as well as for the PM. So it was a very small office here to look after. But, I found, what was required.

I had to send a cable to the PM every day, summarising what was in the major newspapers. How the government was being kicked about on the front pages or in the editorials. We had a select, half a dozen papers to look at. Then preparing a cable that then went to Foreign Affairs, what do they call themselves, the communications area there anyway at the time. Send on to the PM either on board ship, because they went on ship that time, or to our High Commission in London. Now, once the…this gave me my first real look around Parliament House. Well, apart from the Premiers’ Conference bit, but in terms of working here regular, I was here for about three and a half months. Why it was three and a half months. After the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference was concluded the PM was on his way back and I think got about…

[End of part 2]


Interview with Frank Jennings 3  

F Jennings: As far as America, I mean the Suez Crisis had broken out and the British and the American and the French and a few others were trying to negotiate with President Nasser of Egypt on the Suez Crisis. I know there has been a far bit written, or talked about Menzies role there, how inefficient, or how stupid he was to be co-opted into going. But I know my view at the time, from the cables and so on was that it wasn’t felt that anyone could really talk seriously to Nasser or to get him to agree to what was being proposed, whatever that was at the time, but if anyone had a chance it was Menzies. He took the opportunity. He didn’t duck that one. He took that and talked to Nasser and, of course, that is shown as one of his big failures. Now, a failure to negotiate with an intractable dictator, to me, is hardly a failure. I remember that was how I saw it at the time. If anyone had a chance, he did, they didn’t think anyone had a chance but let’s give it a go. That was my view at the time, I remember. But that was my first experience of working in here, for about three and a half months. I was twenty-six, or something at the time. I was impressed.

B York: Did that come about, more or less, that you were told…that you would be working in that position?

F Jennings: Sir Allen Brown said, while I’m away you’ll work at Parliament House and look after the PM’s office. On a personal note in that sort of time slot, one of the Assistant Private Secretaries, Marie Halford, lovely girl. She was getting a bit fat so I had a crack at her, about this good religious girl being pregnant and it turned out she had stomach cancer. So, I felt like threepence under the carpet. But, at that time, I had to see her — I don’t think she had relatives in Canberra, or very few — and so I had to see her every day and report to the PM, and she died while the PM was away. It was a very short, tragic exercise, but personally it was probably one of my earliest contacts with death by someone close at hand. I felt a need to at go and at least see and talk to her every day. So that was a big learning curve for me as well on the personal side.

B York: When did you first meet Menzies in person?

F Jennings: When Sir Allen Brown brought me over and introduced me and saying ‘This is Frank Jennings, he’s the one that is going to come and work for you’.

B York: So when?

F Jennings: That would have been 1962, yes ’62 or ’63.

B York: So you didn’t actually meet him in that period when he was overseas.

F Jennings: No.

B York: When he got back you weren’t introduced?

F Jennings: When he got back, no, I wasn’t introduced, I was sent back to my department, back to my patch.

B York: Back to East Block.

F Jennings: Back to East Block, yeah. I think I might have met Menzies in ’62 when I was working here with Holt as Parliamentary Liaison Officer, so that would have been the earliest.

B York: Now we’ve recorded more than hour today.

F Jennings: Okay.

B York: I hope you’ve enjoyed it by the way.

F Jennings: I’ve quite enjoyed it.

B York: I hope you’ve found it worthwhile.

F Jennings: I do, yes.

B York: I’m wondering how you’re feeling at the moment because we can stop now and continue. We can organise a session, or a couple of sessions for the next time you’re available. What do you want to do? Do you want to keep going now?

F Jennings: It’s probably a convenient place to stop, isn’t it?

B York: It’s convenient to stop now and next time we could begin with Sir Allen Brown, your appointment there and continue chronologically, or we can begin talking about that period now. It depends how you’re feeling. I mean an hour and fifteen minutes is a long time to be talking.

F Jennings: I’d be quite relaxed to stop now. I mean, I could be available later today or tomorrow if that is any use to you, and your programming.

B York: I’ll turn this off and we’ll have a think, thanks for today.

[End of part 3]


Interview with Frank Jennings 4  

B York: I’m continuing the interview with Frank Jennings. Today is the 29th October 2007. We’re continuing from the previous session on the 10th October. Frank, I think we…when we finished off last time we were around that mid-‘50s, 1956 period when you were working as the Acting Private Secretary when Menzies was overseas.

F Jennings: Right, yeah.

B York: So can we continue today from that point?

F Jennings: Right. Well, at that time when Menzies came back from the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London and his expedition to Suez. I went back to the department, working with Sir Allen Brown, as his Personal Assistant. I found that a particularly interesting Public Service job because it put me in a position, and remember I was just a boy from the bush. It put me in a position of working with, well the top Public Servant at the time, as Head of the Prime Minister’s Department. Helping to arrange his papers, so that he could use his time best. But it meant that I had access to all the Cabinet papers. I saw all the cables coming into Australia, to all the departments, and going out again. It meant that I had to be upgraded security wise because, some of the cables got to top secret and beyond, Australian eyes only and AusTEO and a few of those higher classifications.

B York: AusTEO?

F Jennings: AusTEO — was more the top — Australian eyes only, high security stuff. I had to sort these cables out so that Sir Allen would just look at the ones that I thought were necessary for him to look at, the urgent ones. Rather than go through all the stuff that was irrelevant to what was happening at the time. I could see all the Cabinet papers and see what sort of advice was going from the department to the Prime Minister in Cabinet papers. It gave me an opportunity to learn about the real association of Public Servants and Ministers, which was all invaluable for, well for a relatively young fella, at twenty-six, twenty-seven, whatever, those days. It gave me good background for the future. I also looked at the Commonwealth Gazette each week and marked, tag the sort of things that I thought he should look at. I remember there was one, there was a job application, or a job vacancy for Executive Assistant to the Secretary to the Treasury, to Sir Owen Wilson. Of course, there was a lot of rivalry between Treasury and Prime Minister’s Department and the Public Service Board in those days, at the top of the Public Service. So I marked this little thing, Executive Officer at a range one or two above mine, and Sir Allen saw the point. He knew I was just having a go, and saying don’t you want to jack my level up to Executive Officer and his comment was ‘When I want an Executive Officer Frank, I’ll have one’. So he put me back in my place very quickly. But then that was the sort of relationship you had to have, I think, with Permanent Heads and personal staff if you’re going to get on, or work successfully.

B York: Can you tell us about Sir Allen Brown, him as his character, personality?

F Jennings: I found Sir Allen very easy going sort of person, no nonsense of course, but very even tempered. One of the things that grabbed my attention, some of his background, Chairman of the Committee that recommended the Snowy Scheme, which at that stage…I was studying economic geography, that was a major exercise in Australian History, in post war development. The development of the Snowy Scheme and he was very much involved in that. I found that he treated all the senior staff, and junior staff in the department even-handedly, and seemed to get on well with everybody. Yes, I didn’t find any dictatorial attitude, which I couldn’t say for some of the later Permanent Heads that I have been associated with.

B York: And what about politics, did politics ever enter the discussion in a partisan way?

F Jennings: No, in all of my career in Canberra, in the Public Service, in the Prime Minister’s Department from ’51 to ’68 and even later when I came back in ’70 and worked in Parliament House, from ’78 to ’83, no one has ever asked me my political affiliations. I find a lot of the — that’s certainly not the case in recent years — which I could come to later when the Hawke Government came to power later on. Certainly, political affiliations didn’t come into it. The basic attitude in Prime Minister’s Department, at the time, and I was surprised to find that the majority of people in the department, the officers there were Labor or Democratic Labor supporters. There was a mixture of conservatives as well but the majority would have been Labor supporters, but it never came to the fore in their advising. The thing — the department was geared basically to coordinating the advice of other departments on matters that came before Cabinet and to make sure that the policy proposals put forward fitted with the overall government policies as announced. At the time I found no indications of particular Liberal/Labor push within the department.

B York: So, can we continue now in a type of chronological order. When did you…what happened next with Sir Allen Brown?

F Jennings: Well, Sir Allen retired and Sir John Bunting took over as Head of the Department. I’m not too sure which year that was but it was either the late ‘50s or early 60s I think, it would have been in the ‘60s. But I moved from Sir Allen’s office to working with Dr Ronald Mendelsohn in the Social Welfare Branch of the Department. Working on health policies, social welfare policies and things at the time but one of the intriguing jobs I had there was keeping the War Book up to date. I had never heard of the War Book but this was something that was developed after the war. The idea was to list areas where things needed to be done. Like what sort of fuel capacity, what sort of manufacturing capacity was needed, because I think during the war they had problems moving tanks from the south up north. When Darwin was in trouble and things like that and so they found that there were places, the tanks that they had at the time couldn’t cross over rivers or gullies or whatever and had to go the long way round. So there were bridges and road works, these sort of things, were all listed. What resources were needed, what industries were needed to be protected, so that you had a workforce in case of war. It was quite a fascinating exercise. I remember it was a great big green book. It would have been about half a metre to three quarters of a metre, loose folders in it. I don’t know what’s happened to that. I guess it’s in archives somewhere.

B York: Yeah.

F Jennings: So that was another interesting area. Then I moved — I wasn’t there all that long and then I moved then into the parliamentary and government area as a Senior Research Officer. That was where I was involved a lot in preparing answers to Parliamentary questions to the Prime Minister and arranging tabling of reports and statements in the House and that sort of thing. That was where I got my really first hands on, if you like, from the departmental point of view the first hands on association with the parliamentary work. I was also, at that stage, Secretary to the Federal Executive Council which, with the last of the British Governors’ General Lord De L’isle, that involved a meeting a week with the Governor General and two Ministers. Or if the Governor General wasn’t available three Ministers either with the Secretary — a Minister was appointed as Chairman of the Executive Council (just forget the title now), if the Governor General wasn’t available, or if there were just three Ministers they could form the Executive Council with the Senior Minister being the Chairman. That was good background.

B York: Would that meet here at Parliament House?

F Jennings: No, it would meet at Government House. I would get the Commonwealth car to pick me up. I would then pick up the two Ministers from Parliament House and give them the agenda for the day. I would list all the minutes that would come from the various Ministers. If they had any questions I would explain as much as I could of the background on the way out to Government House in the car. When we got to Government House we would have our meeting and have a cup of coffee afterwards and then come back.

B York: How long would these meetings go for?

F Jennings: Maybe twenty minutes or half an hour. The Governor General is not the rubber stamp that many people believe. I mean a lot of it is pretty straight forward, as a matter of fact, a lot of it got quite stupid in that you had to get a Ministerial submission and the Governor General’s approval for the appointment of fourth division officers in Parliament House at one stage. I remember at this stage, as Secretary of the Council I asked the Attorney General’s Department, whenever they were reviewing legislation to check for whatever purpose, just check any references to the Governor General in Council and see if these things were really relevant any more. So gradually as the legislation changed some of these items were deleted from the requirement. You can see where it all started, it all started from the early days of nepotism and things like that in the Public Service. We hoped that we’d outgrown some of that.

B York: Can you think of an example of where the Governor General did have an input, where he didn’t just rubber stamp?

F Jennings: There were a couple of occasions, and I can’t pin point them today. There were several occasions where the Governor General would say, I’m not happy with this explanation. Apart from the minute there would be an explanatory statement and if the explanatory statement wasn’t adequate to satisfy the Governor General, and I couldn’t add enough to the explanatory statement to satisfy him, he would say, ‘I can’t approve this’. He can’t reject it but he could say, take it back to the Minister and get more explanation of this. I would then take this back. I remember three of four occasions in a matter of six or twelve months, or whatever, that I would have taken the minutes back to the Minister, explained the Governor General’s position and he would then go back to his department and get some further explanation.

With this background, I had another period with the Secretary of the Executive Council later on after I left Parliament House in ’67-68 when I worked with Lord Casey when he was Governor General. And having had that background it surprised me a lot when the Loans Affair came up later in time, in the Whitlam time. So I was up on the farm in Queensland at the time. But I remember saying, I can’t see how they could have held that Executive Council Minute without letting the Governor General know, held that meeting without letting the Governor General know. I know since then I’ve seen people like John Menadue who was Head of the Prime Minister’s Department at the time justifying Whitlam’s position in relation to the Executive Council meeting that approved the loans that caused all the trouble or caused a lot of trouble. But although there is no written law that the Governor General must be asked about a meeting and his approval must be given for a meeting without him. It’s a convention that’s been about for decades. I found that a bit amazing when I was just farming in Queensland but listening to the Loans Affair develop.

B York: Alright, let’s continue. What happened with your career afterwards?

F Jennings: Well, from there, I then — my next move, I think, would have been as Parliamentary Liaison Officer. This was a position where I worked to Holt, when he was Treasurer, but in his capacity as Leader of the House. My job was to see what legislation the government wanted to put through. I would get copies of the Legislative Committee of Cabinet decisions, work with the Attorney General’s department on the program for the drafting, how long drafting would take to be implemented into legislation. Then talk to Holt in his capacity as Leader of the House about when he wanted this to come into the Parliament for debate. I was also involved then in terms of, any time the — I was in the House — I had a little — one of the officials — there was room for four or six officials in the House of Reps Chamber and one of those was mine. Any time the House was sitting I had a seat there because if anything happened, I had to know my Standing Orders to the degree that I could advise Holt on what to do, whether to pull on a guillotine, or restrict to what sort of motions he could pull on to make sure the legislation got through and the program that the government wanted.

B York: Could you describe where you where, where that seat was?

F Jennings: Yes, behind the Government Front Bench, just as you move in from the…well about where the Speaker’s Chair is, there is a door on the side, just inside the door, in behind the Front Bench of the Government. There are two seats there that normally sit four but can squeeze six people. One of those was for the Parliamentary Draftsman, one was for me, and at Question Time you had the PM’s Private Secretary and probably McEwen’s Private Secretary. When there was legislation in the House, that was where a couple of your officials would sit so they were handy, either just pass over stuff to their Minister or through an attendant.

Once the legislation went through the House. Each day I would — early morning before the House met I would talk to Hold about the program for the day. Each evening I would talk to him about the program for tomorrow and then I would go and talk to Whitlam who was the Opposition Spokesman on House matters and we would discuss the program and see if the Opposition had anything to raise. Like matters of public importance or no confidence motions, if they had one of those, we’d discuss how many speakers a side. Then I would go and talk to the House of Reps staff about a program for tomorrow and they would issue the ‘blue’. Jack Pettifer was the one that I mostly spoke to at that stage, on the House staff on the programing. Then the ‘blue’ would go out and members would have that before they started the next day. Once the legislation was through the Reps I would then see about getting it through the Senate. I would talk to, at that stage, it was Alan Cumming-Thom who was the Parliamentary Liaison Officer in the Senate and then he would go through the same sort of hoops on the Senate side. So that, from the Reps’ side the Parliamentary Liaison Officer was someone from Prime Minister’s Department whereas from the Senate side it was a staffer on the Senate staff. Because Alan at that stage would have been, I think there was Jim Hodges and Roy Bullock and then Alan Cumming-Thom, I think, on the staff. So that was a real hands on Parliamentary position.

B York: And where were you based in the building?

F Jennings: I wasn’t. I see there is a door with Parliamentary Liaison Officer now. My office was still over at East Block in the Prime Minister’s Department but I would have a seat in the Treasurer’s Office at the time, but I would come and go. Then, of course, when the days when the Parliament wasn’t sitting I had my other work to do over in the department.

B York: Would you walk to and from?

F Jennings: Yes, I would walk to and from. But it was a fascinating job to be thrown at you.

B York: Yes, especially at that time I think, that period when you were still in the Cold War, but we were about to experience that period of cultural shift with the baby boomers reaching teenage years and all that, the protests.

F Jennings: Yes, well certainly the protests. I certainly got involved in some of those. In particular during the election campaigns, a little bit later on with Menzies and Holt and all that, which is a little bit later down the track.

B York: At this point. I know you worked later for Hold again when he was Prime Minister. This might be an appropriate point to ask you about Holt himself, his character, his personality, how you found working with him?

B York: I found working with him was pretty easy. He understood his Standing Orders and this was what we were on about at the time. He had a good understanding of Standing Orders, as did Whitlam of course. I found that, well, like a lot of these senior blokes, if you made a mistake and they copped a rap because of it, you’d expect to get a belt over the ears. Their expectations were high. You had to produce quality work. You couldn’t be wrong. I pretty soon had an attitude that there were no small mistakes. You couldn’t make a small mistake because it would embarrass them so much. Again, the House sort of area, if you embarrassed the Leader of the House, you would embarrass the government and there could be potentially serious consequences. So you had to be very careful and very methodical in your work.

I found him to be a likeable, jovial sort of person. What you saw was what you got with Harold Holt. I think that comes through in any of the stories that came out later about him. I think he enjoyed the work, he enjoyed the politics, he enjoyed the parliamentary stuff. I’m not too sure he enjoyed the Prime Minister bit later on but that might be a story for later on. Certainly he understood and enjoyed the parliamentary side of his work. I think he enjoyed, particularly a lot of the stuff that again he had to do with earlier in immigration and labour and national service and things like that, before he became Treasurer, and I saw no indication that he wasn’t enjoying the Treasurership.

B York: When you said, what you saw was pretty much what you got, can you flesh that out a bit for us?

F Jennings: Well, I never felt that he wouldn’t act like a superior sort of person which I might have expected a bit, when I came from the farm. You get this impression that these politicians are way up there on big pedestals and they are great big bosses but I found that he was just like an ordinary person to work with. He didn’t project any superiority or anything like that. He just seemed to treat me as an equal sort of person with a particular knowledge in a particular area. My role was to give him that knowledge so that he could work with it.

B York: How would he address you and how would you address him?

F Jennings: He would address me as Frank and I would address him as Treasurer generally, Treasurer or Mr Holt.

B York: When you mentioned earlier that you had to have really high standards, you couldn’t afford to make mistakes, and if you did you were in trouble, or a clip around the ears, I think you said.

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: What really happened? How would they draw to your attention that you had made a mistake or that they weren’t quite satisfied?

F Jennings: I might skite a bit now. I don’t think I can recall when I was being rapped over the knuckles, or whatever. No, I can’t recall when I’ve had a Minister in trouble. I know a couple of occasions when I’ve got Ministers out of trouble but I can’t recall where I’ve got one into trouble. I’m pretty proud of that.

B York: Yes, so you should be too.

F Jennings: No, there was this mutual regard and respect, I think, and that had to be based on ability and in doing the job.

B York: And in doing your job for the Treasurer, what parts of Parliament House did you need to use? What spaces, what areas?

F Jennings: Actually, the parts that I would use — I would come from the department and I would go to the Treasurer’s Office, which was down a couple of doors from the Liberal Party Room, between there and King’s Hall, where the Treasurer had his office. His staff had an office next to his, or coming off his and I would work from there. Then, of course, that is just across the corridor to the entrance into the House of Rep’s Chamber where I would work. I would then go over to the Senate area when I was talking to Alan Cumming-Thom or when I was talking to Whitlam’s office when he was Deputy Leader and that’s about it.

B York: What about the library?

F Jennings: I didn’t use the library at that stage, no. Hansard, maybe at times, but not so much in that role, but later on as Private Secretary you’d look at the ‘greens’ and get involved with the Hansard a bit. But at that stage it was a fairly limited sort of area around the House.

B York: Again a question about Holt, was there a point at which you — he would talk to you about personal things, about family?

F Jennings: No, not with Holt. Holt it was all business. No, I don’t recall, certainly at that stage, later on when he was Prime Minister it was a bit different but mostly, even then, it was work. Yes, I don’t recall family conversations very much with Holt.

B York: Would you ever dine with him?

F Jennings: Not in that capacity, no. Later on as Prime Minister, yes, but not in that capacity of Leader of the House.

B York: How would you assess his intellect?

F Jennings: Well, it’s not an easy one. I think he was, yes, a fairly intelligent person but if you run further down the track with the comparison with Menzies as Prime Minister, well he was Deputy Leader at that stage. I don’t think he had, well I think the big differences between the two. There were big differences between the two, well both of them as Prime Minister. I saw Holt more as mechanical, pretty, not a very nice way to put it possibly. He was a bloke who wanted to be liked, and needed to be liked, I think. I think this sometimes effected the – an intellectual look at a problem, I think. I think would call him clever politically and clever rather than intellectual.

B York: Okay.

F Jennings: Capable, in many areas capable but I wouldn’t have thought intellectual.

B York: And do you think he was effective in enunciating and achieving political goals?

F Jennings: Yes basically, I think at times he, by wanting to please everybody he probably used too many words to cover what he wanted to do. Perhaps I can best illustrate that by moving forward to when he became Prime Minister, just to illustrate that sort of point. When he became Prime Minister he had about three thousand letters of congratulations. As his Senior Private Secretary, I gathered all these letters and sorted them out into various categories, like, VIPs, your heads of other government and things like that, other Ministers, leading organisations within Australia. There were three or four different categories, down to, some of them were just very personal. I think I had four categories that I worked out. I designed, or drafted an acknowledgement for each of these categories because at that stage we could get — the printer could give us a very good signature, or a good reproduction of his signature. I thought we can handle all this paper if I can just get him to agree with the categories, and agree to the responses with each of the categories. If he wanted to add a little bit at the bottom that’s fine and to the personal ones he could reply to those separately. He wasn’t happy with that approach at all. Every letter had to be handled individually and he had to do it. I suspect when he died there were people who hadn’t had acknowledgement to their congratulatory letters. So that’s an indication, I think, that he wanted these all to be personalized. He’d go away at a weekend and his briefcase, which has been publicised quite a bit recently, would have a hundred of these letters in and he’d come back with two or three of them responded to. So it was half a dozen a week that would be acknowledge. It was because he wanted to do what he saw was the right thing and respond with a personal touch.

I found, in the same sort of area, I found that when I worked with Menzies, as his Senior Private Secretary, it didn’t take long to grasp how he wanted correspondence handled and what words he liked to use and that sort of thing. I suppose, the letters that I drafted for him, which wouldn’t be a great deal, but ninety-five percent of them would be accepted as is, after I had been there for a month or two. But with Holt I’d be battling to get five percent through. He would want to alter everything and personalise it. This might be nice if you’re…

[End of part 4]


Interview with Frank Jennings 5  

F Jennings: You know, Joe Blow or somebody got all day to write letters, but if it’s someone making decisions for the country, trying to run a government, it’s something you can pass on to your staff. But he couldn’t do that.

B York: Was he a relaxed type of person?

F Jennings: Yes, he seemed very relaxed. He seemed to — he thoroughly enjoyed going to Portsea at weekends and he would come back on Monday morning and chat about, how it went on one side or the other side of the Peninsular and got a couple of crays or things. He used to love the diving, the cray-fishing and things like that. Always relaxed about that sort of thing. Monday mornings always seemed to be relaxed and happy to talk about his swimming and exploits under water and so on. Until, well, later in his period as Prime Minister, of course, he wasn’t quite so relaxed.

B York: We’ll come to that. I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask about him as you worked for him when he was Treasurer. We will talk about him again in his period as Prime Minister.

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: So after working for Holt as Treasurer. What happened then, where did you go from there?

F Jennings: It was then that I moved, it must have been mid ’63, July ’63 when I moved in as Private Secretary to Menzies as Prime Minister. When Bill Heseltine, who had been his Private Secretary beforehand — no Bill had gone Bob Linford, had moved in — there was some reorganising anyway. I think it was Bob Linford who was there before me. He went back to the Cabinet Office and I moved in then in July ’63. Now, I know at the time Menzies was wanting to — was hoping to appoint somebody from Attorney Generals, I forget his name, Allan Rose was one that he had heard of. He was a Rhodes Scholar and a Barrister and so I think he had a good reputation at Attorney Generals and, I think, he finally became Head of Attorney General’s Department at one stage. He was interested in bringing him in, but again I think it was Allen Brown or Jack Bunting who said, ‘Frank’s got the experience and he’s got the departmental contacts’.

Again, I think there was a lot of jealousy within the Public Service in those days. It was important for the Head of Prime Minister’s Department, he felt, to have someone in the PM’s office who could relate personally to people in the department, to the senior people in the department. You can see the arguments and you can put the argument pretty simply. From the PM’s point of view, if he wants something done, or some comments he’s not sure of, in some particular area, or some submission that he’s not happy with, if he’s got someone, like me, from the department, it’s much easier for me to get onto someone and say, hey Jack, hey Bill, this is what the PM wants. Rather than someone who has come from the outside and doesn’t know the people in the department, this was the sort of argument that was put and Menzies accepted that.

So that was when I moved over to Parliament House in a slot, well, you wouldn’t recognise it now, but I know just where it was. As you walk into the Prime Minister’s suite, on the left hand side, you’ve got some switchboards where Al Stafford and Chi-gee were, two Cabinet attendants were, and just the wall behind them that is where my office was. Then there was another office beyond that onto the outside wall where the visiting officials would wait for the PM. That was the head of the department or one of the senior officers of the department, in there, and then you just move straight into the big PM’s office, which has now all been cut up and carved up.

B York: Tell me, how, and excuse my ignorance on this, but I was wondering was there a formal process of applying for the job. Was it an advertised position, or was it within the Public Service?

F Jennings: It was a secondment from the Public Service, non-advertised position. No, it was just an appointment or I think I was given a temporary position, Public Service position. I think it was a Class nine position at the time. Yes, there was no permanent arrangement, the Superannuation things just continued as before, a straight Public Service pay, I think, paid by Administrative Services, I think, at that stage. The Parliamentary staff, no at that stage there was no requirement for advertising, nor going through the selection processes.

B York: So there was no interview, no panel.

F Jennings: No interview at all, just Allen Brown or Jack Bunting would talk to the PM and say, we think Frank will do the job for you and that’s the way it worked. It was the same when I was replaced later down the track. After Holt, I stayed then with Menzies until he retired, that was about two and a half years, or something, I was with him then. I was always told that you can, you act there and there will be a promotion back in the department because you didn’t get paid nearly enough overtime. The overtime allowance didn’t cover anywhere near the hours you put in, in working here in Parliament House. The role then was so different. The office we had, and I think it’s probably interesting to compare the office we had for the Prime Minister in 1963 to ’66 compared to now. There was myself as Private Secretary, looking after the Parliamentary, Cabinet, general departmental stuff and then Hazel Craig, was his personal Private Secretary, looked after the appointments and his personal stenography and personal accounts and things. We had two assistant private secs and another stenographer.

B York: Do you remember their names, by the way, I know it was a long time ago.

F Jennings: Yes, well the two Assistant Private Secs, one was Betty Greenwood, who was still there, back when I was here in the ‘50s, I think. I forget the second one.

B York: Was it another woman?

F Jennings: Another woman, and then there was Mary Newport who was really Personal Secretary to the Press Secretary and the Press Secretary, I think at this stage, it was…I don’t know if Hugh Dash was still there, or whether Ray Maley had come in at that stage. So they varied and then later on there was, of course, Tony Eggleton came in, in the later time of Menzies era. So we had a staff of seven all up in the office. This compares now with forty odd, but the roles were completely different.

B York: Well let’s talk about the actual role, the functions and duties that you performed?

F Jennings: Yes, well I saw my role, not as an advisor, and certainly not as a political advisor. The political advisor was Bob Willoughby who was Director of the Liberal Party Secretariat and Bede Hartcher I think was there at the time as his Assistant. So there was a small Liberal Party secretariat that handled any of the political advising. I saw my role was basically to keep the paper flying, get the urgent material signed and through, and make sure that the PM had available to him anything necessary for his decision-making, whether it be for Cabinet, Parliament or handling the general correspondence.

I would have on his desk, three or four trays, one with urgent, which again included, again I was looking at all the cables that came in and out of the Commonwealth. And again sifting out the ones that I thought the PM should read, the ones he might read if he’s got time and could have interest in. And I would have one tray for urgent, or maybe I had one for very urgent, this has got to be done. One for urgent, one for another category, and one for — if you’ve got time, sort of general reading stuff that you might find interesting. So I was fairly constantly shuffling these papers and files from one category to another as things became important if they weren’t handled, or weren’t done. And again you had things like ASIO reports and things, some very restricted documentation that had come in from time to time from, I think, Spry was Director General at that stage of ASIO.

B York: Did you need additional clearance at that stage?

F Jennings: The clearance, the top clearance that I got from working with Sir Allen Brown, that was sufficient, that was as high as they went. But, every now again you got this briefing about being a good boy and not putting yourself in a position of possibly being threatened with exposure unless you release certain information. Well, on that particular issue I joined, or I was encouraged to join what they called the Refugee Club. Which was basically a Journalists organisation, for a start, Journalists associating with the people from the Embassies, below Ambassador level, counsellors and that sort of level in the Embassies. To give them contact, give the Embassy people contact with the media, and also then with certain other people like Qantas, Commonwealth Bank, PR people in Defence and so on. They used to have a meeting once a month, a lunch meeting, and so they got me to join as well. I found that interesting until at one meeting, we used to sit at long tables and we’d have a couple of drinks before lunch and chat and general mingling, and then we’d have lunch. They’d often have a guest speaker. I found at one of these meetings I had one member of the Soviet Embassy sitting opposite and one sitting on either side. The conversation was pretty general about my likes and dislikes and so on and then I found that I was given records of some music that I would like and tickets to a Moscow Circus or ballet or something like that. My first reaction to this was when that lunch finished I drafted a note to Sir John Bunting, Head of the department, and reported there was a feeling that the Soviet Embassy might have been trying to encourage me. So, those were the sort of things that you, you become aware of, or get scared of or get very cautious of. My first thing was to report back to the head of the department so that could go on to ASIO.

Interesting on that, I’ve tried to get my ASIO file since I’ve retired, through archives this was, I got about three pages back saying there were X number of more pages involved, but the pages that I got back there was nothing much in it apart from my name. Officer’s names were all blanked out and the rest of it. The reason they gave was that the release of Mr Jennings’ file would indicate modes of operation, or something, of ASIO, so I’m not too sure about that one. I haven’t followed through on that.

Yes, so that the role, strictly was paper management, as I saw it, and making sure that the PM was able to do his job as best he could and as fluently as he could. It wasn’t difficult, as I said earlier, it wasn’t difficult to get to know his style in terms of preparing answers to correspondence. We didn’t answer a lot of correspondence here in the office, most of that was done in the department, all the official stuff, and then a lot of the really personal stuff was done by Hazel Craig. So mine was mainly, prioritizing, if you like, of the paper flow. I found that was enough because there was a tremendous amount of paper. From now I think it was something like a thousand cables a week, or something like that, for a start, that’s without the correspondence and the Cabinet papers and things. And your stuff coming from the Liberal Party, although there wasn’t a lot of paper coming from the Liberal Party most of that was done just by Bob Willoughby coming over and having a chat to the PM. And again, Bob would ring me up and say, ‘What’s the PM’s mood like? I want to talk to him about something, but I want him in a good mood before I do’. I said ‘Well, maybe you should leave that till tomorrow’ and these grunts and groans sort of thing were helpful to people like the party secretariat or the department for that matter. Not that Menzies was in a grumpy mood too often, but it did happen occasionally.

B York: What about the relations within the office?

F Jennings: The relations were, they were very good I think. Hazel Craig and I — I mentioned earlier that Allen Brown said you won’t have much trouble working with the PM but you might have with Hazel Craig. She sees him as her PM because she had been with him since ’39 or something. Hazel and I sorted out our areas responsibility early in the piece and after that there was never any hassles. I don’t recall any harsh words anywhere. It was a nice easy going office. I don’t recall any eruptions, we all had our part to play, whether it be the Press Secretary, the Private Secretary or me and we all stuck to our bits of dirt and doing that we didn’t cross swords or paths. It was all pretty clear cut. As I say, we weren’t — occasionally if, say the Press Secretary and I were travelling with the PM to a function somewhere by car, he might ask for our comments on something, and generally reprimand us because we didn’t give him ideas. But feeding him ideas wasn’t our plot, it wasn’t our job.

It was interesting with Menzies, he wrote all his own speeches. He’d get notes from the department, pin point notes on a particular issue but then he’d hand write in pencil his speech and then he might pass it on. Might have it typed here and pass it on to the department to have a look but he’d do a lot of that work himself. What impressed me, at one stage pretty early, I think it was a question of Pakistan or somewhere in the Middle East, Israel, there was a major speech he had to the House. He went back over the whole of the history, he would set the background to the point that he wanted to make. So that form of speech writing impressed me a fair bit at the time. Of course he was very fluent use of the language. He used to get a bit angry with certain officers’ in the department. You could pick them, if they use a word like, let’s think of one that gets miss used pretty often, decimate. Decimate was one that he hated. He’d get one, particularly one of the officers in the economic area, and say — the drought has decimated the stock, or something and he’d put a pencil through this and say, ‘What, only one percent, or ten percent’ and he’d say no.

B York: To us, today the conditions under which you worked seemed cramped, you know the rooms seemed small for the number of people from today’s standards. I’m wondering did you feel physically comfortable back then?

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: How did you feel about?

F Jennings: We weren’t particularly worried. I didn’t hear the girls complaining. This little office here there were four girls working in this office, plus all the stationery and the filing cabinets.

B York: We’re recoding in Room 86 I should mention so we know which office you mean.

F Jennings: Right. There were no complaints. I mean that was what we were given and that’s what we accepted. We didn’t have all this OH&S, Occupational Health and Safety, OH&S, we didn’t have all that sort of stuff in those days. We didn’t have unions jumping up and down, saying you can’t put people in that little slot there’s not enough air and too many people. No, I think, we just accepted what we were given, that was just the nature of the thing and that’s what we had to put up with.

B York: Do you remember your very first day working for Menzies?

F Jennings: Not specifically, no. I was a bit overawed for a start.

B York: Were you.

F Jennings: I know because, working for the PM, and the big fellow had been there for a long, long time and knew what he was on about. Again I was replacing a much more senior officer than I had [been] and I think the Public Service used me a fair bit, or the Prime Minister’s Department did. In terms of putting me into positions that had previously been held by Assistant Secretaries and First Assistant Secretaries. So they were giving me jobs that, well, beyond my capacity supposedly, according to the range I was being paid. But I found that a challenge and I didn’t fuss too much about that. I was a bit more interested in the interest in the jobs. But being at first hand association with the great man was a bit overawing for an hour or two. I found him easy to work with, he pacified me pretty quickly. There was no outburst no, from him at any stage.

One thing I always remember, he would never drink on his own. He’d always have a couple of martinis before dinner, before he went home for dinner, and he’d always have a couple of scotches when he left in the evening after work. But he’d never go in and drink on his own. If parliament wasn’t sitting there were no Ministers’ about, he’d invite me in to have a drink and that’s where there were lots of — and the chat was not work, rarely work, family. He really loved his kids and grandkids and talk about bouncing the kids on his legs and knees, and things like that, the grandkids. They were good times. He’d talk about my kids and so on. And cricket, of course, cricket would get an honourable mention, more often than not, and general things from day to day, but rarely would it get to any hard political issues. Occasionally he would bounced something off me, but he didn’t have me there for ideas. The ideas came from his political party or from the department.

B York: How frequently would that happen? I mean the martini, having a drink?

F Jennings: Well, if parliament wasn’t sitting, it might be three or four days a week.

B York: That you would have a drink with him?

F Jennings: It depends, if there were other people around, other members around he liked to have a drink and a chat with, we’d get them around. Half past five, six o’clock, or whatever, or half past ten at night before heading off home, ten o’clock, half past ten. Yes, it would happen a few times a week. I remember once, he came out, it must have been about half past ten. Probably a Thursday night at the end of a parliamentary week and I was asleep at the desk, on my papers, and he put his hand on my shoulder and he said ‘Okay laddie, time to go home’. I was always ‘laddie’. How could you get angry when the boss calls you ‘laddie’.

But he was often thought of as arrogant and a dictator in Cabinet and so on. I remember one day, Cabinet was sitting and while Cabinet was sitting I could go in and do some reshuffles of the papers and so on and here he is sitting at his desk, reading. I thought, what’s on, so I backed out again and I found later that he’d been rolled in Cabinet by Jack McEwen and so he’d come out of the Cabinet and he was reading Shakespeare to settle himself down, presumably. He did this for half an hour or so and then he went back into Cabinet. I found the next day in the papers and things, or the Tories around the House, Jack McEwen, was allowed to win and the PM wasn’t wanting him to have a win. So his relaxation, or getting himself together, it was to come out and read Shakespeare.

B York: I don’t suppose you remember which Shakespeare it was?

F Jennings: No, it was a green covered book.

B York: You can’t give us too many anecdotes like that Frank for this purpose of recording the oral history, the anecdotes are what often give the insight. I think that one is a classic, really.

F Jennings: Yes, it was one that I’ve recalled. I’ve written into my book. There’s a few like that I think. It’s like, when Cabinet was meeting — I mentioned earlier Alf Stafford and Chigee were outside in the little Anteroom and Alf and Chig used to provide his tea or drinks or whatever he wanted, or cups of tea for the Cabinet when they broke for tea and all that sort of thing. Alf would always to listen to the cricket and every now and again he would go into the Cabinet room and slip a bit of paper that someone’s out, someone’s got a century. So he’d keep the PM informed during Cabinet meetings of the progress of Test Matches or Shield Matches. So, the affairs of government must go on but you must keep the boss happy.

B York: Yes. And with Chigee?

F Jennings: A.O. Chigee.

B York: Is that his real surname?

F Jennings: Yes, Chigee is his surname, and they used to call him Chigee. I’m not too sure what his Christian name was now, but A O were his initials.

B York: Would you know what his nationality he was?

F Jennings: No, oh, he seemed to be British-Australian as far as I could see.

B York: An interesting surname.

F Jennings: Yes, Chigee.

B York: Any more you’d like to tell me about Menzies, in terms of character and personality?

F Jennings: Perhaps, well I suppose it explains him a bit, in that, at the end of each week, well, at the end of a lot of weeks, say on the Friday, he’d often go to Melbourne for the weekend. We’d stay at the Hotel Windsor. We’d travel, there would only be two or three staff travelling with him. Depending what was happening, there’d be myself, and often Betty Greenwood as Assistant Private Sec or Hazel Craig and the Press Secretary, sometimes, as required. Often there were only two of us. Friday night, we’d have dinner with PM and Dame Pattie at the Hotel Windsor, that was fixed, first meal was with staff.

We’d get settled down, we’d leave here mid-afternoon and fly to Melbourne in a Vickers Viscount, whatever we had at that stage, in the VIP flight. We’d settle into our rooms and about half past five, he’d ring me up and say, ‘Come on round Laddie, bring the girls round’. So we’d go around. He’d have the martinis ready, we’d have two martinis, and then the four, or five of us would go down to the dining room for dinner. Generally it was just the family group, so called, but if someone like — I’d check when I got there to see if someone like, Eddie Connellan was in town or staying at the hotel. Eddie Connellan was from the Northern Territory, a cattle man, one of the original aircraft people and had owned and developed Connair Airways in the centre, quite an interesting character and the PM loved his company. So if Eddie was in town, he’d always stay at the Windsor and if he was there he was invited to dinner as well. But I can’t think of anyone else that was in that sort of category. That was indicative of the man in terms of treating the staff. I remember — and Dame Pattie was just a darling as well. It was all just pleasant family chit-chat sort of stuff over dinner, generally.

I remember once I was, for some reason or other, I was on my own with him and Dame Pattie. I don’t know what had happened to the girls, they must have been doing something else. He invited me around and he’d mixed up the six martinis for the three of us, but Dame Pattie wasn’t coming to the party, she wasn’t ‘playing speaks’. So, rather than waste them, we had three martinis instead of two and the PMs martinis were fairly strong. I wasn’t much of a drinker. I remember following the PM and Dame Pattie down into the dining room. I felt as if my knees were coming up to my chin as I was high stepping into the dining room.

But generally on those occasions on the Saturday, we might have a function on the Saturday. On the Saturday night he might go to catch up with some of his family, his son Ken and the family in Melbourne. If that happened, if there was no official function on I would just duck down the road and see if I could get a seat at the Her Majesty’s Theatre, that is one of the few places where I’ve seen live theatre. But you used to get some good shows there. I often got most Saturday nights off and only wanting one seat it was fairly often easy for them to fit me in, as I got to be known there.

I guess should mention to some of the more enjoyable times where when we went to Sydney and stayed at Kirribilli House. Because there it was, again, it was just family, all the meals were breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever we were all just staff in with the PM and Dame Pattie which was always very pleasant. Knowing where Kirribilli is situated on the Harbour it was great. I had a particular interest in Kirribilli because at one stage when it was just being renovated as a government guest house, sort of place, or PMs residence, or government guest house. Ken Hurdy for the department, Prime Minister’s Department was given the job to get it renovated. I remember there was a lot of work done on designing wall paper that depicted some Australian history and all that sort of thing. Selecting books for the library and whatever, and selecting someone to be cook-caretaker, like Tom and, what was his wife’s name, Tom Ferrie and his wife, Mary? Anyway they were the cook-caretakers, and it was when the restoration had been finished. The first people in, Sir Allen Brown and I were the first people to live in, and we had to test the plumbing upstairs and downstairs, and see how many coat hangers there were, see if they were all adequate in the different rooms. So Kirribilli meant something to me, it still does.

[End of part 5]


Interview with Frank Jennings 6  

F Jennings: Again on these occasions, well political campaigns, of course, they were different. We’d still have our scotch and soda after a day of politicking and campaigning, and we’d talk a bit of politics then. How things had gone during the day, or how I saw things. It was always interesting to sit at the back of the hall. In those days Menzies would, most of the addresses would be in Town Halls and things like that. He was a master of using the hecklers. He would encourage hecklers to give him something to bounce off. Instead of my sitting down the front with say, Dame Pattie or other Liberal people I would wander around the back of the hall so I could get a better view of what was happening. Where the hecklers were coming from and then later seeing how they were using spotlight torches to signal to each other, when to heckle and things. So I had something to talk about over the scotch and soda when we got back to base.

B York: What was the issue back then, that would have aroused such intensity at public meetings, the Town Hall meetings?

F Jennings: Aid to church schools was one. You’re moving into the Vietnam War issue, things like aid to State schools was a big one at times. Of course education was often one of the issues that was raised in an election campaign. On the campaigning the technique, Menzies basic technique was to use three issues over a week, or whatever the campaign. He might have say Foreign Affairs and Defence and education and he’d talk about two of them one day. Then he’d talk about another two the next day, and then he’d switch them around and talk about the other three, just move them around a bit. But talk on three or four issues during the campaign rather than a new issue every day.

Which is brought on today, where the media aren’t satisfied to get into any…not that you had to put too much detail, it was putting forward your principles for pushing an idea forward into the future. Not having to detail every dollar that was going to be spent or how many people would be affected, so that has changed very dramatically since those days. Largely because of the media, I think.

B York: Yes, did Menzies strike you as somebody who really believed in what he espoused politically, like say with the State Aid issue?

F Jennings: Yes, I think, yes, very much so. I think he certainly gave that impression, it was all from the heart, or all thought out sort of stuff. The State Aid issue — of course there was a lot of politics in that because a lot of the Catholic churches, well the Catholics at that stage were being encouraged to vote Labor from the pulpit, well that was the feeling. There was also — so apart from the political issue and trying to get some of that Catholic vote there was also the issue of education because if the church schools closed down the public schools couldn’t cope. There was a lot of talk about the increasing cost of church schools and people getting a bit disgruntled that why should the public school kids, whose being paid from the tax payers fund whereas the church school kids got to be paid by their parents, their education. So there was a fair bit of fuss on that one. As I understand at the time, the way Menzies broke that great argument about taxpayers money should only go to State schools was to give both State and private schools money for libraries and for science blocks. I think that was the beginning of the breakdown of taxpayer money going to private schools.

B York: I ask the original question about sincerity because I thought you would be very well placed to know what he really felt because presumably, over a martini, or whatever he would express a personal view.

F Jennings: Well, they would come out, yes. I’ve got no doubt that he was sincere in the sort of policies he was projecting. And, of course, he was such — at that stage, at the last of his — what he’d been Prime Minister at the end — I think it was nineteen years that it was all up. He knew what he stood for, knew where he was going, and he was an authority in the party. I don’t think there was much opposition if he put forward ideas, apart from Jack McEwen at times, on the trade side. He had his own ideas there. No, I think he was a very sincere sort of person from my experience.

B York: Did he ever mention the Petrov Affair?

F Jennings: No, not really, yes, I was in the department at the time, no it never came up as a real issue at any stage.

B York: I asked you with Holt about his intellect. What would you say about Menzies at the intellectual level?

F Jennings: Well, I’ve seen reported that he’s probably one of the most widely read Prime Ministers that Australia has ever had. I would class him more in that intellectual capacity in terms of his reading and pulling threads together. I think he’d look probably more at the principles behind things than making an ad-hoc decision for political gain. I’m not saying that he ignored political gain but I think he’d want to see some principles behind what the government was doing. And this is where a lot of the difference is now, I think. In those days he could espouse some objective, or noble cause, or whatever at some general view of the future. Like the ACT, he was very keen to have a capital in the ACT and the Capital Development…

B York: National Capital Development Authority

F Jennings: National Capital Development Authority

B York: Commission

F Jennings: Commission, yes, Overall wasn’t it?

B York: That’s right, Sir John Overall.

F Jennings: Sir John Overall, yes, he was very keen on that and pushed that pretty hard to get that development of Canberra going. It was one of those things that he felt was needed to — symbolic as much as anything, I think. The development of Canberra as the centre of government for the country. Having seen things overseas you realise that in Australia we’re way behind in terms of pushing our nationality and pushing a lot of this symbolism. For instance, Kirribilli House, people jumped up and down when they developed Kirribilli House as a Guest House for overseas visitors which would be used for the PM when he was in Sydney but also for overseas visitors. If you go to places like Seoul and Korea and places, Thailand, and other places and some of their Guest Houses that they put visitors in are just magic, really fancy class. But it does give these countries an opportunity to display some of their history and culture and stuff and spread the gospel, if you like. Whereas Australians, seemed to have condemned that in terms of unnecessary expenditure in restoring an old building in Sydney on the prime site.

B York: Now, during your time with Menzies, it was Calwell was still Opposition Leader.

F Jennings: He was.

B York: And then replaced in ’67 I think by Whitlam.

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: What were the dealings and the relationship like between the Opposition and the Prime Minister’s Office?

F Jennings: I thought they were very good. I mean if the PM was to make a speech we’d always make sure that Calwell’s Office had it an hour before hand. It was all pretty cooperative, except on one occasion, I remember, there was a statement the PM was to make at eight o’clock and at six or quarter past six, or something, I delivered a copy around to Calwell’s office. I forget what the subject was now, but it was something of current interest because the next morning I got up and I found the front page of the Canberra Times, a great headline, Menzies ignored Calwell. There was a fuss about not being given advance notice of this statement that the PM was to make. I think parliament was to meet at ten thirty that morning and so I had to brush everything aside and quickly draft out a timetable as to when I took things around to Calwell’s office and so on, jot this down in dot points so that the PM would have it before Question Time. And sure enough the first question Calwell accusing the PM of ignoring him and not keeping him in the picture and, of course, Menzies said, well at six fifteen this happened and at six thirty. This was part of the job that you never knew what was going to happen the next day and you had to just work ad-hoc actually and push everything else aside until you got the urgent stuff done. But, apart from that instance, I can’t think of another where there wasn’t cooperation on both sides. There was a lot of sympathy when Calwell had that bloke have a go at him with a shot gun.

B York: Yes.

F Jennings: I don’t recall any other occasions, apart from that one, where there was any conflict between the two. And certainly my association with Whitlam’s office was much the same, always cooperative with whoever was there. John Menadue or Peter Cullen his research bloke, I had a lot of time with Peter. Quite surprising I was invited to his fiftieth birthday party, which was a surprise party, where there were lots of Labor people there included a couple of Labor Ministers and so on down the track. So those sort of relationships worked. I think I could truthfully say that I had more beers with Labor Party staffers than I did with Liberal staffers.

B York: Did you meet Calwell at all?

F Jennings: Yes, not very often. I didn’t have much personal contact with Calwell, but certainly met most of those parliamentarians around at the time.

B York: Did you pick up an impression of how Menzies regarded Calwell?

F Jennings: I suppose I could only say, I think he — the attitude was friendly but I don’t know how he saw him — he didn’t see him as a strong political opponent, I don’t think. Certainly didn’t see him as an intellectual opponent. But I don’t think there was any arrogance in that, sort of, feeling at all. I think that might have been about the assessment. I think he saw the conflicts within the Labor Party, you know, the likes of Calwell, the old timer with the young bull, Whitlam coming up who was the intellectual academic type as being something. It was a conflict within the Labor Party that wouldn’t lead to a lot of unity.

One thing that I do recall about Menzies too which is not relevant to what you’re saying but he did encourage some of the up and coming backbenchers to do overseas trips, parliamentary trips and two that he did select I remember was with him, was Malcolm Fraser, who went to America and did some work on extension in Primary Industry extension work. And Don Chipp who he picked out too, as potential Ministerial material. I’m not sure what Don Chipp studied overseas but the ideas was that they go overseas and the come back and report to the PM. So they were two that he picked as backbenchers and they went far in the political field. So he had some nous in terms of selecting people showing talent in particular areas.

B York: Of course we always read about young Harold, as it is commonly put, did you ever hear him use that term? Do you think that was a reflection of how he saw Holt?

F Jennings: Oh he used to call him young Harold, I think, yes. I think he saw him as a very competent Treasurer, a very competent Minister, because it was…he must have picked him out early too. Because I think it was Menzies who had Holt pulled out of the army to become a Minister when that plane crash out of Canberra killed three or four Ministers, three Ministers and a couple of top Military personnel. So I think it was Menzies had him picked out then and had him withdrawn from the army to become a Minister.

B York: You know another common caricature of Menzies relates to him being almost more British than Australian.

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: Being with the Queen, saying how much he loved her in that poem. Do you have any comment on that, on your dealings with Menzies?

F Jennings: Only that I would say that it was a genuine feeling, he was genuinely interested in the Royal Family and genuinely wanted that contact with Britain. Yes, British to the bootstraps that doesn’t surprise me at all. I don’t think that he ever minded that sort of tag. I know these things are often used to ridicule but I don’t think it ever bothered him, at all, and he certainly loved going to Britain. I never went with him at any stage. Actually, I didn’t travel overseas at all with Menzies. But, no I don’t think he’d have any qualms about that association. I think it was genuine. I think it even flowed through later when he was instrumental in getting the Churchill Fellowship up and going. A lot of that was done from this office. A lot of young Australians and middle aged Australians have benefitted from those scholarships in various walks of life since then. No, I think he had a great admiration for the Churchill and for the Royal Family and for Britain, in toto.

B York: Have you read many of the biographies?

F Jennings: Not really I’ve got quite a few of them that I’ve been collecting in recent years but I haven’t completely read any of them actually.

B York: Have you been involved with any of the authors, to help them with information or with your recollection?

F Jennings: No, I’ve heard from nobody who’s done any writing. They may have gone to Hazel Craig who’s had a longer and more personal association than I’ve had. No, I’ve heard from no one in that area. I could say to you that in my job, I treated it — I didn’t get involved in the personal life as much as some other private secretaries did, and do. For instance, I think I’ve only eaten at the Lodge probably twice. Other staffers would get out there every second week if they had a chance but I tried to separate, well apart from the fact that I had young kids of my own and I needed a bit of family time. I felt that Prime Minister’s need their family time and their break time as well. I didn’t feel that I should be imposing on their private time, as I put it, as much as Prime Ministers can have private time. But I thought they should have as much break and private time as they could get and that was why I deliberately didn’t get too much involved in going to the Lodge. Although when I had young fellas getting to the Boy Scout stage Dame Pattie invited me out there to collect bottles from time to time for the Boy Scouts to sell. There was always, ‘Oh go and see the gardener and get some asparagus’ and stuff. It was always that sort of friendly relationship when it happened but, again I just didn’t like interrupting too much in that area.

B York: In 1965-66 what was the condition of your family?

F Jennings: The condition of my family in ’65-66. I married in ’53 and by then I would have had four kids, two boys and two girls at that stage. I would think, yes, and we were living in O’Connor, Boobialla Street, O’Connor. Part of that time I was — a bit earlier, before I started at Parliament House I was working on a milk run while I studied part-time at the Canberra University College. Oh no, that would have been in the ‘50s. Yes, I did a Commerce Degree at the Canberra University College, part-time, which took me six years part-time and I ran a milk run and I worked overtime.

B York: A milk run, where was that?

F Jennings: Oh, you’d cover three or four suburbs here in Canberra.

B York: O’Connor and the inner north?

F Jennings: Yes, in that inner north bit. You’d have to pick up the milk. You always had to have your milk back by eight o’clock. It had to be delivered before then. So I’d start about three in the morning and pick up the milk from the factory and back and deliver any left overs back before eight o’clock. Get back home, get dressed and get to work by half past eight. I used to grow enough vegetables for the family. At one stage I was even growing seedlings to sell. I don’t think too many young fellas do that today.

B York: No, that was your farm background.

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: How did you deliver the milk? Was it a truck that you had?

F Jennings: A truck, milk delivered in bottles. We had baskets that would carry about ten or twelve bottles each and we’d just run from place to place, shop to shop, house to house. Saturday morning you’d go around and collect the bills. Time was full.

B York: Now Frank, I’m looking at the time, talking of time. We’ve gone for about two hours. You’ve done really well. I hope you’ve enjoyed the session.

F Jennings: I have, yes.

B York: I think, if you don’t mind, I’d like to continue with Menzies next time, talking about Menzies and his retirement before moving onto Holt.

F Jennings: Right.

B York: So, but for today let’s end this session now and we can meet tomorrow? Is that still okay?

F Jennings: That’s fine Barry, yes.

B York: Okay.

F Jennings: Okay, thanks for that.

[End of part 6]


Interview with Frank Jennings 7  

B York: Today is the 30th of October 2007. I am continuing the interview with Frank Jennings. Frank, we were talking about Menzies and there’s a couple more questions I’d like to ask about your time with Menzies. For instance, I’m wondering about his attitude to conscription for the Vietnam War. Now, you know, we know his political view on that but I’m wondering whether, not so much the Vietnam War itself, but the fact of conscription for overseas service.

F Jennings: Yes, the Ballot System.

B York: Yes, that ballot that they had, whether informally Menzies had ever indicated an attitude to you?

F Jennings: Not really, although being the government position I’d say he accepted that they didn’t want to conscript everybody of a particular age and they felt that the Ballot System would be as fair as any in determining who should be pulled into the services. I know conscription’s got a very bad reputation, as it should have, in Australia’s history. But I think the Ballot System was what the government would have thought was as fair a means as they could think of to get the numbers of troops they reckon were necessary.

B York: Did he ever talk about the war itself to you?

F Jennings: No, not that I can recall. He probably did on what was happening on a day to day basis, just in terms of election campaign and the need to strengthen defence. I think we were looking at F-111s at that stage for the RAAF which were on the drawing board. There was all — occasionally this sort of conversation about the need to be prepared, but fairly general conversations. We never had any really hard policy discussions on those sort of things.

B York: This was also a time where the political movement developed in opposition to the war, in opposition to conscription, this leads me to think about security at Parliament House. What was the security arrangements like, especially for the Prime Minister?

F Jennings: The Prime Minister did have strong views about not being seen to have police or protective services all around him. His attitude there was, look how many American Presidents have been killed with all the Secret Service agents they have around. An American President doesn’t move without a dozen or twenty security people hanging around him, and around his car. But Menzies felt that was only attracting attention and giving a challenge to the would-be assassins. A couple of times he made this sort of comparison with American Presidents lost and Australia had lost none. He didn’t want any security about at all. But there was a — during his time the, I don’t know what branch it was, I guess it was Federal Police did put an officer here, at Sergeant level here. I forget his name now, but the chap I’m thinking of had been in Hong Kong. He’d worked in Hong Kong and he had some fancy tales to tell. He used to hang around in the office outside where Al Stafford and Chig sat, over near the telephone exchange and just see that the coast was clear for the Prime Minister as he was coming and going. I think this might have happened after an incident that occurred when, at the time Menzies used to not come into Parliament through the front door, he would park on the side of Parliament House and get out of his car there and walk through one of the ground floor offices which was Athol Townley’s office, the Minister for Defence.

One day as he was going out for lunch on that track a fairly large man just popped out from behind the holly trees that are there and started asking questions about why he couldn’t get a job. He said, ‘Go up and see Frank’. So he directed him up to me and I had a talk to him and directed him to Social Security or the employment people at the time. I thought that was the end of it. He was agitated sort of person, Central European, and I went on holidays a few weeks later and I was surprised to see that this same person. I think it was a Yugoslav had poured petrol on himself and set himself alight in Manuka which made us very concerned then about the type of person that had easy access to the Prime Minister. He might have not been a person just interested in getting a job. He could have been a person out to get the PM and there would be nothing there to stop him. So I think it may have been after this incident that there was a little bit of security, but I’d say minimal, one officer. And, I’ve seen reports later, people couldn’t understand why Harold Holt didn’t have security people all around him but maybe that’s for comment later on.

B York: Okay, with Menzies, you said that he would come in from the side. We’re on the East side aren’t we, here in the Deputy Speaker’s Room.

F Jennings: I think that is right, yes.

B York: So he’d enter from the East side here, go up through Athol Townley’s room. Was that a regular routine, was he a man of routine?

F Jennings: Yes, that was regular. If anyone around the House knew that was his routine. There was no attempt to hide that on security grounds.

B York: And he would be driven here?

F Jennings: Driven here, yes. Ray Coppin I think was his driver at the time. I think Ray was the driver at that stage.

B York: I’ve heard of Ray. We’re hoping to record him.

F Jennings: Yes, I think Ray was the driver at that stage. He would drop him off there and then I would — when the PM was ready go for lunch I would just check out the window to make sure that Ray was in position before the PM left his office and then back through Townley’s office to his car.

B York: And when Menzies would come up to the office what would happen? Would he enter his room via the work area?

F Jennings: He’d come through where there was a box there for the House attendants, just outside the PM’s office and then just as you walk into the suite, the Prime Minister’s suite, you’ve got the little area where Alf Stafford and Chigee were, the attendants, the Cabinet attendants, the PM and Cabinet attendants, on the left hand side. He would turn to the right and there was a door straight into his office. The passage way to the right led to his office on the left hand side and the Anteroom and the Cabinet Office on the right hand side.

B York: When he would enter would he greet everybody?

F Jennings: Oh yes, good morning, that was about it. Good morning Alf, Chig, Frank; Frank or ‘laddie’. Oh yes, we were always greeted pleasantly in the mornings.

B York: In your position, were you asked by third parties to approach the Prime Minister with grievances, or requests?

F Jennings: Well, yes, at that stage people would often just come into Kings Hall and go to the Attendant Box and so on to see the Prime Minister. The attendants were told not to reject anybody, give me a ring. I wouldn’t refuse to see anybody. I would go down — I would tell Alf that I’m out and I would tell the girls down here not to put any phone calls through and I would go to Kings Hall and see who it was and what their request was. Of course, if they just arrived at the Parliament House and they wanted to see the PM, that was never on. Often they were people who were looking — wanting employment or wanting financial assistance or something or other. Often they were a bit mentally disturbed and my practice was to sit — there are these little triangular benches in the corner of Kings Hall, up against the columns. I would indicate to the attendants that I would be sitting over in that corner, would you just keep an eye on me, as a bit of protection for me, I thought with some of these people. Generally, I found you could pacify them, or convince them that they should go elsewhere.

I remember one of the more bizarre cases was a middle aged woman who said that she wanted to see the PM because her Arab boyfriend had left and gone by ship back to Egypt. She’d heard that HMAS Anzac, I think, a destroyer was in the Indian Ocean and would the PM get the destroyer, divert the destroyer to a passenger ship, pick up a man and bring him back to Australia where he belonged. It took me a little while but I had to convince her that Anzac was on a particular mission, on a timetable and couldn’t be diverted. Perhaps she should wait until the man gets to Egypt and then try to contact him. But, that was one of the more bizarre cases.

B York: Would you speak to her in Kings Hall or invite her to the office?

F Jennings: Yes, never to the office, that was too close to the PM’s room. My office was just outside the PM’s room, no, never in the office. I would only speak to these people in Kings Hall. I was always grateful that the attendants were there and quite willing to keep an eye on things, just in case they did erupt. A few of them were, a little bit desperate about work, and lack of cash and that sort of thing. I was never quite sure at what sort of reaction I would get. But most of them were passive and with a bit of explanation realised that they couldn’t just get in and see the PM.

B York: Did the attendants ever have to become involved?

F Jennings: No, never, but for my comfort it was good to know that they were there.

B York: Were you ever given any basic training, yourself, in how to defend yourself in a situation like that?

F Jennings: Not as such, personally, I’ve done a bit of boxing and judo and stuff, in earlier years, but no basic training in that area.

B York: Can we keep talking about Menzies, up to his retirement, I don’t want to rush ahead. I mean if there is anything important prior to the retirement that you wanted to talk about now is an opportunity.

F Jennings: I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that really comes to mind. I think we’ve pointed out how different the situation was in terms of staffing the Prime Minister’s office then, as against now. That it was really an administrative, paper shuffling, prioritising job and there was nothing like the Senior Private Secretary making decisions, or bouncing other Ministers or other people’s staff, or getting involved in the politics. It was really a facilitating role and some of the people in my position played it more personally by getting involved with the PM’s private life at home and so on which I tried to avoid for my own purposes and for their purpose. No, I can’t think of anything specifically that would want to say that we haven’t covered in relation to the PM.

B York: Because it’s interesting that, to me, as you’ve told me previously that you were aware that Menzies was going to retire quite some time before…

F Jennings: Two and a half years beforehand, Allen Brown knew that he was, the PM had set a date for retirement. There was no reason to believe that that date wouldn’t be met. It wasn’t known publically, it wasn’t pushed publically but when it was coming up in January ’66 my custom was — because the parliamentary area was slack over the Christmas break. It was a time for some of to take our Christmas holidays, as I had three or four young kids at the time, it was generally seen that I could take holiday break in the school holidays. While the others that didn’t have kids would stay on deck over that period and take their holidays at another time. When I knew that, say in December ’65, and I knew that over that holiday period Menzies was going to retire, I said, ‘Well, do you want me to, put my holidays aside, or would you like me to come back early for your retirement time’. ‘No, no laddie, no you take the kids on holidays, we’ll handle that. We’ll look after that, that’s not a problem’. So, you know, he was quite conscious of the family situations and there was no panic, no need to have everyone on deck. I think at the time it was probably a pretty simple sort of exercise with a press conference and no great fuss and bother. But then the media wasn’t as active as it is today. Well, maybe I should give some indication of his reaction to the media at the time.

B York: Please.

F Jennings: He didn’t hold many press conferences. When he did they were only held, not on a weekly basis, or a regular basis for journalists to shoot questions at him. They were only held when he had something he wanted to say, and wanted to tell the nation. Whether it be in the economic, international, or defence field or whatever. So it would only be when there was a major sort of issue that he wanted to get into the public arena. The press gallery Journalists would come down into his office, which is larger than it is now, the office, and stand around while he sat. They would stand in front of his desk. At the end it would have been Tony Eggleton the Press Secretary would have been by the PMs side and I would be there in case there was a need to grab any documents to help him answer any of the questions. We would be in the background, Tony and I, but he would — particularly people like, Ian Fitchett is one that comes to mind that used to have a bit of fun, or the PM would have a bit of fun with him at times. But he wasn’t keen on the media at all and certainly not keen on television which was, well, that had only come in ’56 but he was not keen to go on television. Certainly not in any interview situation only, I think, towards the end he went on a few occasions and delivered a grandfatherly address to the nation, type of thing. He didn’t like technology. He didn’t like mics [microphones] and things like that. He didn’t particularly like using the telephone and certainly when they put scramblers in on the — like security scramblers on the phone system, he wasn’t too keen on that. Having to push another button, or switch another switch, if he wanted to talk some classified conversation with one of his Senior Officers or someone from Foreign Affairs or something like that. So, technology was something he didn’t appreciate at all.

The media thing was — he was in control and he was going to stay in control and he wasn’t going to be dictated to by the Press Gallery into having regular sessions where they just quizzed him on policy. Once we get onto Harold Holt’s time as Prime Minister I can perhaps explain some of the differences there that came in pretty quickly.

B York: One other question about Menzies retirement, why do you think he retired?

F Jennings: I think he felt that he’d had enough and it was time for some private live. He was seventy-one and he’d had, what, nineteen years as Prime Minister. In a couple of sessions and I think he thought here’s time for a spell. He’d get a bit more time with family. I’m not aware of any health issues that would have brought that sort of feeling on but, no I think, he just felt that he’d had enough. I don’t think it was anything more than that. I think he felt that probably the country was running well at that stage, in that post-war period, unemployment levels — if you got unemployment at one per cent you were almost out of government. Half a per cent were unemployable and if you couldn’t employ the other half per cent you were not doing the right thing. There was plenty of things in post-war to employ people on. And certainly, economics was not his pet subject. He was much happier more in the foreign affairs, international, and defence areas and things like that, in social areas than he was in economics.

B York: After Menzies retired did you see him again?

F Jennings: No, I didn’t, he went to Melbourne and Hazel Craig went to Melbourne as his Secretary, but no, I didn’t — a few Christmas cards and things like that for a while, apart from that, no I didn’t see him in Melbourne at all.

B York: Can we move on to Harold Holt now because you remained Senior Private Secretary to Holt.

F Jennings: Right. When Harold Holt became Prime Minister he wanted to…my supposed contract, we didn’t have a contract, but the commission I was given was to stay until Menzies retired and then when that had happened I had been there for two and a half years. I thought it was time for me to go back to the department and get back into the swing of the Public Service and not miss out on your promotional opportunities within the Public Service. But when Harold Holt wanted to bring with him his — the Senior Private Secretary he had as Treasurer, who was Jim Short, a Treasury Officer, Jack Bunting who was now Head of Prime Minister’s Department thought this wasn’t a good idea because, well the grunts and groans that come from the Private Secretaries back to the department were often pretty valuable. And if the PMs grunts and groans were going to go to Treasury rather than Prime Minister’s Department, there was this rivalry between the two departments. I think Jack felt that he should try to persuade — the only way he could persuade Holt not to bring Jim Short was to convince him that I should stay on because Holt knew me from a previous relationship when I was Parliamentary Liaison Officer and we got on well together. He accepted my capacity to handle the parliamentary stuff and so on. So there was — Jack Bunting convinced Holt to keep me on, on the grounds that I would have direct access to the senior offices in his new department in Prime Minister’s Department. If he wanted anything particular, to follow-up on any paperwork that he had, I was in the position to say ‘Hey Jack, PM wants this’ which is a situation you wouldn’t necessarily have from someone whose previous contacts had been with Treasury. So I think this was the basic argument that Jack Bunting used to convince Holt to keep me on.

When he moved, when Holt moved into the office, he called me in and we had about a two hour chat. He said, things are going to be different, Frank, things are going to be different here. I am not Menzies I’ll do things my way and they’ll be different. That’s okay, that’s all understandable, each new leader wants to swing his clean broom and do things his way, to make his own name. So that was fine but a lot of the changes that were made were in relation to the media. I mean Holt was interested in using the media more, promoting himself through the media more and particularly as he had Tony Eggleton, he kept Tony Eggleton on as Press Secretary. Tony was quite happy to cooperate with the PM in changing the old fuddy-duddy diplomatic way of Allen Browns and Buntings and people like that, into something more vibrant, perhaps.

There was to be regular Press Conferences where the press could ask the PM questions a broad range of issues which certainly raised the PM’s image and publicity that he got in the media because the press were able to quote directly from the PM. But to me, as one of the old time, broad up with some of these old fuddy-duddies in the Prime Minister’s Department, the diplomatic type people, it didn’t lead to good administration.

I remember one particular case that illustrates the situation. There was a little girl, a little Fijian girl, Nancy Prasad the name sticks with me. There had been a number—I’m not too sure about her parents. I think one of her parents was Fijian and the other one Australian. There was an immigration issue and she was supposed to be deported back to Fiji. There had been questions to the Minister for Immigration and it got to the stage, once these conferences came to the PM, the PM was asked about Nancy Prasad and the immigration issues involved. From that point on, once the PM made a statement about it, he didn’t say, oh that’s a matter for my Minister for Immigration, talk to him, he took the issue up and made a comment. From then on all the correspondence to the government on Nancy Prasad came to the PM rather than the Minister for Immigration. Questions in the House went to the PM rather than the Minister and Hold didn’t push these aside, and push them back to his Minister. Now that was one case where it added to the administrative load on the Prime Minister, completely unnecessarily. The way I saw it, it was undermining the authority of his Ministers. Anyhow, that was one case that I think shows some of the changes that were pretty immediate when Holt came to power.

In relation to the media, he, Tony Eggleton, was a different type of Press Secretary in that he didn’t do his work around at the non-members bar. He sat in his office. He was a non-drinker and if the media wanted to ask questions they came to him. He would then go to the PM and provide them with the answers. This was not the style that you perceive as a Press Secretary in those days but it was an effective way of dealing with the media. They soon got used to it. It got to a stage where even simple little questions were asked by the media and they would — Tony would chew up the PM’s time in getting answers.

I remember one — the PM had the flue one day and he was staying at the Lodge. Tony was away for one reason or another and Mary Newport his Secretary and Assistant was on duty. Someone asked her a question about, what was the colour of the t-shirt that the PM was wearing when Ivor Hele or someone painted him on the beach at Portsea. And Mary came around to my office and said ‘I’ve got to ring the Lodge. I’ve got to talk to the PM to get an answer to this press question’. I said, ‘What’s the question?’ and she told me. I said ‘Don’t you dare ring the Lodge, it’s not on’ but this adds colour to the story, the press need it. And this was what the PM wants, the PM wants to get all these little colour stories in, it’s good for him. I said ‘The PM is sick. If he’s too sick to come to the office, he is too sick to talk about the colour of the t-shirt’ she wasn’t happy about that. But I stuck to that, but that just illustrates the sort of questioning and the sort of assistance that the media were getting under Holt which they never would have got under Menzies.

So there were big changes there and I found that when Holt became Prime Minister there were about three thousand letters came in congratulating him on his appointment. They came from everywhere, Kings and Queens and Presidents, down to Joe Blow on the street. I sorted these letters out into four or five categories. I drew up — I drafted a response to each category.

B York: Frank, we did mention this yesterday.

F Jennings: We did this one? I didn’t know whether I mentioned this in the recording.

B York: It was quite indicative wasn’t it that he wanted to reply to each one.

F Jennings: Personally, fine, well let’s cut that one. But it did mean that from my point of view that I couldn’t — I found it more difficult preparing responses for Holt, than I did with Menzies, in terms of my work. So that indicates some of the changes in the styles of the two Prime Ministers.

B York: You’ve mentioned that you had about two hours together in that first meeting. What were other changes? Where there other changes you can talk about apart from the media, though that’s very important obviously, and it’s a lasting change, wasn’t it.

F Jennings: Yes, well I think it’s in the terms of how you respond to correspondence and stuff. How he wanted to be seen. He wanted to be seen as being different so that — any responses were not to be, sort of, in Menzies style. I just can’t recall other specifics on that two hour session but it was mainly drumming into me that things are different now. It’s a different regime, don’t assume the past carries on.

B York: What was his tone like, when he was saying all this?

F Jennings: Oh, friendly, oh yes. There was no aggro, it was just letting me know that this is the way that he wanted to office to be run.

B York: And he was, I mean, symbolically he was very different to Menzies, wasn’t he, well that was the impression.

F Jennings: Yes, he certainly was, he certainly liked to be liked and this had to come through in the correspondence as well. I remember — I made one particular blunder in relation to handling of correspondence with Holt that I recall. He used to take his holidays up Bingil Bay. He had a property up in North Queensland and he was very friendly with the local people up there. I recall there was a letter from one of the people from up there, suggesting they were going to subpoena the Prime Minister on a particular issue, a land issues, and I just tossed that aside. Subpoenaing Prime Ministers’ on a land issue, push that aside…

[End of part 7]


Interview with Frank Jennings 8  

F Jennings: So, only to find that a few weeks later — I didn’t normally handle correspondence like that, but I treated that like a letter that didn’t need a response to. Fortunately I kept it and didn’t put it in the waste paper bin because a couple of weeks later I had a call from the Attorney General’s Department saying ‘Have you seen anything about a subpoena to the PM for a court case’ and I said ‘Oh yeah, why?’. ‘Oh well we need to see it by tomorrow’. So word had got round the other way to the Attorney General’s Department that the PM had been subpoenaed and that this was an issue. They had to take some action to un-subpoena him, or whatever the term is. So that was one of the real blunders that I made at that time. But, it was one where we survived, and got around that one.

B York: And he was okay about it was he, Holt?

F Jennings: Oh he was okay about it, yes.

B York: Was he even tempered?

F Jennings: Yes, I don’t recall a time when he was furious, well not with the staff anyway. No, found him very even tempered. It was a bit hard handling the paperwork because he, well because of the extra time he took, I suppose, in deciding things and wanting things changed and so on. Perhaps you could understand from a new Prime Minister but it didn’t change the hours that I put into the work but it changed the nature of it. There had to be more continually going through papers to make sure that the urgent stuff had been handled.

B York: Yes, of course with Harold Holt, one thing — the meeting with the American President, Johnson. Johnson came here, of course, and I think Holt went to America too didn’t he?

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: And made the statement that everyone remembers about ‘All the way with LBJ’.

F Jennings: ‘All the way with LBJ’ I would have thought that was a great throw-away line. To me it didn’t indicate any major change in policy but it’s been portrayed that way, anything you say goes. I don’t think that was necessarily the case. I think people underestimate the influence that Australian Prime Ministers have with their relationship with — even senior people like Presidents of the United States. I know with both Menzies and Holt, their letters to the Presidents on different issues were taken seriously and often had some influence. Most of them wouldn’t be made public but people seem to underestimate the value of personal contact with Heads of Government and therefore the importance of these overseas visits that they make.

Holt in particular. I went on a number of visits with Holt. In ’66, his first visit overseas was to Asia, to our troops in Asia for Anzac, well we were in Vietnam for Anzac Day but on the way, to and from, we visited Australian troops in Borneo, Singapore, Malaya, Thailand, I think. Meeting with the Heads of these Governments and so on he was a very affable person, very friendly, very acceptable, and accepted in that … with these other Heads of Government and Senior Ministers and so on. A lot of that rubbed off, in terms of…not only in terms of our foreign policy and defence policies but also in terms of our trade policies. I know in some of those cases where you had a reciprocal dinner at our embassy you’d be pushing Australian wines for instance and things like that and some Australian products. It was all very valuable over all, this being friendly and affable with Heads of Government, Royalty, and Senior Government Ministers. I don’t think the Australian people appreciate how valuable all this is to the country in the long term.

B York: Where else did you travel with him?

F Jennings: The next trip was also to Asia. The first trip we didn’t take Dame Zara or any female staff. As a matter of fact there was a telegram, a cable that came in indicating that the Vietcong may see him as a particular good target in Vietnam. I think there was one occasion I didn’t even show that to the PM. I thought he and Dame Zara had enough on their plate. I just made sure that the Head of the Department was aware of it. I don’t think Jack Bunting went with us on that trip. I think it was Sir Peter Lawler who was Deputy Secretary, went on that trip. There would have been a Deputy Secretary of the Department, Prime Minister’s Department. I think Sir John Wilton who was Chief of the Defence Force. There would have been a Senior Office from Foreign Affairs, maybe Bob Furlonger and a Senior Officer from Defence, Clugston rings a bell. These people probably came on one of the trips. That was the first one which was just to the troops.

I remember one incident there. I’ve read somewhere that one of his best speeches was made at Ventoux when he didn’t have his speech notes with him and he just spoke off the cuff. The reason he didn’t have his speech notes was that I missed the plane. The Guest House where we were staying, we all hopped into our cars. I’d forgotten something, some paper or something, I’d forgotten and so I raced back into the room to grab this and by the time I got back to the car the convoy had moved off. The motorcycle riders had moved in behind them. My driver tried to sit in behind the motorcycle riders but then he got chopped off and we couldn’t get into the convoy. So as we got nearer to the airport and he got further behind the cycle riders, the cycle riders kept him out. I missed the plane. The plane was taking off as I got to the airport. I was telling this driver, who couldn’t speak a word of English. My French was schoolboy French from way, way back and all I could think of was ‘Vite! Vite!’ But then I found that, as we tried to turn around and go back to the Guest House we had rifles, troops with rifles pointing at me, and so I was behind the seat at one stage. I thought there was going to be some fun. I’ve read subsequently, it may be in Tom Frame’s book that this was one of the best speeches he made when he didn’t have the notes that I had.

Another, perhaps amusing incident in that sort of area, on that trip. I used to carry a bag of little gifts, brushes, clothes brushes, hair brushes, cuff-links, and things like that for drivers and people that the PM was associated with, that did a little bit. A little Australian government symbol on it. Tony Eggleton reckons I was the one that tried to pacify the natives with my baubles and beads.

The second trip was also to Asia but this time was a good will visit which must have been later in ’66 or early ’67. It might have been early ’67 when Dame Zara came with us and Pat Delacy who was Holt’s Personal Secretary. That time we went to Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia, Korea, that was more a good will type visit. Again I found, I think in each of those, certainly the first one I found Saigon a bit frightening at times because you could — from the Caravelle Hotel where the Australian Embassy was, up on the top floor of the Caravelle Hotel you could see artillery fire and so on. When we flew around in helicopters we always had extra, there was always extra protection underneath in case the odd bullet hit the bottom of the aircraft. While we were there one of these cycle bombs, push bikes with explosive in the tubing blew up at a Police post just a block or two away. There was a Claymore mine explosion at the front of a hospital that the PM was to visit. So it was a bit scary. The other person in the group was Ray Whitrod who was Commissioner of Federal Police at the time. Ray was our Chief Security Officer. So we had two with us, Ray and Davis is a name that comes to mind as another one. I remember in the second — I don’t know if it was Laos, it must have been Laos, I think. The Hotel or Guest House, wherever we were staying was only a couple of metres from a Communist Training Camp and Ray was sitting up all night so I sat up with him. He carried a blue satchel that had his pea shooter in it. So he was allowed to carry a weapon but he was the only one. That was a bit hairy when you felt that — the Police Commissioner felt that he had to sit up all night to make sure things were peaceful and quiet. So I stayed up to make sure he stayed awake.

But those trips were entering — that second one, the good will visit, I remember getting on the — well as the trip went along they were long days. I had to brief the PM early each morning on the day’s activities and the names of the people that he would meet and so on, with markings on how to pronounce the names in many, many cases. We would start early in the morning and there’ve been times where I briefed him while he’s having a shower. That didn’t worry someone like Holt.

B York: I guess that is something you couldn’t have — Menzies wouldn’t have?

F Jennings: Oh, you wouldn’t have done that with Menzies, no, that’s a different character all together. So you’d be briefing while he’s having a shower in the morning and rabbiting on about things. You’d finish up at the end of the day. I’d have all these thank you letters, and things, for him to sign. I’d have to prepare and get the people at the embassy to type, during the day, while you’re running around doing all these other things. At the end of the day, he’d probably want to talk to the Ambassador or one of the other people from the — Ministers from the particular country that we were in. He’d be talking to them and then when they’ve gone I’ve then got to get him to sign these letters. So it would probably be one or two o’clock before I get to bed and then you are up again at half past five or six. So they’re not easy trips to go on, they’re not jaunts by any means.

On that particular trip there was a time when the Public Service Board here was doing a survey of officers over the Level Eight who were not paid overtime, officers in the Third Division who were not paid overtime. So they did this survey and it just happened to coincide with my ten days trip away. I did over a hundred hours overtime in ten days, when it included two weekends. It just indicates the workload. It’s not as if it’s just sitting around on duty, you are really doing stuff. I think that is often grossly underrated.

I remember when we got — the trip finished up in Seoul and then we caught the VIP plane. The VIP plane took us around Asia and then we had to fly back to Hong Kong where we picked up Qantas to come back home. When I got on the plane in Seoul I was really exhausted and as soon as the plane was shut, I ripped the tie off and fell back in the seat and as soon as we took off Dame Zara came up and said ‘Come on Frank, back here’ and she made the bed up and tucked me into bed. So Dame Zara, I tell my kids that Dame Zara has tucked me into bed.

B York: How did you find her generally?

F Jennings: Very friendly and affable, like Harold. When — one of the first things she did when Holt became PM was to change his office, change the drapes and things in his office. There were heavy, dark heavy drapes there, apart from keeping the place cool but there was a security aspect as well, with dark drapes, with heavy drapes you just couldn’t see who was in there. But she insisted on taking these down and put…they looked like hessian bags cut open, that sort of style. And took down things like, there was a world clock someone had given the PM, given to Menzies before, that showed the time everywhere in the world, the particular time. So that went.

She changed the décor all together and then when she’d done with the PMs office, she came out to me one day and she said ‘You’re next Frank, this office is too messy, you’ve got papers all over the floor and there’s papers all over your desk. We’ll build a series, behind you, we’ll build a series of cupboards and we can put all these papers in’. I said ‘No we can’t. I just can’t work that way’. I said ‘I’ve got about five trays across the front of my desk. I’ve got three on the floor behind me and I’ve got a filing cabinet there within reach. I can handle the telephone. I can grab the paper I want, that’s the way I want it, that’s the way I can work it. I can’t work it if I’ve got — on the phone and I’ve got to go over to that cupboard and pull papers out’. She wasn’t amused but I stuck to my guns on that one and she didn’t touch my office. But she did touch the Lodge and I think it’s fairly well recorded the renovations at the Lodge and so on. As a person, easy to get on with, not a problem, either of them that way. And having said that I know, when they were to come to doing a particular photograph for a Christmas card, they wanted something with a couple of pearl shells and so on and with both of them behind a desk and so on. I think that took about a hundred shots of this before they could decide which one they would use. Image was pretty important to this PM. I’ve got a copy of that photograph, signed, it’s signed something like, ‘To Frank, thank you for your capable service over many long and arduous hours’, something to that effect. Whereas the photograph I’ve got of Menzies when he retired is just signed, ‘for Frank’. But they’re good to have.

B York: Oh yes. Any other overseas trips you went on with Holt?

F Jennings: No, two with Holt, no, only the two to Asia with Holt. But I did — when you mentioned earlier Johnson coming here. I did travel around Australia with him on Air Force One.

B York: I was going to ask about that.

F Jennings: Yes, there was the PM and, I think there would have been Pat Delacy Tony Eggleton and myself with the PM and Dame Zara. So there was just the five of us. It was interesting to see the comparison with the President’s staff. I think he had about fifty-seven or something, on board. But the equipment they had. They could keep in touch with Washington constantly and cables running here there and everywhere and staff all over the place, they had staff for everything. It was pretty eye opening for me to see how the other half operated. But we managed pretty well with our three staff. Our three staff and our PM and Mrs PM. We were able to cope with it in our own way and there were no serious glitches at any stage. I recall on this one, when we arrived in Brisbane — when we were heading to Brisbane, at this time my mum was in hospital in Brisbane — hiatus hernia or something, operation she had. I said ‘I’ll see if I get a chance, when we come to Brisbane to see you’. I mentioned this to Holt and he said ‘You do it. Don’t worry about me. Tony and Pat will look after me. Go off and see your mum’. So as soon as the plane landed there was a car to pick me up on the tarmac and to race me through one of the back gates so I wouldn’t get in the way of the Presidents cavalcade, that sort of thing. I think we were only in town for about four hours or something. I raced off to the Mater Hospital and raced in to see mum and here’s mum sitting up there watching the television and a couple of nurses around watching the television, and ‘That’s my boy. My boy’s on that plane with the President and the Prime Minister, my boy’. So she got quite a kick and so did the hospital staff. I had a couple of hours with her there. It’s good that you can think that you can fit these little personal bits into these official programs. Providing you’ve got the right sort of person you’re working with, and both of those Prime Ministers’ were very thoughtful in terms of family.

B York: Very good.

F Jennings: I appreciated that.

B York: Did you meet Johnson?

F Jennings: Yes, I met Johnson on that occasion and then again — that’s another story, when I went to America with Gorton I met him again. I met Johnson, a big man, but again not aloof by any means. Just a friendly sort of rancher. I found that most of these — my experience has, sort of, shown me basically that the people that get to the top are generally able to handle people and they’re friendly. You’re major aggressive type people don’t get to the top. They might be 2ICs [second in command] or whatever but they rarely get to the top. I found this even in the Royal Visit here in ’54 when the Queen came out when I was at Hotel Canberra, where a lot of your top Church people and Military people and Ministers were, they were — I was Liaison Officer for the department on that Royal visit and some of the stories I heard about people that were — that had a lot of the 2ICs in other places. They had a horrible time trying to get them to do what was necessary but I found that the top people were very amenable to advice and fitting into programs and timetables. I think that indicates some of the capacity that gets them to the top.

B York: Did Holt ever indicate to you how he felt about the media and his opponents using the statement about ‘All the way with LBJ’?

F Jennings: No, he would have talked to Tony more than to me on those sort of things. He and Tony had a much closer relationship than I had. For instance, I never at any stage went to Melbourne or to Portsea with him on the weekend. Again, I treated that as personal, so long as there was someone there I could contact if there was an emergency situation, at this end. So Tony often went. I’m sure he had lots of more personal conversations with Tony.

B York: Also, I was wondering, given that you had worked with Holt previously. Did you see any change in him from the first time you worked with him to the period when he was Prime Minister?

F Jennings: I guess nothing real specific apart from the media type thing and the promotional, a bit. No I didn’t see any major change to his attitudes or to his approach to the parliament or whatever. I think he was probably the first one to change the system a bit, of just having administrators and Public Service paper handlers and prioritisers at his desk when he appointed Keith Sinclair as a speech writer — he was more than a speech writer. I’ve seen him written up as a speech writer but he was more than that. One of his roles was to brief editors and senior journalists on what the government was thinking, you know, Cabinet material and so on, on the policy issues, background briefing of senior journalists and editors. So there was that as well as the speech writing role which was new. When I left he also appointed, with the aid of Jack Bunting, Peter Bailey who was a Rhodes Scholar and a First Assistant Secretary in the Prime Ministers Department, with a lot of broad experience in various areas of the department. So he was a policy man, in situ, in the office. And Peter, I’m sure a lot of his work was changing some of the material that had come through from the department. Whereas there was never any way that I would be attempting to do any of that sort of work. I think that was the beginning of the change in the nature of staffing of the Prime Minister’s office which was, of course, pushed on dramatically under Whitlam and so on later on.

B York: Can we talk now about the tragic drowning of the Prime Minister. How were you informed of it? Do you recall the circumstances when you heard the news? How did it affect you and the office?

F Jennings: Well, I certainly do. I wasn’t in the office at that stage. In April ’67 I went back to the department and that was when Peter Bailey was appointed and Peter also brought a clerk with him Jim Starkey with him so they came into the office and I went back to the department as a Senior Advisor in the Parliamentary and Government Branch. So, I wasn’t here in the office, I wasn’t in the office when the drowning occurred but I do remember where I was. I was playing golf at Royal Canberra Golf Course and I finished and came in and someone said, ‘Your former boss has drowned’ and I said ‘Oh bullshit. You couldn’t drown him’. I said ‘He’s too good in the water to drown’. I said ‘I’ve talked to Ray’ is it — Ray and Valerie Taylor the underwater shark people, who were doing a film on Holt at one stage and they wanted to dub another swimmer for an underwater shot and they didn’t have to because they reckon he was quite strong enough to take the shot. So I — if the Taylors say, strong enough underwater I can’t see how he’d drown. I was just — I didn’t believe it for a start. I went over to the Canberra Club, which was another one of my haunts at the time, and they repeated it and then I started to see some of the TV footage and stuff and had to believe it then. It was a shock. I was in quite disbelief that he would drown. I just couldn’t see how that could happen because, I think as I mentioned earlier, he would often come back on a Monday morning, after a weekend at Portsea and say ‘Oh got a couple of beautiful crays on this side of the peninsula or that side of the peninsula, oh it was too windy on this side, so I went to the other beach’. He had several favourite spots, depending on the weather that he would go to for his spearfishing. He was very competent at it, obviously, but I’ve seen subsequently and reading the police report of his drowning that, although he was good underwater, he wasn’t so good on top of the water, as a swimmer. Which was a bit surprising, I would have thought it was generally the other way round.

B York: Anything else you’d like to say about your time with Holt as Prime Minister?

F Jennings: Not specifically, I don’t think. Well, certainly there wasn’t the occasion. You wouldn’t be having drinks with him and so on. I think the only time I ever ate or drank with him would have been on trips overseas and things like that. It wasn’t the same sort of relationship, well from my point of view, as I had with Menzies in that sort of capacity. But, no I found him, as I was saying, very friendly and easy to get on with but I think the work load was probably a bit more than he expected. I think this was often the case. I think you can go back to many occasions in Australia history, even fairly recent history where Second in Charge often see the boss and say, he can handle…he’s handling that easily, I could do that on my ears. But when you take the top job, it is much easier to be 2IC than it is to be boss boy. Because boss boy’s got to make the final decision and cop the rap and that’s not always an easy position to be in. Certainly not a position you’d generally find yourself in as 2IC.

B York: And 2IC is second in command?

F Jennings: Second in command, yes, as he was Deputy Leader of the Party.

B York: So, you were back in the department, you were working back in the Public Service, now at this stage. What happened from there?

F Jennings: Well, I suppose before I went there — I should just mention this — when I left Parliament House, because of my contacts and so on there was a group of people got together and threw a dinner for me. I think this is worth mentioning because it shows the — perhaps the friendly atmosphere that there was around the House at the time. As far as I know this was the first Ministerial staffer that they had thrown this sort of party for. There were two Ministers there, Billy Snedden and Peter Howson, representatives from the House staff, Jack Pettifer was there, Alan Cumming-Thom from the Senate staff, people I’d worked with in previous capacity, people from various Minister’s office, some from my own office. I know Jan Moore was there, Pat Wheatley from the Treasurer’s Office, it was Billy McMahon at that stage. I think Peter Kelly, who was McMahon’s Press Secretary. People from Whitlam’s office Peter Cullen, I had a good relationship with Peter Cullen who was Research Officer with Whitlam’s office, and June Walters who was Justin O’Burn’s Secretary, who was Labor Party Whip, I think at the time. Amongst my treasures is a telegram from Gough Whitlam sent to June Walters saying ‘On behalf of the Opposition, please extend to Frank Jennings our best wishes. We regret the temporary circumstances preventing our making full use of his fine qualities’, signed Gough Whitlam.

B York: What’s the date?

F Jennings: That’s the 20th April ’67, the temporary circumstances were that they were in Opposition rather than in Government, so felt that I could have worked in Whitlam’s office as well as I worked in Menzies or Holt’s office. Now I don’t think you can find that these days but in those days, it could. As a matter of fact in Holt’s time I kidnapped one of Whitlam’s staff, so to speak. Carol Summerhayes was a stenographer in his staff, or an Assistant Private Secretary and she was…

[End of part 8]


Interview with Frank Jennings  

F Jennings: His wife was friendly with Jan Moore, who was Assistant Private Secretary in our office, so when we had a vacancy she came over and joined Holt’s staff and subsequently she went back to the PMs department and the last I heard she was Assistant Official Secretary at Government House. So there is no way now, current times, you’d think about — or the staff would allow you to think about employing someone from the Oppositions Office, I wouldn’t think.

B York: This might be an opportunity to talk about this a bit, Frank. When do you think that changed? It’s really a shift in the culture isn’t it?

F Jennings: It’s a bit shift in the culture. I think it would have been in ’72 the Whitlam — Whitlam coming into power time. When a lot of the appointees were — see in Opposition, I think, you tend to get more people wanting to work in Shadow Minister’s Office or Members of Parliament Office, who are dedicated party people and supporting the cause rather than being there for a career advancement or an experience that might help your career advancement down the track. As was the case with a lot of the government stuff. In my day, a large majority would have been public servants who were just seconded to the job for a couple of years because it gave them experience on what was needed in parliament, in Cabinet, and what politicians needed, what Ministers needed. They could go back into the department and that adds to the pool of information in the Public Service, which spreads through the service and therefore is more help to the Ministers down the track. Well, at least that’s the theory and I’m pretty sure that worked in practice. So I think it was probably in the Whitlam days when you got more politically dedicated people involved in Ministerial staff. And certainly later on in the Hawke time ’83. I should come to that later on in more sequence I think.

B York: Yes.

F Jennings: Yes, well, you’re question was what happened to me when I left here. Well after this function I went back to the department and — say I was Senior Advisor in Parliamentary and Government Branch and again appointed Secretary of the Federal Executive Council with Lord Casey as Governor General at the time. I got involved in things like Electoral Commission work, where population changes after a Census meant that the population had changed and you needed to set up an the Electoral Commission to change boundaries, or look at boundaries. Involved in the preparation of the yes/no case that was required for the Referendum in ’67 which was the Aboriginal and also there was the Parliamentary one as well at the time, involved in that. Generally, whatever came up, certainly involved in some of the Cabinet Secretariat work.

I remember one project I had was to determine the effect of advice from Prime Minister’s Department on recommendations from other Ministers, other Departments, to Cabinet. Departments prepare their submissions, or Ministers, on behalf of Ministers, Ministers sign submissions to Cabinet, which is then circulated to various departments and all of them were circulated to Prime Minister’s Department. Prime Minister’s Department would look at them and advise the PM as to whether the recommendations should be accepted as is, or if there should be a Committee or more inquiries, or whatever. So that was an interesting exercise going through several years of submissions and seeing what the department recommendation was and what the final decisions were. So, these interesting exercises cropped up from time to time.

B York: What did you find, by the way?

F Jennings: I found that, from memory, I’ve tried to find this paper in archives but it doesn’t seem to be there, or at least I haven’t been able to locate it. From recollection I think I found that something like, more than half or sixty or seventy per cent of the decisions — the recommendations of the PMs department had some effect. Whether it was just that there should be further information from a particular department or a particular area. Whether a Committee should be set up to look at more detail because, I think I mentioned earlier the basic function of the department at that stage, as presented to us, was to make sure that the Cabinet stuff coming forward fitted in with overall Government policy. It was in that context that you might have said, well, this might be good recommendation but how does it fit in with what the government has said in a policy speech in the election, or something. So that was the nature of that sort of work.

I also moved around the department a bit filling in for Assistant Secretaries from time to time in the Parliamentary and Government Branch and also in Education, Cultural Affairs, so I got a fair mix of that. Until — that’s right until after — and then on Holt’s death I had a major job come the funeral service in Melbourne. In that I was put in charge of a team to look after transport arrangements. There were something like twenty-six Heads of Government came to Australia for the funeral including Johnson, President Johnson. The Hospitality Branch that normally handles these sort of visits can’t handle twenty-six visits at one go and virtually the whole department was thrown into organising his funeral. My particular role was to look after transport arrangements once people hit the country. When they arrived in Sydney get them to Melbourne and so on. I probably had a group of six or eight people, running on time tables and keeping in touch with the Commonwealth car people in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. Telling them who was coming when and how many cars were needed and also in contact with the Commonwealth Police and so on for handling the Security aspects. You can imagine with Johnson and so on. So that was turmoil. I remember I worked for three days and nights with two hours’ sleep. That just gets hectic. I remember Nora Mills who used to work in Registry at Prime Minister’s Department would come in every now and again with a tray of sandwiches and sometime later in the day she would come in with a tray of tinnies as well. So we’d get a bit of relaxation. But I was — I then — I was on the last plane going out of Canberra to Melbourne to go to the funeral myself I had a police escort to get me from the airport to the funeral on time.

Then, I remember after the service when people were gathering for the Wake, get together type thing. Jack Bunting called me aside and said ‘Frank, when you’re organising these Ministers back to Canberra’ and of course there was all the rumbling now about succession, there are five Ministers, I don’t want any two of these on the one plane. He said ‘McEwen, McMahon, Gorton, Fairhall’, who have I missed, I think there was another one, but he said — and he was thinking of this — the crash out from here with — when three Ministers were killed in one. He said ‘I don’t want any of those’. I didn’t have enough aircraft to make this sort of split so I talked to the people at the RAAF people and they converted a DC3 Supply plane, took their, I think it had photographic equipment in it, they whipped that equipment out and put a few seats in. So we allocated that one to Billy McMahon. He wasn’t particularly impressed that he was given the DC3 but it was the only way I found that I could meet the boss’s requirements of keeping all these people apart.

B York: The fifth one wasn’t Fraser was it?

F Jennings: Fraser, yes.

B York: Interesting.

F Jennings: That was some of the interesting bits.

B York: Shall we continue in that chronological order, what you did next?

F Jennings: Yes, next when, well, with my Secretary of Executive Council capacity there was some work then took in terms of commissioning McEwen and people as Prime Minister and so on, Commissioning any new Ministers and things like that. The same sort of thing when Gorton was elected, six weeks after, or whatever it was. When Gorton selected his Ministry I would have to prepare the commissions for the Governor General to sign and the only way I could keep this secret and so on was — I would have to go to the printers in the middle of the night to check their printing to make sure the commissions were printed property. I would do the proof reading of the commissions rather than have someone else do it before they were then sent to Government House for signature by the Governor General. It got a bit involved there as well.

Then, of course, John Gorton appointed Len Hewitt, now Sir Lenox Hewitt as his Permanent Head. Hewitt had worked for Gorton as…when he was Education Minister, I think, as Head of University Commission or Education Commission, or something. Hewitt was a very hard Public Servant from Treasury. Different style completely to what we’d had before in Prime Minister’s Department, whereas you’d had the Brown, Bunting, Yeend type people, long term, what do you call them, diplomatic type Permanent Heads who would persuade people to come to the PMs point of view, or whatever. Hewitt was the sort of Permanent Head who, if the PM wanted something the PM got it and that’s it. It was a much harsher sort of administration, not much room for negotiation at all.

You can imagine my concern when a couple of months, probably only a month or two after Gorton was appointed then Hewitt called me into his office. I thought, what have I done, Permanent Heads don’t call you in for no good reason normally. He said ‘Sit down Frank, PM is going overseas on two trips shortly. He’s going to America and to Asia, which one do you want to go on?’ I was shocked. I said, ‘Well’ a bit cheeky ‘I’ve been to Asia twice, I think I’ll go to America’ it was like that. He said ‘Right’ he said ‘that’s on in ten days. Here’s the list of people going, fix it’. ‘This is the people going, this is the itinerary, fix it’. So took my lists back to my room and started to fix, and that was a real eye opening, that one.

Completely different style of administration. I know Menzies has been talked about as being arrogant, but if ever there was an arrogant Prime Minister it was Gorton. Gorton would only accept advice from certain people and it was a very few people. He couldn’t stand Foreign Affairs. He couldn’t stand a lot of the people in the Prime Minister’s Department and he wouldn’t take any notice of a lot of their advice. Basically the only advice that he’d take much notice of was Hewitt, his wife Bettina, Ainsley Gotto who was about twenty-one or something at the time, had been working for the Whip and had been appointed as Senior Private Secretary, and Tony Eggleton, they were the four who were right in. I’m sure there were a number of Senior Public Servants that worked around the time that caught the edge of Hewett’s tongue and whipped into gear to do things that they didn’t were quite appropriate, on the basis of background.

So it was completely different administration at that time. I found that people in Prime Minister’s Department started to try and guess what Hewitt wanted, not a good move. If he asked my advice I would give it to him on the basis of what background experience I had and if he changed it, well that was his business, but some other members of the department tried to guess what Hewitt wanted and that was something that not too many could guess. Some of them fell into a bit of a hole that way. I think some of them couldn’t understand why Hewitt accepted — why I got the offer of this first trip, for instance.

Another thing he threw my way was they changed the format of Cabinet submissions and they wanted the basic submission and then they wanted a one sheet cover page, which summarised the argument and the recommendation. If there were other attachments, there would be attachments and indicated as such. This format, the guidelines were sent to all departments. All submissions, before they got anywhere came to me and I had to check them to see if they met this format. I remember one came from the Department of Trade and it didn’t meet the format and I rejected it and I sent it back. The Head of the Department of Trade rang Hewitt and said ‘Look this submission’s got to go forward next week. Jennings had knocked it back because it doesn’t meet the format’. He said ‘Well, if Frank’s knocked it back, it’s knocked back’. So he’d back you if you’re following the instructions. I found that quite rewarding actually, that experience. But come the end of that year…

B York: Which year is that?

F Jennings: ’67, no ’68 now, yes ’68 now. I decided I’d had enough of the Public Service. There were a number of these people, of my vintage, mid-30s, I was 38, people around my age. There were a number with blood pressure problems, a couple with heart problems and I thought, this is not worth it. I’m not seeing much of the kids so for that twelve months in ’68 I was looking for farms in Queensland. I was going to pull the pin and run which I did. But then that’s another story again.

B York: Can I just ask a bit more about Gorton.

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: The trip to America, what was that for? What was the purpose of that?

F Jennings: I think the purpose was simply to — I don’t know if there was a specific thing behind it, but I think it was a good will thing, go to America — the relationship — there’s a new Prime Minister sort of thing. I don’t think there was much more to it than the good will thing. There would have been discussions on Defence and Foreign Affairs, relationships and things as well. But I’m not aware of any particular pin point. It was the Prime Minister’s first year in office. The Americans have got to get to know me or I’ve got to get to know the Americans and then the next one to Asia was a similar good-will thing.

The trip itself, I think, both John Gorton and Ainsley Gotto have written things in Women’s Weekly and the New Idea or whatever on some of the aspects of that trip. But I think there are probably other stories to tell. Probably to give an indication of the Gorton attitude. We flew out of Australia to Hawaii the day before the Indian Prime Minister was to arrive in Australia so rather — and the PM was going to have a day’s holiday on the island of Maui and the diplomatic thing about not staying here for the extra day to greet the Indian Prime Minister and just leave it to the Foreign Minister is one indication of how he looked at diplomacy and so on. I stayed in Honolulu as a Communications type person while the rest of the party went off to Maui for a day’s R&R.

President Johnson then sent Air Force 1 or Air Force 2, one of his Aircraft to Honolulu to pick us up, as a party. When we got on board he had his Hospitality Ambassador, I forget his name now, Duke seems to come to mind. When we got on board this Ambassador, American Ambassador said ‘Well, here is the seating arrangements’ and so on, Gorton said ‘No, no, no. I’ll sit up’. The Ambassador was to sit with the Prime Minister to brief him for the next part of the journey and for the trip but he wasn’t going to have that, no. ‘Bettina and I and Tony and Len Hewitt will sit up here’, like your First Class apartment with seating for four. We will be there, Ainsley and Frank will sit there, and you can sit there. Now, this is talking to the American Ambassador whose been sent by the American President, with the President’s aircraft and the Ambassador’s wanting to brief the Prime Minister on the journey, or the next part of the journey, but that was fairly indicative of the way he looked at other people, very much an ‘I-am’ sort of attitude.

When we arrived in Washington the situation normally is if the — you leave half a day spare, the first half day, if the President’s got the time, free time, and has the inclination he will invite the PM and Mrs PM on to his private boat on the Potomac River, I think it is, for a personal get-together before the tour starts. This happened. Sometimes the Australian Ambassador is included, but when this was offered the PM said ‘Oh I’m not going unless Len and Tony and Ainsley come with me’. This caused a bit of a diplomatic hoo-ha with the Ambassador. Waller, I think was the Ambassador at the time. Waller couldn’t convince Len Hewitt or the PM that’s not the way to go. That’s the way I want to go, if he wants me to and have a talk with me, I’ll take these other people with me, so he did. You can imagine how that went down with the President, who was wanting to get a personal hand on this new Prime Minister.

The next thing I recall there was a big dinner at the White House and there were tables of about eight or ten people, big black tie dinner and so on. I was — this is one of the things when you are travelling in these small groups with Prime Ministers. Even Private Secretaries like me, you’re thrown in with Ministers and Minister’s wives and whatever. You don’t drink too much. You control your tongue fairly well but tremendous training in terms of conversational skill without leaking too much information but trying to look interesting enough and interested enough. I was sitting with the American Attorney General and his wife. I remember there was an Australian there too, white haired chap who was an astronomer. Very well-known astronomer, but to me, my vision is, he had a mop of white hair something like Oliphant’s. I just can’t recall his name but I think he was the Chief Astronomer at Stromlo, or something, at the time. They did try to get any prominent Australians who were in Washington at the time to mix in with the American Ministers and so on. But after the dinner at the White House President Johnson took us round with his wife to show us some of the ballroom and so on and a bit of music playing. Ainsley grabbed Johnson and said ‘We’re gonna have a dance’, a precocious little thing. There you go — diplomacy, not way up front.

B York: Well, it portrays Australia as a real backwater, doesn’t it?

F Jennings: Yes.

B York: From the American point of view.

F Jennings: Yes, particularly when you’ve had people like Menzies and Holt who were trying to boost the image of Australia in that sort of area. So that — oh, when the trip was over, not too sure what month that was, well it must have been fairly early in the year, but I just finished out my year in the department and then resigned and cashed my superannuation in and went farming in Queensland for a while. Talk about cashing my superannuation in — it’s not like it is today. I was thirty-eight and, of course, superannuation in the Public Service in those days was a means of keeping you there at least until sixty or sixty-five. No sympathy if you pulled out early, pulling out at thirty-eight, when I started at twenty-one, the pound I put in in 1951 I got back as two dollars in 1968, less an administrative fee.

B York: What?

F Jennings: No counting for inflation, so you can imagine how much I lost on my superannuation? But anyway that’s the way it was.

B York: I’ve been meaning to ask, before we wind up today’s session about the impact on your family. The hours you worked and the travel and so on.

F Jennings: The impact on the family was pretty severe, I think. It got to the stage where, where the relationship had broken down. I felt that I wanted more time with the kids because they were growing up and, at this stage, I think, well, the eldest would have been about twelve, I think, eleven or twelve, twelve or thirteen. So there would have been twelve, ten, eight, seven, that sort of age. They were — often I’d get home when they were ready for bed and then I’d leave before, as they were getting ready for school and so I had little time with them. I felt they were being brought up — their mother, who did a good job caring for them, but some of her ideas and my ideas didn’t match. I felt it was important that I should have some input into the kids’ thinking and that was one of the things behind my idea of going to the farm, apart from personal thing about always feeling I had some affinity to the land, and the freedom of it. But I felt I would have more time with the kids. My wife didn’t accept that and she’d decided she wasn’t going to go in the long run so I — I’ll cut that bit. So I went, I took the three eldest kids with me, initially, and picked up my dad who had retired from a cane farm on the Richmond River and he came up to set me straight on farming. He thought I was stupid. He said, ‘Leaving that good job, good secure job!’ Did he cane me! ‘Leaving that secure job for farming’, couldn’t understand that. ‘What are you thinking of boy?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s the decision I’ve made’ but I finished after about four or five months, coming back to Canberra to pick up a couple more of my kids and I finished up taking my wife and three more kids back to Queensland to give the relationship another go. That finally cracked up in Queensland. The hours of work, certainly do play up on relationships. I find it very difficult to perceive how relationships can cope with one partner not being there a good bit of the time, particularly if you’ve get some rivalry as to how the kids should be brought up, what paths they should take, or how their education should be and all that sort of thing.

B York: In a nutshell can you explain what the difference was. How was your attitude different to education for example?

F Jennings: Well, my attitude to education was different to my wife because I felt that the girls needed a tertiary education as well as the boys because relationships don’t last for ever, as has our experience was indicating. Many other examples were — of our friends had indicated. Betty’s view was, the girls will only get married anyway, so they can go and work in a shop for a while, and that’s all they should need until they get married. Mine was, even if they do go and get married, they need some training behind them so that if the marriage does break down they are still protected. So that was a major approach.

Another major issue was religion, pushing them into religion at school, or whatever. I was quite happy for them to consider any religion at all when they were fourteen or fifteen, or when they were old enough to judge for themselves, but I didn’t see how parents should be pushing kids into a religious situation. I found in my own situation, mum and dad were Anglican and Methodist. There was — dad didn’t attend any Church but insisted that I go to Church and that grated a fair bit. I couldn’t get this into my skull, this attitude. I don’t care about myself as an adult but you kids are going there anyway because that’s the way it’s done. I prefer to look on it on the basis of, when you’re old enough consider religion but do it in your own good time and think about it in your own good time.

B York: Frank, I think we could finish today’s session at this point, if that’s okay with you.

F Jennings: Yes, fine Barry, we’re covering a fair bit of field.

B York: That’s what it’s all about. I hope you’re enjoying it.

F Jennings: Yes, absolutely.

[End of part 9]


Interview with Frank Jennings 10  

B York: Frank, before we do finish today’s session, you mentioned off tape that there was something you wanted to refer to about the Menzies period?

F Jennings: Yes, well, it’s a question that is often asked, where were you when John Kennedy was assassinated. I know very well where I was. I was Kirribilli House with Menzies on election campaign. Tony Eggleton was with us, there was the PM and Dame Pattie, Tony and myself. It was about, I think, about quarter past two in the morning that Tom Ferrie, who was the Caretaker-Manager of Kirribilli House came and woke me up and said ‘Kennedy’s been assassinated, should I tell the PM?’. I said, ‘No, no wait a minute. Tell Tony and tell Tony to come around to my room, but don’t wake the PM because the PM had been on heavy election campaign. He had a heavy program coming up tomorrow. When Tony came in he said ‘Well, we’ll have to put it to the PM. The press will want a statement from the PM’. I said ‘Well, no, the PM is tired, a busy program. The media can wait. The media’s got the story that Kennedy’s assassinated, they don’t need the story what Menzies thinks about it’. ‘But, they’ll miss the six o’clock bulletin’. ‘No, no let’s forget the six o’clock bulletin. You prepare a draft for the PM to look at. When Tom normally takes the PM’s cup of tea in at half past six, the three of us will go in at six o’clock, we’ll tell him the news and you can let him have a look at your draft and we can get his reaction then. You can relay that to the media and they can play that in a later bulletin’. This was one of those occasions where the media — and this reflects a lot of Tony’s attitude to the media in relation to Holt later on, as well. The media comes first. My attitude was, my PM comes first. I was being a bit protective that way, but at his age — he would have been well into his late 60s at this stage and in a campaign. We never got to bed during an election campaign until eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock at night, before you got to bed and then you were up again at six thirty. It doesn’t leave a lot of rest and my idea was to protect the PM so I pulled rank at that stage and insisted that the media be held at bay. Then Tony was on the phone holding the media off until we got a reaction from the PM which wasn’t going to be until half past six and that’s the way it worked.

B York: Thank you for adding that Frank, thank you.

[End of part 10]


Interview with Frank Jennings 11  

B York: Frank, before we do finish today’s session, you mentioned off tape that there was something you wanted to refer to about the Menzies period?

F Jennings: Yes, well, it’s a question that is often asked, where were you when John Kennedy was assassinated. I know very well where I was. I was Kirribilli House with Menzies on election campaign. Tony Eggleton was with us, there was the PM and Dame Pattie, Tony and myself. It was about, I think, about quarter past two in the morning that Tom Ferrie, who was the Caretaker-Manager of Kirribilli House came and woke me up and said ‘Kennedy’s been assassinated, should I tell the PM?’. I said, ‘No, no wait a minute. Tell Tony and tell Tony to come around to my room, but don’t wake the PM because the PM had been on heavy election campaign. He had a heavy program coming up tomorrow. When Tony came in he said ‘Well, we’ll have to put it to the PM. The press will want a statement from the PM’. I said ‘Well, no, the PM is tired, a busy program. The media can wait. The media’s got the story that Kennedy’s assassinated, they don’t need the story what Menzies thinks about it’. ‘But, they’ll miss the six o’clock bulletin’. ‘No, no let’s forget the six o’clock bulletin. You prepare a draft for the PM to look at. When Tom normally takes the PM’s cup of tea in at half past six, the three of us will go in at six o’clock, we’ll tell him the news and you can let him have a look at your draft and we can get his reaction then. You can relay that to the media and they can play that in a later bulletin’. This was one of those occasions where the media — and this reflects a lot of Tony’s attitude to the media in relation to Holt later on, as well. The media comes first. My attitude was, my PM comes first. I was being a bit protective that way, but at his age — he would have been well into his late 60s at this stage and in a campaign. We never got to bed during an election campaign until eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock at night, before you got to bed and then you were up again at six thirty. It doesn’t leave a lot of rest and my idea was to protect the PM so I pulled rank at that stage and insisted that the media be held at bay. Then Tony was on the phone holding the media off until we got a reaction from the PM which wasn’t going to be until half past six and that’s the way it worked.

B York: Thank you for adding that Frank, thank you.

[End of part 10]


Frank Jennings_11_070208

B York: Today is the 7th of February 2008 and I am continuing the interview with Frank Jennings. Frank, welcome back.

F Jennings: Thanks, Barry.

B York: Last time we spoke about Gorton, your time with Gorton and your return to Queensland, the period farming up there. I did send you the previous sessions and suggested you have a listen to them and use this opportunity today to make any corrections, if there were any factual or other corrections, or elaborations?

F Jennings: Yes, right Barry. I did go through the tapes, the CDs and there are a couple of corrections I would like to make. The first one was on the first CD where I talked about the 1968 Premiers’ Conference with John Gorton in the Chair. I said I was sitting at the table with Geoff Yeend as Gorton’s Senior Advisor, well that wouldn’t have been Geoff at that time it would have been Len Hewitt. I think that’s a point that ought to be made.

Another one on the second CD where I talked about the Executive Council and when the Governor General is not available to chair a meeting that a meeting could be held with a Minister who was appointed to take charge. Well that Minister was called the Vice President of the Executive Council.

There was another correction, an important correction to be made in the fourth CD. That is after Holt’s funeral in Melbourne, I said that Sir John Bunting as Head of the Department pulled me aside because I was arranging transport for people in and out of Melbourne for the funeral. He said that I should — there were five Ministers, no two of which should be put on one plane. I mentioned McEwen, McMahon, Gorton and Fairhall and had some hesitation about the other one. We thought it may have been Fraser, but it wasn’t it was Hasluck, Paul Hasluck was the other possible contender for leadership of the Liberal Party after Holt’s death. They are the three corrections that I felt might be made.

B York: Thank you for making them. I believe there was something you wanted to elaborate on as well.

F Jennings: Well certainly, talking about the Holt time I didn’t spend much time in terms of the 1966 election campaign. That was pretty important because, and pretty hectic in many ways because it was at the height of the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. There are two particular campaign meetings that I think should be referred to, to give you an indication of some of the feelings about at the time. One was in Melbourne and I forget just which Town Hall it was in at the time, but it was generally Town Halls that Prime Minister’s spoke in because that was one of the few places where you could get the numbers in. You did get substantial numbers at these meetings.

One of my first ports of call, if you like, during a campaign was to talk to the Officer in Charge of the State Special Police Branch just to see what security issues, if any, if they had an intelligence to see how rough the meetings might be going to be. They generally had pretty good intelligence, the Special Branches of the State police. In Melbourne the report was that it was going to be a rough meeting. There were a number of organisations who were prepared to demonstrate pretty violently. So I talked to PM about that and we decided that the women wouldn’t go. Mrs Holt wouldn’t go, Pat DeLacy who was the other Private Secretary wouldn’t go so that the PM would be accompanied by me as his Senior Private Secretary and Tony Eggleton as his Press Secretary. So we went to this meeting and the meeting was pretty lively but most of the fire was outside the meeting hall, with people demonstrating. When the PM came out and got into his car they formed a wedge. I don’t know what they call it, it’s a police technique where they get a wedge around the VIP and the formed this and got the PM into the car. I squeezed into the back seat and then the crowd just pushed against the car. Somehow or other Tony had got out of the wedge and into the crowd. The crowd were rocking the car, picking up under the bumper bars and shaking the car, they were getting pretty rough. So I said to the driver, ‘Go!’, he said ‘Well, we haven’t got Tony’. I said ‘Tony will find his own way home, but drive’. He said, ‘I’ll run over somebody’ and I said, ‘Well run over the bastards, but get the PM out of this’. As he started to move someone threw a sheet covered with red paint, or supposedly blood across the windscreen and this made driving difficult but I said, ‘Go forward, go’ and he did. The crowd parted gradually and the police pushed and pulled people aside but it was a pretty hairy time. By the time the PM and I got out of it we were pouring with sweat and anxiety. I had no troubles telling the — the driver didn’t want to move because he was going to hit somebody but the crowd — no one reported any serious damage by being hit by the car but the car was certainly damaged and scratched pretty severely at the time. When we got to the hotel, wherever we were staying the girls were there, girls, they’re all girls I suppose. Dame Zara would have loved to be called a girl at that stage. They could see how panicky we were, and ‘Where’s Tony?’ ‘Tony’s lost in the crowd, but’ I said ‘there is no point going back for him he’ll find his way’. He did about ten minutes later or so, a police car came and delivered Tony to the door. That, sort of, indicated some of the fire that there was in the election campaign at the time.

The next meeting, again, I can’t pinpoint which suburb it was in but it was in Sydney. We had the same sort of thing. There was — most of the demonstration was outside the hall but there was also a strong contingent of Young Liberals to contest the anti-Vietnam feeling. So the police ran a channel, run up a pathway for the PM and us, and this time the report wasn’t so bad so we had, Jan Moore was with us as Secretary. We didn’t have, no Dame Zara wasn’t there at this time. So, again, this channel — we got the PM and me into the car and Jan was locked out and the crowd were around the car, again rocking the car. Jan was just outside the door and just couldn’t open the door with the crowd pushing against it. So I finished up pulling Jan — I wound the window down and pulled Jan through the window of the car. Jan wasn’t a small girl and so it was quite a sight but it was quite a terrifying experience at the time. You’ve got to be in a car being rocked by a crowd, a yelling crowd, just to appreciate how frightening it can be.

B York: Was that common?

F Jennings: No, they were the only two occasions I came across, in those particular meetings and the campaign was, those days, would have been five or six weeks. So, it wasn’t a regular occurrence, just in particular suburbs with particular groups that wanted to make an anti-war point pretty severely. I know at the time, the Melbourne one, anyway with the draped cloth across the car window. I remember, at the time, one of the newspapers got a pretty good picture of that which — I don’t know where I’d get a copy of that but it would be interesting. I thought that was just a fill-in bit that I didn’t mention about my time with Holt.

B York: Good, thank you.

F Jennings: The only other thing about that time, I might have added was, after I left Holt and went back to the department, it should have been in April 1967, after we had been to Asia for another good will trip and came back. I was just walking in Kings Hall, just ready to leave Kings Hall and Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret were coming up the steps and Gough said ‘Margaret, have you met Frank Jennings?’. He introduced me, he said, ‘Frank’s just been — he was working with Menzies and Holt, he’s just going back to the department but he’s been replaced by a Rhodes Scholar, Peter Bailey, an Editor Emeritus of the Age, Keith Sinclair and a clerk. I think he’s done a job here’.

B York: Yes, definitely.

F Jennings: So that was just interesting, well I think the friendly, the nature of the relationship I had with Gough Whitlam at the time, too, which was very friendly and that was great.

B York: Now, you mentioned how after working for Gorton you ended up finishing up and going farming, as you put it. Then, I take it that the next significant occurrence of relevant to parliament and political events was 1978, working for Ralph Hunt is that right?

F Jennings: That’s right, yes.

B York: So you went farming for about decade was it?

F Jennings: Yes, about seven or eight years I was farming on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and I bought a rundown farm there gradually built it up and got rid of the citrus and the pineapples and went into passionfruit. I had pecan nuts and a few avocados and things, that was quite an interesting exercise, but eventually divorce beat me there and I had to look for other work. I was interested — at the time I applied to the — I think there was an employment agency which was run by the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Employment Agency or whatever it was called at the time.

B York: The Commonwealth Employment Service, CES.

F Jennings: Service — I wrote to those and I gave them my CV and I was expecting to be able to get a job in Queensland as a Farm Manager or something like that. They offered me two jobs, which I think is indicative of how some of the things were working at the time. The two jobs were — because I indicated in my CV that I did a Commerce Degree and I had one year of Accountancy and also that I — in my later period in Prime Minister’s Department I had acted as Assistant Secretary in the Education and Cultural Affairs Branch. The two jobs I was offered, one was in a Catholic school as Accountant, at a Catholic school. I was never qualified as an Accountant. The other one was another one in the education system where I never had any real qualifications at all.

So, I thought, it looks like I can’t — I would have loved to stay in the Sunshine coast area, a beautiful part of the country. I then saw that some of the Ministers were advertising for staff. Peter Nixon for one was advertising and I applied for that. It was interesting, I received a telegram, a ticket to go to Canberra for an interview with Charles Halton at the time, he was Head of Nixon’s department. I think Peter Nixon must have been in Transport at the time. I was surprised that the telegram said to come down for an interview for the job. I thought, if they’re going to fly me down from the Sunshine Coast I must have a pretty fair chance at that. I came down and I was surprised I was interviewed Charles Halton who was Head of the department, which seemed to be upgrading the interviewing technique a bit, to be interviewed by the Permanent Head. But anyway I failed that one, that test, he wasn’t impressed with my lack of very quick writing skills in terms of trying to answer, provide a reply to a parliamentary question, which I thought was hardly the sort of work you did when you were a Private Secretary anyway. Anyway, I missed that one. On the way back to the Sunshine Coast on the plane, the plane comes out of Maroochydore, I was sitting next to Nigel Bowen who was Attorney General. I had met him before when, in my capacity as Chief Secretary to Council. As we were coming to Maroochydore, Nigel said, ‘Oh look, fancy a demonstration here at Maroochydore’. Here people there waving a big white sheet and placards and, he said ‘There’s not many people. There’s eight or ten people there, but what would they be demonstrating about’. So we landed and I walked across the tarmac as you did at Maroochydore with Nigel Bowen and here’s this great sheet on two poles and these girls and their two daughters. Some of the girls I knew from the Sunshine Coast area with ‘Welcome Home Fat Cat Frank’.

B York: Gee.

F Jennings: They thought I was a certainty to get this job and I was going to be a ‘Fat Cat’ again. They were disappointed when I said that I’d lost that job. But, they were having some fun. They were fun people some of those Sunshine Coast girls. After that I saw another ad from Ralph Hunt looking for a Private Secretary rather than a Senior Private Secretary so I applied for that. I had for my referees Jim Killen, Doug Anthony and I think it was Sir Geoffrey Yeend, pretty substantial referees for that sort of position. At the time I was — this was after the divorce and I had to come to Canberra to pick up my three daughters and take them on a holiday. I’d come down and I hadn’t heard about the job, so I came and took the girls down to the south coast for a holiday. This must have been back into January, I guess. And when I was there, I had a message at the caravan park to contact Phil Knox who was Ralph’s Senior Private Secretary. So I rang and he said ‘The Minister wants you to come to Canberra for an interview’. So I said, fine. So I dropped the kids, brought the kids back one day and dropped them round with their mother and had the interview and Ralph was — again this was an interview with Ralph himself, because he said, Phil Knox had not put my name on the short list. He had forty-fifty applicants, or something, and he hadn’t put my name. Ralph had asked to look at the rejects. When he saw my referees and my background, why not have a look at Frank? Ralph had had some trouble with his staff at the time, the Private Secretary needed replacing, taken a lot of papers home and not posted letters and all that sort of thing, it was an administrative nightmare for them. So he was looking for a bit of experience I think. So the Minister himself selected me then, after having talked to Jim Killen and Doug Anthony and so on. He felt that Phil’s not shortlisting me was probably an indication that he might have been a bit insecure having someone with a bit more experience in the field than he had himself. But that was Ralph’s judgement.

But, anyway, I put it out to Ralph. I said ‘Look, I’ve been farming for eight years. I’m not been into paperwork on a daily basis’. I said ‘I have been doing some representations, and I’ve led a couple of delegations to Doug Anthony, amongst other people’ in terms of tariff duties and things on passionfruit juice. And also with some of the State Ministers on labelling of products and things like that, but I said, ‘I haven’t been into day to day paperwork, and so I’m rusty’. He said ‘You’ll be right, it won’t take long for you to run in’. So that was great. I left the interview being appointed virtually. So I went back, finished up my holidays. He said ‘When are you available?’ I said, ‘Well, on holiday with the kids, go back’ we fixed a date. When I came back and wound up all my affairs in Queensland and again I said, I’m rusty, he said ‘We’ll run you in, you’ll be right’ and run me in he did, pretty quickly. I spent a bit of time briefing myself. He was Minister for Health at this stage. Briefing myself on the department and basic health issues at the time. I guess within, well the Budget’s then were in June, so it would have been probably — I was only there for two or three months, I suppose, and he threw me in as his representative on a Cabinet Committee along with Jonathan Gaul who at that stage was — I think he’s probably still a lobbyist around town but Jonathan at that stage was working with the Liberal Party Secretariat. We were the two on this committee with people like, I remember Sir John Carrick was Chairman, I think, and Margaret Guilfoyle was on the committee. It was on the handling of some changes to the Medicare system and how we handle that PR wise. So, to me that was real deep end introduction to the Health Portfolio.

B York: And this is 1978?

F Jennings: This is 1978, yes. It wasn’t long after that, that, although he had a journalist, Bob Lawrence as his Assistant Private Secretary, and Bob used to go with him around the electorate and so on. It was probably the biggest electorate in New South Wales and Ralph worked his electorate very well and very hard, he was a good Local Member. Each parliamentary, major break, the winter break or the summer break, he’d try to get around all the towns in his electorate, or as many as he could. That was a long, six week exercise. It wasn’t long before he suggested that I look at all the Cabinet submissions and so on and that I handle inquiries that he gets from the media. So this again, put more pressure on me to own up and so on. I was enjoying it. I was enjoying getting back into harness. Ralph I found was — he’d often been referred to me as the last of the gentlemen politicians, there are others around I know, but he was a pure gentleman in terms of the way he handled people and so on.

I remember when Bob Hawke was brought to tears in the Chamber, when someone asked a question which referred to one of his children being on drugs and Bob just cracked up. But the first thing, after Question Time, the first thing that Ralph said was ‘Get me Bob Hawke on the phone’. So it didn’t matter who it was, which side of the House it came from, he was quite compassionate as far as people were concerned.

Actually in the same sort of area, when — this would have been a bit later on, I think, but can — I think the story fits in here pretty well. One of my sons had a bout of schizophrenia and I had a phone call from — he stayed up on the Sunshine Coast. I had a phone call one day from one of his mates, saying ‘Daryl’s crook again’. So I said to Ralph ‘I’ve got a son in trouble there’. He said ‘Don’t worry about that, we’ll look after things here. You race off and look after your family first’. That was the sort of man he was. It’s not the sort of picture you get of politicians in today’s newspapers, but they are there, those sort of people.

B York: Where were you working?

F Jennings: We were working in the new wing, the East Wing, or whatever it is.

B York: At Parliament House.

F Jennings: At Parliament House, yes, we had an office which was right down near the back Parliament House.

B York: Had the building changed at all in that time?

F Jennings: Well, that new wing had been added. And even then we were horribly cramped. The numbers of staff we had in that area, I mean, health and safety people would be horrified today if they thought you were putting so many people. It was almost as bad as this office here that we started in. It wasn’t much better. We had what, there would have been six of us, I guess on the staff at the time. I know it was very difficult. Bob Lawrence and I were in one little room. We each had a desk. We each had three draw tin cans for our filing, tin cans, I shouldn’t call them tin cans I suppose, filing cabinet.

B York: Did you use to call them tin cans?

F Jennings: I called them, yes, we used to call them tin cans because you could give them a good thump and you could spring them open anyway. They weren’t real secure. But, you had these plus our desks. This would have been a room, I’d say ten by eight would have cut it out. You had the two of us with all our equipment, two phones and both working on phones a good bit of the day, which is pretty distracting. So they weren’t good working conditions. Well, conditions were okay but they were cramped and you got interruptions and so on, in that sort of manner.

B York: Where were you living?

F Jennings: I was living in Downer. When I came back I lived at Havelock House for about a month or six weeks, I suppose, when I came back, when I first started with Ralph. But then that didn’t suit me too much, it didn’t fit in too well with working odd sort of hours when you couldn’t get back to your guest house, sort of thing, at meal times and you had to make other arrangements. But then I fairly quickly got a little two bedroom unit in Downer and looked after myself there. I didn’t mind looking after myself. I always feel that I’m a fairly competent cook and if I can cook on the weekends and I’ve got a fridge and a freezer I can prepare myself for the week, or whatever. So I found that more congenial than one little room in a guest house.

B York: Sure, yes. What about the procedures, had they changed much in that period you were away?

F Jennings: Not really. The procedures for Cabinet were much the same. Security arrangements for Cabinet documents were much the same, although I think they did bring in some tighter control as to who could see Cabinet documents and that sort of thing. Then, I think, I don’t know if it was at that stage or a little later that they started — because of leakages of Cabinet documents and that sort of thing I think they started some security numbering, or different technique of numbering so they could identify which — if they found a copy of a document they could identify where it came from, at least where it was delivered to, which gave them a better chance of tracking down the source of leaks. I know we were drummed pretty severely about security those days. I guess people these days are still drummed about the need for security, but there seems to be more and more people quite prepared to breech security and pass material onto journalists than there were then. I know I’ve never had much sympathy for whistle blowers in that sort of sense. I think — not in terms of releasing documents, and so on. If you’re talking about whistle blowing on fraud that is something quite different but handing documents to the media because you don’t like a government decision, or whatever, to me it’s theft for a start. It’s not your material, it’s government material whether you prepared it or not.

B York: Yes.

F Jennings: It’s government material and you’ve got no right to exercise your right to dispose of that material in a way you see fit by putting it out in the public arena if the Minister, or your senior officers don’t think that’s appropriate. Maybe I’m still a bit old fashioned that way.

B York: Well, sometimes the leaks are controlled leaks anyway, aren’t they, now.

F Jennings: That’s right, yes.

B York: So it’s reached that new level.

F Jennings: It has, new techniques have come in, new skills I suppose have come into the system.

B York: What was your designation with Ralph Hunt?

F Jennings: Initially it was Private Secretary which was ‘2IC’ in the office. Phil Knox would have been Senior Private Secretary. That was so until 1980, I think I was with him for about two years. In that two years, in Health, let’s think — no, in Health I didn’t travel overseas with Ralph in the Health capacity. But he was feeding me more and more of the work which Phil had normally had, in terms of Cabinet documentation and parliamentary work because of my background in handling his replies to questions and making sure his briefings for Parliamentary Questions were okay all that sort of stuff. Now the briefings were prepared in the department but it was — one of my roles would have been to see that any of the current issues were covered in the briefing notes. I wasn’t preparing the briefing notes but I was keeping an eye on the media and if anything new cropped up in his area that I thought might be raised in Parliament it was important that the department be asked for a brief and that sort of thing. I kept that briefing folder, sort of thing, up to date for him. So gradually these sort of things were coming my way rather than Phil’s.

When Ralph was appointed Minister for Transport which would have been in 1980. It must have been in the end of May or early June 1980 because the first assignment as Minister for Transport was to fly to Norfolk Island because the former Minister had agreed to go to Norfolk Island, well on two issues. One issue was they were going to extend the airport so that jet planes could go into Norfolk Island and the locals were afraid that the jets would damage the stained glass windows in St Barnabas Church, the famous church on Norfolk Island. And the other thing was to represent the government at their celebrations for the landing of the Bounty people, way back when. The Bounty people from Pitcairn Island and so on, Bounty Day they called it. So this was the long weekend in June and Ralph took me along with him. I remember he and Jane Macphillamy came as well as a stenographer. Ralph and Mim Hunt came as well. So, I think that was the first trip away I had with him, that was the beginning of Transport. That was an interesting trip and we reassured the natives, not the natives, but the local people that the jets wouldn’t interfere with their beautiful stained glass windows in the church.

But there were a couple of other trips after that, well there was one to New Zealand for South Pacific Forum for Civil Aviation and Regional Shipping Conference with representatives of all the South Pacific Islands and New Zealand and so on. He took me along with him there as well. Then there was a trip to the US, UK and France but I know the France bit was when TAA were thinking of getting the first Airbus and we met Frank Ball in France who was Chairman of TAA at that time. We went to Toulouse, I think it was, to the plant and saw this magnificent new aircraft being built. That was a good exercise, a fun exercise, going through this manufacturing plant and having discussions with the Board and so on about the new equipment and things like that.

But all this got a bit too much for Phil Knox who felt he was being pushed aside and when we got back he said that he’d found himself another job in Queensland, I think, as Director, or something, of the Law Society. Ralph immediately appointed me to Senior Private Secretary then. That didn’t change my functions very much at all because I was still looking after the parliamentary and the press and so on.

I had another trip then with Ralph, it would have been in ’81, I think. We again went to America and Britain and then, while we were away Malcolm Fraser, as PM asked Ralph to extend his trip to five African countries to deliver invitations to the CHOGM meeting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Melbourne in ’82, I think it was.

B York: Yes, I think so.

F Jennings: So, that again was interesting. We went from wherever we were, probably London or somewhere. I remember we went to Frankfurt for an aircraft change. I was surprised there at the airport to find these troops around the place with machine guns and I thought they’re not there to protect us, surely. I don’t know what was going on at that stage but it was a bit frightening to find troops with machine guns parading around airport lounges but obviously they had some issue on at the time. We flew then to the Seychelles, beautiful island paradise in the Indian Ocean. We had two or three days in each of these places, about three days, I suppose, in each of these countries. We went to the Seychelles, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi and each of these places we met the Presidents of the country and officially handed over the invitations, formal invitation to attend the meetings in Melbourne. And that in itself was an experience.

We had lunch, for instance, with Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia. We lined up for lunch at this long table and he was at the head of the table. It was quite strange. As he sat down, two attendants came, one with a bowl of water and another one with a towel and he washed his hands and he said, ‘You people can use your knives and forks but I’ll eat traditionally’ and he just dived in with his fingers into his rice, and whatever we had. So that was an experience that I didn’t expect to see.

I remember then in Zimbabwe, for instance, there was an incident in Harare, we were in a hotel in Harare and Penny Wensley was with us, Penny at that stage was middle range officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs. And actually, while we were on the trip the Public Service Board did a check of Permanent Heads as to—did they have any women in their department who had the potential to be Permanent Heads and this was—what are we up to ’80-81, it was when that sort of issue was building up. The Head of Foreign Affairs at the time, it might have been Jim Plimsoll, I’m not too sure, but suggested that Penny was one of those who had the potential to become a Permanent Head. I think now she’s been our representative at the United Nations, she’s been High Commissioner in New Zealand and a few other places. She’s done very well. But she was with us as a Foreign Affairs rep in these countries and you really needed them to get some feel of the country and some of the politics before you talked to the officials or the Presidents and Ministers and so on. Her briefing was invaluable at that time. But I was — it was late evening, I know, or as the sun was going down and Penny and I were just out on the balcony having a bit of a chat and we heard some bombing and so on, strafing. So there was some aircraft activity not too far away from the capital. So even at that stage there were some problems with rebel groups and so on in Zimbabwe, but certainly not like it is today. The country was full of hope, the Ministers were full of hope for the future and building the economy.

Ralph and I had lunch, while we were there with their Minister for Primary Industry who was a very intelligent lady and we were — one of the problems that she raised was that, they could grow corn or maze, or whatever they called it, but their problem was storage. They couldn’t keep it for long. It would go off, go mouldy or the insects would get it, weevils and things. So there were times in the year when they were out of supply and this was a problem. We thought, that’s not a real problem. We have big silos and things like that, of course there is the financial thing with big concrete silos and so on and storage facilities. So Ralph said ‘We’ll see what we can do about and he said to me, he said, ‘Well when we get back see what we can do about cheap storage for grain’. So I got in touch with CSIRO and they said — I said, ‘It’s got to be cheap’ and they said, ‘That’s not a problem. Some of those old techniques that our farmers used to use. Dig a hole in the ground, put a bit of galvanised iron down, put your grain into the galvanised iron which protects them from the moisture and stuff, and then cover it over with a tarp or something’ pretty simple, cheap technique. So we shot this back, hoping that it could help solve some of their problems. But these are the little things. Here we don’t think anything about storage of grain, but in those countries, some of those, simple, old farm techniques are valuable.

And these are some of the sort of thing that comes out of some of these visits. I know a lot of Australians criticise Ministerial visits overseas, but I’ve found time and time again, whether it’s been with Prime Ministers or Ministers you get some of these things happening that are important for the locals. It’s not just, getting information for yourself, that’s valuable, or getting support for you and your committees and things like that but if you can provide some basic help, like in this case in Zimbabwe, you’ve got a better chance of getting the support as well. To me it was…we didn’t have to be diplomats to be providing some sort of Diplomacy service for the government.

B York: Did that happen, do you know, did you have any feedback from Zimbabwe?

F Jennings: I had no feedback, no, sent it back through Foreign Affairs but I had no feedback after that.

B York: And with Tanzania I guess you would have met Nyerere did you?

F Jennings: Yes, Nyerere, and — I don’t recall too much of that one but I do recall the one in Malawi which was President Banda who would have been eighty or ninety at the time. I’m sorry I lost the note but I had a note from our Deputy High Commissioner saying, ‘We have a meeting arranged for tomorrow morning at ten am. It depends how the President is feels whether that meeting will go ahead’. You couldn’t always be sure that the President would be available. He was getting quite erratic at that stage in terms of his behaviour and so on. Anyway, we went along, we had this meeting with the President Banda. Again it was eye opening from our perspective. When we arrived he had two of his Ministers with him, joined in the introductions and the discussions, and when they went out they backed out of the room and then knelt and bowed when they got to the door. There was no way they could turn their back on the President. So these sort of cultural things were still going on in some countries which we found a bit hard to understand.

But, I think, it was also in Malawi when we got to the — I was in charge of the passports and things for everybody in the group. I tried to get from the protocol people the passports back and they wouldn’t give them to me and they said ‘They’ll be at the airport’. So I got the airport and I still couldn’t get the passports and, anyway, when I did get the passports there was one missing and it was mine. The plane was delayed for an hour or two. I couldn’t understand but apparently — eventually I got mine back, but apparently they thought I was a security risk of some sort. They thought I was security and not just a Private Secretary and they were making all sorts of checks and things on Frank. So, yes that was a bit hairy. Just imagine being kept standard in Malawi for a while.

I think another incident on that trip. It wasn’t a bad sort of a story. In one of the countries we went to — we stayed at a guest house at a game park. Early in the morning we went out to look at some game in a Land Rover with a driver and this guard with a 303 rifle. I was in the back of the Land Rover with the guard and so on and Penny was in the back. As we were going we saw a couple of elephants, we went past a couple of elephants, as we went past a couple of elephants went across the road. I jumped out to get — I mean the sun was right behind them so I jumped out so I could get a photograph. Horror, horror, horror — ‘Get back in the car! Don’t get out of the car. They might stampede!’ And here was the daddy elephant, the mummy elephant and a little baby trotting on behind. They said, ‘Not with the baby there, there might be trouble and jumping into the grass there, there could be lions there’. They were a bit horrified. So when we finished the day and the Minister was signing the Guest Book, he said, ‘I’ve lost a Senior Private Secretary, somewhere in the Park there. If anybody finds him, send him back to Canberra’. So he had a sense of humour as well.

B York: So that purpose of going to the African countries was to formally invite them to CHOGM?

F Jennings: That was right, that was the reason, I dare not say excuse, but it’s the only opportunity that I’ve had to visit African countries and it was really eye opening in many ways.

B York: And then you returned to Canberra did you?

F Jennings: Back to Canberra from there, straight back to Canberra. So that was an interesting trip.

B York: I’m wondering during that time with Ralph Hunt did you have much to do with Malcolm Fraser the Prime Minister?

F Jennings: Certainly with his staff. I found — well if you’re looking at it in the sense of Cabinet and handling Cabinet documents and Minutes and so on. It seemed that Fraser was — I don’t know what sort of words to put to this, but he was pretty dogmatic and seemed to hold more meetings than necessary to get decisions and put more matters to committees for further consideration than any Prime Minister that I’d been associated with. For instance, some of this stuff on the changes to the Medicare. It was probably, from the original submission you might have had, five or six meetings before you got a final decision. Whether it be by Cabinet, or Cabinet Committee, or whatever. I found, and I think this reflects the nature of Fraser, the man too, the sort of staff he had and the way his staff treated me, relative to other Ministerial staff. Relative to the way other Ministerial staffers treated me. I mean people like Petro Georgiou was one of his Senior Advisors.

I remember going in there with something, some changes, or some statement the Minister was proposing to make and I said, ‘Well this is what the Minister wants’ and the reaction from Petro was, he’d be laying back in his desk with his feet up — just a dictatorial — you know, ‘What’s it matter, what Hunt thinks, this is the way it’s going to be done. This is what Fraser wants’. Well, it was his interpretation of what Fraser wanted. And he was saying, ‘Who’s Hunt?’ so he was brushing aside this Ministerial, sort of, reaction to things. It was pretty much the same with David Barnett who was his Senior Press Officer at the time. It wasn’t for the Minister or his department to say what was going to go in a Press Release, we’ll determine that, when it’s released. There was a bit of a dictatorial attitude on the part of his staff, on the part of Fraser’s staff. I didn’t have much to do with Fraser, per se, but I think the staff indicate the nature of the man a lot in these sort of situations. And certainly they were two members of the staff who weren’t interested in what I had to say at all and I was only saying what my Minister wanted to have said. So they were brushing aside, relatively junior Ministers as they saw it. This being unimportant, I thought that wasn’t good for the running of a Cabinet at the time but I can understand.

I think the figures show pretty clearly that in Fraser’s time there were more Cabinet Committee meetings held than in any other Prime Ministerial Chairmanship. I can’t say whether that’s because he was indecisive in coming to conclusions on matters or whether he just wanted to make sure he got things right, politically, I’m not sure what reasoning he would put to that, but that’s for some other analyst to determine I think. I didn’t find it easy trying to work with Fraser’s staff at the time. I can’t say that about any other Minister’s staff.

[end of part 11]


Interview with Frank Jennings 12  

B York: Were you feeling happy being back in Canberra during this time?

F Jennings: I still have a lot of good friends here in Canberra, and I still have my relationship with the Canberra Club where I could always meet and greet—which has always been a comfort to me, I guess. Because you get a broad range of, not only public servants there, but you do get a lot of the business people as well, a broader scope in the community, which was always good. I pretty soon settled in, really, to a new lifestyle here and it wasn’t all that long until—and I was able to—and I sent three daughters here.

I didn’t have much to do with my former wife, she didn’t want to have anything much to do with me. The girls did and that was always a comfort, to have their interest and support. I suppose it wasn’t all that long until I got myself married again, or got myself involved and subsequently got myself married again. I wasn’t footloose and fancy free for very long.

B York: And I take it that you, correct me if I’m wrong, were you thinking that this is your future, you weren’t thinking of going back farming?

F Jennings: No, farming was gone out of my system. No, I’d given that a miss. I’d found it profitable at the time. I think I might have mentioned earlier that I’d got more net money on the farm than I’d got as an Assistant Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Department. So the return wasn’t too bad and the lifestyle was good but it always had its ups and downs and difficulties with the weather and the processing, particularly if you’re in things like I was with passionfruits and you’re dealing with processors and they were developing means of using ersatz flavourings and things like that which abolished the need of a passionfruit pulp. So I was quite happy to do away with the farming, I’d had that, done that, and it was very good while it happened but it didn’t have to keep happening. I was happy to think of Canberra as where I’ll be and stay.

B York: Now, is it appropriate to speak about the decline of your time with Ralph Hunt? Am I moving too fast?

F Jennings: No, no. That sounds fair enough. In the lead up now to the ’83 election, which Fraser called early, I don’t know I think it was probably due at the end of the year. But this was the - Ralph and I were in Victoria, in the Victorian country somewhere, promoting their, I don’t know, bicentennial roads project. Some roads project which was to go for several years and we were travelling with, Bachelor was the Victorian Transport Minister at the time and so we were some centre and I had a phone call to the Minister head to contact Fraser at a certain time. I had to ring him so we did that, we raised that. We might have been ringing at 10 o’clock in the morning or something so we arranged that, whatever Ralph was doing and we rang the PM and he said that the PM’s called an election. And this was the day that Bob Hawke rolled Bill Hayden for leadership of the ALP and I think Fraser was hoping to get in while he still had some of this turmoil going and the ALP leadership.

There were rumours going around that Hawke was getting toey and edgy and so on. So I think Fraser was trying to jump in before anything happened and as it happened, the day they called the election was the day Hawke took over the leadership of the Labor party. Even though he had the few weeks to present himself as the leader of the party, he was able to do that quite successfully because it would have been different if he wasn’t the known figure that he was, in the public mind. That turned out to be quite a disaster but on that day, for some reason or other, I don’t know what was happening, but Fraser had told Ralph to go to Darwin. I think there was an announcement to be made, I don’t know if it was about roads or whatever.

We arranged, at that stage, for—I think this was a time when Tim Conway who was then the Assistant Private Secretary to come from Canberra on a VIP flight which was to take us to Darwin and bring certain papers down to Ralph. When he did that and Ralph had a quick talk with Tim Conway to go and sort out a few things back here and prepare stuff for the election campaign. He said, ‘Well, Frank, you and I are off to Darwin’. So we’d been on a day trip to Victoria and now we’re on a couple-of-days trip away. So I said to Tim, ‘Well, when you get back, ring Rosemary’ who was my second wife, and just say I’ll be back in two days’ time. This doesn’t go down well with wives, generally.

When we got to Darwin the first thing we had to do was get ourselves a toothbrush and comb and a couple of spare pairs of nickers and move on from there. But such is the nature of the game sometimes. When the election was lost, there was a question of, a couple of weeks to get out of the office, or a few days to get out of the office and clean it out and so on. Pack up files and all of that sort of stuff because we weren’t expecting an election at this time so the thing had to be planned out in a hurry. And I found that there was other things on my mind which was getting jobs for the staff, making sure that they were all set up, and for myself, of course.

I was particularly conscious of Chris North who was, I think I mentioned earlier, that Chris was from the department and he wasn’t particularly keen on taking the job in the first place. He said he hadn’t applied for it. He was a Labor supporter and that didn’t bother me and I didn’t tell the Minister, not that it didn’t matter at that stage. Political affiliations, in my experience, in the Prime Minister’s Departments, didn’t count. You did a job and that was it. And so, after a week, I said to Chris, ‘What if I go and talk to Peter Morris?’ — who was the Shadow Transport Minister and likely knew the Minister for Transport — ‘What if I go and talk to Peter Morris and offer your services to help him set up his office. Get rid of some of your fears and also indicate to Peter Morris, regarding of who you’re working for, you can still set him up alright.’ So he took to that, and Peter Morris accepted that as well. I think that was a good, reasonable sort of thing to do, to make the transition as easy as possible. And also, from the departmental point of view, because Chris is a Departmental Officer. Now I don’t know how long he stayed in that position, but — and then I…

Jenny Doyle was going to stay on with Ralph as his secretary, he was entitled to one. And Tim Conway got himself a job with ACIL, a consulting firm. And Margo, Margo girl, who was an extremely competent stenographer, had no trouble getting work. I think she might have gone to the Attorney Generals Department. I was the only one left then winging and I asked Ray Taylor, who was head of the Transport Department, and I asked if there was any chance of a job in the department. He said, ‘Well, I’ll get Bill Harris’, who was his first Assistant Secretary, ‘…and we’ll look after that and see what could be done’. I’d had a brush with Bill Harris just before Christmas, about October or November before then, on this roads program that we were promoting. And Bill Harris said that he’d advised the Minister on some promotional exercise to take a plane trip somewhere to get some photographs taken to promote this road program. And, when I saw this, it was going to take four or five hours, there and back, on the particular day - which I just saw as just a photo opportunity.

I said to the Minister, ‘Look, there are plenty of road works going on in Canberra; we’ve got plenty of press photographers in Canberra. Why can’t we just go out to one of the road works here and get you on a grader or whatever. I mean, a picture is a picture. As far as this sort of publicity is concerned’. The Minister agreed and when it was found that this was my suggestion, Bill Harris was not happy. Ray Taylor was not happy. Ray Taylor’s approach was — Bill Harris was my Senior Officer in this area, if he advises something, advises the Minister something, that’s the best advice and I expect that advice to be taken. So I was not in the good books at the top level of the department.

And when it came to the Christmas party, which the Minister generally had drinks with senior staff, a fairly common practice with Ministers and Senior Officers of the department. Come Christmas time, after we went and had a few drinks and a bit of a chat and the Minister was his talk about how pleased he was and how well the Senior Officers had worked and advised him over the year. Everything was going well but he said, ‘I think I’ve got to make a point that I have my own staff, my personal staff, and they have a particular job to do and particular roles to play and I think it’s important that my personal staff, as well as the departmental staff, recognise that my personal staff have the right to have their say as well and I will make a judgement’. And of course, I had a couple of red faces there in the crowd who knew just who he was pointing to.

So when it came five or six months later and I was looking for a job, Bill Harris did come up with a proposition. It was a Class 5, which was, cutting me down from a Class 11, and it was in Personnel, where I’d never worked in my life. In all my Canberra career, I’d never worked in Personnel. He said, ‘Well, I’ve got a Class 5 in Personnel’. I said, ‘Oh come on. You’re not fair dinkum.’ And he said, ‘Well it’s a job and you can move from there’. But I said, ‘I’ve never worked in Personnel’. He said, ‘If I suggest anything higher, the Public Service Board think it’s a political appointment or something’. I said, ‘No, no, forget it. I’ll find something’. And so I went trying to find something.

I suppose, initially, I should say that after the election, one of the first things the new PM Bob Hawke had said was that there would be no jobs for the boys. And the day after the election, I had an application form ready which I’d sent to a number of the people that had been Shadow Ministers who I thought would be Ministers or whether Hawke had immediately announced his Ministry or would have done, so I sent letters to several, five or six, Ministers that I reckon, or people who would be Ministers, that I reckon I could work with, people like, well, Mick Young, I knew Mick Young. Everyone had a view of Mick Young in the Canberra Club so - Mick Young was one, John Kerin, Dick Klugman, I think, Peter Morris. We had a pretty good working relationship. So there were several ones that I’d particularly applied them.

Within a couple of days the Prime Minister announced that no jobs for the boys but, ‘I’m going to set up a Ministerial Staff Advisory Committee’. Bill Butler was the chairman of that committee. I think Peter Wilenski was another member of the committee. And they were to check the staff, check the applicants. There were adverts in the papers for staff. So my applications then went on to this committee, but I didn’t need an interview. Now this is a committee looking at Senior Private Secretaries, Private Secretaries and Assistant Private Secretaries so you’re looking at something like seventy or eighty positions. And at the time I felt that I probably had the second, I was the second most experienced parliamentary staff in Canberra. Paul Davey from Doug Anthony’s office would have had more experience than I had in this area but not, sort of, the breadth of experience that I’d had. But I thought, ‘Aw, so much for no jobs for the boys, I didn’t need an interview.’

So, well, I’d had this response back from the committee and Bill Butler said, ‘Your application is — I have to advise, your application has not been successful. There were two thousand applicants or something like that, and other people were considered to have more experience and qualifications for the job than you have’. I went to the Discrimination Commission. I wrote to the Anti-discrimination, or whatever they call themselves, Commission. The chairman there — and the response back, well, after a long, a long period of time, they just — and a number of probably eight or ten telephone discussion or personal discussions with them. All I did was ask Bill Butler why it appeared I had been discriminated against on, as I said, on political grounds — on supposed political grounds because I’d never been asked my political affiliations in my life in Canberra in any of the jobs I’d held, and he simply wrote back that Mr Jennings, that other people had more qualifications for the job than Mr Jennings, and that was it. The Discrimination Commission just accepted that and forwarded that on, that was it.

But, well, when I say that was it, there were some changes. I mean, the Minister did announce that there would be changes in how appointments were made in the future but that didn’t help me one little bit. And probably another mistake that I made at the time was that I, when I had this response back, I did a copy of my letter to the Discrimination Commission, to Jack Waterford at the Canberra Times. And Jack was a political reporter at that stage, not Editor, and I said ‘Look, this, Jack, I’ve just –’ He’d written a story a couple of days before about staffing and administerial levels and things and so I thought, best see what’s going on. ‘But this is for background, keep me out of it, but if you’re interested in the background, this is what’s happening’. And the next day, across five columns, down three inches, ‘Frank Jennings alleges discrimination’ and my life in Canberra was dead, virtually, certainly in terms of when Government jobs were concerned.

But I did apply for several other jobs and one that I thought I was — well, age was another one that kept throwing up at me. What was I at this stage — fifty-three? ‘Age’ was one, ‘over-qualified’ was another. Some of the jobs that I was applying for were politically tainted. I thought a Parliament House Authority was advertising about a Class 6 or 7. And this was to do with handling of reports to Parliament and questions in Parliament about the Authority. And I thought, the Authority’s short term, five years, eight years, or whatever it was. I think it was a five year thing at that stage. And I said, ‘Well, I’ve done this from both ends. I’ve done it from the departmental side, I’ve done it from the Ministerial side, handled all these sort of reports and statements and questions. Age shouldn’t count, surely, if it’s a five year thing’. And I didn’t rate an interview. They appointed a journalist to the job but I think there were only two jobs.

I think I applied for over a hundred jobs, around the place, I suppose, and I had two interviews. One was for the Voluntary Health Insurance Group, where Russell Snyder and I were the last two, and Russell got that and is still there. I see he was on the Honours List this year. And the other one was for director of the Church and Memorial Trust, where I was a bit involved with Menzies when he started this up, many years before. But they appointed a former Rear Admiral into that sort of job. So I was a bit sunk there.

B York: Do you have any idea as to why you weren’t successful in applying for the jobs that were based on the experience you’d had as a Private Secretary?

F Jennings: I thought I could have worked quite well with a number of them and Mick Young, for instance, had no qualms about taking my application and then passing it on to the Committee. People like Dick Klugman and John Kerin knew me to such a degree that if they were making a statement, if they were putting out a press release in their own electorate about Transport Policy, they’d clear it with me first before they’d put it out. They said, ‘Forget any of the political stuff — but is this okay factually?’ And this is on things like Badgerys Creek Airport and things like that. So the working relationship and the respect they had for my capacity there was a pretty obvious. I mean, the respect I had from Whitlam was pretty obvious.

But I found that one of Bill Butler’s comments on the Ministerial Advisory Committees was that I’d only applied for a Senior Position and he read that as being just a Senior Private Secretary. Subsequent I got the guidelines that that committee was working on in terms of how they would assess people in — for the Senior Private Secretary, Private Secretary, and Assistant Private Secretary. For the Senior Private Secretary they would, one of the factors that they would take into account was there party affiliations. Now I didn’t apply simply for the Senior Private Secretary position and quite frankly, I couldn’t see why party affiliations had — which bench you belonged to or what your association of being with the Labor Party, had anything to do with your administrative capacity to handle that sort of work. So I understand that when there was a first draft of an application form drawn up, you’d have a question in it, ‘Which branch of the party do you belong to?’ which was pretty quickly rubbed out. So I can only assume it was assumed political affiliation.

B York: Can you tell me the source for that previous statement you made about the first draft that was rejected?

F Jennings: No, I don’t know that. I don’t know the source of that. But it might have been just talking at the Club. Certainly the fact that, when the Committee are making their recommendations to various Ministers about some of the applicants, the party connections were to be included in terms of Senior Private Secretaries. I’ve got that on a document that I got from the Special Minister of State Department at the time.

B York: That in itself is a big shift within the political culture compared to what had happened in your previous career.

F Jennings: Absolutely, absolutely. I would have been — the first time that you had to be a party member to get an administrative job. Now, unless they didn’t say it was an administrative job. But then, as I pictured it at the time, if you’re going to have political advisors like in ‘Yes Minister’, you have you in — you don’t have them as your Senior Private Secretary or just your Private Secretary, you bring them in on the side as Special Advisors. But then, the culture had changed pretty dramatically, and I think I was outed on false grounds, I think. I wasn’t at all happy.

B York: Did you find your social life was affected in Canberra?

F Jennings: To the extent that while I was still either on a Prime Minister’s staff or on Ralph’s staff, I might have been, I might have had twenty or thirty invitations to Christmas Parties by lobbyists or those sorts of people, whereas once the election was over, there was none of that. You thought — you think you had a contact with someone on a personal basis and all of a sudden you’d think you’re no use anymore so you’re off the invitation. So to that extent it did.

My social life at the Canberra Club didn’t change and I would have thought most of my — well, quite a lot of the people I used to drink with there would have been Labor supporters. One for instance, that I had a pretty good connection with, was Peter and Peter had been a Research Officer in Whitlam’s office. I was quite surprised, actually, I was invited to a surprise 50th birthday. His family invited me. That was fine. I had subsequent contacts with Peter but — so, you know, they weren’t affected.

B York: Was there an awareness that you had been badly done by?

F Jennings: I don’t think people were surprised. I mean, the people I talked to and so on at the time, I think they expected that Hawke would change the system and make it more political. But that didn’t help me one little bit. I finished up answering an ad in the Canberra Times which said: ‘Looking for a new career? Ring such and such a number.’ And I thought, I wonder what on Earth this is? It could be anything. It could be a sandwich board carrier; it could be a street walk. It could be anything. Who knows? And it was insurance. So I finished up selling insurance, which didn’t amuse me one little bit. Bread on the table job. So I wasn’t a happy boy in ’83, as you can imagine. That virtually concluded my association with the Old Parliament House.

Well, not quite, because even in insurance — because of my background, come budget time, the Sales Manager would say, ‘Frank, will you — when the Budget is brought down tonight - I mean, tomorrow, will you brief our meeting on where the opportunities are, to sell insurance given the changes in the budget?’ So on Budget night I’d come over to Ralph’s office and get a copy of the Budget papers, take them back, burn the midnight oil and then brief the insurance agents on the morning after Budget on what opportunities there were in superannuation and whatever.

Let’s face it, at that stage, there were changes in legislation at least once a month. Often there were five or six changes in the Budget on superannuation. There was always something there for the insurance agency, or something to consider, for the insurance company. So I did come back, for a couple of years, getting the Budget papers. Rather than — I was a bit reluctant to just necessarily accept what’s in the newspapers about Budgets or anything else. So I preferred to get the speeches often and the documentation.

B York: Did you ever have dealings again with Jack Waterford?

F Jennings: No. No, gave him a miss in a hurry. Yeah, no. I did approach him to say, ‘Why?’ Immediately he sort of – ‘Why’d you do that one?’ I said. He said, ‘Well, you know, you might have said that but I didn’t agree.’ And that I wouldn’t use it, or use it as I saw fit, so there was no real agreement as far as he was concerned which helps me now in my current role as tutor for the University of the Third Age. I tutor on a subject called, ‘Behind the Headlines’. I do my media watch and I give people like Jack Waterford every now and again. I use him as an example of why trust a journalist. I know that might sound rough, but I’ve had enough examples to indicate why there should be a reasonable amount of cynicism and lack of trust.

B York: Did you continue to follow politics, once you…?

F Jennings: Not to any real degree. I follow it a little bit now that I’m tutoring again. When I went to Melbourne — I went to Melbourne in ’94, into ’94 I suppose. It must have been ’97, again I got involved in the University of the Third Age in Melbourne, as a student as a start, but in — it would have been ’97, ’98, as a tutor in Current Affairs. So I did renew my interest in the political and government administration area and I used to get a lot of material from Kevin Andrews who was actually my next door neighbour at one stage in Heidelberg. And I used to get material from his office which I used a far bit of. Things like the ‘Bringing Them Home Report’ and so on, which I used pretty substantially for a couple of meetings. I was tutoring there in two different campuses, Doncaster-Templestowe and Yarra Valley. So that started me off on the tutoring bit in Current Affairs.

B York: What happened after Canberra? Can we go back to the chronological order? When you…

F Jennings: ’83…

B York: ’83, then sold insurance for a couple of years…

F Jennings: I sold insurance until ’94.

B York: That was quite a long time then.

F Jennings: It was interesting. One of the interesting things in insurance which probably does the Old Parliament House to a degree is that I saw that the government was looking at allowing public servants or certainly Ministerial Staff to put their superannuation money with a private fund rather than the Commonwealth Super Fund. So I followed this through, through the legislation bit and made contact with the Senior Officer in the Department of Finance who was involved in getting that legislation prepared.

So I kept in touch with what was happening there and what changes might be made and so on. The day of the legislation, the bill received Royal Assent. I had my letters prepared for every Member and Senator, explaining how I could help their staff in terms of the superannuation. I hand delivered these the day after the legislation was assented to and delivered them here at Old Parliament House. So I got the jump on a lot of other agents there because of the background knowledge that I had of the system.

B York: When you say hand delivered them do you mean to each office?

F Jennings: No, I hand delivered to the attendance boxes in Kings Hall, they then went on to the next round. And yes, I got quite a few — so, I had more contacts then with some of the staff here in Parliament House as an insurance agent and also some of the journo’s. I had a couple of journo’s, some you’d probably know — Patrick Waters was one of my clients as was — Chris Warren who was with John [Brian] Howe the Social Security Minister at the time.

B York: Brian Howe?

F Jennings: Brian Howe, sorry. And then subsequently, the Secretary of the Journalists Association and now, I think, the international journalists’ field — still a very strong figure in that area. I know I had discussions with — what’s her name — it shouldn’t escape me should it.

B York: Was she a journalist?

F Jennings: She was at the time in the ABC and then worked with…

B York: Not Gay Davidson?

F Jennings: Not Gaye Davidson. No, no. She’s now a Member of Parliament for Goulburn.

B York: Not Pru Goward?

F Jennings: Pru, Pru. How could I forget Pru? I talked to Pru Goward about superannuation when she was still at the ABC, I think. This was before she went to Rosemary Follett, the Chief Minister for the ACT and I was one of the first insurance agents to have my photograph on a card and it was just a business card, so I gave this card to Pru. We had a talk and I said I’d ring her back - we’ll talk about this later. I remember I rang her up once and she said, ‘Frank, I get up every morning and I look at your picture on my dressing table and I think no, no, I’m not ready to make any decisions yet.’ You can’t win them all.

B York: And after Canberra you went to Melbourne, is that the chronology of it?

F Jennings: I went to Melbourne — I lost a daughter to suicide in ’94 and I had a son who had recently married a Nicaraguan girl and came back from Nicaragua where he’d been for four or five years. He was with Australian Volunteers Abroad an overseas service provider at the time. I was at a stage where I wasn’t coping particularly well with life, particularly when Libby died. I was living in Queanbeyan for a few years and I came back and lived with my son, my eldest son Allan and his Nicaraguan wife and their three little kids. I became a ‘built-in grandpa’.

When Allan got a job with the Overseas Service Bureau in Melbourne, they asked me to go to Melbourne with them. That’s when I went to Melbourne. It would have been the end of ’94. I lived with them until ’98 when I then moved to Port Macquarie when my girlfriend’s second husband died. I said, ‘It was about time we got together’. So that took me to Port Macquarie, where I still be.

B York: You mentioned you’re tutoring with the University of the Third Age?

F Jennings: I’m tutoring now. I was surprised there was no University of the Third Age in Port Macquarie which is a great place for retirees and a University for the Third Age. But I did tutor for a little while there with the Adult Ed on Current Affairs, but then the University of the Third Age started three years ago and I’ve been tutoring with them ever since. I only get a small group, only fifteen or twenty, but they’re interested and it stirs the thinking of the oldies and I think that’s important. They get to my age of seventy-seven, seventy-eight. Seventy-eight now. It’s important to keep their minds active, I think, and that’s what one of the things I’m trying to do at the moment is — I had one person there and in the group there was ninety-five and they were extremely mentally alert. It keeps you busy.

B York: You know how we spoke previously about the change in political culture in your time from Menzies to Hawke? Are there any observations you’d like to offer about how the culture has developed even since then from your perspective?

F Jennings: I think the biggest thing that I find is the influence of the media. The media are continually trying to get more influence. You’ve got it now, you’ve got this ‘Right to know’ movement going on and headed by Tom Hartigan and so on, pushing the government to make changes to freedom of information laws. So that more and more are arguing that freedom of information laws are really geared for open government and so the people are allowed to see what was going on behind government decision making. I didn’t think that was the idea of the freedom of information laws at all. It was more freedom of information for — freedom of information about individuals rather than what was going on.

I can see massive problems if the pressure succeeds and all sorts of documents become available for the media during consideration and deliberation of policy making. You see it now with Ministers making off the cuff comments at doorstops and while their powerwalking in the streets to journalists who just shoot questions at them or some of the current affairs programs where Ministers and Prime Ministers are making statements to journalists. Journalists insisting that they give a response to a question and pursing response. To me this leads to bad administration, off the cuff comments that you make and are publicised and you feel you can’t back off them without being charged with ‘turning over’ or whatever the terms they like to use are. So I think the media are playing a big role in terms of putting pressure on Ministers and, to make statements that they shouldn’t be making without more serious consideration.

One of the reasons why Howard went to radio in the morning was because journalists weren’t reporting the statements that were coming out from the PM’s office. So, he goes to radio where he’s talking directly to people or favourable journalists or interviewers, selected interviewers on particular subjects and getting his own view across without having it distorted or cut or censored by Journalists who just want to make a story out of it. And then once your PM goes on radio as often as Howard did, you then get the Press Gallery journalists saying they’re not getting a fair crack at the whip, but when they did get a fair crack at the whip, they abused it and continued to do so. There are plenty of examples and I had plenty in my time which I can use with my group often enough. I think the media stuff and this support for whistle-blowers.

This recent case with the fellow from customs releasing a security report on Sydney Airport or allegedly releasing the report, I think he still denies it. He was involved in the preparation of the report but the fact that no one did anything about that report for a couple of years and then when it was released to the press, the government jumped up and down and brought in a bloke from England, a security bloke, and they spent $200 million upgrading security at airports. The media uses this as justification for whistle-blowers handing out reports, confidential material. It’s not the public servants material, whether they prepared it or not.

Certainly, I would have thought that the more appropriate action would be to complain up the line a bit, for a start, and see if you can get some action that way. But I find that a lot of the whistle-blowers have been disgruntled public servants who in some cases overrate their position in the establishment when their views are being overlooked by people up the line, and they feel badly done by. I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse to blow the whistle and release material to the public. So there is a lot of pressure from the media and I see even now that they’re suggesting that the current government should make some changes to the freedom of information laws.

The same thing’s happening in Queensland. When Beattie was there as Premier and some journalist wanted some information about some inquiry or something, all they did was put those files in the Cabinet Office and they became Cabinet documents and therefore not available for release. That’s going a bit too far, but I don’t think there’s any justification for draft materials, advising materials, to be made public. The things to be made public, I think, are the final decisions of government and maybe their reasons for it but that doesn’t mean that all the working papers should be made available as well.

B York: What about lobbyists? During your time, was there a noticeable change in terms of the influence or even the number of the lobbyists?

F Jennings: I didn’t find a lot of lobbyists involved. When I was with PM’s or - I mean they were generally the lobbyists would ring to try and make an appointment for a new appointment as a Head of a company or something, or an organisation. But that would generally be a courtesy call and getting-to-know-you sort of type thing. It certainly gives the person an ‘in’ that, ‘I’ve met the PM or the Minister and if I can send a letter I can expect it to be considered’. I didn’t find any undue influence from lobbyists in my time at all.

B York: My impression is that from the 80’s there was like a professionalisation for lobbying and even businesses would lobby on behalf of people who were established?

F Jennings: Well certainly I think the lobby industry did build up during the 80’s and I know — but my association is on a sort of personal basis at Christmas parties, I guess, but there were three or four who developed pretty substantial businesses around this town. I think it was, since my time, a lot of your organizations would be medical or others like pharmaceutical or your AMA’s or general practitioners who set up shop here in Canberra that hadn’t happened in my earlier days anyway. So I think all that’s developed since my active time here.

B York: Frank, how do you feel coming back to Old Parliament House?

F Jennings: I think it’s a place I’d — I think I should come to more often and prowl around. I know the last couple of years I’ve come here and I’ve had probably more looks in the last two or three years than I have for the years since I’ve left. It’s a place I think I should bring my grandkids to more often, to give them a bit of history and develop their interest in this sort of the political and administrative area of government. And I think some of the displays now are really tremendous in terms of, well, setting out the history and the interest and encouraging kids to be interested. I think that’s a valuable asset.

B York: And one question that I’ve been asked to include in all the interviews because we’re developing what’s going to be called a Gallery of Australia Democracy here as a feature of the building, after the Portrait Gallery moves out. They’re particularly interested in the responses of interviewees of ‘What does democracy mean to you?’ Now, I’m happy to turn off — to have a thought about that if you want to? And we can continue on that question, or if you feel capable of answering off the top of your head, that’s good too.

F Jennings: Well, democracy, I guess it means different things to lots of different people. I think that the concept that democracy means everybody can have an equal say and an equal say will be heard and considered and acted upon, there’s a bit of fairyland stuff, a bit of fantasy. I’ve thought about this a few times and talked about it at one or two or my groups, one or two years ago, but I think that, there’s a quote that says, ‘a democratic system is by no means perfect but it’s the best we’ve got at the moment’.

I know my son, my eldest son who was in Nicaragua for about five years, felt that it was more democratic there where people like Daniel Ortega would meet a lot of people in Managua in the local showground sort of thing and they’d all have their say. But Ortega became President my son quickly changed his mind and felt that the views of the people didn’t count anymore. Although they’d had their say, their say hasn’t counted in terms of the decisions.

I see democracy probably as a system where everyone who is in a position to have a say and their say can be heard, not necessarily agreed with, but taken into account. You’ve still got to have people up the topside to make the final decisions. I really can’t go along with any concept that say, ‘Well, we can have a consensus on any major issue, in any major issue we should have a referendum’. I think that’s just taking the administration and decision making too far down the track in terms of reality.

I think that—I encourage any of my people that have got a bleat about what’s going on in government, I said, ‘Well, put a case to your Member of Parliament’. And your Member of Parliament, if he gets enough of those bleats, he should take that further up the track either to the party meeting or the Minister or whatever. So I think it’s a pyramid type democracy if you like that just works its way up the line and if an idea is found to be good enough for a good enough number of people, it’s got a chance of being accepted up the topside.

I’ve got no major bleats about our current system in Australia. I do have some problems with minority — well, I have problems with having two parties and two Parliaments, your representative Parliament, the House of Reps, and a different Parliament in the Senate. I have a problem with that in that the Senate doesn’t meet its normal, its original, plan of protecting the states. That doesn’t operate — it’s a party house. And it’s also a place because the voting system, where a minority, one or two people representing a very small minority of the Australian population, can control the decision making. Now I don’t think that’s a good system at all.

There are people that say, ‘You should just have no parties at all and just have individual members having their say.’ That might sound all right in theory but experience around the world, look at Italy. Since the end of the last war they’re had more than one government a year because a lot of individual or small minority parties. You can’t get decent administration or decent decision making where you’ve got a lot of individuals to take into account to get one or two on the side. And often, you get a decision that’s made that doesn’t represent that majority view, but you get a compromised decision which often leads to very mediocre decision making. Now that all sounds a bit wishy-washy now that I think about it, but that’s top-of-my-head stuff.

B York: And I hope you’ve been satisfied with the interview itself.

F Jennings: Yes, Barry, thanks.

B York: In closing up, or in finishing off, is there anything important that I’ve neglected to ask or any final comments that you’d like to make.

F Jennings: I can’t think of anything relating specifically to the Old Parliament House and my time here. No doubt when I sit down and listen to them again, there’ll be things that I might have found valuable but at the moment I think we’ve squeezed what I can think of at the moment into the conversation. But it’s a valuable exercise and a good historical [resource] I think, that you’ve got some of these recordings for people. I know we’ve covered a lot more than just around Old Parliament House but there’s a fair bit about Frank per se in that.

B York: Well we like to know who you are, of course. It’s not just about your interactions here, in any of the interviews. We like to know who are the people who were part of this place, who made it. I think we’ve achieved that to an extent and all I can do is thank you very much once again for your cooperation.

F Jennings: Thanks Barry. Well, thanks for the opportunity.

B York: Okay.


This history has multiple parts.

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Acton Guest House, Aid to Church Schools, Ainsley Gotto, Air Force One, Aircraft, Al Stafford, Alan Cumming-Thom, Allan Rose, Allen Brown, Anti-Discrimination Commission, Anzac Day, Arthur Calwell, ASIO, Athol Townley, Attendants, Australian Clerical Officers Association, Badgerys Creek, Ballina, Bede Hartcher, Bert Shepard, Bettina Gorton, Betty Greenwood, Betty Jennings, Bill Butler, Bill Harris, Bill Hayden, Bill Heseltine, Billy McMahon, Billy Snedden, Bingil Bay, Bob Drury, Bob Furlonger, Bob Hawke, Bob Jordan, Bob Lawrence, Bob Linford, Bob Willoughby, Brian Howe, Bushfires, Cabinet leaks, Cabinet Room, Cabinet submissions, Cadet patrol officer, Cambodia, Canberra, Canberra Club, Canberra Times, Canberra University College, Car accident, Caravelle Hotel, Carol Summerhayes, Charles Halton, Charlie Upton, Chigee, CHOGM, Chris North, Chris Warren, Code of dress, Colombo Plan, Commonwealth Employment Service, Commonwealth Gazette, Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, Connair Airways, Conscription, Cotter river, CRTS (Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme), Darwin, David Barnett, David Ortega, Democracy, Department of Territories, Department of Transport, Dick Klugman, Don Chipp, Dorrigo, Doug Anthony, East Block, Economic Commission for Asia Economics Division, PM’s Department, Eddie Connellan, Education, Egypt, Election campaigns, Family, Far East Conference, Farming, Federal Executive Council, France, Frank Ball, Frankfurt, Gamal Nasser, Geoff Yeend, Government House, Governor General, Hansard, Harare, Harold Holt, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Havelock House, Hawaii, Hazel Craig, Hotel Canberra, Hotel Windsor, Hugh Dash, Ian Fitchett, Industrial Chemistry, Interdepartmental Committee on GATT, Ivor Hele, Jack McEwen, Jack Pettifer, Jack Waterford, Jan Moore, Jane Macphillamy, Jim Hodges, Jim Killen, Jim Plimsoll, Jim Short, Jim Starkey, John Bunting, John Carrick, John Fitzgerald Kennedy assassination, John Gorton, John Hammond, John Kerin, John Overall, John Waller, John Wilton, Jon Menadue, Jonathan Gaul, Journalists, Julius Nyere, June Walters, Keith Sinclair, Kenneth Kaunda, Kevin Andrews Kings Hall, Kirribilli House, Korea, Laos, Lawley House, Lennox Hewitt, Les McSpiran, Loans Affair, Lobbyists, Lord De L’isle, Lucerne flats, Lyndon Baine Johnson, Malawi, Malcolm Fraser, Manuka, Margaret Guilfoyle, Marie Halford, Marie Helsford, Marriage, Martinis, Mary Newport, Media, Messengers, Mick Young, Milk run, Mim Hunt, Ministerial Staff Advisory Committee, Nancy Prasad, National Capital Development Authority, New, Parliament House, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigel Bowen, Nora Mills, Norfolk Island, O’Connor, Owen Brown, Owen Wilson, Papua New Guinea, Pat Delacy, Pat Wheatley, Patrick Waters, Pattie Menzies, Paul Davey, Paul Hasluck, Penny Wensley, Personal assistants, Peter Bailey, Peter Cullen, Peter Howson, Peter Kelly, Peter Lawler, Peter Morris, Peter Nixon, Peter Wilenski, Petro Georgiou, Petrov Affair, Politics, Port Macquarie, Portsea Postmaster General’s Department, Premiers’ conference, Press conferences, Prime Minister’s Department, Protests, Provisional Parliament House, Pru Goward, Public Service Board, Queanbeyan, RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force), Ralph Hunt, Ray Coppin, Ray Taylor, Ray Whitrod, REDEX trial, Referenda, Refugees Club, Regional Shipping Conference, Reid House, Religion, Research officers, Residences, Richard Casey, Ron Mendelsohn, Rosemary Follett, Roy Bullock, Royal Canberra Golf Club, Royal Family, Royal Visit 1954, Russell Snyder, Science, Secretaries, Security, Seychelles, Singapore, Snowy Mountains Authority, South Pacific Forum for Civil Aviation, Special Branch Police, Sport, St. Barnabas Church, Standing Orders, Statistics, Stenographers, Stromlo, Suez crisis, Sunday School, Sunshine Coast, Superannuation, Sydney, TAA (Trans-Australia Airways), Taiwan, Tanzania, Technology, Tim Conway, Timbrol Ltd, Tom Ferrie, Tom Hartigan, Tony Eggleton, Transport, Treasury, Tutoring, U3A (University of the Third Age), Ungary, Valerie Taylor, Vietnam, Vietnam War, Walgett, West Wyalong, Zambia, Zara Holt, Zimbabwe


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