Gail Tregear, born in 1940, talks about her late father, Allan Tregear, who joined the Parliamentary service in the Senate in 1920 and was Clerk of the House of Representatives from 1955 to 1958. She also recalls memories of childhood and teenage years in the Provisional Parliament House.
Interview with Gail Tregear part 1
L Stewart: This is an interview with Gail Tregear, who is the daughter of the late Allan Tregear who was Clerk of the House of Representatives from 1955 to 1958. Gail visited the provisional Parliament House as a child and teenager and I’ll ask her to share some memories with us about her father and her memories of the building back then.
Gail will be speaking with me, Libby Stewart for the Oral History Program conducted by the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. On behalf of the Director of the Museum, I’d like to thank you for agreeing to participate in this program Gail.
Do you understand that the Commonwealth owns copyright of the interview material but disclosure will be subject to any disclosure restrictions you impose in completing rights agreement?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: This being so, may we have your permission to make a transcript or a summary of this recording should we decide to make one?
G Tregear: Absolutely.
L Stewart: This interview is taking place today, on Tuesday 26th of June 2012 at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House.
So perhaps we could begin Gail with the memories of your father, Allan Tregear, and would you be able to tell me what you know of your father’s background? For example where he was born and where he grew up.
G Tregear: Yes, he was born in Port Melbourne. They lived a bit all over the place because his father worked for the railways and his father actually taught Ben Chifley to drive a train. But at the age of twelve he had to leave school because his father was out of work, he belonged to the wrong union, and they couldn’t afford him not to be bringing in an income — and the same for his brother, almost two years older — so he went to work as a post office messenger boy, which so many of the senior public servants of subsequent years had started off along that path.
Now he went to night school and then he went on to Melbourne University and did a commerce degree and he also had qualifications in accounting and he was also a certified short-hand writer.
L Stewart: And did he work to be able to support his studies through university?
G Tregear: Yes, oh yes he worked at the post office.
L Stewart: Right through the whole time of his studies?
G Tregear: Well he may have gone from delivering telegrams to further up the chain along that time. And then eventually he joined the Parliamentary Service when the Parliament House was still in Melbourne.
L Stewart: Yes, right. So what were his parents doing at the time? Were they — well I guess his mother probably wasn’t working…
G Tregear: No, she never worked. They were very poor and grandfather worked for the railways and the last place where I knew they were living all together as a family was in Kensington, alongside the railway line there, and apparently there was a group of them that they used to have the people from a bit further up, they would walk down the tracks into town every morning and they would just throw pebbles at the window of the house for someone to come out and join them. And they would all walk down the tracks which was quite a hike into main Melbourne depot.
L Stewart: Gosh. So that was a very hard life…
G Tregear: Very, very hard life.
L Stewart: Probably quite a low wage.
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: So your father finished his degree — was it a Bachelor or…?
G Tregear: He did — he got a Bachelor of Commerce and he also had the accountancy certification and the short-hand writer’s certification.
L Stewart: So did he then get a job with the Parliamentary Service as soon as he’d graduated?
G Tregear: He would have got it beforehand, because he didn’t actually finish his degree until he was in Canberra. He was — everything had to be done by night school and part-time.
L Stewart: Right, so he moved from the post office then into the Parliamentary…
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: So what was his first job?
G Tregear: I don’t know. No he really didn’t talk about the old days terribly much.
L Stewart: No, well he — so I’ve got that he joined the public service in around 1911. Does that sound right?
G Tregear: That could be — yes that could be right.
L Stewart: So he was studying at that stage, and then he joined the Senate staff in 1920, so that’s still in Melbourne.
G Tregear: That’s right. He was in the Senate, with the Senate staff originally and then I think he was at the Joint House at some stage and then he went to the Reps. He might have even come to Canberra with the Joint House.
L Stewart: I’ve got that he transferred to the House of Reps’ staff in 1925, so that’s just prior to coming here that he was with them. I’ll just go back to him a little as a person, do you know what — if he had any particular religious views?
G Tregear: No, [laughs] he didn’t. He had two Methodist uncles and the family was nominally Methodist, but I discovered in subsequent years that his mother actually was Catholic. And my parents were actually married in the house of one of his Methodist minister uncles by another Methodist minister uncle. And my father and his brother were never baptised and neither was I. So golf was far more important than religion actually in the family.
L Stewart: So it wasn’t one of those families with a split…
G Tregear: No, no.
L Stewart: Alright. And what about his political views, do you know much about them and the formation of them?
G Tregear: Quite a bit but he couldn’t actually talk about them in public of course because of his job. But there were certain politicians that he had a lot of time for and there were others that he had no time for whatsoever. And he was — but he was actually really very dedicated to the whole process of parliament. He loved his job and he loved the whole of the parliamentary progress. And the procedures and everything else that went with it.
L Stewart: Well yes you’d need a good love of them I guess to be in a career for that long. Did he have a leaning to one side of politics or the other?
G Tregear: Well I know that one time when they hadn’t been married long my mother had — they were in Canberra, my mother came back and she said ‘oh these people have asked me if I will join the Young Liberals, the Liberal Party’, and Dad said ‘do you want to cost me my job?’ [laughs]. So that was the end of politics in the family. Basically we all sat on the fence as far as politics was concerned, when there was good policy, yes you were enthusiastic about it. If you thought something was stupid you kept quiet.
L Stewart: So he didn’t necessarily vote one way or the other his whole life?
G Tregear: He voted informally, always.
L Stewart: Is that right, did he talk about that? And why he did that?
G Tregear: Yes, because he didn’t want to be seen any particular way as leaning towards one side or the other.
L Stewart: Is that because he worked in parliament, that he wanted to be seen as completely neutral?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Gee, that’s dedication isn’t it. That’s quite amazing, what about in his hobbies and recreational pursuits. What did he do, apart from golf?
G Tregear: Yes, he was very good at all sports. He was an A grade cricketer and tennis player and his golf would have been good if he could have spent more time on it. My mother took over with that one. And he loved horses and horse racing.
L Stewart: So he followed — did he go to the races when you lived in Melbourne?
G Tregear: Yes, but what was more that he and his — they lived next door to a trainer when they were in Kensington and he and his brother used to go and ride track work.
L Stewart: Oh did they?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: So he was quite a rider as well as loving horses.
G Tregear: Oh yes he was a good rider and he always had a strong interest in the racing.
L Stewart: So Phar Lap and that whole era…
G Tregear: Yes he would have probably have seen Phar Lap.
L Stewart: He probably would, that’s great. So golf he loved but didn’t get enough time to play?
G Tregear: No, but it was what kept the marriage together [laughs].
L Stewart: The golf?
G Tregear: The golf.
L Stewart: Because your mother played?
G Tregear: Because my mother was a seriously good golfer.
L Stewart: So that was probably something they continued all their lives?
G Tregear: Yes, they always played in the mixed foursomes every Sunday and at all the tournaments. Except if it was a day of a big tournament, she was generally sought out by some of the better players.
L Stewart: Okay so she was better than him?
G Tregear: Oh yes. Didn’t necessarily mean that she would beat him every time, but she was very good.
L Stewart: And what about books and authors, did he read widely?
G Tregear: He did. He liked to read a lot of periodicals because he’d bring things home from the library like — we used to get the Punch and the Saturday Evening News — what was it, Saturday Evening Post I think it was, and the Illustrated London News and all those sort of magazines he always brought home a pile of magazines. I think it’s because he didn’t have a long time to concentrate on novels or non-fiction books so it had to be something he could read quickly.
L Stewart: Did he do much reading for his job as well?
G Tregear: Well of course they had to read all the papers that were in there, and he was interested in the whole of the Westminster system history.
L Stewart: Okay, so he would probably have read about that quite widely.
G Tregear: Yes. But I was the one who was the reader in the family.
L Stewart: Is that right?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Well it sounds like he might have been an influence. Your mother, did she read as well?
G Tregear: She did, but she preferred golf books.
L Stewart: [laughs] Oh well that goes along with the interest, certainly. So I guess I was going to ask whether your father talked much about the reasons that he came to Canberra, but obviously he came here as part…
G Tregear: He came with the parliament.
L Stewart: As part of his job once parliament moved.
G Tregear: And he was quite happy to do that.
L Stewart: So 1927, Canberra was quite a small place, how did your mother feel about the move, do you know?
G Tregear: She didn’t come until 1937 when she got married, he’d been here for ten years before he got married.
L Stewart: Oh right, so were they a couple in Melbourne?
G Tregear: No, no didn’t meet until ’35 or something like that. He was one of Canberra’s most eligible bachelors at the time apparently.
L Stewart: Right, so had she come from — where had she come from?
G Tregear: Melbourne. They met on holidays on Phillip Island I think it was.
L Stewart: So when did she move to Canberra, do you know?
G Tregear: They got married in 1937 and she’d come up a couple of times to see it but…
L Stewart: Okay so he’d met her in Melbourne when he was work — living here.
G Tregear: On holidays…
L Stewart: Right and she came here when they got married. Great, so…
G Tregear: He lived at Brassey House.
L Stewart: I was going to say, where did he — so he came here and moved to Brassey House which was…
G Tregear: Lived there for ten years.
L Stewart: Did he talk much about that?
G Tregear: Yes quite a bit because he — he talked a lot about those days and he’d made many many friends from that time, because you did because there wasn’t a great deal of entertainment, you made your own entertainment. But there seem to have been loads of picnics. He had a car and trips out to the river and trips to the snow and trips to the coast, they all seemed to be a good sort of young crowd who played tennis and golf and did anything on the weekend, or went fishing together.
It seems to have been a really nice atmosphere there because as I said there weren’t very many distractions, and because he was a driver and didn’t drink he was very popular for taking everyone into the pub in Queanbeyan on Friday night because he would be designated driver as it were.
L Stewart: Yes, so very popular for his car if nothing else. And as you say, you said your mother came up a couple of times after they’d met and obviously the relationship was still relevant. Did they talk about — did they go to dances and balls?
G Tregear: I don’t know, I think they played golf mostly.
L Stewart: Well the early golf course which was…
G Tregear: At the back of the Albert Hall.
L Stewart: Yes that’s right, gosh.
G Tregear: And she came up once with her father, and she came up another time with a girlfriend. I think she came up two or three different times. I’ve got film of that. Some of her — this is because her father was keen on taking movies, home movies and I gave them all to the National Sound and Screen Archive and they’ve taken out excerpts — some of them are actually on that actual film they did on Canberra, and the, so I’ve got some others. They put a DVD, they gave me a separate DVD of my selection of home movies.
L Stewart: Yes because there wouldn’t have been too much film of that period that still exists. What about the opening itself, did you — you’ve just very generously given us a couple of photos of that period, did he talk at all at the opening, did he have a role to play?
G Tregear: Oh yes he would’ve. Because they had to sort of accommodate a huge influx of people from everywhere, so I think they were all pretty flat out on that. But the talk of the thing was Melba.
L Stewart: And what was the talk?
G Tregear: Oh that Madam Melba was — being Madam Melba the whole time, she was a total prima donna, extremely difficult to work with and then the technology failed and all sorts of problems.
L Stewart: Well she ended up being drowned out by the fly-past.
G Tregear: Yes, she was not a happy person apparently, but she wasn’t — she didn’t endear herself to any of them at the time because she was too difficult, too temperamental to work with. And I think one of the reasons was that she wasn’t actually well in those days. I’ve read her biography and it seems that at that stage she had a lot of health problems and probably standing out in Canberra on a bleak May day would not have been very conducive to her happiness.
L Stewart: It was quite a cold day, the sun came out for a while. I think it ended up with rain later in the day.
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: And did he mention, did he meet the Duke and Duchess of York, did he seen them?
G Tregear: I’m not sure, he may not have.
L Stewart: He would have seen them in the Chamber but…
G Tregear: Oh yes. I think he did at one stage, when he was talking about the present Queen as well, saying — and Princess Margaret — that they were all, nobody realised how short they were until they saw them in the flesh because…
L Stewart: Interesting observation.
G Tregear: Because they’re all about not much more than five foot tall, yes.
L Stewart: Something we tend not to realise. How would you describe his character and personality? Did he, obviously you said he had lots of friends when he was here so was a gregarious type of person?
G Tregear: He was, everybody liked him, he was good company. He enjoyed chat and a joke and things like that. He was very, I never heard him being deliberately or publically bitchy about anybody or anything. At times things would make him angry, but he was also so extremely intelligent. He had an incredibly incisive mind and he could shut me up in two seconds by saying ‘and what’s the point of this?’ [laughs].
L Stewart: A bit of a hard taskmaster?
G Tregear: He was a very hard taskmaster but I think it was because he saw that I had advantages that he’d never had. And so…
L Stewart: He wanted you to…
G Tregear: He wanted to make sure that I did my school work and could do my maths and could do my Latin and could do everything that was required.
L Stewart: Well he must have been very — he needed dedication as much as anything else to continue his studies here, so he was still doing them through Melbourne University?
G Tregear: Melbourne University, they had Canberra University College then, so they could go to lectures here.
L Stewart: Right, and how long did you say it took him…
G Tregear: He got his degree in I think 1931.
L Stewart: Right, so it was still a good three or four years of studying when he came here. Of course doing it part time because of working.
G Tregear: Because they had very long night work in those days too.
L Stewart: So that would have — did you mother ever talk about whether that, although of course she…
G Tregear: She didn’t know him, she hadn’t met him by that stage.
L Stewart: No that’s right, of course. So I suppose he was single so he had the time to devote to it.
G Tregear: Exactly.
L Stewart: And were you the only child of family?
G Tregear: Yes, I appeared — well they married late so I appeared further on in their lives and they never really recovered.
L Stewart: [laughs] well it was reasonably common, the Depression…
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: So it was a difficult time for a lot of couples. So did you mother talk much about coming to Canberra to live and after they were married and what life was like for her in such a small town?
G Tregear: She was popular from the moment that they found out that my father was ‘keeping company’ as it were, with her. She was in demand to come here, everybody wanted her to come because she was a champion golfer and they thought she would lift the pennant team and the competition and everything else. So she immediately fell completely on her feet because she was popular and had all this attention heaped upon her.
L Stewart: And is that what happened, did she life the standard of golf?
G Tregear: Yes, oh yes certainly she did yes.
L Stewart: So when she wasn’t playing golf what else did she do to keep herself occupied?
G Tregear: She did her normal domestic life in those days, there was absolutely no idea of her ever getting a job. Her family were far better off than Dad’s family had ever been so she wasn’t supposed to work anyhow. And during — she became a golfer because during the Depression her father said to her ‘you do whatever you like but keep out of the shops’. And so she would go down and practice at the golf club, and she said there were men who were desperate for money and they would be happy to field balls for a shilling an hour or something like that. And she would go and practice every day and that’s how she became so good.
L Stewart: Oh okay so it was a Depression era past time. Where did they live when they first got married? Do you know where they got married?
G Tregear: Yes, they got married in Melbourne but they came straight up here. They lived in Sir Robert Garran’s house in Mugga Way while they were building their house. Because he was away somewhere or other, I’m not sure.
L Stewart: What was his…
G Tregear: He was Solicitor-General, Sir Robert Garran who — he was the father of the Constitution.
L Stewart: So what year was that that they were married?
G Tregear: They were married in 1937 and then they building their own house at that time.
L Stewart: Where was that?
G Tregear: That was the corner of Arthur Circle and Moresby Street. 61 Arthur Circle. It was very modern…
L Stewart: Was that Forrest at that stage or…
G Tregear: No it was Red Hill.
L Stewart: Red Hill, okay.
G Tregear: And Dad had sussed out all the land and places around, and having spent ten Canberra winters, his quest was for something that would get as much sun as possible, so he bought that block and orientated the house so that it would capture all the winter sun.
L Stewart: That would have been very unusual.
G Tregear: It was, yes.
L Stewart: So he didn’t use any of the standard government designs.
G Tregear: No, no, Moir was the architect who did it.
L Stewart: And that house is still there?
G Tregear: It’s still there but it’s been corrupted.
L Stewart: It’s been altered…
G Tregear: That’s the nicest word I can say about it.
L Stewart: Okay well we’ll probably get back to the social life a bit more later, but do you think that your dad working here and the hours that he would’ve had to have kept at times, did that impact on your mother and then on you after you were born?
G Tregear: Don’t think it impacted too much on her, it impacted on me, but he was very good, he used to always — if the House was sitting late, when they got up at 6 o’clock for the dinner break, he would always phone home and speak to me before I went to bed so that I could chat to him, tell him about my day and things like that. So that was nice, but they had this huge block of land with an orchard, a huge vegetable garden, chooks and the rest of it, and it was down to me at a very young age to look after everything. And I didn’t realise you know until I was quite a bit older that other kids didn’t do an hour’s chores before they went to school and an hour’s chores when they came home.
L Stewart: So that was your mother directing you to your chores?
G Tregear: No, no. It was, she was, her head was in the clouds somewhere, she was probably on the ninth green mentally at the time. And it was the fact that these things needed to be done, and Dad would show me how to mix the mash for the chooks and you know, knew how to get the eggs and protect the plants and how to water, yes. So I was a sort of general farm hand, as it were.
L Stewart: Yes I was just wondering, next question here I was going to ask about the Depression and I’m just wondering so your mother was still in Melbourne during the Depression, and she was as you say playing golf and keeping…
G Tregear: And keeping herself out of mischief.
L Stewart: That way and he was…
G Tregear: He was here.
L Stewart: He was here and living a bachelor life but I’m just wondering if that had any impact on the way he thought and when he did have a chance to own his own block, whether he wanted to be not self-sufficient but you know…
G Tregear: I think they did it in Canberra because there was no choice and you were limited to what you could get in the way of fruit and veg and things like that. So everybody, everybody had gardens and everybody had chooks. It wasn’t, it wasn’t uncommon. Ours was just bigger.
L Stewart: Yes, I guess there would have been his colleagues, his friends who were in a similar situation I suppose, marrying and getting large blocks.
G Tregear: Yes, although many of them didn’t go in for such a large block sort of thing.
L Stewart: Did he talk at all about the Depression?
G Tregear: Not really because he was here.
L Stewart: So he had a steady job and it wasn’t…
G Tregear: Yes, yes. And he was really focussed on that and there was a paper that I gave you that was about the economic situation in the 1930s. He also went to Europe and the States, he took a Sabbatical in 1931-32 I think it was. And his — had his diaries of that time and he was noticing that you know in Europe there were so many people in uniform and in America there were so many that were out of work and the Depression was really bad in America when he was there.
L Stewart: And he kept those diaries from that trip?
G Tregear: Yeah, yeah.
L Stewart: That’s great. So what did he do, he just travelled?
G Tregear: He travelled, but he went to House of Commons when he was in London and he did the same in Canada and in Washington.
L Stewart: So he would have been observing parliamentary process and practices.
G Tregear: Yes and then he’d been on that Royal Commission into the motion picture industry, so he went to Hollywood and they…
L Stewart: So when was that?
G Tregear: I think it was 1929, yes. Not long after…
L Stewart: Start of the Depression…
G Tregear: Because the motion picture industry was really big in Australia and they thought that this could be a serious income, revenue for Australia in the future. So he went to Hollywood and he got looked after like a prince in Hollywood because the Americans were very keen to sort of catching onto the Australian market and get their films promoted.
L Stewart: Right, that’s great. So did he talk about that when he…
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Did he have mementos and things that he kept from those travels?
G Tregear: No but he did remember that he was in one of the studios, in the head of the studio’s office and a messenger boy came in and handed him a paper and he said thanks boy. And he said, as he left he said to my dad ‘that boy will be a major star soon’. And his name was Gary Cooper. But he was working as a messenger at that particular studio.
L Stewart: Back in those days it would’ve been the major studios, gosh. That would’ve been fascinating. Your mum missed out, she wasn’t on the scene at that stage.
G Tregear: Yes she wasn’t on the scene at that stage.
L Stewart: Did they just — as an aside, did they travel together later?
G Tregear: Yes they went, on their honeymoon they went to Hong Kong and then we all went to England in 1951 when he went to the House of Commons.
L Stewart: Okay so he went later after the war. I just wanted to ask you about the war years a little bit because he was seconded to the Department of Munitions, so what was, do you know what work he did there?
G Tregear: No I don’t, but he was sort of the right hand of Fred Shedden.
L Stewart: Who was…
G Tregear: The head of Munitions.
L Stewart: In Australia at the time…
G Tregear: Yes and I think he was also the liaison between them and the people in Canberra on the Defence side of things. So I think he was the link there.
L Stewart: So did he talk much about the war years?
G Tregear: Not a great deal, I just know. Well I don’t remember it from that time anyhow, he came back to Canberra when I was just over twelve months old.
L Stewart: Right, so he was based in, when you say he came back to Canberra…
G Tregear: From Melbourne, he was in…
L Stewart: So he was in Melbourne for that whole…
G Tregear: With the Munitions for two years.
L Stewart: Right, but in the meantime your mother fell pregnant with you?
G Tregear: Yes, well she got pregnant with me before they went to Melbourne so I can always say that I was made in Canberra even If I wasn’t actually born…
L Stewart: So she stayed here, she didn’t go…
G Tregear: No she went to Melbourne.
L Stewart: She went to Melbourne as well. And then you were born here.
G Tregear: No I was born in Melbourne.
L Stewart: Okay. Made here but born in Melbourne and then came up here. How old were you when you all came back?
G Tregear: Just over a year.
L Stewart: So right at the end of the war?
G Tregear: No it was ’42.
L Stewart: Oh okay.
G Tregear: I was born in 1940.
L Stewart: The start of the Pacific War really.
G Tregear: Yes. We had black out blinds in Canberra, we had an air-raid shelter in our garden.
L Stewart: Yes, which was reasonably…
G Tregear: Everybody did, quite a lot of people did have…
L Stewart: I wonder if that’s still there like the one at Calthorpe’s House…
G Tregear: Yes I don’t know, but the — I do remember them telling me at one stage that, I think it was before they went to Melbourne — or it might have been about this time, anyhow they decided to go down to the coast for the day and saved up petrol rations to go down to the coast, but there were no signs up anywhere, no road directions or anything and they got to Braybrook and they couldn’t work out whether they should go straight ahead or turn left [laughs]…
L Stewart: What happened?
G Tregear: And they didn’t dare ask anybody because you would have been looked at as those you were suspicious if you asked for directions how to get to the coast so they had to turn around and come home again.
L Stewart: Didn’t make it [laughs].
G Tregear: But all the road signs and things had come down.
L Stewart: Oh I see.
G Tregear: Not street signs in Canberra, but the sign posts on the roads had all been removed.
L Stewart: So what happened with the house here then, did they, was anyone living in it?
G Tregear: They let it when they went to Melbourne to some Americans which convinced us never, ever, ever let a house to Americans.
L Stewart: Why is that?
G Tregear: Because they had no discipline with their children.
L Stewart: So they did a bit of damage?
G Tregear: They did some mega damage. And because they were Diplomatic you couldn’t get anything back from them.
L Stewart: So you came back from Melbourne and your mother and father probably had to start cleaning up.
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: So your dad went straight back to…
G Tregear: He went straight back to work.
L Stewart: Back to work, back to parliament. Alright I’ll talk a bit more about the, his parliamentary work here. As you’ve already commented on that he was very careful to be non-partisan and I imagine that that continued for the rest of his working life.
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Where there any particular politicians that he used to talk about or liked more than others or any that you could tell that he didn’t like so much?
G Tregear: He respected Menzies a lot, I’m not sure that he necessarily liked him, but he certainly respected him and he thought that he was a very good leader although he didn’t approve of all of the things he did. He liked Chifley, he liked Curtin, he liked Artie Fadden, oh there were quite a lot of them that he liked, but there were one or two where he was — that I knew he had special links with. One was Hugh Roberton.
L Stewart: Who was he?
G Tregear: He was a Liberal member for somewhere I think around the Murrumbidgee irrigation area or somewhere around that area. But he was a Scot and he had a wicked sense of humour and they used to exchange poems in the Chamber. They would write a poem and get it passed over and then get the message passed back. So if the proceedings were a bit quiet they would be sitting there writing their little bits of doggerel.
L Stewart: I guess they had to do something to keep themselves occupied. Does he have any particular stories, anecdotes about goings on or particular people?
G Tregear: Well one of the times when it was, I remember particularly was when Eleanor Roosevelt came to Canberra because she was drumming up support for the American war effort and I think to get money for supporting some of the charities and things. She came to Canberra with a huge retinue of people and a bulletproof car and the rest of it. And the FBI, I presume it was the FBI people that were with her wanted to wear their guns into Parliament House. And Dad was the one that said ‘no, you do not wear guns into an Australian parliament building’, and they said ‘oh yes we have to’, and Dad said ‘no’ and they didn’t. They didn’t, they had to leave their guns at home.
L Stewart: Is that right, couldn’t even leave them at the front desk or…
G Tregear: No, no that would’ve been considered too risky. So she came apparently and addressed, I don’t know whether it was a joint, it might have been a join sitting that she spoke to. But the FBI were there without their guns on.
L Stewart: Well that’s something you would remember wouldn’t you, when you put your foot down to someone at that level. You’ve sort of alluded to the fact that he had very long days, he was there when the sittings did go very late.
G Tregear: They went all night sometimes. And that’s why he finally resigned when he did because the night work was getting to him. He was finding it more and more difficult.
L Stewart: He’d had many, many years of that hadn’t he?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Did he — I’m just reflecting back on his career, he was Serjeant-at-Arms from 1927, so he came here and he was promoted so that was increasing his responsibility. And then he becomes Clerk Assistant in 1937 and then Clerk of the House from 1935. So that’s a long period of time at that level of responsibility. So you think that ultimately it took its toll.
G Tregear: Yes, and the other reason was, that took its toll and the other thing was that he’d been so — not put out of it, but he was not happy with the fact that Frank Green, his predecessor because he came from Tasmania, was allowed to stay there till he was 70, in the job. That was just because the Tasmanian parliament had that rule and because he’d come from Tasmania. It applied to him, everybody else had to retire at 65, but Frank Green stayed there until he was 70 but he never did any work, he never appeared and so it meant that everybody was there on a lower salary for doing the work at the next level up.
L Stewart: Yes, was your father deputy before he was…
G Tregear: He would have been Clerk Assistant at that stage.
L Stewart: Clerk Assistant, so he was in that position of having to fill in for Frank. Yes, right.
G Tregear: He’d turn up for openings of parliament and a couple of major things, but that would be it.
L Stewart: So it must have been a relief in a sense for him to finally get the position and be paid for it.
G Tregear: Well everybody was glad, yes.
L Stewart: Did he like the job, did he give the impression that…
G Tregear: Oh absolutely, I think he was in love with the job.
L Stewart: What do you think he liked about it so much?
G Tregear: Because you’re absolutely at the centre of everything that’s happening, and it’s fascinating — and it is a fascinating world, I’m fascinated by it as well. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in it in exactly the same way, but I can see how you can get so completely caught up in the whole thing of politics, just running the nation.
L Stewart: That’s right, did he then bring that home when he eventually did come home. Did he and your mother talk politics or any particular issues that were going on at the time?
G Tregear: Very occasionally there were some. I mean there was one — the other one that he was very angered about was the Brown and Fitzpatrick case. And he said it was so ridiculous that they should be treated like common criminals and he said it was just ridiculous the way that went on. In fact Brown and Fitzpatrick didn’t do too badly, they stayed at the police station at that stage, where they were staying, was opposite the Hotel Civic and their meals were brought across, including refreshments from the Hotel Civic [laughs]. So it wasn’t…
L Stewart: It wasn’t too hard on them…
G Tregear: No, but he felt that that was a bit of a mockery of parliament.
L Stewart: What about events like Menzies trying to ban the Communist Party through the referendum and that sort of thing?
G Tregear: That was quite interesting because Dad had a cousin called William Hamilton-Tregear who had been an exceptionally bright student and then, I think he swam in the Australian team and was good at athletics, good at everything, his father was killed in an accident and on the way back from the funeral he was in a car crash that killed his mother. So he was seriously affected by this and they said to him ‘we have to take you in to a psychiatrist’ and get him some therapy. And the psychiatrist said ‘we have to find an interest for him’ and the psychiatrist’s interest was the Communist Party [laughs]. So young William joined the Communist Party, and of course it was an incredible embarrassment to my father, even more to his father who was William Stanley-Tregear because he was the next one down in the telephone directory. But everybody would say ‘Tregear, Tregear, Communist leanings maybe’ [laughs] so he was, you know, we had to very carefully explain to people that that was a cousin, not — second cousin in fact, not a proper first cousin or a brother.
L Stewart: And did he express views about Menzies’ attempts to ban the Communist party?
Interview with Gail Tregear part 2
G Tregear: Not as far as I can remember, I think he was certainly not a supporter of the Communist Party by any means, and he was very against the people who had sort of the red leanings as it were. The other one was when the, Vince Gair and the Democratic Labor Party came in, he thought that was completely ridiculous and he thought the whole way it was handled was stupid.
L Stewart: Did he say why?
G Tregear: I can’t remember the reasons why, there were just these times when you’d come home and you’d be aware that he was not happy with something or other. You’d find out.
L Stewart: And you said he was always encouraging you with your studies and so on, did politics come into that, did he try and engage you politically?
G Tregear: Not engage me, but I was on my own volition I read an awful lot of mostly English history and political history and things like that. And…
L Stewart: Because you would have had those books around the house?
G Tregear: Yes exactly. And I’d read Churchill’s, the first book of his war series, Gathering Storm, I’d read that and when we went to the House of Commons in 1951 and I met Churchill and the sort of looked at me and he said ‘what’s your school like?’ And I said ‘oh pretty average’, and he said ‘yes’. But I said ‘at least I’ve got time to do some reading’, and he said ‘what do you like to read?’ And I said ‘well I’ve read your book’ [laughs].
L Stewart: How did that go down?
G Tregear: Very good, he invited me to tea after that.
L Stewart: How old were you during that trip?
G Tregear: Eleven.
L Stewart: Crickey, I imagine he would have been quite impressed.
G Tregear: Yes, he thought I was — I brightened up the day a bit because it was something completely different to what he…
L Stewart: Very unexpected [laughs].
G Tregear: Yes [laughs].
L Stewart: So what was the purpose of that trip? Was that another Sabbatical?
G Tregear: Yes, my father was the first Commonwealth parliamentary officer from any parliament to go and observe the Westminster system as a table office at the House of Commons.
L Stewart: Okay, so how long was he, did he do that?
G Tregear: He did that for 14 months he was there.
L Stewart: Oh you lived there?
G Tregear: Yes we lived there.
L Stewart: Oh right, fantastic.
G Tregear: Well it was nice for him, it was an interesting job. Nice for my mother she could play golf every day and I was sent off to an English boarding school.
L Stewart: Oh no, so where did you go?
G Tregear: It was a very nice place, it was a school called The Abbey and it was in northern Wales, in Worcestershire and they took the odd colonial in under sufferance from time to time. But it was fascinating, it was a lovely school.
L Stewart: Did you like it at the time, or what is…
G Tregear: I loved it at the time, except it was so cold in winter.
L Stewart: No heating?
G Tregear: Oh there was some, but not enough as far as I was concerned. They had very strange attitudes towards sports. They had all the facilities there but the way they handled it was completely stupid, but the example I gave always was swimming. Here everybody had done swimming from when they’re small, competitive swimming, and used to go down and swim before school and swim after school and do training and over there, the first time I saw a swimming pool — and you can tell I was young because I wasn’t shell shocked by the temperature of the water, and I dived in and started swimming up and down and I was pulled out by the sports mistress who said ‘no dear you can’t go in to the deep end until you’ve passed your test’. And I said ‘okay when do I do my test?’ And she said ‘oh next week probably do the test’. So I came in and the test was two widths of the pool and something or rather so I did that and she said — came out and expected to be able to dive straight in again, said ‘no dear, two widths breaststroke’. So I had to turn around and do breaststroke.
L Stewart: And you hadn’t learnt breaststroke?
G Tregear: No, no I’d learnt freestyle. We all did freestyle, nobody did breaststroke in those days and so I did that and as soon as I could go into the proper thing they’d put me straight into the top of the swimming team.
L Stewart: Won a few races for them did you?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: It’s very different.
G Tregear: Yes, I mean I lost my place in swimming here altogether because of that. Because I was way behind.
L Stewart: I’ll get to your childhood a little bit after, but that was fascinating. So you were there 14 months you said, and then when he came back he went obviously back in to — straight back into his role…
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Did he ever reflect on what he got out of that period of time?
G Tregear: Oh yes, very much so. He wrote a paper on it which they use now at the Lok Sabha in Delhi still for their entrance examinations.
L Stewart: Is that right…
G Tregear: Yes because the Lok Sabha has such a huge number of people who want to get into the parliamentary staff, they do it by competitive examination.
L Stewart: So it was a long paper reflecting on the…
G Tregear: It was working on the Westminster system and how it can best be applied to other parliaments and what things we can learn from it and what things would be best left to lay.
L Stewart: So when he came back do you know if he tried to bring about any changes?
G Tregear: Certainly he had to present the paper and it was used as a sort of reference for various things, so there were some things that I think were brought in but I’m not sure what they were.
L Stewart: Fascinating period in all of your lives really wasn’t it?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Going to ask you if you thought there were any highlights, or particular highlights of his career, or things that he was very proud of?
G Tregear: Well that would have been one of them, particularly, especially as he was the first — chosen as the first from any Commonwealth parliament to go.
L Stewart: So others, was it always someone in his position who would do that?
G Tregear: No, there’s been from different levels down and from different parliaments now.
L Stewart: So it’s been a regular thing ever since?
G Tregear: Yes, which is good. And the other thing that he got was — very involved in was the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
L Stewart: Right, so what role did he have in that?
G Tregear: He went, when we were in England he went to Canada for the CPA [Commonwealth Parliamentary Association] conference in Canada that year. He went to India and Pakistan with the CPA when it was there. There was one in Australia at one time, we had — I remember we had people from everywhere in our house, you know because there weren’t a lot of things to do — they weren’t staying with us but they would sort of hang out there as it were because Dad knew them on a personal level and had been to their homes and anything and I sort of looked after them. There was a quite a number of — we had a lot of distinguished visitors that would come through, and I think that’s how he got the nod to go to England because the Speaker of the House of Commons was Sir Gilbert Campion, and then became Lord Campion, and Anthony Eden came with Campion to Australia and they came to our house and I remember my mother was sick and I had to be the hostess for them. And — but they were just lovely, they were charming.
L Stewart: Did that include the cooking?
G Tregear: Yes, it was nice. And I think because Dad had a good rapport with Campion that was why he got chosen to do the job. I think they must have been thinking about having something like that at the time.
L Stewart: So that was something — that was an arrangement made between the Australian Parliament and Westminster?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Okay, so was he the first from any Commonwealth nation to…
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Do you know if other countries followed suit as well?
G Tregear: Oh yes.
L Stewart: Probably still do today.
G Tregear: They do.
L Stewart: That’s a real coup isn’t it. No wonder it was a highlight of his career.
G Tregear: I think probably the highlight was just becoming Clerk, because it was something he probably could never have imagined when he started out.
L Stewart: Did he like the whole regalia and…
G Tregear: Yes, oh yes. And I loved the wig and I loved trying on the wig and what have you.
L Stewart: Did he keep his wig and gown?
G Tregear: No, he gave them to somebody. They’re still floating around somewhere or other. They might even be — I’m not sure because they’re not being worn anymore. They weren’t over with — Mark McCrae or somebody who went over to the ACT legislative assembly. Because he — I worked there at one stage, and Mark had of course worked for my father.
L Stewart: Yes well Canberra is a small town in that regard.
G Tregear: It is, very much.
L Stewart: So coming as you said, he retired in 1958, so how old would he have been at that stage?
G Tregear: 60, 63, 64 something like that.
L Stewart: And it was a voluntary decision to finish at that time?
G Tregear: Yes, yes.
L Stewart: And as you say because the reason because just the hours and…
G Tregear: Well it was the night work he said was getting to him and also that he didn’t want to stay too long in the job because — I mean he could have done what Frank Green did and he could have sort of gone in and done the morning shift and handed over to somebody to carry on later, but he wasn’t like that. If there was something that was important, and he knew he should be there, he would be there.
L Stewart: So he’d had the example of Frank Green and staying on perhaps for too long. So did he, do you think he missed it after he left?
G Tregear: Yes and no. He certainly didn’t miss the late night sittings, but I mean he’d follow it, listen in to parliament and — we used to get Hansard delivered and the rest of it, so he kept a good eye on what was going on and there were times when he’d have a chat with the people there and say what he thought a situation might be…
L Stewart: So he kept in touch with his…
G Tregear: Very much so and what he did then was he, the first job he did after he retired was he became secretary of the Heart Foundation when they were setting up the National Heart Foundation. We had the office in our house for their first big appeal to get the Heart Foundation launched as an NGO.
L Stewart: So was he approached to do that work?
G Tregear: Yes, his mate Warren McDonald who used to live up the road from us and was the head of TAA as it was at the time, had been asked to be the chairman and then they’d met Paul White, Dr Paul White who’d come out — he was Eisenhower’s doctor and he was the one who started to preach about low dairy fats and cholesterol and things that people had never heard of at that stage. So they set up this Heart Foundation and one interesting sideline was that they had a young project manager or office manager for the launch for this founding, his name was Donald Chipp and then Donald Chipp used the Heart Foundation’s offices and money and everything else to fund his campaign to enter parliament.
L Stewart: Oh really…
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Presumably that was after it had moved out of your house?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: And did you father reflect very often back on his — because he was a long time working for the parliament…
G Tregear: Not necessarily because he was very much interested in what was happening on the day to day basis with things.
L Stewart: Did he stay involved with the Heart Foundation for a long time?
G Tregear: He did for a little while but then they became a proper professional organisation and he actually then got a couple of directorships. He was on a company that my mother’s family had called [INAUDIBLE]. And he became the director and he was the director of a couple of other companies and agencies and things so it kept him amused.
L Stewart: Yes, and presumably a bit more golf in there?
G Tregear: Yep, and they travelled. My mother used to travel every year.
L Stewart: So after he retired that was something that they could finally do together.
G Tregear: Canberra was no fun in May and June, wanted to get out.
L Stewart: They travelled overseas or in Australia?
G Tregear: Yes, no, no. Occasionally in Australia but basically overseas.
L Stewart: And you presumably had move out?
G Tregear: Yes, I went to university in Melbourne. I’d been in boarding school in Melbourne, I was here for a bit and then his retirement and being at home — me being at home didn’t work out. So I did them a favour and left home and went to Melbourne.
L Stewart: Okay so Canberra was a bit of a part-time lifestyle for you…
G Tregear: It was a little bit too small in those days.
L Stewart: Now of course he received the CBE in 1959, so just a year after his retirement. How was that received?
G Tregear: Oh he was thrilled, but at the same time he was a little bit miffed that it wasn’t a knighthood, because — and that had been due, this was due to the parliamentary mood of the day where they were trying to downplay Australian honours and then of course adding insult to injury was that Allan Turner got the knighthood when he retired. But I don’t think it worried any of us really but he was just a bit — he had rather thought that he would like my mother to be Lady Tregear.
L Stewart: Was that, did he go to Government House here to receive that?
G Tregear: Yes, yes.
L Stewart: That would’ve been…
G Tregear: I went to that yes.
L Stewart: Who was, who was the governor?
G Tregear: Slim.
L Stewart: Right, William Slim.
G Tregear: Yes and they got on very well together, they’d always — the Slims were lovely and he and my father were particularly good friends.
L Stewart: Oh that’s great. Any other — before we move on to you and your memories of Canberra and this building, any other reflections on your dad and his working life here? Did he say much about the building itself and what it was like to work here?
G Tregear: Oh yes, because I think as I mentioned at some stage or other he was on the Joint House Committee, the thing which looked after — and at that stage I can’t remember all the particular issues, but there were a lot of issues that needed to be sorted out by the Joint House and it was — he found it difficult to, or not difficult, annoying that he had to spend so much time with both parties to get a decision that should have been a no-brainer.
L Stewart: So there were some frustrations there…
G Tregear: Yes, but he loved the building and he enjoyed friends and relatives and people who came — they used to, in those days they’d come to Canberra and he’d show them around and probably they’d have a meal here and see — the visitors would see all the politicians…
L Stewart: They would’ve had some nice accommodation here too, did he…
G Tregear: Yes, his office was nice and I spent a lot of time in that office — especially in school holidays.
L Stewart: So do you think he had fond memories of this place rather than the opposite?
G Tregear: Yes, yes. In fact they — when he became Clerk they offered him another office and he said no he liked his office where he was so he stayed there.
L Stewart: Did they offer him a bigger one?
G Tregear: Yes, a bigger one because Frank Green had had a bigger one somewhere or other. But I think that then went in to the Speaker’s — they extended the Speaker’s office in to that one. I mean he wasn’t far away, just a couple of doors away. He had a lot of time for Speaker McCleay, and he worked very closely with him. They put through a few reform things at some stage — I’m not sure…
L Stewart: To do with the practices of the House?
G Tregear: Yes I think so.
L Stewart: And did he ever say anything about Archie Cameron?
G Tregear: Yes, Archie Cameron was quite a character, but I think he was very difficult to work with, that’s the impression that I got from not just Dad but some other people as well. Whereas McCleay was much easier to work with and much more — probably enlightened in some ways.
L Stewart: I just, the reason I ask is because I know that Archie Cameron was very opposed to betting and any kind of gambling and the hairdresser, the barber here was a fellow who I gather ran something of an illegal SP agency — it had the picture of Phar Lap on his wall that Archie Cameron made him take down, just wondered if your dad had any memories of that that he spoke about?
G Tregear: No, I never heard about that one, but going back to the old days in Canberra before my father was married, it was — my father, two of his friends, one was the Chief Veterinary Officer Bob Wardle and the other was the chemist in Manuka called John Davies and the three of them used to go to the local races, and Bob — Dad knew horses fairly well and Bob Wardle could tell if a horse was carrying any injury and John Davies knew what he’d sold the trainer, so between them they used to clean up at the races every week.
L Stewart: Oh gosh, did you father take advantage of that?
G Tregear: Yes, they would have a little flutter. He never bet huge amounts of money, but he liked to sort of make sure he was ahead at the end of the day.
L Stewart: Certainly something to keep them amused in the long hours here. Well we might move now on to you and your life and your memories of the building. So what’s your earliest memory of this building and your dad’s work?
G Tregear: One of my earliest memories of this building — probably not in the right order of events actually in this building, was the first time I was allowed to come to the opening of parliament. My mother said ‘go to school and keep clean’, and I was fooling around the playground and through some incident on the playground I got pushed off the see-saw and on to the ground, so I was gravel rash all down one side and dirt all down one side and wasn’t time — my mother said ‘no time to get changed, you’ll just have to walk with that side against the wall the whole time’ [laughs]. So I came up and had to sort of walk leaning against the wall, try and not be conspicuous.
L Stewart: So how old would you have been at the time?
G Tregear: Six or seven maybe, yes. But you see they didn’t — there wasn’t extended families in Canberra and it was difficult to get, very difficult to get baby sitters or anything like that, so kids got taken along with their parents to everything, you were feral all day and you went home and got scrubbed up and taken off to the reception for the visiting head of state for the day.
L Stewart: Right, so is that the main reason why you would have come here for special events and dinners and things?
G Tregear: Yes and also school holidays, because again I’d be doing something feral on a horse but I couldn’t — my mother would be golfing so I’d just come in here afterwards and sit in here in Dad’s office and listen to the things coming through on the speakers. Because all proceedings of course were broadcast right through the House and so you could listen. And if it was something interesting and something lively, especially Question Time, you’d just go in and sit down and listen. There was no security, no problems, no…
L Stewart: So you just walked in, there was no…
G Tregear: Yes, everybody knew who you were.
L Stewart: Do you remember any particular politicians, anyone who stood out in your mind?
G Tregear: Yes they were all — I mean you’d see them around town and see them in the streets, so it just didn’t really register that they were politicians, just Mister-so-and-so, and his daughter was so and so, and you knew somebody else and you’d seen them down at Jervis Bay or you’d seen them at the races or you’d seen them somewhere or other. And so they were just sort of your normal fabric of grown-ups and it wasn’t particularly until — but one story from very much later was when I was a teenager I would come sometimes and — I was at boarding school and sometimes I’d come over here for dinner and I’d sit in a listen and Gough Whitlam I knew because his sister was the head mistress of another PLC [Presbyterian Ladies College] and I was at PLC in Melbourne, so he knew that. And he’d come and sort of say hello to me and what have you, and then I didn’t see him for a long time when I was at university, and then I was living overseas after that.
And I came back one time and Dad was retired by then, and we were having dinner I think with the Turners and I said ‘can I just go in and listen for a bit?’ And they said ‘yeah go on in’ and I’m sitting there and not with my father or anybody, and Gough Whitlam was by then leader of the Opposition and he looked over and I saw him looking at me, and he came out and he passed me on my way out and he said ‘hello Gail nice to see you again’, and he had remembered me from some ten years before at least. And I had obviously changed, changed a bit in appearance and everything else. I thought that was very, very interesting, the capacity of the man’s memory.
L Stewart: Absolutely, must have been very unusual for someone to remember somebody for that long. Were there other children, when you were younger in the building at the time?
G Tregear: Oh yes, loads, loads. I mean we weren’t exactly a brat pack, but sometimes we were.
L Stewart: As you say, you were allowed to move around at will?
G Tregear: Oh yeah.
L Stewart: So what did you all do when you were here during the holidays?
G Tregear: Chased each other around the building and played hide and seek all over the place.
L Stewart: What did the politicians and the politician’s staffers think of you?
G Tregear: They generally, they were hopefully being busy somewhere and we would just be playing. We were — you know if we got a bit too out of control an attendant would say you know ‘don’t run across King’s Hall’ or that sort of thing like that. In fact I can — my memories of Alexander Downer at that time, I told about this because I was older than him and I kept saying ‘Alexander Downer, you do not run across King’s Hall’ [laughs].
L Stewart: Of course he was here when his father was — were there any other children of politicians who’ve become politicians?
G Tregear: Well there’s a lot actually, I’ve been wanting to do some work on it for the Centenary, the whatever anniversary we had of Parliament House, because Simon Crean’s father was here and Simon Crean in a valedictory he gave me the idea of comparing what it was like when he was a child and when he grew up. Gough Whitlam had been here himself often sitting when his father was Solicitor General. There’s of course all the Downers, the Beazleys.
L Stewart: I was going to say Kim Beazley…
G Tregear: And so there’s been quite a few of them.
L Stewart: Yes and this place was a bit of a second home for a lot of them — although you weren’t here as often, you said you were at boarding school…
G Tregear: That was when I was in my teens, yes.
L Stewart: So you went to boarding school from high-school onwards?
G Tregear: Yes, when we came back from England.
L Stewart: And then back to Canberra in the holidays. And then you were still coming back here, as you say you were eating here on a fairly regular basis?
G Tregear: I’d come nearly once every holidays I think.
L Stewart: What about your mother, did she come across very often?
G Tregear: No because she was busy.
L Stewart: Playing golf.
G Tregear: Yes, she’d be away on golf trips sometimes too. And…
L Stewart: And did you — say you didn’t have extended family here, so this was it for looking after your, certainly when you were younger…
G Tregear: Yes. I was never bored here.
L Stewart: I can imagine not.
G Tregear: Because Dad had a typewriter in his office and I could — he had a second desk for a secretary but he used to do all his own typing and secretarial work as well because he was a short-hand writer. He’d often check up on Hansard, kept them up to the mark. But then there was — there would’ve been at any given day I think in the school holidays there would’ve been six or seven children floating around if not more.
L Stewart: Did you have favourite places in the building that you liked to go?
G Tregear: Yes, yes. There was sort of mysterious staircases and places…
L Stewart: And you could go anywhere you wanted?
G Tregear: Yes, well there was nobody to stop you. And nobody would’ve thought to stop you.
L Stewart: What about the Chambers, you were in there on a…
G Tregear: I went into the Reps quite often, but you knew how to behave, you knew what you did — you sat down and you sat at the back and were quiet and listened.
L Stewart: Dad would’ve been having his eye on you.
G Tregear: He’d sometimes wave or do something like that, acknowledge me.
L Stewart: He was busy — and then you were just in your father’s offices as well from time to time, just playing games. And what about in the gardens, did you go out in to the gardens a lot?
G Tregear: Oh yes, very much so. Yes.
L Stewart: And the surrounds of the building, I mean it was pretty bare around the building in those days.
G Tregear: You had the bowling green and you had the rose gardens and a few other bits and places. But we didn’t mind…
L Stewart: No sheep paddocks out the back and out the front?
G Tregear: Sheep paddocks out the front, but I mean I could ride a horse there, it wasn’t a problem.
L Stewart: Just tie it up out the front. Did you do that?
G Tregear: At the side, yes. Not at the front.
L Stewart: But it didn’t eat the roses?
G Tregear: Oh I don’t know, I didn’t do it very often and mostly…
L Stewart: Did you have a horse when you were growing up?
G Tregear: I used to, no but I used to. I learnt to ride on one of Mrs Llewellyn’s race horses when I was three.
L Stewart: Crikey.
G Tregear: Yes exactly. My mother thought it was a good idea for children to learn how to ride when they were young.
L Stewart: Yes but a race horse?
G Tregear: Yeah well exactly, she didn’t know anybody else with horses, so it was a race horse. And from when I was about seven I was teaching riding so I could have a horse of my own. It wasn’t my own…
L Stewart: A leased horse or a borrowed horse…
G Tregear: It was just that it lived over there but it was mine whenever I wanted it.
L Stewart: And where were they kept?
G Tregear: At Acton.
L Stewart: Okay, so fairly close by. And so how did you get around, where you riding your bike or…
G Tregear: Either bike or the bus or yes bike mostly.
L Stewart: So you’d go off to high school in Melbourne — where did you say you went to school?
G Tregear: PLC in Melbourne.
L Stewart: And when you came back here, were you socialising, did you have primary school friends…
G Tregear: Oh yes very much so. There were always parties.
L Stewart: Did you play golf?
G Tregear: I tried and then I got a bit more in to boys, but before that I’d played golf. I played golf as a junior, pre-teens sort of age. So that I knew how to hit a ball and what have you.
L Stewart: And did you keep in touch with people that you’d met at school in England?
G Tregear: Yes because one or two of them were Australians.
L Stewart: So there were a couple of other colonials over there at the same time…
G Tregear: Yes, yes.
L Stewart: So I’ve asked if you played outside at all, did you ever get to trouble when you were here?
G Tregear: Not too often, I mean occasionally if we were noisy we’d just be told to turn it down.
L Stewart: What about Mr Menzies, he was PM for such a long time, did you see much of him?
G Tregear: His secretary was lovely, she used to always have a tin of biscuits on her desk that she’d thumb them out to the kids. And — but he was much too big and important and everything, we didn’t sort of bother him at all. And Heather was older of course, so we didn’t know her so much.
L Stewart: Right, any other people in those senior parliamentary positions or political positions that stick out in your mind?
G Tregear: Oh there were numbers of them but…
L Stewart: Any that you liked particularly?
G Tregear: I didn’t — well I didn’t have an awful lot of respect for them.
L Stewart: Okay, can you comment on that?
G Tregear: Yes well occasionally Dad would — they’d come and want to talk to Dad off the record and come home and talk to him at home, and I would sit in a corner with a book and — but they didn’t realise that I had a photographic memory so at the end of the time, because Dad wouldn’t take notes or anything, they’d just be chatting, and then afterwards Dad would sit down and start to write some notes and he’d say ‘did he say this or did he say that?’ And I’d say ‘no, he said that’ and he’d say ‘are you sure?’, and I’d say ‘of course’, and he’d say ‘doesn’t seem like a very bright thing to say’, and I’d say ‘I didn’t think so either at the time’ [laughs]. But I could recall the verbatim conversation.
L Stewart: Wow, did he realise that? Obviously because he was asking you for backup…
G Tregear: Yes, and once he’d discovered that I could do it.
L Stewart: Very useful skill, did he use you deliberately in that sense after he realised?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: You’d come and sit in on his conversations.
G Tregear: Yes. I was…
L Stewart: And as a result of that, you say that led to you not having respect for them?
G Tregear: Yes because sometimes I thought what they were talking about, and what they wanted to do was pretty idiotic.
L Stewart: Okay, so it didn’t make sense to you. That’s interesting.
G Tregear: Because obviously if they were talking to him privately it was something that they wanted to do that was outside the norm or outside the normal behaviour patterns or something.
L Stewart: And what was your father’s response to them in those situations?
G Tregear: He would listen and just say things like ‘probably it’s not a good idea at the time’ or ‘at this time’ or something along those lines.
L Stewart: And stayed as non-partisan as much as he could. So he was a bit of a sounding board by the sound of it. Do you think they went to him for advice or just…
G Tregear: Yes they do, very much so. They wanted — especially I think in some situations it was like introducing a private member’s bill and they wanted to — he thought it would get up or they could do it or something like that.
L Stewart: And then did you go on to university after school, what did you study?
G Tregear: Yes. Drinking mostly I think. [laughs] No I did Arts and majored in Political Philosophy which is a lovely subject but it’s completely useless for earning a living so I actually left home, went to Melbourne and worked for CSIRO in Melbourne and then I was doing university at nights and — not believing that a job or university should interfere with social life, then I got so frustrated with Melbourne University that I thought, I really am not doing anything that’s of interest to me so I dropped out and went to Italy. And I went to university in Italy.
L Stewart: And how long were you there?
G Tregear: I was there a year.
L Stewart: Studying the language?
G Tregear: I went to do, well I didn’t have any language, but the university was and still is to a certain degree — it’s open, you can sit in on any classes that you like and you can sit any exams that you like. The exams are oral.
L Stewart: Right, so you Italian had to be pretty good.
G Tregear: Yes, so…
L Stewart: Where…
G Tregear: In Florence.
L Stewart: Florence, great. And then you came back here?
G Tregear: No. No, no. [laughs] Actually I went to England but then I went to Jamaica.
L Stewart: [laughs] why?
G Tregear: Well it was warm there, and it was cold and miserable in England.
L Stewart: Okay, what did you do in Jamaica?
G Tregear: I had friends there, I started off working as a translator for — translating from surgical literature from an Italian pharmaceutical country, but it was dead boring. And I was down in the middle of an area with no social life whatsoever, then because there was another Commonwealth parliamentary something going on, Dad was very friendly with Sangster who was the acting Prime Minster of Jamaica at the time. I scored an invite to the parliamentary reception for the delegates and a friend — one of my flat mates, several boyfriends whose father was the President of the Senate and he said ‘oh I’m going to that, I’ll take you’ so he said ‘and on the way’ — I had let everybody know I wanted another job and he said ‘I’ll take you to meet this chap, he’s looking for somebody to run their office’, and it was an architectural firm from Miami who lived in this beautiful townhouse which was very close to where I lived and nice gardens and nice setting and I walked in all scrubbed up and looking expensive [laughs] and this chap was so desperate to come and help him that he said ‘yes, yes, when can you start?’ and I said ‘I can start tomorrow if you like’, and he said ‘oh fantastic’ and he immediately offered me double the salary that he’d originally been going to offer, because I was going off to the Prime Minister’s reception.
L Stewart: So you took the job?
G Tregear: I took the job yes, it was working for — they were dealing with aid finance housing schemes in all the slum areas of Kingston. It was a fabulous job, fascinating. But they had to do quarterly reports, and he was nine months late and about to cop a major fine if those reports weren’t done so I started off going flat out on those reports. And then worked on a whole lot of other things afterwards.
L Stewart: So how long were you in that position for?
G Tregear: Well I was in Jamaica for six years all together.
L Stewart: And then did you come back to Australia or did you…
G Tregear: No, no, no.
L Stewart: So was there any pressure from your parents at this time to…
G Tregear: Yes, yes.
L Stewart: And what did they want you to do?
G Tregear: This is — they mentioned something about DFAT or Foreign Affairs, I came home, must have been 1965, and my father said ‘I’ve arranged for you to have an interview at…
Interview with Gail Tregear part 3
L Stewart: I think External Affairs…
G Tregear: External Affairs in those days. I said ‘okay’ and was being very good and being polite and everything so I went along to this interview and they said to me ‘okay, your publications, your degrees’. I said ‘I’ve got a diploma from the University of Florence’, ‘no, no, no degrees from Australian universities’, I said ‘no, I’ve done some subjects…’, ‘no, no’, they said ‘what about your publications?’, I said ‘well I write for a couple of magazines in Jamaica and I write for a newspaper from time to time…’, ‘no, no, no publications in Australia?’. I said ‘probably not’, and they said ‘got any war service?’ and I said ‘me? War service? No I’m a pacifist’, ‘oh, okay, you speak a bit of French and Italian?’ I said ‘I’m fluent at both at an interpreter level’, ‘ah well Gail if you like you could probably do a training program and we could probably send you up as a typist to Saigon’ [laughs]. So I said ‘thank you very much that’s very kind of you, good bye I’ll see you in ten years’ time. And I went home to Dad and I said ‘forget it’.
L Stewart: What was his reaction?
G Tregear: He said ‘oh well’ [laughs]. He was resigned to it by then.
L Stewart: So his career wasn’t — didn’t give you an inclination to follow him in to…
G Tregear: Well yes I would’ve quite liked it but there were no opportunities for women, absolutely none. I mean I lacked constitutional law and I would’ve been quite interested to do it if I’d thought it had any possibility of giving me a career but it didn’t.
L Stewart: As you say, it was very limited. So I’ll just come back to the building, you’ve talked about being — having free rein here as a child, looking back now, what’s your perspective on this place as a building as you were as a child? Was it just Dad’s work place…
G Tregear: No it was magic, it was magic, it was special, it was fascinating. All of us who knew it at that time, we remember things like the smell of the rubber because you had these rubber floors and they had this particular smell about them. That’s not here anymore because they got carpeted over, and there were sort of things like the frosting on the doors and the sort of art deco bits and pieces. You all remember some of those sort of things and we all loved it. We really did, we felt it was a privilege really.
L Stewart: That’s interesting that you had that perspective as a child.
G Tregear: Oh yes, very much so.
L Stewart: That it wasn’t something that your father would say ‘oh you’re lucky to have access to this building’, it was something you…
G Tregear: No, no it was something you felt, because it was the big building in Canberra.
L Stewart: Do you ever, when you encounter the children you were with at the time who are now politicians themselves, do you have a chance to reminisce about your days as children here?
G Tregear: We do occasionally yes, but I mean they’re scattered all over now because — so not too many that you come across, but when you do…
L Stewart: Well it was a long time ago…
G Tregear: Yes it was a long time ago…
L Stewart: But then you came back, you were saying to me that you came back and actually worked here for a little while, can you tell me about that?
G Tregear: Yes, that was working for the Office of Government Information Technology, it was just a temporary job when I came, I was working on the business development side of that.
L Stewart: Now that was when?
G Tregear: This was 1996.
L Stewart: Right, so the parliament had well and truly moved…
G Tregear: Yes, absolutely.
L Stewart: And it was just offices…
G Tregear: Yes and we were in offices up on this side, up on the corner that had been Bob Hawke’s office. That was where I was located, there were others around the building, in other parts of the building.
L Stewart: And what was it like coming back and spending time here after all that time?
G Tregear: Crazy, absolutely crazy, yeah. You know it was a sort déjà vu thing, but things had changed and moved a bit and you couldn’t sort of line up some of your memories with some of the things that happened. Like the building had been extended and a whole lot of other things that had happened. The front had changed and some of the things where you sort of remember stuff, that sort of wasn’t there anymore, and…
L Stewart: Bit of a different building in some respects.
G Tregear: Yes, in many ways…
L Stewart: Quite larger…
G Tregear: Yes. And the refreshment rooms had changed and things like that.
L Stewart: So when you ate here as a child, would that have been in the…
G Tregear: In the Members’ Dining Room.
L Stewart: In the Members’ Dining Room along with all the other kids.
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: And your mother if she came down for a meal?
G Tregear: Yes, she’d come down sometimes, if there was something special on she’d come.
L Stewart: Very special as you say…
G Tregear: But we loved it, it was a building that we all enjoyed and when you look at it now, it’s still beautiful.
L Stewart: I was going to say, how do you feel about it today, coming back after all this time it’s still changed a lot obviously.
G Tregear: Yes, but it’s — I still love it.
L Stewart: Alright, well have you got anything else you’d like to say about your time here? Check through your notes and see…
G Tregear: Yes I’ve got a couple of bits and pieces that I was going — one of the things that I was going to say was that with my father, the security was when they had a SEATO conference here one time. He was Clerk at the time and they had put in some new security system and some new security people and they wouldn’t let him into the building.
L Stewart: As Clerk of the House [laughs]
G Tregear: Because he didn’t have a pass and he said ‘look none of you will pass these steps ever again if I don’t get into this building’.
L Stewart: Is that because they didn’t recognise him or…
G Tregear: Yes, and I don’t know where they’d got them from, but that was something that — I’ve got a couple of notes here — oh yes the other thing, one of the things was that we had had, or Dad had had a relative who was a Speaker of the House and I think he might have been Speaker when Dad came here — McDonald or somebody like that, and I’m not entirely sure how he was a relative, but he was related to us somewhere along the line. And I think his name was McDonald but I’m not sure how he was related at all.
L Stewart: The first Speaker in this building? 1927?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: That’s easy enough to find out…
G Tregear: I’m not sure he was there at the time or not…
L Stewart: How did you know about that relationship? Did your dad…
G Tregear: Because there’s a picture of him around there and Dad told me about how he’d met him when he first came into — it might have even been in the Melbourne parliament, I don’t know. But he’d met this man who said ‘well we’re second cousins’ or something or other like that. So I don’t know how the relationship was. I mentioned about the CPA — oh the other thing that he was very proud of, but this never got acknowledged properly because various people claimed it, was the prime minister’s eleven: cricket.
L Stewart: Oh yes.
G Tregear: Because what actually happened was that Dad and Jack Fingleton had been talking in the…
L Stewart: Jack Fingleton…
G Tregear: Jack Fingleton was a journalist who had been and Australian cricketer of great — and he lived the next block down from us and he and Dad played golf together a lot and they always talked cricket, morning, noon, and night. And Menzies came along and saw the two of them there and said ‘well you two must be talking about cricket’, and they said ‘yes we’re very upset that the English team won’t get to play in Canberra’, and Menzies said ‘oh they’re not playing in Canberra?’ And they said ‘no and we’re very — why don’t you do something about it?’, and he said ‘alright, you want me to form a team?’, and they said ‘yes’, and he said ‘are you going to captain it Fingleton?’ and Jack said ‘I might be able to help you put the team together’, ‘and what about you Tregear, do you want to keep wickets?’ and Dad said ‘I don’t think so but I’ll be the scorer if you like’, and that’s how it all started. The first Prime Minster’s Eleven, but then we were in England when the first match happened.
L Stewart: After all that — so your dad never really got the recognition for his…
G Tregear: No, no.
L Stewart: It was probably something he was quite proud of.
G Tregear: He was, he was.
L Stewart: That’s a good story.
G Tregear: There’s another thing also, it’s a poem — I mentioned about them doing poetry, there’s one called The Lay of the Clerks at the Table, and Dad actually wrote but Bill Hayden claims he wrote it. And Dad was very upset about that.
L Stewart: So what’s the poem about?
G Tregear: I’m not sure, but somebody would have it, a copy…
L Stewart: Bill Hayden pinched it from it, that’s a bit cheeky.
G Tregear: But he’s tried to make out that he wrote it, this is not the case.
L Stewart: Will have been many — many occasions that he would have cursed some of his political animals around this building.
G Tregear: Thing was that you couldn’t really go public and do anything much about it, you just had to kind of suffer in silence.
L Stewart: And he wasn’t in the habit of venting at home either by the sound of it.
G Tregear: No, no.
L Stewart: He really did keep it to himself?
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Do you think that would’ve taken a toll after a while not being able to express that or is it just…
G Tregear: No, no because he would have done that all the time the first ten years when he was living in Brassey House, he had to be very careful about gossip.
L Stewart: Yes, of course. So it would’ve just become a habit…
G Tregear: Yes. And I think it’s the sort of thing that you know ‘what’s at the office stays at the office’ sort of thing. Although he would bring work home, it was the drafts of bills and things that he’d often have those, working on them.
L Stewart: In his so called spare time.
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: Alright Gail, unless you’ve got any more stories or…
G Tregear: No I think that’s probably mostly covered…
L Stewart: Sums it up. Alright well thanks Gail, we’ll finish the interview at this point.
Interview with Gail Tregear part 4
L Stewart: This is an extra addition to Gail Tregear’s interview with an anecdote that she’s subsequently recalled. So tell me about the children’s Christmas parties.
G Tregear: Yes, well we had children’s Christmas parties every year for all the children, they were down in the courtyards, the courtyard…
L Stewart: The House of Reps’ courtyard…
G Tregear: I think it was the Reps’ courtyard. They were huge fun, I’d forgotten about them — I don’t know who did Father Christmas and the rest of it, but you’d get presents and you were allowed to sort of — they had all those sort of things you shouldn’t really eat but you tucked into like nobody’s business and they were huge fun. The Carols by Candlelight at that time was done in the courtyard of what’s now the National Sound and Screen Archive which was then the Institute of Anatomy, and that was the first place for Carols by Candlelight. We didn’t have that here, but we did have this party.
L Stewart: So they were organised by the House staff?
G Tregear: Yes, presumably, yes.
L Stewart: And of course all the children of politicians and staffers would be invited…
G Tregear: Yes, well many of the politicians didn’t have their children in Canberra…
L Stewart: So it was more the parliamentary staffers…
G Tregear: It would basically be the parliamentary staff. There would be, I suppose twenty to thirty children.
L Stewart: And you don’t remember whether there was a particular Santa, whether any…
G Tregear: No, no I just remember that it was all great good fun.
L Stewart: Presents given out and…
G Tregear: Yes.
L Stewart: And that was something that continued on during your childhood?
G Tregear: I don’t remember it in later years, I remember it in the earlier years.
L Stewart: Perhaps you weren’t as interested in coming after a certain time?
G Tregear: It might have been that, yes…
L Stewart: They were just discontinued…
G Tregear: They might have been yes.
L Stewart: A cost cutting exercise…
G Tregear: Yes, who knows. But we did have them.
L Stewart: It would’ve been great. Alright thank you for that.
[End of transcript]
This history has multiple parts.1 2 3 4
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