Ken Ingram (1913-1999)
Ken Ingram discusses his childhood in Canberra and his experience as a political journalist for The Canberra Times.
Interview with Ken Ingram
K Begg: This is an interview between Ken Ingram and Ken Begg recorded on April 3, 1996 for the Oral History Project for the Old Parliament House. Ken, could I ask you for your full name please?
K Ingram: My name is Kenneth Ross Ingram.
K Begg: Where and when were you born?
K Ingram: I was born in Dundee, Scotland, in 1913 and migrated to Australia with my family in 1926.
K Begg: Could I take you back to your earliest associations with the Old Parliament House–when was that?
K Ingram: Well my father, for a start, worked on Parliament House. He came to Canberra before the rest of the family did–we were living in Sydney. He heard about Canberra, came up here, he was a tiler, worked in the building industry. In fact he tiled some of the bathrooms in Parliament House. We came up in December of 1926 and lived in a house my father had had built in Rous Crescent, Forrest.
K Begg: Do you recall the opening ceremony?
K Ingram: Yes I do–not that I was greatly interested in it, as a 13 year old schoolboy, it was all rather overpowering. But I remember the Royal couple driving up in the open carriage and going into Parliament House, Dame Nellie Melba singing on the steps, and an old Aborigine dressed in a rather ridiculous costume, very politically incorrect by present day standards, giving a demonstration of, I think from recollection, boomerang throwing–but I wouldn’t be sure about that.
K Begg: A big crowd there that day, do you recall?
K Ingram: Well a big crowd for Canberra. You’ve probably heard all the stories about the allegedly thirty thousand meat pies that were ordered–you’ve heard all that.
K Begg: No, actually I wanted to ask you about the over-catered-for reception–we’ll get to that. On that particular day, whereabouts were you?
K Ingram: I was with the school kids in a stand on the eastern side of the open area in front of Parliament House.
K Begg: What was your school?
K Ingram: Telopea Park School.
K Begg: Some of your school mates, do you recall those that were there?
K Ingram: Oh yes, the whole class was there–we were all wheeled along. A great day–it was a holiday.
K Begg: Best behaviour?
K Ingram: Yes.
K Begg: There are stories written by journalist Warren Denning, among the many stories that were written at that time, about the over-catered-for reception and the number of meat pies. Can you tell us about the meat pies?
K Ingram: Not with any authority. I’m only privy to the rumours that were around, that there were in fact thirty thousand meat pies and not nearly enough people to eat them and they finished up burying them somewhere or other. But I can’t vouch for any of this.
K Begg: Where did you hear that story?
K Ingram: Oh, it was around Ken, I really couldn’t tell you.
K Begg: Any other stories of that particular day that you can share with us?
K Ingram: No. I think it was on the next day there was a military parade in York Park and all the representatives of the forces marched past the Duke. They built a dais just behind where the Presbyterian Church is–white, it looked like a wedding cake–and he took the salute from there and everybody marched past. Looking back it must have been a pretty bedraggled affair because it was in an open plain, dust.
K Begg: Canberra was described as a cow paddock at that time–would that be an apt description?
K Ingram: Well, it’s an unkind description but I suppose it’s largely true.
K Begg: Did your father talk about his role in the Parliament building work?
K Ingram: I can’t recall him ever talking about it.
K Begg: When did you first become aware then of the Parliament? Was this the first occasion that you became aware that there was this building called the Parliament House, as a young man?
K Ingram: Yes, well we saw it being built–when I went to school early in 1927 they were just putting the finishing touches to it.
K Begg: So you would pass the building on your way to school?
K Ingram: No–it was in sight of the school though. In those days York Park was just an open plain.
K Begg: So there was little between Telopea Park and the Parliament in those days, except a bit of bush I suppose?
K Ingram: That’s all. In fact, in 1927 Hinkler landed in York Park–flew in over the Hotel Kurrajong.
K Begg: Do you remember that day as well?
K Ingram: I do, very well.
K Begg: Where were you on that day?
K Ingram: I was standing beside the dais that they’d built for the military parade.
K Begg: Exciting day?
K Ingram: Oh yes, yes.
K Begg: You resumed your association with the Parliament House when you joined The Canberra Times, is that right?
K Ingram: Well I had a few visits before that because a friend of mine, Arthur Blakely, junior–his father, Arthur Blakely Senior, was a minister in the Scullin government, and a few times we had supper over at Parliament House?
K Begg: In the dining rooms?
K Ingram: Yes.
K Begg: What do you remember about those occasions?
K Ingram: Not much–except that the parliament was very boring.
K Begg: When you joined The Canberra Times you worked part of the time in the old building?
K Ingram: Yes, The Canberra Times had a room in the old building and I had access to that. I was not the parliamentary roundsman, I was the local roundsman and I did a lot of work in Parliament House because it was a convenient location–not necessarily work on the parliament, although I did a little bit of that too. But it was mainly a central location where I could go and type up stuff without going over to Civic Centre where The Canberra Times office was.
K Begg: What are your memories of the gallery at that time?
K Ingram: Well, compared with the present day gallery, very small. It had been cut to the bone. Only the press rooms on the House of Reps side were occupied, there was nobody at all in the press rooms on the Senate side. In fact, Parliament House was largely empty in recess, the committee rooms were empty everywhere. The Public Accounts Committee, which allegedly had been saving the country millions, had been abolished as an economy measure, and the only functioning committee was the Public Works Committee. But the building was deserted.
K Begg: These were the Recession years?
K Ingram: No, this was in recess. It filled up a bit in session, but even then it was far from over-full.
K Begg: Do you remember any of the journalists in particular at that time?
K Ingram: I remember a lot of them–Tony Innes, Otto Olsen’s son, Joe Alexander hopping around on his gamy leg, every story was the biggest. Jack Hewitt, he was AUP–Jack Hewitt went to the war, he was a Naval Reservist, got blown up in the ship up in the East somewhere, came back and he was badly knocked about and he went back to work for a while, but then had to give it up.
K Begg: How did journalists communicate their copy to their newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne?
K Ingram: It was sent largely by press telegram. They had to take the press telegram over to the post office, the General Post Office, not the parliamentary post office. They had to walk across the road to East Block and lodge their press telegrams there.
K Begg: How did they communicate with their head offices–were there reasonable phone systems?
K Ingram: Oh yes, and there was one teleprinter–I’ve forgotten who had it, I think it may have been AUP. But largely it was done by press telegram.
K Begg: Where they a cliquey group, did they stick together, the journos, at that time?
K Ingram: Well I think they were forced to–they were mostly expatriates. There were some wild stories about the press in the very early days, before my time. They all lived at the Hotel Wellington–until they were all invited in a body to leave.
K Begg: [LAUGHS] I can’t imagine why!
K Ingram: There was a bloke called Goldenstead–Paul Goldenstead–did you ever hear of him?
K Begg: No, I haven’t–who was he?
K Ingram: I’ve forgotten which newspaper he was with, but he subsequently stood for parliament, for the seat of Darling in 1934, but he didn’t get anywhere. Anyway, Goldenstead was a pretty wild character and he allegedly rode a bicycle down the main staircase at the Hotel Wellington and the manager appeared in a dressing-gown remonstrating with him, and he drew himself up–he was over six feet–and said, ‘be gone woman, I refuse to converse with a woman insufficiently clad’.
K Begg: Would I be correct in assuming that alcohol was a fairly substantial lubricant of the time?
K Ingram: Oh yes, yes. Some rather notorious characters, but I won’t mention them.
K Begg: The Non-Members Bar–was that part and parcel of the scene then?
K Ingram: Well there was no bar really. There were a few tables on the veranda outside the Members Bar and if the Members Bar wasn’t too busy a waiter would come out and serve drinks on the veranda.
K Begg: How would you describe the relationship between the media and the government of the day, and the politicians generally at that time?
K Ingram: Ken, I couldn’t offer an opinion on that.
K Begg: So you worked at The Canberra Times for how long before you decided to go to Hansard–how long was that?
K Ingram: I worked on The Canberra Times from Christmas 1932 until April 1936 when the training scheme for Hansard was being inaugurated, because the supply of journalists who could write shorthand was drying up very quickly and they decided they’d have to train their own. So they split the salary of one senior reporter into two, instead of reappointing a senior reporter they appointed two juniors at half the salary and me as a cadet–on, I’ve forgotten, four quid a week I think.
K Begg: What prompted you to leave the wonderful world of journalism for the disciplined world of Hansard?
K Ingram: Well I knew quite a bit about the wonderful world of Hansard, and I knew everything about the world of journalism. We knew quite a number of Hansard reporters, they all lived around where we lived in Forrest and we knew most of them very well. The job had enormous appeal.
K Begg: Do you remember your first day as a Hansard reporter? What chamber?
K Ingram: My first day as a reporter would have been in 1939 probably. I was in a militia camp down on the south coast and I got a telegram to come home at once, sickness on the staff, or words to that effect. So I had to go back and take my place as a reporter in the Senate. In those days the reporting roster was always seniority, very jealously guarded seniority. So being the most junior on the staff, I was the most junior in the Senate, which meant that I went in last and had much more time than anybody else to get the turnout. So that was a big advantage and that persisted for quite a while until some of the older blokes got a bit jack of this–the young fells getting all the cream–and they reverted to a continuous roster.
In those days a standard take was 15 minutes and you’d be off for an hour and a quarter in the Senate, an hour and a half perhaps in the Reps, to get it out–dictate, edit and file the copy.
K Begg: So 15 minutes recording or reporting in the parliament, and then an hour and a quarter to transcribe?
K Ingram: That was when the staff was at full strength.
K Begg: And that would go on until the parliament adjourned?
K Ingram: Yes.
K Begg: You started in the Senate–do you recall the first notes that you took?
K Ingram: No, I don’t.
K Begg: Do you recall how you felt that day, going from a reporter, someone who observed the whole process, to sitting on the floor of the parliament?
K Ingram: No, I’ve got no vivid recollections of it. It was probably very easy because usually by the time I was on, last in the Senate, they’d be on to Questions On Notice, and in those days Questions On Notice were laboriously read, laboriously answered, all written out and supplied to the reporter. So it was no great hardship to go last on the Senate.
K Begg: How many Hansard reporters were working when you joined?
K Ingram: There were five on the Senate and six on the House of Reps.
K Begg: What were the working conditions in the parliament like?
K Ingram: Well I could only compare them with the working conditions on The Canberra Times and it was much better.
K Begg: In what way?
K Ingram: Oh look, I mustn’t go into that. The Canberra Times was working on a shoestring, let’s face it. They’d been through a Depression. I told you about the senior reporter. The family was being paid practically nothing to keep it going and they were working on a shoestring and that was reflected in the conditions. But it was a job and jobs were very scarce and I was very glad to have it, it was a great opportunity.
K Begg: What shorthand speed was necessary to become a Hansard reporter in those days?
K Ingram: Well they’d be looking for 200 but not always getting it.
K Begg: What would you have had when you started?
K Ingram: When I first went onto the book, I suppose I could write 180 or something like that.
K Begg: And typing speed–did you have to type as well?
K Ingram: No, it’s all dictated.
K Begg: Where did you learn your shorthand?
K Ingram: A long process. I began at school in 1927, did a bit more at school after I’d done the Leaving in what they called the Commercial class. I kept on getting shorthand instruction when I was with The Canberra Times, so I could write 150 when I left The Canberra Times.
K Begg: Were many young men taking up shorthand at that time?
K Ingram: Not very many, no, it was a dying art in journalism, but it didn’t really die out until the advent of the tape recorder in the mid-50s I suppose.
K Begg: Working as a Hansard reporter, again, coming from journalism into Hansard, was Hansard a much more disciplined operation in those days?
K Ingram: Compared with journalism–no, only in the sense of timing. If you’re on a Hansard roster ten seconds late is a hanging offence. Ten seconds late in a take might work out at another five minutes in dictation and editing. So you had to watch the clock and the clock was the clock in the chamber, and when it flicked over to the half-minute that was it.
K Begg: Were you ever late?
K Ingram: Not grievously, that I can recall.
K Begg: An all-male affair in those days?
K Ingram: Yes.
K Begg: You said up to 200 words a minute was necessary to become a Hansard reporter. Was that fast enough for the politicians of the day?
K Ingram: Well I suppose with rare exceptions it would be. A Hansard reporter’s work gets three or four editing sessions–he’s editing as he’s taking it and he very soon learns to dice the stuff that’s airy persiflage–‘and I have this to say, Mr Speaker’–you don’t write that down because you say it. It’s an historical document, you don’t try to record the grammatical shortcomings of the bloke on his feet. The spoken word is not the written word, put it that way. If you’re preparing an historical document it has to be fully comprehensible, easy to read. At the same time, the art of the Hansard reporter is to capture something of the atmosphere and something of the characteristics of the bloke who is speaking. In other words, you use his own words, you might not use them in exactly the same order, shunt them around a bit.
K Begg: So this is where the journalism clicked in?
K Ingram: Yes.
K Begg: So having been a journalist would have been a positive benefit to the Hansard reporter?
K Ingram: Oh yes–a big advantage, because you’re trained to understand what the bloke is saying, what his argument is. That’s your training as a journalist. When you go to Hansard you’re more concerned with the words and fitting the words into the argument.
K Begg: So there was this editing process that went on in your head–and there were other editing processes you were talking about?
K Ingram: Well you edit again as you’re dictating it to the typist, you’re reading a little bit ahead, and making the sentences more comprehensible, more grammatical, and easier to read. When you’ve finished dictating you take it away and read through it again and give it another editing process.
K Begg: And what if that editing process didn’t fit with the member’s recollection?
K Ingram: Well very few members know exactly what they said. It’s surprising how many members will say that’s exactly what I said, and you know it’s not really exactly what he said. We’ve had arguments–one of the great advantages of the tape recorder was that they could be settled on the spot. My predecessor, Bill Bridgman, had some experiences–a member would come up and say ‘look, I didn’t say that’ and Bill would say ‘would you like to hear yourself say it again? Come this way.’
K Begg: It’s an interesting point you’re making here, that the Hansard is not a verbatim transcript, it is what you describe as an historical document, an historical record–is that right?
K Ingram: It’s an historical record. It’s what they’d call a rationalised verbatim record. A lot of people say to me why don’t you give them what they say? I always reply that’s exactly what we do. If they say something it’s in Hansard, if they don’t say it it’s not in Hansard. It might not be in precisely those words but you don’t put any new thoughts into your rendering of a speech and you don’t omit anything.
K Begg: That’s quite a serious responsibility, making those sorts of judgements as a young man. How did you keep yourself up to speed with the developments and politics and legislation and the issues?
K Ingram: Well we were never concerned with the politics–that was one thing that was never done–no political slant put on a report. That would have been highly damaging to Hansard. We didn’t mind so much if a member said that was a terrible report, so long as they didn’t say it was a biased report. If he said it was a biased report you’d be very concerned.
K Begg: How did you draw that line then–again, coming from journalism into the parliament, how did you discipline yourself to stay politically neutral?
K Ingram: Well it’s part of a journalist’s training too.
K Begg: So you weren’t challenged by that. It was just the job to do, to record it as fairly and as honestly as you could?
K Ingram: That was the object, to give the man a fair go.
K Begg: You talked about the fast speakers–do you recall who they were? Who were the challenges for the young Hansard reporter?
K Ingram: Well the one who was universally regarded as the ultimate challenge was Les Haylen. I don’t know whether Les was still in the parliament when you came, probably not. But he was a journalist and he was a colourful bloke, and his speeches consisted largely of a lot of very fancy phrases he’d thought up on the spur of the fortnight, all strung together very loosely, words you’d never written in your life before, perhaps some you’d never heard. He was fast but he wasn’t all that fast, it’s just that he was difficult in his choice of language, and that’s the challenge that confronts the Hansard reporter all the time, a shorthand writer. I’m not talking of tape-recording now–a shorthand writer, Pittman’s Shorthand, and I suppose all other forms of shorthand, are built up on the cliché. The more clichés a man uses he’s used to writing. If he kept on saying ‘as a matter of fact’, ‘as a matter of fact’ you could write 300 words a minute. But when he gets onto words you’ve never written before that’s when the real difficulty starts.
K Begg: What do you do when that happens?
K Ingram: You just have to do the best you can.
K Begg: Does that mean going back and checking with the member later–did that ever happen?
K Ingram: You might have to do that if you wanted something clarified. You’d go along, they were always very cooperative–if they were making a point that wasn’t quite clear, they’re usually only too pleased to clarify it.
K Begg: I suppose most members in those days would not be speaking from notes?
K Ingram: Oh, it varied. A lot spoke only from notes, some read their speeches, although it was supposed to be done under the standing orders. No, there were very few extemporary speakers–very few could do it in fact, without preparation. Fred Daly could. If you held up a jam tin and said Fred, make a speech about the label he’d do it.
K Begg: Who were the best politicians, who were the easier politicians to record as a Hansard reporter?
K Ingram: Well there again, that’s a subjective opinion for a Hansard man because the slower they are the more you love them. But if you’re talking about the best speakers, that’s a question I’m often asked–who were the best speakers–you’d find it hard, because speaking styles differ. But I’d say two of the best were Gough Whitlam and Menzies–in two different styles. If I were on trial before a judge I’d have Whitlam, but if I were on trial before a jury I’d have Menzies. Whitlam could lay out his facts beautifully, everything was clear, precise and absolutely on the ball. Menzies would never send you flying to a dictionary but he was persuasive, he was good.
K Begg: So the young Hansard reporter had these impressions, even though his preoccupation was getting these words onto the paper as quickly as he could, you were aware of the persuasive skills and you were aware of the argument as well?
K Ingram: Oh yes–you couldn’t really report a speech adequately unless you understood the argument. It’s too easy to go astray on shorthand unless you’re following the context.
K Begg: How did you keep yourself up to date–as a Hansard reporter how did you keep yourself topical and knowing precisely what was going on? Did you read a lot?
K Ingram: Oh yes. I read the newspapers, that was most essential, otherwise you’d be caught napping, at Question Time something crops up and you know nothing about it.
K Begg: You mentioned Fred Daly. Speaker Cameron, Archie Cameron, has loomed large in these oral histories–what do you recall about him as a Speaker?
K Ingram: Well Archie, he was a martinet. He was a military man and he tried to run the parliament on military lines. Now, parliaments don’t work that way. I can remember when Archie was first elected Speaker and after the congratulatory speeches had been made in the House, Archie got up to reply and he finished up saying, ‘And now Old Gillespie will take the Chair and Heaven help the hindmost.’ Nobody knew who Old Gillespie was but some enterprising journalist found out–Old Gillespie was a lord of the Western Isles in Scotland who was noted for his harsh treatment of his subjects. So that was a foretaste of things to come because that’s how Archie ran it. He was a disciplinarian, he was completely intolerant of larrikinism in the House. Well, you can’t do that in a parliament, you’ve got a great collection of people of all kinds and all sorts–you know what it’s like–you can’t make everybody sit up like this.
K Begg: So that brings out the best and worst in people, doesn’t it, that sort of disciplinarian approach?
K Ingram: He should have been the best Speaker ever because he had all the credentials–minister, party leader, parliamentarian from way back, he knew the parliament backwards. But he just had that streak of authoritarianism in him that he couldn’t get rid of.
K Begg: And that extended to the barber shop in the old building and the photograph of Phar Lap–tell me about that story?
K Ingram: I can only tell you my version, that’s all that I heard. Everybody knew the barber was an SP man, all barbers were SP men in those days. And Archie liked a bet, so I hear. He went down and he saw this picture of Phar Lap–‘What’s that picture up there?’ ‘That’s Phar Lap, Mr Speaker’. ‘What’s it doing here?’ ‘Oh, it’s just decoration.’ ‘Get it out of here’, he said. It was gone.
K Begg: And that decision was not met with unanimous approval, was it?
K Ingram: Oh, I don’t think anybody worried very much about it–it was a joke around the place.
K Begg: But there was a song about it, wasn’t there?
K Ingram: [LAUGHS] A song, yes.
K Begg: You do remember the words of the song–it was ‘Beautiful, beautiful Phar Lap’. Do you remember those?
K Ingram: Yes. Archie went down to the barber’s, sat himself down in the chair and the very first words that he uttered were ‘what is that picture up there?’–all sung to the tune of ‘Beautiful, Beautiful Brown Eyes’–‘Beautiful, Beautiful Phar Lap’.
K Begg: Do you remember how it ended?
K Ingram: [LAUGHS] No, I don’t.
K Begg: So he should have been one of the best Speakers?
K Ingram: Oh, he certainly should have been.
K Begg: Who then, in your view, was perhaps the most competent Speaker?
K Ingram: Well I’ve got no doubt about that–it was Bill Snedden. He knew when to hear an injection and when not to hear it. He was a tolerant bloke, he could smooth over a noisy House and he never raised his voice. That’s the secret of good chairmanship, because if you raise your voice everybody else does the same.
K Begg: How many prime ministers would you have reported? Who was your first Prime Minister?
K Ingram: Well, put it this way–every prime minister since 1917 was in the House while I worked there, with one exception–Bob Hawke. He came and went after I’d retired.
K Begg: Let’s talk about the prime ministers and your perception of some of those prime ministers? Who do you remember most of the prime ministers?
K Ingram: I remember them all very well. Billy Hughes was still in the House, until about 1950 when he died. Billy was in his declining days when I worked on his speeches, but he still had a unique turn of phrase and a very impish sense of humour. Everybody knows stories about Billy, but he came down to Hansard one day–this was long before the daily Hansard–every member was entitled to order thirty copies of his speech. Billy came down one day, it must have been when he was a backbencher because he would have sent someone else down. Anyway, he came into the big room where there were some reporters sitting around, Norm Parkes was the clerk of Hansard, Billy opened the door and came in, his opening was very typical–‘Where are those bloody speeches of mine?’ So Norm Parkes said ‘Well, they were ordered Mr Hughes, I’ll just check and make sure.’ He got the book out–‘Yes, we ordered them Mr Hughes, you should have got them by now.’ ‘Well I haven’t’, he said. So Norm said, ‘Did you look in your locker?’–each member had a locker in the big room So Norm said ‘Well we’ll get one of the attendants to look.’ So he rang upstairs and said to look in Mr Hughes’ locker, the word came back that yes, the speeches were there. ‘They’re in your locker, Mr Hughes.’ ‘Ah well, ah well, that’s different, but I still say it’s a nice day.’
K Begg: Mr Curtin, Mr Chifley–you have memories of them?
K Ingram: Well as far as I can make out from reading the memoires of various people who worked there, I was the only one that John Curtin didn’t come to in the middle of the war and say ‘What will I do now Ken?’.
K Begg: What about Mr Chifley?
K Ingram: I had no personal contact with him.
K Begg: But as a Hansard reporter?
K Ingram: Oh yes–I admired him greatly.
K Begg: But he wasn’t a great speechmaker, was he?
K Ingram: No, no, he was a very poor speaker–a gravely voice, but he always had something to say. A bit light-on with verbs, but as I say, I admired him because he was an engine-driver, you know, his background, he had no privileges at all. I think he’d served a brief spell in the Scullin government, I’d forgotten about that, and he came back in about 1937 or 40. He was a tower of strength in the party and he was the only prime minister who could hold that party together.
K Begg: When dealing with his speeches and the lack of verbs, how did you handle that?
K Ingram: Well you’ll know Ken, as a journalist, that sometimes a change of tense alters the sense of a passage entirely. So you had to make a judgement of what he was trying to say and use the appropriate word.
K Begg: How did you see Hansard fitting in with the whole parliamentary process? How important did you regard it, certainly when you started, and compare that with when you finished?
K Ingram: Well it was always a very important part of the parliamentary process, undoubtedly. But it became much more relevant when daily publication began about the mid-50s because until then speeches by members had been available only to the members themselves for the first two or three days, in proof form a week later, a monthly issue after four weeks, and finally the bound volumes. But with daily Hansard everybody wanted one, to know what was said yesterday. So it became a very topical, very relevant publication.
K Begg: And was it still as relevant when you retired, do you believe?
K Ingram: Oh yes, I think so.
K Begg: Some have, unkindly perhaps, said it was the most unread publication in the parliament–but that wouldn’t be your observation?
K Ingram: I don’t know Ken–I would have thought it was pretty eagerly read by people who were involved or interested in the debates that were going on. It’s not the sort of thing you’d pick up on a news stand and read for fun on the train. But if you were an importer and there was a debate on tariffs, you’d certainly want to read it.
K Begg: Did the advent of broadcasting change the nature of your role?
K Ingram: Well it speeded the tempo up quite a bit because members realised they were on the air and made more of an effort to prepare speeches and make better use of their time.
K Begg: So broadcasting was a plus, in your view, to the process?
K Ingram: Oh yes. It made the parliament itself more relevant–not as relevant as television has.
K Begg: Was there an element of vaudeville though, when it became known to some of the characters that there was the opportunity to get the message across, or perhaps embarrass the government of the day through radio?
K Ingram: Oh well, there’s always that element in the parliament–I mean, what’s Question Time about if it’s not embarrassing the government of the day? Rowley James, Bert’s father, was quite a rough character, a coalminer from the Hunter, very early in the broadcasting Rowley was making a speech and he was having trouble with his dentures and members kept calling out ‘What did you say, what’s that Rowley?’, and Rowley said ‘I said so and so and so and so, and Jack, if you’re listening, get my teeth up here as soon as you can, they’re having trouble understanding what I’m saying’. [LAUGHS] The first personal message.
K Begg: In that regard, people like Daly and Ward seemed to loom large as great theatrical performers. Do you recall them as such–were they the vaudeville, if you like, of the parliament?
K Ingram: Well, Fred was more vaudeville than Eddie Ward. Eddie Ward had a pretty good sense of humour but he was a pretty hard-header most of the time. I wouldn’t say that Eddie was a vaudevillian.
K Begg: Eddie Ward has been described as someone who could get under the Prime Minister’s skin, who could really get to Mr Menzies–was that something that was evident to you?
K Ingram: He could get under anybody’s skin on the government side because he was prepared to tackle subjects that mightn’t be regarded as very gentlemanly.
K Begg: And Daly was the people’s politician?
K Ingram: Yes, I think so.
K Begg: Question Time today has been, in various parliaments, in NSW and recently in the federal parliament, described as a ‘bear-pit’. Would you have described it as a bear-pit back when you started?
K Ingram: No. No, it certainly deteriorated–first with broadcasting and then with television. Looking back on the 30s and 40s, there was a genuine quest for information, but not now. It’s the old legal maxim–you never ask a question if you don’t already know the answer. It’s a political exercise now, not a search for information. You’ll never hear a minister say they’ll put the question on notice, because the damage is done by the question and he has to answer it straightaway.
K Begg: So has the parliamentary process lost something?
K Ingram: Well it has probably lost something and gained something. It has certainly gained more relevance–it comes into your lounge room.
K Begg: You said you recorded most of these speeches in a neutral sense, all these thousands upon thousands of words–were there any speeches that struck you as particularly poignant or as particularly important in the sense of the history of the country or of the building or the time?
K Ingram: Well John Curtin’s wartime speeches were always important and dramatic, but I couldn’t single out any particular speech.
K Begg: Were you aware of any sense of expectation–one word used to describe what the parliament was like in those war years–a sense of expectancy I suppose, sort of an ominous feeling about it. How was the parliament in those days to you, how would you describe the mood in the war years?
K Ingram: It was a very dramatic place to work.
K Begg: In what sense?
K Ingram: Well there was always a quest for war news, ministerial statements on the war. In 1942 things were very dicey in this country and anything that was said in the parliament had very great importance and very great relevance.
K Begg: And after the war, when many ex-servicemen were elected to the parliament, say in 1949, what was the mood like then, how did the mood change?
K Ingram: Well a lot was expected of these young blokes who came in in the 1949 election. Some of them were very good and didn’t make it, some of them were mediocre and did make it. But the end of the war brought a feeling of euphoria, you know–everything’s fine now. But the Hansard job didn’t differ very much.
K Begg: The Old Parliament strikes me as a very democratic building, particularly King’s Hall and the notion and practice of being able to see your members of parliament, rub shoulders with prime ministers. How do you view that building as a symbol of our political institution?
K Ingram: Well it was very democratic in that sense simply because of the absence of security. Anybody could walk into the King’s Hall anytime. Early in the piece when I was working on The Canberra Times I could go around there at night–not a soul in the building, not a light on, the only person who might be there would be the housekeeper who had a door down on the Senate side, but he wasn’t always there either. I would walk into the building, walk the full length of the building, put the lights on, go up in the lift to the press gallery, do my work, go down, put the lights out, close the door and go out. Nobody said who are you, what are you doing here–there was nobody to say that.
But the big difference wasn’t just the absence of security, it was the absence of the need for security. Nobody thought there was any need for security.
K Begg: There are stories abounding about the Press Gallery, about some of the characters in the Press Gallery. Were you aware of the alleged event concerning Reg Leonard?
K Ingram: Yes. I think it was when I was still with The Canberra Times. Reg, apparently, in the course of one very boring debate, went to sleep. He lay down on the seats in the front row of the Press Gallery, just above the Speaker’s chair. The parliament rose, put all the lights out, nobody saw Reg there, he woke up in complete darkness, didn’t know where he was, climbed over the balcony and went bang, down on the floor about twelve feet behind the Speaker’s chair–didn’t hurt himself.
K Begg: Was this acknowledged by the parliament in any form, or it just didn’t happen?
K Ingram: No, no.
K Begg: How many years did you work in the Old Parliament House?
K Ingram: Between The Canberra Times and Hansard, from 1933 until 1978.
K Begg: It must have been more than just a good job then?
K Ingram: Well, what more do you need.
K Begg: What do you remember of the Browne and Fitzpatrick appearance before the bar of the parliament?
K Ingram: As I recall I was not in the chamber during the debate. I was listening downstairs in my capacity as a supervisor, and it was a very emotion-charged debate, a very spirited defence of Browne and Fitzpatrick from the Labor side. But I think too many people had suffered at the hands of Frank Browne to let him go scot-free. Fitzpatrick was a simple soul, he was out of his depth. Browne was defiant but Fitzpatrick didn’t know what had hit him.
K Begg: And Speaker Cameron was presiding at the time?
K Ingram: Yes. I didn’t see this, but apparently Frank Browne leaned forward on the bar of the house in a rather arrogant manner and I heard Archie Cameron yell out ‘Take your hands off the bar, that man’ in his best parade-ground voice. It must have been terrifying–certainly terrifying for Fitzpatrick.
K Begg: Did you have an opinion on the rights or wrongs of having two citizens before the bar of the parliament like that?
K Ingram: Oh, you’d be delving into the realm of politics there. There’s no doubt he’d been the author of some pretty sleazy allegations, particularly against Charlie Morgan, and too many people had suffered.
K Begg: You have other memories–of the Senate for example, and adequate or inadequate attire in the Chamber?
K Ingram: Yes. Paddy Lynch was the President of the Senate in the mid-30s, an Irishman with a strong Irish accent, almost incomprehensible at times. On one occasion he ordered the attendant to remove a woman from the gallery because she was improperly clad–she was wearing slacks.
K Begg: In between the working and Hansard, did you go down for morning or afternoon tea? How did you mix socially in the old building?
K Ingram: Amongst the Hansard staff, morning coffee was a ritual when the House wasn’t sitting–no time for socialising when the House was sitting.
K Begg: And that socialising didn’t extend to the Non-Members Bar as you progressed your time there?
K Ingram: No, we didn’t–well, I didn’t go to the bar. Well, very seldom anyway. As third, second and first, I had access to the Members Bar and we used to have a drink there at night.
K Begg: So you mixed freely with the politicians then?
K Ingram: Well, not very freely, no. I was not on first-name terms with very many. Fred Daly–everybody was; Arthur Calwell; Gough Whitlam, with whom I’d been at school. But apart from that, no.
K Begg: Whitlam had a passion for Hansard, didn’t he?
K Ingram: Yes, he was one of our most avid readers–he never travelled without a suitcaseful.
K Begg: And sometimes used it to the detriment of his opponents…
K Ingram: He could quote chapter-and-verse always.
K Begg: Was there anybody else like him in the parliament, in your memory?
K Ingram: Not that I know of–it seems to me to be a cruel and unnatural punishment.
K Begg: Going back to the editing process in Hansard, there was a word you used, which I’ve forgotten. Could you tell us the word again and tell us what it means?
K Ingram: Emendations. That was the word that was always used for changes to the original Hansard text either by the member or by his advisors. The word ‘corrections’ was not used because that was rather a reflection on the reporter, and ‘alternations’ wasn’t used either because that suggested a change of mind on the part of the member and changes of mind were rather frowned on by Hansard.
K Begg: So where did that word come from?
K Ingram: I think it’s an archaic word, probably gone out of fashion years ago.
K Begg: The process itself, the four stages of editing in the Hansard–who actually managed that process and saw it through to its conclusion?
K Ingram: Well originally the principal parliamentary reporter was responsible for the House of Reps, the second reporter was responsible for the Senate, when the two houses were sitting. When it got down to one house they shared the responsibility. But they read all the proofs certainly for the early part of the day, Question Time in particular, which was the politically-sensitive time. When the daily Hansard came in they added supervisors to the editorial staff and each would be responsible for perhaps three reporters and he’d check-note them and read their transcripts before they went to the printer.
K Begg: Looking back on a lifetime in the parliament, do we get the parliaments we deserve?
K Ingram: Well you know the old saying, people get the governments they deserve. I suppose that’s true.
K Begg: Do you think that parliaments reflect society at the time–the elements of larrikinism, the considered, the serious–is it a microcosm of our society?
K Ingram: Oh yes. Yes, it’s a complete spectrum.
K Begg: What is your assessment of the parliamentary process today in 1996?
K Ingram: I don’t think it’s all that much different from what it was when I first went in. It’s more publicised, people know more about it, their members are on the television set in the lounge room, they’re able to make an assessment of what he looks like and how he speaks, they’re not relying on newspaper reports or Hansard to judge the performance of their member. He has to front up to debates with his opposite number. I think on the whole television is probably very good for the parliament.
K Begg: Keep them honest, as it were?
K Ingram: Yes, and it probably means that you get a better class of member, a more competent class of member. When I went there very few members would have had tertiary qualifications–now very few haven’t. In a way I’m a sort of a link, I’m a Hansard living fossil. There were still members of the original parliament in the parliament when I joined and I reported on speeches like Hughes, Doc Maloney, George Pearce–quite a lot of them. I’m the last one to have met a member of the original Hansard staff–a fellow called Bill Admans. He finished up as second reporter, he was the most popular Hansard man ever in the Senate. When he retired they made valedictory speeches on his retirement and suspended the Senate so he could reply.
K Begg: A rare honour.
K Ingram: It was a rare honour.
K Begg: What in your view does it take to be a good Hansard reporter?
K Ingram: Well, a good general knowledge, a good grounding in English, and certainly an awareness of the political process and political events. Unless you understand the debates you can’t make a comprehensive report of a speech.
K Begg: And if you had your time over, would you do it all again?
K Ingram: I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.
K Begg: Ken Ingram, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us.
K Ingram: My pleasure.
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