Pandora Livanes worked in Parliament House as a secretary in the office of Prime Minister Bob Hawke from January 1987 to August 1989.
Interview with Pandora Livanes part 1
J Armitage: This is an interview with Pandora Livanes who was a secretary from January 1987 to August 1989 in the office of the Honourable Robert Hawke, Prime Minister of Australia. Pandora will be speaking with me Joan Armitage for the Oral History Program conducted by the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. Pandora on behalf of the Director of the Museum I would like to thank you for agreeing to participate in this program. Do you understand that the Commonwealth owns copyright in the interview material but disclose will be subject to any disclose restrictions you impose in completing the rights agreement?
P Livanes: I do.
J Armitage: Thank you. This being so may we have your permission to make a transcript or a summary of this recording, should we decide to make one?
P Livanes: I provide my permission.
J Armitage: Thank you. This interview is taking place today on the 6th June 2014 in the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House.
Pandora, tell me please, when and where were you born?
P Livanes: I was born on the 22nd February 1968 in Griffith in New South Wales.
J Armitage: When did you come to Canberra?
P Livanes: My family moved to Canberra when I was about ten in 1978. My family, my father was a blue-collar worker, he was a refrigeration mechanic. My mother was a stay-at-home mum but also our family owned an ice manufacturing business and we moved to Canberra for job opportunities for my brothers and sister and also to be closer to medical attention for my sister who was unwell at the time.
J Armitage: Where your parents Australian born?
P Livanes: My father was Australian born. My mother was born overseas in Greece, in a small village called Vasilopoulo. My father, his father was Greek and my grandfather on my father’s side retired to Greece. My father travelled to Greece to spend some time with his father. My father [grandfather] owned a number of properties where he grew olive trees. My father stayed with my grandfather and my mother would pick olives on one of my grandfather’s properties. My grandfather asked my mother if she would stay on to clean and cook while his son was visiting and that’s when my father met my mother and they married on the island of Ithaca which is where my grandfather lived and that’s where his properties were. My parents married on the island of Ithaca.
J Armitage: So it was a true romance.
P Livanes: It was indeed [laughs].
J Armitage: What level of formal education did you attain?
P Livanes: I completed year twelve certificate at Stirling College here in the ACT, different to the New South Wales system, year eleven and twelve here is considered college and I completed the ACT Year 12 certificate under that system.
J Armitage: What was your first job?
P Livanes: In college the opportunities to study were — each student was able to enrol in which ever units they wanted to. Some of the units that were offered to me at the time were typing, shorthand and secretarial studies. Having come from a blue-collar working type of family I was encouraged to finish year twelve and get out into the workforce and start earning some money, finding the best job I could. To do that, knowing that I didn’t have too many other skills, or other vocational skills that I thought I’d do shorthand and typing and then secretarial studies. At the end of the secretarial studies I completed with shorthand of one hundred words per minutes. Our secretarial studies teacher gave us a list of government departments in Canberra and suggested that we write to four or five of them seeking jobs. Because shorthand at the time was highly sought-after each department that I wrote to offered me an interview and I was successful in getting a job with the first two departments that I was interviewed by. At that time stenographers were very highly sought-after so if you had any sort of shorthand you were quickly snapped up.
I was offered a job with the Attorney General’s Department and I was then later offered a job with Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Not understanding the government system or the departmental structure, one of my brothers suggested to me, ‘Pandora, take the job with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’, but I’d already accepted the job with the Attorney General’s Department. He said, ‘No, no tell them you’re unable to accept that now and you’d have to decline’. So I contacted the Attorney General’s Department and kindly declined and said that another opportunity had been presented to me. I then accepted the job with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and started there at the beginning of 1986.
J Armitage: So an interesting sort of road to working there.
P Livanes: Absolutely, so when I started at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet I was initially placed in the typing pool where we were shown the ropes and — I think it was also a testing ground to see, for that cohort of typists and stenographers, that were brought in, who would be place into which division once they had spent their short time in the typing pool. So after a few weeks in the typing pool where I was shown how to prepare minutes, prepare letters and correspondence for the Prime Minister and the department.
I was then sent to International Division, at the time the First Assistant Secretary of International Division was Chris Conybeare who later went on to become, I think the Secretary of the Department of Immigration, and also the Chief of Staff, or Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. I was in International Division for about six or seven months and — I didn’t realize at the time but International Division was seen as one of the more prestigious divisions in the department so I was fortunate that was the first division I was sent out to.
J Armitage: What brought you to work in the Old Parliament House?
P Livanes: At the end of that first year in International Division I then moved into Security Division for a couple of months. An opportunity came up — I was asked if I could go to Old Parliament House, work in the Prime Minister’s office one evening. I later found out that it was the night that Prime Minister Hawke hosted drinks for the staff for Christmas. I was asked to go and look after the switchboard, mind the switchboard that night, so that all staff could attend the Christmas drinks at the Lodge. When I went that night, from what I can recall, the only people that were there was myself and one of the security attendants. I think in the whole time I was there which was about three hours I took only a handful of calls and really all it was, just to take message, but I seemed to make a good impression. I’m not sure who really noticed apart from the security attendant but they asked me to come back. There was a lady who worked in the Prime Minister’s press office and at that time the press office in Old Parliament House was located in the Press Gallery which is different to our Parliament House where the press office is located beside the Prime Minister’s office.
I was asked to work in the press office in the Press Gallery for a number of weeks while one of the ladies in the press office was on leave and at the end of that time a lady in the main office of the Prime Minister’s office went on leave and so they asked me to fill-in for her. So my role, rolled into one, my time in the Prime Minister’s office continued and then eventually someone in the main office left and they asked if I’d apply for that position. The interesting thing was that I had just turned nineteen when I was given that opportunity to apply for the position. I recall a year or so later when we were filling another role that when the office manager was going through the applications to decide who they would put forward for the short list they ruled out a number of people because they were so young. I had to remind them that I was actually eighteen when I started in the office, and only just turned nineteen when I applied for the position. They gave me that opportunity and they wouldn’t have given me that opportunity had they not met me. So whether that changed their thinking or not I don’t know but I’m grateful that I had already been there and been able to show them what I was capable of that they were willing to keep me.
J Armitage: Just to go back a bit, why were you chosen to go in that particular night? What led them to choose you because it started a whole chain of events in your life.
P Livanes: I think it may be — I’m really not sure. I was never really privy to the decision and why I was chosen out of the cohort of stenographers and typists that came in that year but I put it down to maybe two things. One, I was given a referee report by Robert Wylie who was an Assistant Secretary in International Division and in it he wrote that I was considered one of the best of the cohort of that year. Whether that is why I stood out I’m not sure. The second thing was that I lost my sister. She died in 1987, in September that year. I wondered if people felt that I’d had a pretty rough year that maybe something like this might be a nice treat and that is why they gave me that opportunity.
J Armitage: Yes, that must have been hard losing your sister.
P Livanes: It was extremely hard. My sister was born with a congenital heart defect. She had a hole in her heart and we always lived with her being unwell but she deteriorated over time. I didn’t really understand her illness. It was after she died that I went to see her heart specialist and got some further details and, as I said, I was only eighteen. I was eighteen when I started at Prime Minister and Cabinet and that was the year she died and she was twenty. It was a stage in my life I’ll never forget and one I never wish anybody to have to go through to lose someone so young and so close to them like that. We were very close and I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over it.
J Armitage: She’s still your sister.
P Livanes: She is indeed. I do miss her every day.
J Armitage: Yes, that’s hard.
J Armitage: Were you interested in politics at that stage?
P Livanes: I was eighteen, nineteen, I didn’t really know what politics was. I appreciate it now and I have a better understanding of it now because of the environments I’ve worked in but at the time. I came from a family of hard workers and the priority for my family was that we would work and we would work hard. We never expected anything to be given to us. So I went into it with the view that I was there to do a good job and that I would learn as much as I could. I didn’t really know how long this opportunity would last. It could have been a bank. It could have been anywhere. I would have done the same thing. I just went in there with the view that I was there to do a job and I would do the best job I could.
J Armitage: And obviously they didn’t see your age. They saw the job you were doing, as if you had to remind them, look I’m only nineteen, don’t rule people out because of their age, so they saw your competence.
P Livanes: They did and that’s what I’ll forever be grateful for because otherwise I may never have had that opportunity.
J Armitage: So which part of the building did you work in?
P Livanes: So apart from that first few weeks when I worked in the Press Gallery in the press office that was located in the Press Gallery, the rest of my time was spent in the Prime Minister’s main office. I worked in, what we considered, the front office, which was the first room that you would walk in to. In that space there was myself, Craddock Morton who was the Cabinet Officer at the time, who later went on to become the Head of the National Museum, Libby Bogusz who was one of the other secretaries, Di Flaherty who was the receptionist, Heather Mittag, who was a secretary, Heather Le Nevez was the office manager and myself.
The interesting thing, if you have a look at the space, it’s quite small. So to have six of us working in there we were on top of each other. If you take into account the hours that we worked it was a fairly small space to spend so many hours together. The other thing was that a number of the staff smoked. I didn’t smoke and I didn’t think anything of it because that’s just the way it was. I did mention at one point that I might make a claim around having to work in such a small environment with smokers but it was only ever fun because that is just the way it was. We didn’t know any the wiser, we weren’t any the wiser, that’s the way it was.
J Armitage: I think it was the mid-‘80s really they brought in non-smoking in government areas.
P Livanes: Well it wasn’t until we moved into Parliament House up the hill that smoking was stopped in the office.
J Armitage: So 1988.
P Livanes: 1988 and that was the transition. I think that’s why so many staff struggled when they moved to Parliament House was because they couldn’t smoke any more. I know a number of people continued to smoke in the office. I think there were warnings given to the office about people smoking but people found it very difficult to transition and to cease smoking in the office. They weren’t going to be told.
J Armitage: That’s right, we’ve done it for years.
P Livanes: The PM was one of those.
J Armitage: Really.
P Livanes: Yes, he liked his cigars. He loved to smoke a cigar. I know that — well I’m not certain but I’m fairly sure he continued to smoke those cigars in Parliament House.
J Armitage: I can imagine that.
P Livanes: Oh yes.
J Armitage: So who were you working for?
P Livanes: So in the office each secretary had the responsibility of one or two advisors or staff in the office. I was asked to work for John Bowan who was the International Relations Advisor and Stephen Mills who was the speech writer. Although we worked directly to them we also offered administrative support, and secretarial support to the office more widely because we had a roster amongst the five secretaries in the office. I’d mention there was Libby Bogusz, myself, Heather Mittag, Jean Hammond and I think her name was Debra Shores the last secretary. So there were five of us.
Jean Hammond I always saw her as the backbone of the administrative side of the office. She was a great role model for me and mentor. She took me under her wing when I started in the office and she showed me the way of how to be a professional secretary and just held my hand along the way. She managed a number of things around the way office ran and the administrative side of things. She ran a few rosters for the secretarial staff. One was for our office hours and two nights a week I would be able to leave at six o’clock, one night a week I could leave at eight o’clock and the other two nights of the week I would leave at whatever time I was allowed to leave, depending on what was being worked on by the office at the time, any major speeches or major programs. Sometimes that would be midnight, one or two in the morning. We would share those shifts around and on the weekends we would be on call, two of us would be on call each weekend.
The other rosters that Jean Hammond managed were travel rosters so that we took — we shared the interstate travel around. We would work through the five secretaries as to who would travel with the PM on an interstate trip. She also managed an overseas roster of the short trips and the long trips. The short trips would be to say the South Pacific or New Zealand, somewhere close by, South-East Asia and a long trip would be Europe, United States, Africa, South America and so again she would allocate who would go on each trip based on the order of the roster.
J Armitage: So it was all very fair?
P Livanes: Absolutely. I’ve never worked in a fairer office. I will always have fond memories of this office. It was, I felt, the fairest, the most well-functioning office I’ve ever worked in, or department or organisation I’ve ever worked for. There was no one-up-man-ship, there was complete collaboration between staff. Although I have to keep that in check. I was nineteen. I was very young when I started so it was — that’s the way I saw it. I’ve never worked in a more harmonious office. There were pressures but people seemed to manage them so well. It was like another family to me. A story I remember is in that first year that I was working in the office, I got my wisdom teeth out. I went into hospital for it. I remember my family dropping me off to the hospital and off I went to complete the administration process for being admitted to the hospital and as my time came for my operation I became a bit nervous and I remember going to a phone box and calling the office. They could sense that I was nervous and they passed me around on the phone each of the ladies in the office would speak to me and would just talk to me gently and just make sure I was okay. I thought they could sense that, like your family could sense that. I thought I spend so much time with these people of course they’d sense that. I reflect on that now and it chokes me up a little bit because it just showed me how important they were to me and how important I was to them.
J Armitage: Yes, it’s a very caring environment.
P Livanes: Absolutely, but it needed to be because we worked under such extreme pressure. The hours, we looked out for each other. I’ve never had that again in any office.
J Armitage: So where do you think that came from?
P Livanes: They had the right people in the office. They had the right people in the right roles. They picked well. I’ve seen other offices where the right people aren’t chosen for the roles. They had wise people, they had people with experience, they had people — they gave thought to how people would work together and I just think they chose well.
J Armitage: So what were John and Stephen like to work for?
P Livanes: John Bowan was interesting. I say this in a nice way. He was a bit like a nutty old professor. He was extremely intelligent and he was — when I say he was the International Affairs Advisor, he was much more than that. His knowledge of sport was second to none. His knowledge of music was amazing. Anything to do with the arts. He provided advisory services to the Prime Minister on such a broad range of issues and he became really the international relations-sport-music-art advisor. He was the most disorganised man I’ve ever worked for. He would often pile secure documents into his safe and never again would they be found. I’m sure that organisations like ASIO and ASIS and ONA would just cringe at the thought. He would just toss documents into his safe and lock them up of a night and I don’t know whether they ever appeared again. I know those documents are numbered and registered and meant to be disposed of appropriately and I’m sure they were, but it was always amazing to me that no-matter what you wanted or if the Prime Minister asked to see something he could always lay his hands on it, but he was a fantastic person to work for.
Stephen Mills he was quite young. He was Speechwriter in the office. I think he started as a journalist. I would help with the typing up of the Prime Minister’s speeches but he was also a lovely man to work for. They both looked after me very well. I could never say anything bad about either of them.
J Armitage: He was a Speechwriter as well as Graham Freudenberg is that right?
P Livanes: Stephen Mills was the permanent Speechwriter in the office. Freudy or Graeme Freudenberg would come to Canberra to assist on the bigger speeches. So he would come to work on major speeches that the Prime Minister was delivering, especially anything of a political nature. You would always know when Freudy was in town because he was quite a heavy smoker and he’d wander through the office holding a cigarette. I don’t know that he actually puffed too many times but he would just hold this cigarette out. It would burn down and I remember the ash would just fall onto the carpet. We knew when he was in town because we would see a trail of ash and he’d trend in the ash and it would rub into the carpet. He was just totally oblivious to it all but he just carried this cigarette, continued to carry a cigarette around the office, lit but only ever occasionally puffed.
J Armitage: Did you ever have a typical day at work or was there a typical day?
P Livanes: No, well each day — it’s hard because it’s been so long now, I’m trying to recall.
J Armitage: That’s alright, obviously you were there for long hours.
P Livanes: Yes, so each day, you knew what your role was. You would go in, you would assist your relevant boss on anything that needed doing. Because I worked in the main, the general office, we backed up on the phone. So Di Flaherty was the receptionist at the time and we would each help out with the phones. They were busy. Then we’d have our peeks depending on what announcement the government had made or something the government might have said in parliament. We had our own distinct roles as to what we did and each of our bosses, as I said, would come to you and ask you to do whatever work was required of the day. But I couldn’t say — we had some down time too. We had the opportunity to have fun in the office which I think is the only thing that kept us all sane probably.
J Armitage: What did you do to have fun in the office?
P Livanes: We would joke, we would laugh, we would — some of the things — we went out together as a group. We had — we were social outside of work as well, not a great deal because obviously we spent a lot of time with each other. We had a Glee Club. The only thing was though, I was young and I didn’t drink. I think a lot of the staff in the office found that a bit hard to understand because it was a very heavy drinking, heavy smoking culture. I wasn’t a drinker and so I didn’t actually become a member of the Glee Club. I didn’t see the sense in it. I didn’t drink and so why would I join and my boss John Bowan, and again I’m not being mean, but he was a bit tight with his money. So he didn’t see why he should join to become a member of the Glee Club. So John and I were the only two non-members which was something that the rest of the office used to make fun of. We would have a Glee Club and so there were often drinks at night. Some people would start drinking a little bit earlier than others. I do recall one secretary in particular who used to have a beer cooler on her desk and would crack open a tin of beer at around eleven o’clock in the morning. I think that’s just what some people did to get through the day but that was an unusual thing. Not encouraged. Again I just watched and learnt. This is the environment I was now in. I didn’t see it as being anything different. I didn’t know anything better. It was the first Prime Minister’s office I’d worked in so how would I know what you did in a Prime Minister’s office.
We went out regularly and the Glee Club did organise an annual dinner which John Bowan and I did not attend again because we were non-members but John prepared a lovely speech that he asked to be delivered at the first Glee Club dinner. We called it the Ozvaldo Meneghello Oration and Ozvaldo Meneghello was the Prime Minister’s valet at the time. He was Italian, he was very Italian. He was I think a soccer player, a very good soccer player when he lived in Italy. Anyway the PM was on a Pritikin diet, a very strict Pritikin diet at the time but Aussie seemed to find a way around that. The Lodge would provide food that the Prime Minister was to eat but Ozzie would always make sure that the PM got anything he wanted. If that was not in line with the Pritikin diet well that didn’t matter because Aussie had his own version of Pritikin diet and made sure the PM had all the little treats that he wished.
J Armitage: That’s Ozzie who?
P Livanes: That was Ozzie and when we moved up to Parliament House he left the office to open Ozzie’s general store, although the spelling of Ozzie’s at Parliament House is AUSSIE it was actually spun off Osvaldo Meneghello, Ozzy being Ozzy the PM’s valet. He ran that store for quite a number of years with his wife who was a staff member for a minister in Parliament House. They ran that store very successfully for quite a number of years before then. I think selling, well moving on anyway.
J Armitage: So apart from the Glee Club did you socialize outside work hours with people?
P Livanes: Yes I did but as I said it wasn’t a great deal because we spent so much time together. When you finally left the office it was nice to be able to spend time with family and friends away from that environment because it was all encompassing. I remember my twenty-first birthday, which wasn’t here in Old Parliament House. I celebrated my twenty-first in new Parliament House and a number of the staff came to my twenty-first birthday which was lovely. We would often have office dinners. I do remember one dinner up at Parliament House, up at the new Parliament House where we had a dinner together. I’ve got some photos of that which I’ve provided Barry York but. We attended office functions together and there was the famous PM cricket match and we would go along to events like that.
You went to so many events with the office, formal events or were invited to different occasions that, in a way, you wanted to disappear from that environment. You wanted to go and do something else. For me I worked in the office from the ages of nineteen to twenty-one and they were important years as a young person. I would see my friends going out of a night and hear about the stories of having fun out together or on weekends but I was often too tired from the hours I’d worked through the week to be able to always join them or to go out with them. Work restricted whether I could go. So I did miss that and I think that is what led to me leaving the office because I missed the opportunities of being out with friends. I was young. Although I was grateful for the opportunity and now when I reflect back I think, I wish there was more I remembered about my time there. I wish there were more things that I may have kept to remind me of some of the times that I had in that office. I did what I did because that was my job.
J Armitage: That was your job. Yes, were there any other social clubs in Old Parliament House that you joined? You’ve got the Glee Club from the Prime Minister’s office but.
P Livanes: The office for me, my life was that office.
J Armitage: Right.
P Livanes: I didn’t socialize too much outside of the office. There were a number of corridor parties that would take place in the building and there was also the non-members bar through the courtyard. I have to honestly admit I never went to the non-members bar, again for the fact that I was in the office for such long hours that when I wasn’t working I wanted to go home. I wasn’t a drinker, which was, as I said very unusual so I didn’t frequent places like that. I think also, when I first started in the press office in the Press Gallery I was warned so many times by the staff in the office not to speak to anyone. Not to tell the media anything. They’d put such fear into me that I was so afraid of saying anything to anyone. It was a great training ground however because it prepared me for jobs in other offices later but I would never say anything because I was always afraid that it would come back to bite me. So I didn’t want to go to places where I might be placed in a position where someone will ask me something about the office. I didn’t want to be in a position where I might say something and then get into trouble later.
J Armitage: Did any press, journalists ask you a question, or press you for information?
P Livanes: Some journalists did but not while I was in that office. Later jobs and later positions I’ve been asked things about the office that I worked in but I always declined to answer. They were always looking for a story. I remember one night in particular, it was around the time of the John Brown resignation. He was the tourism minister and the Prime Minister was in Hobart. I recall Hobart, I could be wrong though, with Hazel. The issue blew up here in Canberra and at the time the only phone with a speaker on it was in the Prime Minister’s office, in this building, was in the Prime Minister’s office. So we had on one night that I was working back late, John Brown, Gareth Evans, Graham Richardson and I’m fairly sure, definitely John Button, I don’t think there was anyone else. I do recall those four, sitting in the Prime Minister’s office and John Button who was the Leader of Government in the Senate, he was sitting in the Prime Minister’s chair and the other gentlemen were in there discussing what they were going to do, or at least what John Brown was going to do. So once they’d had a discussion they asked to get the Prime Minister on the phone. In the meantime …
[End of part 1]
Interview with Pandora Livanes part 2
P Livanes: … the media had got word of the fact that this was all happening in the Prime Minister’s office. There were very strict rules at the time around the fact that the journalists weren’t allowed to wander, or stand in the corridors and watch or film or record anything. I know those sorts of rules apply to new Parliament House but I’m not sure they’re adhered to quite as strictly. But the one thing the journalists, they were very, very smart. They knew that the rules applied to the corridors but not to the stairwells.
J Armitage: Yes, the stairwell up the Press Gallery.
P Livanes: That’s right and there’s actually a stairwell just outside the Prime Minister’s office which I remember led down to the ladies toilets at the bottom but also I’m not sure where they would go to. I never went up the stairs I only ever went down that staircase. But the journalists would all stand on the staircase because they got word of the fact that there was a meeting happening in the Prime Minister’s office. So we got the Prime Minister on the line in Hobart and transferred the call through to the PM’s office where those four gentlemen were sitting. Col Parks who was the Head of the National Media Liaison Service at the time, otherwise known as ANIMALS. He was hovering in the corridor. Anyway, he looked in through the peep hole — between the Prime Minister’s office and the Principal Private Secretaries office there is a peep hole, that was the only way we could tell what was going on the Prime Minister’s office, without obviously interrupting and opening the door. So staff would often use that peep hole to keep an eye on the Prime Minister or check what was going on. So he looked in the peep hole and noticed that they were still talking, but we had noticed, on the switchboard that the line had dropped out, or at least the conversation had ended very quickly. So Col Parks opened up the door very carefully and said — he could tell that they still thought they were still talking to the Prime Minister. Little did they realize that the line had dropped out. So Col saying, ‘No, the call’s not there, the call’s not there’. They were a bit annoyed that they were being interrupted over such a serious issue. He finally explained that the call had dropped out so we were asked to get the Prime Minister back on the line.
In the meantime we didn’t realize that Bob had gotten quite angry at Hazel thinking that Hazel had done something and the line had dropped out because of something she did. So that was happening down at Hobart and down at this end Senator Button is sitting in the Prime Minister’s chair. Col Parks went around to show him what button to press on the big — it’s a box that would sit with the phone and it would have the buttons as to which line was coming in. Col Parks told Senator Button to press a particular line that was flashing. Senator Button jumped away from it saying, ‘No, no, you press it’ and one of the other ministers said at the time, so much for the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, he was afraid of pushing the flashing button. So yes.
J Armitage: So that was just before John Brown resigned?
P Livanes: That was the night that it all happened, that it all blew up. I’m not sure whether his resignation came the following day.
J Armitage: So the issue was?
P Livanes: The issue was, there was an interview with him, and his wife, I recall. There was a story about him — he and his wife doing something untoward on his office desk and it blew up over that, is what my recollection is but again I was young and I didn’t read the political stories or remember the incidence as well as I remember some of the circumstances around them.
J Armitage: Yes, and that’s — seeing them in the Prime Minister’s office having a conversation, that really wasn’t a conversation because the line had dropped out.
P Livanes: The line had dropped out. It was very funny. Well, it could be very funny times even though we were dealing with such serious issues.
J Armitage: Well, given that it was so busy most of the time did you ever have any slack moments?
P Livanes: We did. I remember, one of my favourite spots in the office was Craddock Morgan’s desk because his desk was located at the front of the general office and it was parallel to Libby Bogusz’s desk.
J Armitage: There at the window?
P Livanes: At the windows. I would sit on Craddock’s chair, whenever he wasn’t there, maybe he was at a cabinet meeting, or maybe had gone off to some other meeting. I would sit there and I remember my feet would sit on the little shelf next to the window and I would look outside. There is nothing more beautiful in Canberra, particularly in winter, when once the fog rises and you see the beautiful blue sky. I think that was a part of me wishing I was outside. I spent so many hours in the office and rarely saw daylight, that was the closest I got to it. I would look and I would look up to the War Memorial up the other end of Anzac Parade. I would sit there and often he would come, ‘Pandora, off my chair’ and then I’d go back to my chair. I do recall I did that often. I loved sitting there in his chair.
J Armitage: So really what you’re saying is that relations between the staff were really, really good.
P Livanes: Absolutely, when we travelled together we were very supportive of each other in the office we were supportive of each other. We had our issues but again I’ve never worked in a more harmonious office. I think it had something to do with obviously the right people but when you work in such a close environment, under the pressure that you do, you bond. I’ve done that in other offices where I’ve worked in some difficult environments, we’ve bonded, maybe not for the right reasons but you do bond. When you’re in an environment that is very challenging, you bond and that’s what we did. We laughed and we joked. We loved doing crosswords. We had a — Jean Hammond introduced me to crosswords.
J Armitage: She was basically your manager.
P Livanes: She was, it wasn’t ever formalized that she was my manager but she was the one I respected the most of all the secretaries. I learnt so much from her that I always looked up to her and trusted her advice. She would circulate crosswords and we would always have those to do during the downtime because we never able to go. We were never able to leave the office as such. We always had to be available. I think that was also something that wore me down. I remember one night, this was up at new Parliament House. I was required to stay back. I was rostered on late that night. Stephen was working on a speech I do recall that but he was slow to bring out, further updates and I was sitting there. I was — it was like I was screaming inside and I thought I don’t want to be here anymore. I really don’t want to be here. I remembered the next day. I turned up to work the next morning and at lunch time I drove to my mum, where she worked, to our family business and I said ‘Mum, I can’t do it anymore. I don’t want to do it anymore’. I went back and I resigned that day. Everyone has their breaking point and that was mine. I didn’t have anything to go to I just knew that my time was up. I had to go.
J Armitage: Well it was quite a long time.
P Livanes: It was a long time at that point in my life.
J Armitage: And the age that you were.
P Livanes: Yes, as I said I reflect on my time there as one of the happiest of my working life.
J Armitage: Who really — what was the glue? Was there a person that held the office together that everybody knew was — set up the structure and the framework within which you worked?
P Livanes: I came into it knowing it was already established. I think there were a couple of significant people in the office structure. The Principal Private Secretary, it was always carefully chosen. Chris Conybeare was the Principal Private Secretary when I started there in Old Parliament House. He was fairly quiet but quite traditional and strict about how he expected the office to operate. It was very clear that I was in a different environment to the department. PM&C was great training ground for me. It was where I learnt the ropes on how to present myself and to conduct myself in an office environment but the office was a step above that. It was — there were high expectations of how we would conduct ourselves and how we would undertake our roles and I — that is something that I don’t feel any more in lots of environments I work in. It was very clear that I was there to do a job and I was expected to do the job properly. If I didn’t I would know about it. I don’t ever recall anyone having to actually say anything to me …
J Armitage: No, I’m sure not.
P Livanes: … but I knew what the expectations were. So I would have to say, so Chris Conybeare and Sandy Hollway became the Principal Private Secretary and they always chose the Principal Private Secretary well. Both were different in their own way but they were the people that you respected and wanted to work — you wanted to please them. So, I would have to say that if we didn’t have people like that in those roles the rest of the office wouldn’t have worked.
J Armitage: Okay, so they were quite fundamental to the atmosphere and working.
P Livanes: Absolutely, and then Jean Sinclair. Jean Sinclair was Private Secretary to the Prime Minister and she’d worked for him, I think, about fourteen years when he worked at the ACTU. Then she had a very close relationship with the Prime Minister. She again, had very high expectations of staff and what she expected of them. So there were people like that in senior roles within the office that set, I suppose, the ground rules as to how we would operate. Then we also had Jean Hammond from an administrative side of things who just ensured that the secretaries did what they were required to do, always toed the line.
J Armitage: Going back to the phone call with the Prime Minister and Hazel in Hobart that made me think, did you have much to do with Hazel?
P Livanes: A little bit, not too much because Hazel would come into the office every now and then, or Mrs Hawke would come into the office every now and then. It was interesting because we only ever referred to the Prime Minister as the PM or the boss, we would never refer to him as Bob. Maybe some of the more senior staff would but there were certainly no way that other staff would refer to him as anything other than PM or the boss. The boss was the way we referred to him, not to his face, but that’s how we spoke of him. I would never have referred to Hazel as Hazel, I would have always said Mrs Hawke, that was just what was expected. She would come in occasionally for special occasions, but rarely did rarely did she come in. Sharon Massey was Hazel’s Personal Secretary. She worked for Hazel, I’m fairly sure, from the day they won government right through to when the Prime Minister left as Prime Minister. When Paul Keating took over. Sharon wasn’t located with us in the office. I think Sharon was located at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and worked for Hazel there but when we moved to new Parliament House we had capacity to have Sharon in our office. So Sharon Massey had her own office and we would see a little bit more of Hazel then. But otherwise we only saw Hazel on special occasions or when travelling with the Prime Minister.
J Armitage: So when, you had time in the Press Gallery and obviously worked in that front office, the first one you go into. Were there any other places you went into frequently in Old Parliament House as part of your job?
P Livanes: The library, if you go through the members hall, you come up the front steps of Old Parliament House you come into Kings Hall and you go across Kings Hall to the library, the doors of the library were at the back. Every now and then I was required to go and do some research in the library. I can still picture in my mind’s eye how the library was set out. It was a very quiet area to go into and I felt somewhat nervous going in there because I was so overwhelmed by all the tall shelves with books either side but I would often go in there.
Occasionally I would go to the Whip’s office. Down our corridor there was a Whip’s office. I didn’t ever really understand what the Whip did but I’ve later come to understand what their role is. I would never go into the Chamber though. I would never be required to go into the Chamber. I remember feeling, it was such a regal place. It had some sort of, I don’t know, air of authority about the Chamber that the new Parliament House just doesn’t have. This building has something that new Parliament House doesn’t have.
I remember wandering down to the cafeteria. There was a staff cafeteria at the back of the building here. I think it was in like a temporary annex. I think they created a temporary annex, or something for it, and the Press Gallery was above. I remember wandering down there. It would be like going through a rabbit warren to get down there but that’s the way the building was and again we were none the wiser, this is just the way it was. At night when we’d be working back late I’d wander down corridors to go to the toilet or go to the cafeteria and there were these large paintings on the wall. These really imposing characters and I would be sure that they’d be watching as I approached and watched as I walked past them down to the cafeteria or to the toilets. It was quite an eerie building to work in, in a way, because you could feel the history. You could feel something this building had that when we moved to new Parliament House. I think that was what some people struggled with, it was such a sterile environment compared to here. This was such an intimate place to work. Up there we had so much space. We were so isolated from the Press Gallery and we were here too but not to the same extent as up there. The offices were so large and it didn’t create for a feeling of, a sociable, a social environment because it was just so large and offices were closed off from each other. There were no opportunities to socialize and that’s why. Corridor parties continued up at new Parliament House but I think they were later banned because of damage to various parts of the building. I think the Department of Parliamentary Services up there decided that enough was enough and corridor parties ceased, or as much as they tried to.
J Armitage: Were there any places in this building that you actually couldn’t go, you weren’t supposed to go?
P Livanes: Well, non-members bar. I was never told I could never go there and I wasn’t interested in going there but I didn’t think it was the right environment for a nineteen year old to be going drinking or to go into there. Someone that was working in the Prime Minister’s office, it was a no go for me. Only because as I said, having started in the press office and they put such fear into me about talking to anyone that I made sure I never needed to go there.
J Armitage: Was that a decision you made?
P Livanes: Yes it was.
J Armitage: Not to go, you weren’t told?
P Livanes: No one ever told me.
J Armitage: Right, but you actually understood very well.
P Livanes: I think subconsciously I knew that it was not the place for me. I know some many good nights were had there but …
J Armitage: So they say [laughs].
P Livanes: … but I can’t honestly tell you about the non-members bar because I never went. No there were no areas that I can recall. Obviously we were able to go wherever we wanted within our own suite within reason. You wouldn’t walk into the Prime Minister’s office unannounced or without good reason. I wouldn’t come — it’s funny, just even coming for this interview today. I’m assuming that these were member’s offices that we’re, this interview is being conducted and the corridor that I came in. I rarely coming up to a member’s office. Occasionally we would be required to go to a minister’s office to deliver something but we had attendants for deliveries, so once you were in the office, you were in the office. The only time you would ever leave would be to go to the toilet or to go to the cafeteria for something to eat. There was no reason for you to leave.
J Armitage: You said you went to the Whip’s office sometimes, why did you go to the Whip’s office?
P Livanes: Occasionally for delivering messages. Particularly on sitting days when I think it was to do with strategizing and planning the day’s proceedings for Question Time. That would be all I would go there for.
J Armitage: So they wanted something in safe hands basically.
P Livanes: That’s right, rather than through an attendant. It’s interesting because I can recall one story. I’d been in the office for a few months and Heather Le Nevez was the Office Manager and she was the one to open all the mail. A couple of gentlemen arrived and a security guard asked me to go and greet them because he couldn’t find Heather. He said ‘Pandora, some people here have something to be delivered’. I said, ‘Okay’. I couldn’t understand why it was that he couldn’t just take the envelope and leave it in Heather’s tray for opening. I didn’t know what was inside. They handed a document to me and they said ‘The Prime Minister must see this before Question Time’. I said ‘Certainly’ and they said ‘You must understand the Prime Minister has to see this before Question Time’ and I said ‘Thank you, I’ll make sure of that’. When I went back into the office I knew what the procedure was and that all mail should go through Heather first. So again, not stepping out of line of what I’d been told by the office to do. I put it in Heather’s tray and told her of it when she got back but she didn’t get back until after Question Time had started. Little did I know that the first question, or one of the first few questions asked of the Prime Minister that day, was a question about that document. He honestly stood and said, he had not seen the document. They actually were trying to catch him out. Some advisors came running in and said ‘Where’s this document, where’s this document’ and all of a sudden my heart sank and I thought I’d done something wrong. This was the first time I thought — this was why I was always so careful. I thought I’d done the right thing and I felt like I would lose my job over this. I Heather said ‘Where is this document’ and I said ‘I placed it in your tray’ they opened it and they were grateful that I hadn’t passed it on and taken it into the PM because they didn’t want him to have seen it. Because that was the strategy, the organisation that had dropped this letter, or this document, they were trying to catch him out and question him on this document. They had given him such little warning because they had dropped it off just before Question Time. It wouldn’t have been enough time for him to digested it and formed a response before going into Question Time. So they were trying to catch him out and that was the first time I understood how politics worked. How the dirty side of politics can work.
J Armitage: Do you want to say what was in the document?
P Livanes: I was never privy to it.
J Armitage: You don’t even remember — do you remember the year or the date?
P Livanes: Well I would like to say it was 1987 and for some reason and this is just something that sticks in my head. I thought it had something to do with the Australian Medical Association but I can’t.
J Armitage: That’s alright.
P Livanes: I don’t know why that has always stuck in my head. I could be way off the mark.
J Armitage: That’s okay.
P Livanes: But I do recall the two gentlemen coming, and really pressuring me. Again they were quite intimidating. They were older than me and again I was young and impressionable, but I did what I was always told to do and that was all mail should go through Heather Le Nevez.
J Armitage: That was very wise thing to do wasn’t it.
P Livanes: It was in the end but I had no idea that it was at the time.
J Armitage: But a learning experience.
P Livanes: It certainly was.
J Armitage: To more mundane, what equipment did you use in the office?
P Livanes: Very archaic equipment, we used typewriters. I remember using corrector, or whiteout, whatever it was at the time. When we used carbon copy, so that was always annoying. You’re always very careful when typing letters that had a carbon copy behind because if you made a typing error on the first page, you’d have to role the pages out, as much as possible without slipping the carbon copy behind. That would be your white piece of paper, or your letterhead. Your piece of carbon paper behind it and then the yellow page behind that which proceed the carbon copy. You would have to carefully correct on the yellow the typo and then role the pages back again and commence typing without losing the right spot and not rolling the roles to the right spot. So you were always very careful. So we used typewriters a lot.
J Armitage: Were they the ones with the ball?
P Livanes: Yes, they were, and our resource room which had our photocopier and our fax machine, we had a thermal paper fax machine which we were always continually putting new roles of thermal fax paper in. We had a shredder and I recall we had cables or we had some sort of cable machine but I don’t …
J Armitage: Did you have a telex machine?
P Livanes: That’s it, it was a telex machine but didn’t use it a great deal. I can’t recall using it a great deal but we then got computers.
J Armitage: Right.
P Livanes: They were something. They were quite unreliable and it was interesting to see how well some people received them and other people didn’t.
J Armitage: Which year did you get the computers in here?
P Livanes: I think it would have to be 1987.
J Armitage: Right, so very soon after you started work.
P Livanes: It was, it was almost like they were transitioning them in around that first year, that’s my recollection anyway. I remembered when we travelled that was fun. So when you travelled we travelled with a travelling computer which was housed in a silver box. It was like a big silver box that the media often used for the transporting of their equipment and their cameras and microphones. It was a big silver box which must have been a couple of foot long by one and a half foot wide and about a foot high. It was — there was lots of foam inside and the computer sat in the middle of the foam. It was this huge box for what was a decent size computer, nothing like the ipads and laptops of today. That would house just the computer and then we’d have another similar big silver box for the printer. This was supposed to be very portable but the equipment would fill, one computer in the silver box and one printer would fill the boot of one car and so. I always felt a bit like a packhorse when travelling with the PM because you had this computer, you had your printer, and then you would have your travelling bag.
Jean Hammond was always very good in ensuring that the travelling bag was always well stocked with the right paper. You always had — you were like a mini office on the road. You always made sure you had the right letterhead for whatever occasion, enough paper, enough pens. The PM had a particular pen he liked and enough stationary that wherever you were you had all the equipment you would need at your fingertips.
J Armitage: What was the pen he liked?
P Livanes: It was — I can’t recall.
J Armitage: That’s alright, but it was a special one?
P Livanes: He had a special pen, all PMs I’ve worked for have had a special pen. Their comfortable with one style of pen.
J Armitage: The computer was it a screen and body of the computer all in one?
P Livanes: Yes it was.
J Armitage: This is really challenging to say what was it.
P Livanes: All I remember is that it was a black and orange screen. It was black with orange writing and I recall it being one piece but you know what I’m thinking of laptops now and assuming it was but you know what I can’t be sure that it wasn’t.
J Armitage: I’m sure someone in time will work it out [laughs].
P Livanes: I’m sure, but yes.
J Armitage: I think you said why you travelled which was to provide support but where did you go in Australia and overseas, can you tell me some of the places?
P Livanes: I travelled so widely. I’ve never seen — I don’t think I would have seen as much of Australia as I did because of the office I worked in. I travelled to pretty much every state and territory. Some of the trips. I’ll tell you about my first trip. This was to Melbourne. You’ve got to remember I was nineteen or so at the time. I had my first opportunity of travelling to Melbourne with the Prime Minister and we were staying at the Hyatt on Collins, which was very, very flash. The only hotel — I’d never stayed in a hotel before that, that I can recall. I can remember my family staying in a motel, six of us in a one bedroom motel on our way back from Melbourne and it was such a treat. I remember that we could order room service, breakfast the next morning, and I’ve never thought bake beans on toast tasted better because having somebody serve me bake beans on toast was quite something. So this was the first hotel I’d stayed in, anyway I remember arriving and I was just gobsmacked by this huge marble foyer.
I was in a motorcade with the Prime Minister to the hotel. I felt like royalty. We were escorted to our rooms and I remember opening the blinds to the room and the blinds at one end of the room were as wide as the room and I looked out and I could see the MCG. I rang my mum. I was so excited and I said ‘Mum you wouldn’t believe my room’. I remember lying in the bed and I rolled over and I could roll over, I could fit five of me in the bed. I said ‘Mum you could fit five of me in the bed. It is so large’. I hung up from my mum and set myself up so that I was ready to do work when I was needed and I rang my mum again and I said ‘Mum, you won’t believe where I’m calling you from.’ I said ‘I’m calling you from the toilet, there is a phone next to the toilet’. I could tell my mum was so proud.
My mum was of Greek origin. My mum was born in Greece and came to Australia. As I mentioned earlier my mum and dad were married in Greece, and because they were married in Greece and they registered the marriage there, my dad was called up for national service. My dad didn’t want to do national service. He was there on holidays as far as he was concerned and he wanted to return to Australia. But my mum later told me that she married my father because she thought she would live her life out on the island of Ithaca. Well when dad was called up for national service, he said ‘Right we’re off to Australia’. My mother went to her father and she said ‘He wants to go to Australia. I thought I would live on the island of Ithaca’. Her father looked at her and said, ‘My dear, you’re married to him now. You’re pregnant with your first child. You have to go with your husband’. So off she went to Australia. On the ship mum suffered badly from sea sickness. She only came out of the cabin one night and she was quite pregnant with my eldest brother. She arrived in Australia. They travelled around quite a bit. My father worked for one of my uncles for a while and then we ended up in Griffith in New South Wales, on a property.
My mum tells a story of how, she then had four children. So she would have my brothers on either side of her, my sister in the pram and me in her belly and she’d be wandering down the main street of Griffith to her shopping or do whatever she needed to, with very little English. She said, that she learnt to speak English. This wasn’t in the days of English as a Second Language training course. She would watch Peyton Place on TV and that’s how she learnt to speak English. I said, ‘How did you go shopping?’. ‘How did you know what to buy?’. She learnt the labelling of different products that she needed and she always bought the same ones each time. She made the big mistake once of buying Marmite instead of Vegemite, we made sure she never did that again.
J Armitage: She knew the difference.
P Livanes: She did know the difference in the end. She never liked Vegemite but when she tried to feed us Marmite we refused, so Vegemite we made sure she was aware of how Vegemite looked and that she never did that again. That must have been tough times for my mum, living on a property outside of Griffith with four children. My father on the road driving trucks and no family, no support, but you know what — my mum loved Griffith. She loved — it brings tears to her eyes thinking about the time she spent there. It was a fantastic time for us as a family. Griffith is quite multicultural because lots of Italians there as well. We had a good life. We had all that we needed apart, for her, family support.
J Armitage: So here you were in Melbourne ringing her up and telling her …
P Livanes: So there I was. So we were always — there was always an office. The office would organise, one room at the hotel was provided as an office. It was set up a certain way and that was the place that I would go to and be available for staff …
[End of part 2]
Interview with Pandora Livanes part 3
P Livanes: …travelling staff to update speeches, to do anything that needed to be prepared on the day, organise anything for the PM that he needed, and also to pack his bag. I remember once being on the road in Townsville. I was told to go and pack his bag. I thought this was rather odd that someone like me would have to pack a grown man’s bag. I wouldn’t say that he was very good at keeping a room tidy and so I’d go around and have to pick up his dirty underwear. I’d always make sure I’d picked up a shirt and picked up some underwear and threw them in the bag. I thought it was rather odd that I was needed to do this, but this was part of my role and I did what I was told.
J Armitage: Were there any other things you did apart from being an office person, alright packing his bag, any other things you did outside your normal role?
P Livanes: No. It was very clear what my role was and that was my thing about the office. Everyone had their distinct roles and they knew what they were required to do. Every now and then there would be an ad-hoc job that you’d be required to do but really it was very clear what your role was. You provided administrative and secretarial support on the road. I travelled — as I said to all the states and territories. Mainly cities and mainly really only seeing hotel rooms but one fantastic moment I had was. We were flying to the Northern Territory because the Prime Minister was opening RAAF Base Tindal. We were on the PMs aircraft, one of the FIBs. We were being escorted in by two fighter planes, or whatever the particular model of plane was that was guiding us in. We had one on either side of us and they just seemed to be just off the tip of our wing on each side. The pilot, one of the pilots waved. We had some journalists on the plane as well and you could tell, they were a bit like school kids. Everyone were just so impressed by this opportunity so one of the journalists took some photos. I’ve got a couple of photos which I’ve provided Barry and it’s through one of the windows in our plane, taking photos of these planes on either side of us guiding us in to RAAF Base Tindal for the official opening.
J Armitage: Exciting.
P Livanes: Absolutely, and that’s the thing, travelling with the Prime Minister was exciting.
J Armitage: Did you go into the Pacific with him as well?
P Livanes: I travelled to — my short trip was to Tonga to go to the South-Pacific Forum and that was quite interesting because we were seen as one of the larger delegations. We were put up in what you’d see as a pretty big class type of motel but they were providing the best that they could for us. Their hospitality was wonderful and I remember the King of Tonga had a welcoming event, or function at his — at the palace grounds which I saw but I then had to return to work. So most of my time was always spent in hotel rooms because that was the purpose of my role. I mean that was what I was there to do. So I had the opportunity to travel to Tonga. I really had time to go out and see things and some of the minders, the police, the security detail that we had, they were just as much a part of our office as the staff were. They were — we socialized, they were part of it without being part of the office — those that were employed in the office but they were employed by the AFP but we still worked side by side with each other. They would try where possible to get me out to see things because — also I remember travelling overseas.
So I also travelled overseas to the United States with the Prime Minister. Our first port of call was Chicago and the PM was delivering a major speech in Chicago. There was a major policy change, or something had occurred which meant that the speech would have to be rewritten. So the whole trip pretty much across to the US and we had to refuel in Hawaii was spent preparing the new speech and typing up the new speech. So the whole time on the aircraft. We had what I recall the 707, I think it was the 707. The Prime Minister had his wing first, so we went through the Prime Minister’s area which had some seats, a few seats and then a bedroom type area. Then there was an office area where there was a table which could be set up to become a travelling office. Then there was a seated area for staff, and the seated area for the journalists, so the journalists were always at the back. So as soon as we were off the ground I was set up with the computer and I was retyping and so pretty much worked the whole trip over and arrived in Chicago. We were staying at the Drake Hotel. I never got the opportunity to go outside of the hotel. I remember looking from the window thinking so that’s what Chicago looks like.
Then we went to, I can’t recall if it was New York first or Washington DC. I think it was New York next and what an amazing place to visit. We were in a motorcade and we were again treated like royalty. I was just — I was thinking, I’m just a country girl from Griffith how did I end up here. We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Towers which was behind the Waldorf Astoria which was considered more prestigious than the Towers. I remember we had a function with Australian business people and Elle Macpherson was at that function. It was a breakfast. One of the minders for the PM, I think his name was Graham Sindell he was so fascinated by Elle Macpherson and he was quite a ladies man, Graham Sindell. He couldn’t string two words together when he spoke with her because he was just so taken by her. So it was very funny. So all the other minders had quite a lot of fun with that because he’d never been in that position with any other woman before. He really struggled. Again I had very little time in New York. I got an hour where I was allowed out for an hour. I wandered out of the hotel and I bought a pretzel and then had a quick look around New York and back again.
Then in Washington DC the Prime Minister addressed Congress. I’m not sure that many Australian Prime Ministers have done that ever. I recall, my recollection that was the first time an Australian Prime Minister had addressed Congress but I don’t if that is correct. I was able to go and see that so that was quite an opportunity.
J Armitage: What was the atmosphere like in Congress?
P Livanes: It was friendly, friendly towards us. He was very well received and I remember that we were very welcomed. Again, a bit like our building here, very regal feeling, it was a regal feel to the building itself. There was a lot of history there. You knew you were somewhere important and then we were almost at the end of our trip in Washington DC. I hadn’t seen very much apart from the Congress to go the PMs speech. Sandy Hollway asked somebody from the Embassy with a car to take me, Sharon Massey who was Hazel’s personal secretary and I think her name was Ann she worked for Mike Codd, Secretary of PM&C because the secretary travelled with us. The three of us had spent most of the time in a hotel that the driver drove us around to all the key sights around Washington DC so I got to see the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and some of the key sights in Washington DC and the JFK Centre for Performing Arts. If I hadn’t have done that I wouldn’t have seen very much of Washington DC at all. So we did that all in about a period of about an hour or two and then back to the hotel, packed up and off we went.
Then we went to Houston in Texas. We were, I think there was a centre for Australasia being opened at the university there and that’s why the Prime Minister went there. Then we were hosted at a Texas barbeque which by a very wealthy Texan. We drive to the property and the driveway to the property was lined with lanterns. There were tables set up outside and covering each table were handmade quilts. There was Mexican band playing and this, I’d have to call him a millionaire because he must have been, he had an airstrip out the back of his house. There were actually two buildings on his property and they were made with stones he collected from the property. It was wealth that I had never seen before and again just kept pinching myself and thinking how could I be here.
J Armitage: So they were quite significant occasions for you, Washington, just travelling but also …
P Livanes: Absolutely, just travelling, but you always knew what your role was and work was the priority and that was why you were there. I remember on the trip home I was so tired and slept so much on the way home. I think — I’m not sure who but somebody, whether it was the staff took a photo of me and a couple of my colleagues who were sleeping on the way home, which is a photo I’ve given Barry. They were exhausting but fantastic opportunities.
J Armitage: Yes, I can imagine, even though you didn’t get out to see too many of the places, but still.
P Livanes: The fact that you were just a part of it.
J Armitage: Yes. Are there any individuals that you remember particularly vividly from your time here? And if so why, who are they and why.
P Livanes: It really — I’d have to say it would be the staff in the office. The Prime Minister was someone that I worked for, respected but I never felt close to him. I felt a part of the office but he was somewhat aloof and it’s interesting because for somebody seen publically so popular and that he was a real person’s person. I was never close to him. He had his little inner sanctum around him of people that he called on, he often called on, but I was not part of that. I never expected to be or tried to be. I what my place was in the office but I suppose the key people would be, people like Jean Hammond because she was such an influence on me personally and professionally. The key staff of our office like Jean Sinclair again just because of her professionalism and setting such high standards and then the Principal Private Secretaries without them you wouldn’t have a well-functioning office I don’t think.
J Armitage: Did you have much contact with parliamentarians?
P Livanes: Not a great deal, that wasn’t my role. I knew what my place was and that was for others. Not a great deal.
J Armitage: Do any political events stand out in your mind while you were at Old Parliament House?
P Livanes: In 1987 we had, in July ’87 we had a double dissolution election which I wasn’t — I didn’t quite understand what a double dissolution was and there haven’t been too many since but that was a major — something, probably one of the most, biggest things that I worked on the year 1987. So travelled a great deal and went to Sydney the days leading up to the campaign launch. Worked through the night the night before the launch to photocopy the speech that the Prime Minister would deliver the next day. I just recall, I’d gone from PM&C six months before and here I was in the PMs office travelling quite extensively with the Prime Minister and then life returned to normal after the election and back on deck and there we were. We just continued as if we didn’t miss a beat.
J Armitage: Right.
P Livanes: I can’t recall there was — there was a dinner in the Kings Hall. It was a reunion or farewell dinner in Kings Hall close to when we were moving up to Parliament House. I think it may have even happen after we’d moved. I recall, and again I don’t know if this is true or accurate but we moved — we were the last office to move up to new Parliament House. I think it was — they transitioned people out and they moved everyone up in stages but I recall the Prime Minister’s office being the last office to move up. I remember packing for that move and wondering why it might mean for us. Leaving this building for the last time and walking out the side entrance which is where I was met this morning. That was the entrance that we would use to leave the building because we would park — we were always early starters. We would always get a car park behind the tennis courts on the Reps side, so we would park there. So the Reps entrance was always our closest entrance but late at night, because we finished so late we’d often leave through the PMs back door. So we would just leave the office from there. Some nights, we finished so late that frosts had settled on the car and I’d use my pass, my access pass to the building to scrape the ice off the car of a night just so I could drive off.
J Armitage: So when you were moving how did the office keep functioning during that moving time?
P Livanes: It was different to now. They talk about 24-7 and how there is never a moment’s rest with the way people — the way politics is run now, it’s very much driven, a lot of people say, by media. The media schedule and I don’t recall it being the case then. The workload was manageable. We were busy but we just probably switched off the phone on the Friday night, set the office up and unpacked over the weekend and continued. I’m sure there was thought given to the way they would transition and they may have moved some people up to start with rather than it all happening overnight but I don’t recall the transition itself being a difficult one. It went smoothly from what I recall. The only difficulties were the fact that people couldn’t smoke up there. It was also getting used to such a large space. People weren’t used to that. We lost the intimacy of this building. We didn’t have that anymore.
J Armitage: Do you recall any funny incidents during your time here, that really caused amusement?
P Livanes: There were always many moments that we laughed about. I remember John Bowan being in the resource room, it was around the time of the Iran-Contra deal and Oliver North was appearing before some committee in the US. His personal assistant Fawn became quite a high profile person in her own right because of — during the hearing he referred to the fact that she shredded documents, or something like this, and he was shredding documents. I remember John Bowan was in the little resource room right next to the general office and was shredding something, and yelled out, referring to me ‘Fawn, Fawn I’m in here, I’m shredding. I’m in here Fawn’ which just made the office laugh. Again, I wouldn’t want to diminish what was going on at the time.
J Armitage: No.
P Livanes: We saw light of things where we could but they were only ever for our ears only, for our eyes and ears only.
J Armitage: What was the worst memory you have, or a disturbing memory?
P Livanes: The dirty side of politics probably. It was interesting because when I say the dirty side of politics. It wasn’t often that you saw it and I experienced it personally once by that incident where something was delivered to me, or to the office. But we — people were honourable and respected each other. Yes, they were political. There were political foes but people still respected each other and even on opposing sides there were great friendships. I sometimes wish it was like that again. I sometimes wish that the new type of advisor understood that we’re all wanting the best for the country if only they could put their narrow mindedness aside sometimes and see that and not be dirty or nasty. There is no place for it, there is no need for it. You can still progress your own political aspirations and policies and programs, you don’t have to be dirty about it.
J Armitage: Was there any cross-party friendship that stood out to, politicians from different parties?
P Livanes: Now, I’m not sure if Fred Daly, he was quite charismatic and quite a — had quite a personality that I don’t recall. I remember there was a lot of banter in the office with him and the Prime Minister. There were others, there were – even, I can’t recall those from the other side, but I remember there were certain people that the Prime Minister had time for and they would always have a laugh or a joke even though they were from the other side but I can’t recall names.
J Armitage: That’s alright. How did you feel about moving to the new building?
P Livanes: Apprehensive, the unknown what might that mean but also excited. We’d seen this building going up behind us for such a long time. I remember visiting Capital Hill when it was just a hill. As I’d mentioned earlier, my family owned a business and we manufactured ice that you would see at service stations. People would buy from service stations for their parties. Part of that we had block ice and there was some sort of an event up at Capital Hill and my family were asked to take some ice up which we did. I remember it just being this hill with a few trees and a bit of open space. To think that years later it became Parliament House is quite amazing. It’s an amazing building. I’m glad I worked there and I relish the opportunities when I have worked there because it is a lovely building to work in but it’s different to this building. It doesn’t have the intimacy or the same feeling of authority or that you’re working somewhere really special. It doesn’t have that at all. It’s not very intimate at all.
J Armitage: Did your working teams change?
P Livanes: The office continued to operate fairly similarly, apart from the fact that we were in such a large space. Technology changed.
J Armitage: In what way?
P Livanes: We worked differently from — we were much more available because of the way communication changed. We travelled lighter, technology improved, it wasn’t as unreliable. It still was unreliable, but not as unreliable as it was with what we used. It was — so we did travel a lot lighter and we were able to access things much more easily then we could when I was here.
J Armitage: Did you have any training to manage the new technology, because computers would have been quite different, wouldn’t they?
P Livanes: I’m sure they provided us with some training. We were always well looked after and well serviced by the department because we were, obviously seen as the key clients, so we always received — within reason, pretty much what we wanted. I don’t recall specific training but any training that happened was always condensed to the shortest time possible because we had jobs to do. So, I also remember that my acceptance of technology wasn’t too bad. I know that my colleague Jean struggled with it a little more. She was quite a bit older than me and I know that she struggled with technology and accepting of technology and couldn’t quite understand why it did this and why it did that, rather than my attitude was, it does and just accept that it does. But she — I know she and others struggled with it a little bit, but just as you do with change.
J Armitage: Did relationships change, the nature of how you related to each other change at all?
P Livanes: No, the office was fairly stable. There were people that came and went, like myself I was only there for three years. Jean Hammond was there from when the PM first came to government in ’83 and others. There were some key staff like that, Jean Sinclair was there throughout, Jean Hammond there were a number of staff that were there throughout. I think when you’ve got the bones there you’ve got those people always keeping the office structure and operating in the same way. Even though people came and went, most people stayed long term.
J Armitage: What were the difficult aspects of the change for you?
P Livanes: From this building to that building?
J Armitage: Yes.
P Livanes: I was fairly accepting of the change. I was young. I think you’re probably a little bit more open minded. I wasn’t as set in my ways so.
J Armitage: So it was fine.
P Livanes: It was fine. I don’t recall it as being something I struggled with.
J Armitage: What were the positives?
P Livanes: Having to be able to work in such a spacious building. I felt it was a bit of prestige around it. Finally we were in a building that was something to showcase, even though it missed something, it lacked some atmosphere. I remembered — I suppose I became a bit blasé about where I worked. After three years of it. I’ve been to functions. I’ve been to events. I’ve travelled with the Prime Minister what could I need or want. I was — we had a visit by the Prime Minister of Greece, I think it was, this is in new Parliament House. My boss John Bowan had organised with someone from Ceremonial and Hospitality at PM&C to invite me, my mum and my dad …
J Armitage: That’s nice.
P Livanes: … to the lunch. I opened the invitation and I thought, a lunch. Again I’d been to so many functions with the PM or having to tag along to events, or function. I thought gosh another function. I thought I’d rather not go without being, without wanting to offend John. I said ‘Could I ask if my brother could represent me with my mother and father’. So they invited my eldest brother instead. I remember telling my parents to come to the back entrance of Parliament House and when I went out there. It was the first time it really struck me that I didn’t realize just how much it meant to my family to be invited. I’d become a bit blase about it all. I went out. My father was a blue-collar worker, a refrigeration mechanic, and there he was in the only suit that he owned. My mum was in her best outfit with high heel shoes, which she never wears, and my brother in the best outfit he could put together. I thought to myself, oh Pandora, you silly girl. This has meant so much and I could see the pride in my dad’s face that they were invited and that they were going to this lunch. So I escorted them up to the Great Hall and they sat at a table with other guests. It was quite a large lunch being hosted by the PM for the PM of Greece’s visit. It just put things in perspective for me. I thought, just remember where you are. I’m glad my dad got that opportunity. I think it was the year after that or the same year that he died. I thought to myself, it was the first time — my dad was never one to show a great deal of emotion or affection. I thought to myself, I could see in his eyes how proud he was of his daughter.
J Armitage: Precious moments.
P Livanes: It was, so that was a really nice moment.
J Armitage: You said you left the office because one day you just decided you were tired.
P Livanes: I certainly was. I have worked in some other offices of ministers and Prime Ministers since that office and I’ve known every time when it’s time to go. Others, it was their life, for other people there it was their life. They would have never considered leaving, but for me, the stage of life that I was, I was twenty-one, I decided that I needed to live some life now outside of Parliament House. I had given it three years and now it was time for me to go and do something else.
J Armitage: Just briefly, say who you worked for, the minister and the following Prime Ministers?
P Livanes: So after I left the office, I didn’t actually have a job to go to. I was offered a job at the ALP National Secretariat so I went to work there. I was working for a couple of the Assistant National Secretaries. I then went overseas for five or six months and while I was overseas the ALP National Secretariat contacted my family and asked if I would like to work for Bob Hogg who was the National Secretary of the ALP on my return from overseas and I accepted. So I worked for him and that was during the time …
[End of part 3]
Interview with Pandora Livanes part 4
P Livanes: … time when the Hawke-Keating tussle took place. I remember typing many notes for Bob Hogg from his diaries of the times and always wondered if he might do something with those notes. But, that was a very difficult time for the Labor Party. I then was offered a position in John Dawkin’s office as Treasurer and returned to Parliament House to work with him. I worked with him for a while, then I went to work with George Gear as Assistant Treasurer. Then I went to work with Paul Keating, as Prime Minister and that was leading into the ’96 election which they lost. I then planned to move to Sydney where I had started seeing somebody who lived in Sydney and he and I were commuting between Canberra and Sydney. So I had decided to move to Sydney, however I was offered a job in Opposition with Gareth Evans. He was the — he’d moved to the Reps and so he was now Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Treasurer. I worked with him for a short while, quite short. He was a particularly difficult person to work with. I decided to move to Sydney as I had intended. I did some work in private enterprise working for the Sydney Olympics and for the Rugby World Cup. Then I returned to Canberra in 2005 and worked for the Australian Political Exchange Council in the Department of Finance. That’s when I became a permanent public servant again. I was a public servant from when I started at PM&C and returned to become a public servant then. I was offered an opportunity to work in the Prime Minister’s office which was Prime Minister Kevin Rudd so I worked with him for a year-and-a-half, a very long year-and-a-half, a difficult year-and-a-half. Then I returned to the Department of Finance, again I was offered an opportunity to work in Wayne Swan’s office when he was Treasurer. I’ve now since returned to the Department of Finance.
J Armitage: Thank you. Just before we finish, going back to the people you worked with in the Prime Minister Hawke office, are you still in touch with any of them?
P Livanes: Yes, Jean Hammond who I — I don’t see as often as I’d like to and she still lives here in Canberra. Louise Cullen who was in the PMs press office, she also worked for Kim Beazley here. She I see regularly. She and there are about ten ladies who have been long term Parliament House staffers, we go out every three or four months for a dinner together. We call ourselves the Kitchen Cabinet. We catch up regularly, every three or four months for a dinner. A number of those ladies have worked here in Old Parliament House, not too many, a few of them have.
Stephen Mills I know he went off to work for the Australian Stock Exchange but I think he’s back in Canberra. John Bowan he moved to Sydney but I still occasionally speak with him. Who else — others I know of, as in Steven Sedgwick was the Senior Economic Advisor in our office, he went on to become the Australian Public — he is now the Australian Public Service Commissioner. Craig Emerson was an advisor in our office and became a Member of Parliament. So, I know of others and I know how to contact some of them but I wouldn’t necessarily say I see many of them now.
J Armitage: Okay. Thank you. Before we finish is there anything that’s come to mind during the time we’ve been talking?
P Livanes: There is only one thing, also I thought I’d mention. It was an internal office secret I suppose, just amongst the admin staff. We had an alias. We had the staff member Mary Wallace that worked in our office and when anyone would call to the office, called the office, if we were unsure as to who they were or what they wanted from us, or — as we often received crank callers. If they asked our name would say Mary Wallace and it just meant that we still kept some anonymity occasionally we received calls from the same people again and they’d ask for Mary Wallace. We’d have to ask which one of us was Mary Wallace at the time. So we’d have to get enough details from the person calling to know which of the Mary Wallaces spoke with him. I’m not sure that anything like that would be allowed now-a-days, but Mary Wallace lasted a long time.
J Armitage: That’s a lovely story.
P Livanes: I’m sure there will be other things that come to mind over time but it’s interesting since we first met it’s interesting how much I’ve thought about my time here and some of the things that I can recall and how fondly I look back on it.
J Armitage: So when you came in today for the interview, into the building, what were your feelings?
P Livanes: I wish I had the opportunity to work here longer. I have returned to this building a couple of times either for functions or for exhibitions. I’ve gone back to the old office, I think, twice since I’ve left and it still feels like home.
J Armitage: Does it.
P Livanes: Yes. I know I can feel people around me when I’m there. It’s like, I can see John in his office, I can see Stephen working away on his speeches in the corner there. I can see Heather opening the mail. I see Di answering the phone. I see Freudy walking the corridor.
J Armitage: Dropping his ash.
P Livanes: Dropping his ash.
J Armitage: Okay. Thank you.
P Livanes: My pleasure.
This history has multiple parts.1 2 3 4
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