OPINION

What might we really find in the Palace letters?

Government House at Yarralumla ... a stately, unhurried residence for a stately, unhurried position. Picture: Wikimedia Commons
Government House at Yarralumla ... a stately, unhurried residence for a stately, unhurried position. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

The Governor-General gazed out the window at the sweeping, perfectly manicured green lawns of Government House, and focused on the blooming red roses sheltering under the enchanting beech. He smiled. The beech was known as the queen of English trees. He glanced further at the parched, tawny hills of Canberra beyond the garden, with summer already exacting punishment on the landscape. With a dismissive turn, he made his way to his desk.

His fingers traced the rim of his commanding oak desk and he scanned the room. Leather-bound copies of Hansard and law books aligned the shelves. To his right, a large painting of the Queen with the British flag prominent in the background reassured him, and below that smaller photographs of the prime ministers of Australia in chronological order. In the far corner, the Australian flag was positioned behind the coat rack.

The Remembrance Day ceremony at the Australian War Memorial had tired him. He eyed the bottle of Ned Kelly scotch whisky and decided it was close enough to midday. He poured himself a long drink and was deep in thought when his Official Secretary knocked. The Governor-General was always startled by his undertaker-like appearance. His black suit, black tie, black shoes matched his slicked-down black hair. His sunken dark eyes and tight mouth in a deathly white face generated a mood of solemnity.

"Your excellency, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition."

The Governor-General took a deep breath, adjusted his tie, patted down his waistcoat and ran his hand through his generous white mane, filled his glass and nodded.

Both men were of commanding height and he hastily seated them before his desk.

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Formalities dispensed with, the Prime Minister leaned forward. "Your excellency, as you are aware, it is my advice ... as per the constitution, that needs to be followed on this matter ..." - and he continued, with terms such as "elected government", "half-Senate election" and historical references. But it was the delivery that kept the Governor-General attentive, as opposed to the content. The deep, rich voice, the high modality, the emphasis on certain syllables, the long pauses and ellipses. It was all delivered with Roman emperor-like sweeps of the hands.

"Hence," and there was an extraordinarily long pause from the Prime Minister, "that is my advice."

He finished with a certainty that was unsettling, a single path forward that made superfluous this actual meeting.

The Governor-General leaned back in his chair, took a long drink, and nodded at the Leader of the Opposition.

Predictably, the speech was peppered with "guarantee supply", "reprehensible circumstances" and "reserve powers". But again, it was the appearance, speech and manner that kept him engaged. The chin was always upright and forward which matched a loftiness in tone. His vowels were clipped and his voice sure, certain and almost inviting. His eye contact was more deferential.

The Governor-General poured himself another long drink. and eyed the iconic bushranger's image on the label. "Trade places in a heartbeat," he thought, but he looked at the calendar date and shuddered slightly, the fate of all three of them in the balance. "Such is life," he mused.

The Governor-General gritted his teeth. "Much to think about, gentlemen. Much to think about."

The Official Secretary interrupted the meeting and padded across the room.

"Excuse me, your excellency. A communication from Buckingham Palace has just come through." He handed the neatly folded telegram to the Governor-General, raised an eyebrow and bowed.

The Governor-General unfolded the telegram and his eyes widened. He checked his watch and rubbed his chin.

He carefully folded the telegram, and placed it in the centre of the desk. He fixed his gaze on both men.

His voice deepened. "Gentlemen, please excuse me. I need to attend to this matter now."

The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader resumed their seats once the Governor-General strode out.

For a long moment, the gazes of both men oscillated between each other and the folded telegram.

The Opposition Leader finally nodded and scratched the back of his neck.

The Prime Minister leaned forward and unfolded the telegram.

He cleared his throat.

"NED KELLY SCOTCH WHISKEY ON SALE AT FARMERS BROTHERS LIQUOR STORE UNTIL MIDDAY, 11TH NOVEMBER, 1975."

  • John Longhurst is an English and history teacher and former trade union advocate.
This story What might we really find in the Palace letters? first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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