Keep Government House Open
I was at Government House, Sydney, last night reading great slabs of American history to the accompaniment of the New Sydney Wind Quintet playing music composed by Lyle Chan. The piece is called Rendezous with Destiny and it was our second concert performance.
Government House hosted this event, with a 160 guests. The performance was part of a concert series, House Music 2011. It is possible because in 1996 I opened up Government House to the people.
Not living in the neo-Gothic castle has been perfectly satisfactory to our fondly-regarded Governor Marie Bashir who also serves as Chancellor of the University of Sydney. Professor Bashir has been Governor since I appointed her in 2001.
Government House in Sydney is the only Government House in Australia that operates as a house museum, open to the people, administered by the state’s Historic Houses Trust and available to host functions like that concert series as well as a wide range of charitable, educational and community events for the public to enjoy. 150,000 people visit Government House each year because it is a public resource, not a home for one family.
Premier Barry O’Farrell is coming under pressure from monarchists to reverse my reform and lock Government House up to be used only as a Vice Regal residence. The locks will go on the entrance gates and, in terms of public access, the Botanic Gardens will lose a quarter of their size. You can’t continue concerts like that on Sunday night if Government House is a residence. What are the Vice Regal couple to do? Enter and leave by back stairs? Tiptoe upstairs behind bolted doors? No, it is all one thing or the other: if the reform is reversed and the next Governor resides in Government House then public access must end.
Alan Jones is a persuasive advocate and in the state election campaign mounted the case for an end to public use of Government House. The pressure is really on Premier O’Farrell. Up till now as Premier he’s been a centrist and he’s made it somewhat hard for the Labor opposition to close their sights on him. But if he takes this unabashedly royalist stand he’ll be seen as a defiant hard-line conservative reversing what is now a popular initiative.