Home' Open Road Western NSW : OR1116 Contents enough space for a bed, desk and a comfortable leather chair. It is,
however, an important room because it’s here that one of Australia’s
most famous prime ministers, Ben Chifley, lived for 11 years.
From his chair, he would sit and gaze out the window to
Parliament House. While parliament was in session he would walk
to and from his office every day. When he wasn’t at work, he could
frequently be seen on a hotel’s porch smoking his favourite pipe.
This room is also where Ben Chifley died from a massive heart
attack in June, 1951. He was, appropriately, laid to rest in King’s
Hall in what is now called Old Parliament House. Some believe that
his grey-suited ghost still walks the corridors, smoking a pipe.
Early in the morning, after enjoying one of Hotel Kurrajong’s
famous breakfasts, we decide to take a walk. It’s one of Canberra’s
glorious spring days when the air is cool but the sun sparkles. We
follow in the footsteps of Ben Chifley, taking the 10-minute stroll
through a park to reach Old Parliament House. Climbing the 16
steps to the iconic building’s doors, we reach the very same spot
where Gough Whitlam gave his famous speech: “Ladies and
gentlemen, well may we say ‘God Save the Queen’, because nothing
will save the Governor-General.” We’re truly standing on history.
Inside, Old Parliament House is still very much alive, but now it’s
a museum of democracy. There are enough galleries and exhibits
to fill our day without ever getting bored. The standout of the visit
is the wing that housed the prime minister’s office, cabinet and
opposition rooms and the press gallery. It’s like stepping back in
time to the 1970s and much of what you see has been deliberately
recreated to look as it was when Bob Hawke and the entire
government moved to the new Parliament House.
As you wander around the prime minister’s office, cabinet rooms
and the press gallery, you see rotary dial phones, typewriters and
paper memos in metal in-trays. Jackets hanging on the backs of
chairs remind us how bad fashion was then. It makes me nostalgic
for when things were simpler and a little bit daggy.
There’s history everywhere you look. The House of
Representatives and the Senate on either side of Kings Hall are old
fashioned and grand. We look for small details. Who knew the
wooden arms on the Speaker’s chair were made from wood taken off
HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar?
We return to Hotel Kurrajong for afternoon tea on the porch. The
hotel has recently been refurbished but it still has a 1920s feel.
The hotel is proud of its history, and the transition from hostel to
luxury hotel has been done without losing any of its character.
These days the political party barriers have dissolved and
the hotel accommodates politicians of all creeds. The ‘new’,
refurbished Hotel Kurrajong was reopened in 2015 by Prime
Minister Tony Abbott. And Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has
since had a room named after him.
If you wish, you can book Room 205. After all, the wood
panelling and vinyl floor were good enough for Ben Chifley. There,
you can sit and enjoy the same view he once did. Just keep a
watchful eye out for the man wearing a grey suit and smoking a
pipe. If you believe in ghosts, that is.
Turn to page 32 for a special Canberra travel offer from NRMA Travel.
We follow in the footsteps of Ben
Chifley, taking the 10-minute stroll
to reach Old Parliament House
Prime Minister Ben Chifley
mid-stride on one of his
walks in Canberra (left);
a room in Hotel Kurrajong
circa 1945 (below); Prime
Minister Malcolm Turnbull
visits the Kurrajong to see
the room named in his
Prime Minister Ben Chifley
Hostel 2 (Hotel
30 OPEN ROAD
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