Politics and typewriters in the halls of power.


Rob in front of the ‘red zone’

…. Sometime in the 1980’s.

The phone was hung up with a slam rather than a gentle hanging up. It was a 70’s era wall-phone and the give in the plastic immediately bounced the handset back out of the cradle.

“Keating is a f***ing prat. He’s more right-wing than f***ing Fraser was”.

My mother had quite a way with words. The Keating that she was talking about was the then federal treasurer Paul Keating who she was lobbying for funding for disabled services. Before she developed Multiple Sclerosis my mother was ferociously passionate about politics and social justice, and a champion swearer. Both characteristics that she passed on to me, however that’s a story for another blog entry.

After she developed MS, she was just the same, but a lot more focused. Comparing Keating to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was, for members of the Australian Labor Party like her, an extreme insult. Keating would eventually become Prime Minister of Australia and my mother’s campaigning would one day be part of the foundation of what was to eventually become the ‘National Disability Insurance Scheme’.

Later, my mother would proudly hang a letter of thanks from Keating (by then the prime minister of Australia) on the wall next to her recliner. As if to put Keating in his place, his letter was over-shadowed by another frame above his the contained a thank-you from Nelson Mandela.

My mother was ferocious when it came to politics. She was loaded to the hilt with insecurities (just like me), but in debate she could verbally rip people apart.

My sister and I were in training from a very early stage in the art of politics. My parent taught my primary school aged sister and myself how to campaign against a new rule the school had brought in that required kids to spend one lunch time a week cleaning up rubbish from the school yard. We petitioned the school with signatures from other students that had barely learned to write their name, and we’d brewed up unrest amongst the students. Soon something that started out as an exercise in learning about politics came dangerously close to having a real impact. The school attempted to ban the petition, but my sister and my 11 year old self asserted our civil liberties and soon parents were questioning the administration why their kids were being used as garbage collectors.

A school council meeting was organised, and my parents were summoned. My father was part of that council which made things interesting, and by the end of the evening certain provisions were offered in lieu of cessation of the petition. I got a lesson in the complexities of politics, and the school was able to go back to teaching kids how to care and be responsible for their environment.

The typosphere in Canberra and a visit to federal Parliament.

To my family there was very little more hallowed ground than Australia’s Federal Parliament in Canberra. The old white building that was supposed to be just the ‘temporary parliament’ was opened in 1927 and continued to be used till 1988. It is a grand building that when opened for business was a bizarely modern white building sticking out of the ground. in the middle of a very empty paddock.

Sometimes referred to as ‘The wedding cake’, the opening of parliament house.

Prior to this federal government was hosted in Melbourne, in the building that is now used by Victoria’s state parliament. Hence why Melbourne has such an overly-endowed and regal looking state parliament building. Parliament house in Melbourne.

Parliament house in Melbourne.

Steve and I arrived at Rob Messenger’s house a bit after 3pm. There were only a couple of hours on sunlight left, and we were eager to get out and about and photograph some of our machines at some of the more interesting sites of Canberra. Rob mentioned that Old Parliament may be open, so we could try there. Little did I know I was going to be carting my little German SM1 into some of the great halls of power, and up a set of stairs that lives in infamy in the minds of a lot of Australians.

We arrived at Old parliament house and looked through the gate into the garden next door. This was a spot Rob thought may be a good location to photograph some machines, however it was filled with a cluster of giggling bridesmaids and groomsmen who were having their photos taken for the ‘artistic photos’ part of the wedding that usually takes longer than the procession itself takes.

So we skipped that and headed straight for the front doors of parliament with our typewriters in hand. Before long we were up the stairs and in ‘Kings Hall’, with a few staff members and visitors looking at us awkwardly as we carried our cases around. Attendents buzzed by every so often, but they seemed to gravitate straight to Rob, and with a brief conversation that sometimes included the term “I’ve read a lot of your articles”, would head off and leave us be.

Rob’s particular passion was for the press gallery, and it was an obvious choice for us to head up to there. Many of the rooms had been assembled as they would have been across a couple of eras of life of old Parliament, and as expected there in abundance. Not only that, but there was a shrine to the typewriter deity – at which Rob set his Antares and began typing frantically.


Rob tapping away in the temple of the typewriter.

I popped out and stuck my head into a couple of the other rooms to be found there, and I photographed a handful of typewriters in their natural habitat – the wilds of the press desk. And I have to say, I spotted a Royal Junior that, well….. I want! (oh this ebay thing is gonna hurt. Anyone got one they wanna to sell me? No… no…. I have to many typ…… Um…. Anyone?).

The Royal Junior. Oddly sexy in person.


The news room. a Journalists world.

Rob showed Steve and I the window that he and other journalists used to ‘break into’ late at night to gain access to facilities to wire stories. I thought to myself ‘If someone tried entering a window in Parliament these days, they’d be shot and called a terrorist’.

Instead we went on and did something else that I never expected to do – enter the former house of representatives and thrown down our typewriters on the benches and type.

The house of representatives (lower house).

When it comes to type-ins, this one has to be up there with one of the most unique. Steve Snow, Rob and I say on the opposition benches (in Australia’s Parliament the two largest parties form the Government, and opposition – where the opposition forms a shadow government that keeps the other side in check) in the hall known as ‘The house of representatives’ – the very seat of power in Australia.

Decisions made in this room led to men being sent to war (and their deaths) in World War 2, Korea and Vietnam. Medicare – Australia’s brilliant universal (and currently threatened) healthcare system was born here, and former prime minister Gough Whitlam shifted Australia’s politics from a backwater colony squabble to a modern country with an advanced economic hub.

The house of Representatives is no stranger to harsh language. ‘Question time’, a part of the daily Parliamentary agenda on sitting days where members get to ask other members of the house free-range questions, shocked many Australians when it was first broadcast on TV in the 1950’s. Keating himself was the pinaccle of the art of the political insult here in Australia, with his use of wit and flamboyant language often being used to devetating affect on his opponents. His retorts rivalled Shakespeare in colour and creativity.

You can even get a Paul Keating insult generator app for your iPhone.

Get your insult app here.

And here I now was, bashing at a keyboard in a room that had history painted into the walls, and sealed into the timber. Even the benches I sat on had been manned by people of history, and I was typing on the benches that housed these political players. It was a beautiful thing.

Sadly, all my typecasts of that day are still in the case of my SM1, which is buried under a pile of other machines in a garage in Melbourne. So I don’t even have a copy of what I wrote to show you!

Another attendant came in and nervously checked out what were were doing. But he also recognised Rob, and soon headed off after giving a ‘play nice’ warning. Upon completion we packed our machines up and headed elsewhere. Rob certainly felt at home as he walked around the place, while I was just glowing from our cheeky episode of writing. Oddly Rob was so blasé about the whole deal that he wasn’t even sure if we’d been writing in the House of Reps, or the ‘upper house’ (also known as the senate). Having debated on history of parliament with two other random people by this stage, I had no problem with debating this with Rob.



This does qualify as a type-in report, right Ted?

As we left Steve posed for some photos at the top of the steps in front of Old Parliament. As he did I pointed out to him that he was dancing pretty much the very spot where one of the most famous speaches ever made in Australian politics.

It was the spot in 1975 that Gough Whitlam anounced to Austalia that he’d been sacked as prime minister by the Queen’s representative – Governor General John Kerr. Kerr had placed Malcolm Fraser – the leader of the opposition into the position. The act was considered a violation of the Kerr on constitutional democracy, and threatened a governmental collapse.

It didn’t collapse because Whitlam ‘walked’, instead of fighting the legally dubious act. And as he did he stood on the steps and said ‘Well may we say god save the Queen, because nothing will save the governor-general’.

… new Parliament House – opened in 1989.

The shadows were growing long across the city, so we all hopped back into the Typewriter mobile and headed out to ‘The house in the hil’ – New Parliament house. After struggling to find a parking spot, we once again grabbed out typewriters and cameras, and headed to off to get some more photos. This time we weren’t going to be pushing our luck in an attempt to head inside.

An Australian Federal Policeman patrolled the front of the building, and was amused by our posing of machines in front of the building and taking photographs of them. “Yeah, this is a lot more interesting” He said. “Usually there’s just weddings (sic) up here to keep me interested, but you get bored of them after the first day”.

New Parliament is built into, not on top of – Capital hill. This was always intended to be part of the design, but naturally the building has all the embellishments of sharp but dull 80’s architecture. It is a huge building, but it is hard to really understand how large as most of it is concealed under the lawn.

The building doesn’t have the same charm as old Parliament house, and I can’t say I have a lot of love for the people currently in there. But it was fun getting some photos of my Olympia out the front.

…and back to the typewriter museum.

We didn’t have the same kind of type-off that Rob, Jasper and myself had at Christmas, but Steve got to have a good look at Rob’s display. Since I’d been there a few months ago, Rob has doubled the amount of machines on display, and the museum is starting to look well stocked. Very well stocked indeed!

Here’s a couple of small panoramic views of Rob’s collections.

Click to enlarge



Rob had organised for us to stay at a the place of a friend who was out of the state, and both Steve and I were very greatful for having a nice place to camp at overnight. It dropped down to 3 degrees c overnight, and we awoke to a cat at the back door desperately trying to find some warmth. We packed the car up and headed over to Rob’s for breakfast before hitting the road again.

Little did I know we that we were about to find a rarely seen typewriter brand. So unusual that I can pretty confidently say that there may be only one person in the typosphere that may have heard of it before.

16 thoughts on “Politics and typewriters in the halls of power.

  1. “He's wound up like a thousand-day clock! One more turn and there'll be springs and sprockets all over the building. Mr Speaker, give him a Valium!” (Paul Keating to John Howard).

    Very cool panorama shots too.


  2. Yeah, the man had some style when it come to the put-down. Heck, there's some great lines that could have included into this blog (but it got way too long as it was).

    Thanks for that!


  3. AH! Great piece of television history right there. Gary McDonald later felt some kind of regret about that, and has some very interesting stories to tell about it. Nice find.

    Steve, it absolutely is. This supposedly happened prior to the caucus meeting where Whitlam announced to the party that he wasn't going to challenge the dismissal. So it came about 20 minutes before that speech to my knowledge, but everyone knew what was going on.

    Interesting to see Hawke there.


  4. Wow …. My head is still spinning! I feel like I was just slingshot through history and then after my head was inverted and dumped out, whipped back around through an amusement park ride (mr Messenger's place). I am nearly speechless and a little motion sick. What a post!😉


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