Ethel Bruce's rail pass and tickets to the opening of Parliament House

For travel from Melbourne to Canberra.

The day of the much-anticipated opening of Parliament House in Canberra dawned on 9 May 1927. Officially opened by the Duke of York, the ceremony marked a significant moment for the federal parliament, the national capital and the nation. This handy souvenir wallet containing a rail pass and tickets to the opening was issued to Mrs Ethel Bruce, wife of Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce and a member of the official party. 

This black and white photograph captures the façade of Parliament House decorated with flags, a canopy and welcome carpet just before the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of York for the opening of the building. The weather is sunny and a bit breezy. There are expectant crowds on the roof, front steps, verandahs and flanking the front door. A guard of honour in military uniform stands at the ready. Two attendants are holding up the end of the red carpet to keep it clean until the Royal carriage arrives. We k

Hover image: Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce and Mrs Ethel Bruce (standing on the carpet to the left) await the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of York for the opening of Parliament House. Much effort was spent keeping the red carpet clean until the Royal carriage arrived. 

Photograph by Sam Hood SLNSW hood-07965 

The function tickets in the wallet were issued by the Federal Capital Commission and demonstrate the meticulous attention to detail in the planning and organisation of the program. 

But first Mrs Bruce needed to get to Canberra from Melbourne, a long and onerous journey eased by a first-class travel pass issued by the Government Railways of Australia. Mrs Bruce travelled to Canberra on 4 May, the same day the couple moved into the Lodge, the brand-new prime ministerial residence. Despite all the personal upheaval that moving house entails, Mrs Bruce was the consummate hostess and five days later was escorting and entertaining the Duke and Duchess of York and other dignitaries who were in town for the opening festivities.  

This black and white photograph shows three individuals standing on the platform at the weatherboard Canberra Railway Station on 8 May 1927. In the distance you can see the open doors of a train and people walking down the platform with luggage. Some other people are sheltering close to the railway station building. The weather looks cool and windy. On the left is Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce dressed in a dark suit with white shirt and dark tie over which is a belted trench coat in a lighter shade

Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce, Mrs Ethel Bruce and Chair of the Federal Capital Commission, John Butters, waiting at a windy Canberra Railway Station to greet the Duke and Duchess of York, 8 May 1927. Credit: Photograph by William J Mildenhall NAA: A3560, 3092

This black and white photograph lets us peek over the edge of the carpeted floor of the white timber Royal dais constructed at York Park for the official party to watch the Troop Review. On the left, a seated Mrs Ethel Bruce chats with the Duchess of York. Ethel is dressed in a dark, luxurious fur coat with cloche hat and gloves. The Duchess is richly dressed in a pale-coloured lustrous dress with elaborate embroidery and a fur-trimmed cape, cloche hat and white gloves. Prime Minister Bruce, in top hat and

Mrs Ethel Bruce and the Duchess of York chat as Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce takes his seat on the Royal dais next to Lady Stonehaven, the wife of the Governor-General. Credit: Photograph by William J Mildenhall NAA: A3560, 3033

Whether Mrs Bruce actually needed to produce her tickets is uncertain. As a member of the official party, she would have been well known to the organisers and ushers and this may account for their pristine condition. 

Visual description

This set of objects include a black leather wallet containing four tickets, an envelope and a blue leather-bound rail pass. The leather wallet folds in half with a snap closure and there are pockets on the inside for the tickets and pass. On the front in gold impress is the Australian Coat of Arms and the inscription ‘Establishment Of The Seat of Government At CANBERRA By His Royal Highness THE DUKE OF YORK MAY 1927’.

The smooth, vibrant blue leather cover of the rail pass is a bit larger than a matchbox and also features a Coat of Arms and gold lettering reading ‘ROYAL VISIT CANBERRA CEREMONY MAY, 1927’. Inside the folding cover are two cardboard inserts detailing the arrangements for free rail travel.

The rectangular tickets for the opening ceremony are about the size and weight of a business card and are encased in a small envelope entitled ‘For Canberra only’. They are printed on both sides on blue, yellow, beige, and cream card. On one side are the details of the event and on the reverse are maps and floor plans of the venues. The tickets are relatively pristine and don’t show much evidence of handling.

The rail pass and tickets are mostly pre-printed but some details including Mrs Bruce’s name, dates and seating allocation are neatly handwritten by a range of individuals in cursive (running) writing in ink.

An old paper rail pass with the words 'Government Railways of Australia, First Class, Issued to Mrs S.M. Bruce for travel from Melbourne to Canberra and return Available 4th May,1927 to 11th May, 1927.

Photograph of a brown ticket displaying an overlay of a building indicating the entry way.

Photograph of an orange ticket displaying an overlay of the Senate Chamber and its galleries.

Photograph of a green ticket displaying an overlay of a dinining room with a table seating position.


Who opened Parliament House?

Parliament House was opened on 9 May 1927 by HRH the Duke of York, later George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s father. He officiated at the opening on behalf of his father, King George V.

What was on the menu for the State Luncheon?

The menu included turtle soup, poached schnapper, fillets of beef, roast chicken and ham, straw potatoes (French Fries), green peas, Canberra Pudding, fruit ices, coffee and cheese. The toasts were marked with soft drink as alcohol was prohibited in the Federal Capital Territory (later ACT) at the time. Prohibition was lifted in 1928.

What did the tickets admit Mrs Bruce to?

Mrs Bruce’s tickets admitted her to:
- stand A at the front of Parliament House for the opening ceremony (seated by 10.30 am),
- seat 19 in the Senate Chamber for the establishment of the Commonwealth Parliament in Canberra,
- a seat at the ‘Special Table’ for the State Luncheon in the Dining Room (turtle soup served),
- and a Reception for Overseas Representatives in King’s Hall at the surprisingly late hour of 9 pm.

At the final event of the day the prime ministerial couple received Ministers of State and overseas representatives who delivered messages of goodwill from their respective governments. The entertainments included a concert in the Senate Chamber, a film showing in one of the party rooms and a supper in the refreshment rooms.