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Prime minister's desk

An expanse of desktop.

This commanding desk was used by three prime ministers – Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke. Its size, physical and psychological impact and the quality of workmanship all reflect the significance of the prime minister's role as the leader of the government of the day. In use between 1972 and 1988, this desk replaced one designed in 1926 by architect John Smith Murdoch. 

In this black and white photograph Prime Minister Harrold Holt sits at the timber desk made in 1926. Holt is wearing a dark suit, white shirt and tie and is leaning on the desk while he writes. The desk has fine carved panels with a geometric detailing on the corners. The surface of the desk is cluttered with stacks of documents and a telephone. On the glass-fronted cabinets in the background are a number of framed photographic portraits.

Prime Minister Harold Holt working at the original prime minister's desk created in 1926. This desk would have looked out of place in the 1972 renovation and was put in storage. Struck by the historical significance of the desk, Prime Minister Howard asked to use the desk in Australian Parliament House when he became prime minister.  
Photograph National Library of Australia

The desk is authoritative and imposing – the expanse of the desktop creates a distance between the prime minister and visitors. For all its symbolic authority and power, the 2-metre-wide by 1.2-metre-deep desk is also very practical with built-in storage and a row of call buttons for summoning secretaries and advisors. Issues, policy and legislation that continue to affect our lives today were discussed across this desk. 

This colour photograph captures a conversation between Prime Minister Bob Hawke seated on the left and Treasurer Paul Keating seated on the right. The photo shows the corner of the desk with Hawke sitting behind the desk while Keating sits to the side with both men facing each other. Both are dressed in black suits with white shirts and red ties contrasting the pale blue curtains in the background.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Treasurer Paul Keating in discussion at the prime minister's desk, 1988. 
Photograph Robert McFarlane/Department of the House of Representatives 

Like much of the furniture built specifically for the 1972 remodelling of the Prime Minister's Suite, the desk remained behind when parliamentarians shifted up the hill to the new Australian Parliament House. 

The honey-coloured black bean timber top of the prime minister's desk with a leather chair next to it. On the desktop there is a black leather blotter and a 1980s Telecom Commander telephone.

A front view of the Prime Minister's desk with a chair behind it. On the desk there is a 1980s telephone, blotter, glass ashtray and timber box.