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We’re gonna party like it’s 1988!

  • Written byKate Armstrong
  • DateSat, 02 Jun 2018

Midway through 1988, there was a whole lot of partying going on in Old Parliament House as parliamentarians, staff and press got ready to move to the new Parliament House.

One of the earlier parties was thrown by the coalition parliamentarians on 16 May 1988. Current and former Liberal and National Party Senators and Members farewelled their work place with drinks in King’s Hall and dinner in the Members’ Dining Room. Smoked salmon, fillet of beef, strawberries and cream and cheese and mints were on the celebratory menu. Someone got creative with a typewriter and fashioned the menu as a Bill for an Act of Parliament complete with the results of the vote! 

There were many ‘lasts’ and ‘finals’. The final meeting of a social club. The last committee and working group meeting. A final game of tennis with colleagues. On a more formal note, there was the last meeting of the Hawke Cabinet in Old Parliament House. The historic occasion included an elaborate cake fashioned in the shape of the Cabinet Table complete with the names of Ministers inscribed in icing at their position at the table.

In late May 1988, the House of Representatives sat for the second last time. It was a long sitting with a packed program. Commencing at 10 am on Thursday 26 May and including a panoramic photograph of the chamber and speeches from former members, the House finally adjourned at 1.33 am on Friday 27 May. Politicians, staff and press joined hands to sing Auld Lang Syne.

Lenore Taylor reported in the Canberra Times (28 May 1988, p3) that, ‘Journalists gave in to the long-resisted temptation to throw paper planes down at the parliamentarians and even the worried attendants joined in, just a little.’ She also reported that there was a distinct ‘after-party aroma’ around that part of the building the following day with bleary looking people wandering the corridors.

Politicians, staff and press sing Auld Lang Syne to mark the end of the second last sitting in the House of Representatives.

Politicians, staff and press sing Auld Lang Syne to mark the end of the second last sitting in the House of Representatives. Photographer – Robert MacFarlane, Department of the House of Representatives. MoAD Collection.

A week later, the Senate sat for the last time on 2 June 1988. The chamber rose at 10 am. The full program of business was followed by extensive tributes, memories and thanks that saw the session go late into the night. Though not all were sad to leave.

Senator Gareth Evans ‘On this occasion, in which there is so much determination to wallow in nostalgia - and it is perfectly understandable - my sentiments about this place can perhaps be more gently summarised by corrupting, just a little, the immortal suggestion that was made to the Rump Parliament a few hundred years ago: We have sat here too long for any good we have been doing. Depart, I say, let's have done with this place. In the name of God let's go.’

The Senate finally adjourned at 12.26 am on Friday 3 June and the serious partying began. The normally neat and formal chamber was soon littered with abandoned papers, streamers and beer cans as senators, staff and press marked the end of a long final sitting.

The final sitting in the House of Representatives on 3 June marked the end of formal duties for the Hansard staff and they celebrated. Hansard Reporter Trevor Fowler explained that everyone had to provide a decoration for the party room. The typists created a robotic character with tape hair, reel eyes and cassettes for nose and mouth. Pages and pages of stenotype shorthand notes were pieced together and strung from the ceiling and, at the appropriate time, released to much merriment.

Finally, the politicians left for winter recess and staff and press took down the streamers and started packing for the big shift up to the new Parliament House. The complex move was managed by the Removals Planning Team who, of course, had had their own party in their office.

Jim Douglass in the Removals Planning Team office in West Block

The party is over. Jim Douglass in the Removals Planning Team office in West Block. Photographer – John Cure. MoAD Collection.


Kate Armstrong is the Manager of Interpretation and Content Development at MoAD.