Settling the Office: The Australian Prime Ministership from Federation to Reconstruction
Miegunyah Press, $49.99 hb, 318 pp, 9780522868722
In the early years after Federation, Australia's first prime minister, Edmund Barton, was accommodated on the top floor of the Victorian Parliament in Spring Street, in a converted garret. At the end of a parliamentary day, the convivial Barton would invite ministerial colleagues up to the flat where they would talk long into the night. Then, as one senator later recalled, before going home they would cook chops and make billy tea in the open fireplace 'in bush fashion'.
Could any of our current leaders boil a billy? Is an open fire in the PM's suite even allowed? Perhaps in this sense our system of government has lost something useful. Prime ministers are better accommodated these days, but they have lost the bucolic capacity to resolve policy over a barbecued chop and a cup of tea.