A life in corridors of power
Prime Minister John Gorton, Governor-General Paul Hasluck, Billy McMahon and Doug Anthony in 1971.
I was seven years old when I first came to Canberra more than 75 years ago. My father, H. L. Anthony, had been elected to Parliament in 1937 and I came to the then very sparse capital with him and my mother while my older brother and sister went to boarding school in Sydney.
We stayed at the Kurrajong Hotel for the four-month winter session. The more affluent members stayed at the Hotel Canberra. It was too far for us to go home at weekends, or in non-sitting weeks.
I went to school at Telopea Park but didn't particularly enjoy living in Canberra because I had to leave my schoolmates at home in Murwillumbah, and there were no children living nearby. There were few at the hotel and none went to the Telopea Park School. Frank Forde (a future very short term prime minister) brought his family from Queensland and had three daughters but they were a little older.
Much of my time after school was spent at Parliament House, so most of the attendants and some of the ministerial staff knew me, especially those who lived at the Kurrajong Hotel. Joe and Enid Lyons were quite good friends of my parents but, with their large family, lived at the Lodge.
There wasn't an inch of Parliament House that I didn't know, except for the chambers (out of bounds). I would sometimes use the lower floor for roller-skating and kindly kitchen staff would give me afternoon tea.
Often I spent time in the boiler room, where a couple of chaps fed coal into the boilers for hot water and heating. They were good company and would tell me yarns.
It was exciting to go into the prime minister's office with one of his staff when the PM wasn't there and pull out his secret bed from the wall.
My mother was friends with all the other wives in the hotel and organised parties and concerts, or she played the piano for community singalongs. She also organised cards - solo, or on Saturday nights a card game called ''Up and down the river''. On Sundays quite often there would be a picnic, Cotter Dam being the popular destination, and I also enjoyed going down to the Molonglo Crossing to catch crayfish.
One of my lasting childhood memories is of John Curtin.
We would regularly sit in one of the lounge chairs at the Kurrajong and he would tell me bedtime stories. He was a great storyteller and I loved being with him. At about 10 minutes to eight each night the stories would have to stop: I'd go to bed and he'd go off to Parliament House, which had then been in use for not much more than 10 years.
In 1941 my mother died. I left Canberra and didn't return for 16 years until, in 1957, aged 27, I was elected to Parliament at a byelection, replacing my father who had recently passed away. He had served as postmaster-general and minister for civil aviation.
I was amazed at the number of attendants who remembered me. On my first day in Parliament everything felt strange and foreign to me. I was sworn in just before lunch. After lunch I went to my seat right at the back and wasn't there very long when a young attendant grabbed me and said, "What are you doing here?" and dragged me out through the door. One of the older attendants saw what was happening and told him, "He's a member of Parliament!"
The staff at Parliament House were always very helpful. I remember one having a talk with me and saying, "Don't be in a hurry, just learn how this place works. You don't have to make a maiden speech straight away." He mentioned some members, including Ben Chifley, who were in Parliament for 18 months before they spoke.
I didn't wait that long, but it was very good advice.
Because I had come to Canberra as a child, and had a long association with politics, I knew 16 prime ministers personally.
In my early parliamentary years an air service was being developed from Canberra, through Sydney to Coolangatta, which was not far from where I lived. My wife, Margot, lived on our farm and I was only able to go home for weekends. This was very tough on her with young children so we decided to rent in Canberra for six weeks of the winter session. This gave us an opportunity to get to know Canberra and make some friends. As time passed it also allowed Margot to play her part in the cultural life of the city.
After the 1963 election I was dumbfounded when Margot told me the prime minister, Robert Menzies, was on the phone. He said, "Douglas (he always called me Douglas), I would like you to join my ministry and become the minister for the interior". With some hesitancy I said, "Thank you, prime minister". He then said: "That'll keep you out of mischief!" At that time I was the youngest member to have been made a minister.
The Department of the Interior was a large and widespread department whose principal responsibility was the development and management of the national capital. There was no local government and responsibility for the ACT rested with the minister for the interior.
I knew the first thing to consider was taking my family to Canberra, to become part of the community. The three previous ministers had not satisfied Menzies. Wilfred Kent Hughes and he fell out, Allen Fairhall spent little time in Canberra and Gordon Freeth, a West Australian, also spent little time there.
I leased (and later purchased) a house in Hughes, then considered to be on the outskirts of Canberra. The children went to school at Hughes and Margot became active in the community. School holidays were spent back on the farm at Murwillumbah in my electorate.
Many of the problems and concerns of the Canberra people drifted into the hands of the prime minister and his wife, Dame Pattie.
Canberrans needed someone to whom they could voice opinions and their complaints. I soon learned that it was politic to keep a good relationship with Dame Pattie, who was very concerned with many of the problems facing the people of Canberra. Keeping her informed was very useful in my relationship with the prime minister.
Menzies was totally committed to making Canberra a worthy national capital. Walter Burley Griffin had a great concept for Canberra but the way it developed over a long period of time, spreading over a big area, made it very disjointed. There were great plantings of trees, but far too much space between the government buildings and suburban housing and little change had occurred since before World War II. It had become a dreary city.
Menzies decided that more needed to be done to make Canberra a capital worthy of Australia and that government departments should relocate from Melbourne and Sydney. This meant more government buildings and more housing. Thousands of departmental people, though initially reluctant, accepted the move to Canberra. Menzies also wanted to see Griffin's proposed lake developed. All of these matters naturally caused some controversy, but were well in progress by the time I became minister.
The two main bridges at Commonwealth Avenue and King's Avenue spanned out over dry land. Further downstream the dam was being built on the Molonglo. A year or two later, there was little rain and the lake wouldn't fill - what water there was, was muddy. There were endless complaints about sewage coming down from Queanbeyan, and swimming was banned. There were mosquito swarms, and the banks around the lake began breaking up. Later came the contentious matter of whether motor boats should be allowed.
There were many exciting things happening with schools and universities, the development and planning of the new housing regions, the enlargement of Parliament House, the carillon (a gift of the British government), and much more. But with the support of the PM my job wasn't so difficult.
The opening of the Canberra Theatre Centre and the establishment of the School of Music (for which I had to fight in cabinet) contributed very significantly to Canberra's cultural development, as did the development of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. Anzac Parade was developed, helping provide what I think is one of the great vistas of the world.
An issue that arose out of this was that the National Capital Development Commission and the Department of the Interior felt that the statue of King George V in front of Parliament House spoilt the view across the lake to the Australian War Memorial. People were reluctant to raise the matter with Menzies, so I did. He got up and walked to the window. After looking at the statue for a short time he said: "I think you're right Douglas".
In case he changed his mind I arranged for a ''Dorothy Dixer'' in question time about the future of the statue, and I said that "the government" had decided it should be moved to where it now stands.
The 1860s-era Blundell's Cottage was renovated and developed as a tourist attraction, and we were able to help the Historical Society in this.
One interesting and controversial issue of the time was the fluoridation of the water supply. There was a great fuss, and Jim Killen moved a motion in the House against my introducing it. I took a report on fluoridation from the chief justice of the Irish Court and showed it to Menzies. This convinced him of its worth. In fact, he entered the debate in the Parliament. Labor supported Jim Killen and I lost the motion, but the government went ahead anyway as the Prime Minister was on my side. Today the success of fluoridation of the Canberra water supply provides a reference for other countries worldwide.
There were many people who were part of this revolution in the building of modern Canberra. Two names that stand out were John Overall, of the NCDC, and Dick Kingsland, head of the Department of the Interior - outstanding people, both knighted.
It was my good fortune to be minister for the interior when so much was going on. Later, in other portfolios during my 17 years in cabinet, submissions relating to Canberra always interested me and I never hesitated in giving my advice and comments. The decision to build a new Parliament House had already been made, and everything was in place when the Hawke government was elected.
After my retirement I was asked to chair the Old Parliament House Governing Council, which I did for 10 years. The council has overseen the preservation of this significant building and its development as the Museum of Australian Democracy.
I am sure that Menzies would have been very proud of the Canberra of today. It is he who must be given credit for the drive and determination to make it a capital of great renown. There would be no other capital in the world comparable with Canberra for its design and beauty. I am very happy about and proud of my links with this great city.
Doug Anthony served in the Federal Parliament for 27 years as the member for Richmond. He was appointed minister for the interior in 1963 and retired from Parliament in 1984 after having served in a range of portfolios, and for 10 years as deputy prime minister.