There is probably no better person than Annabel Crabb to bring some warmth, heart and whimsy to Parliament House - the centre of democracy, yes, but also lightning rod for any discontent ordinary Australians may feel about the federal government of the day.
Crabb brings the building alive and, against all odds, inspires affection for it.
The much-loved political commentator has teamed up with the same creatives who made Kitchen Cabinet for a behind-the-scenes documentary series, The House, filmed over 10 months, with unprecedented access to the usually hidden parts of the iconic building, celebrating the people, too, from the head cleaner to the gardener to the Senate clerk and, of course, the politicians.
Despite, or perhaps because of, her own years working as a journalist in the press gallery, Crabb's curiosity for what lay beyond, in the secret parts of Parliament House, helped to inspire the six-part series.
"I think those of us who worked in the building take it for granted and quickly get a little bit inured to how weird and unique it is," she said.
"I think once you work inside that building, you tend to forget it's off-limits to everybody else. Even in just the architecture and seeing it from all these different angles is something only people with parliamentary passes normally get to do which is kind of sad when you think it is a building that has such relevance for everybody else in Australia.
"Even though it's huge, there's really, as far as I can calculate, only about 10 per cent of it that is available to the public, the casual visitor.
"And you also can't use cameras in the vast bulk of Parliament House so all of those perspectives on the building are kind of barred from ordinary voters and taxpayers, which I think is not great.
"I think the overwhelming impression people get of what goes on in Parliament House is dominated by Question Time and the shout-y bits that you see for an hour a day. Whereas there is so much more that goes on in there and people who work there who are really interesting who are really a deep part of Parliament House but aren't MPs or Senators.
"We hoped we could explain a bit more about how the place works and introduce some characters you wouldn't normally see."
In true Crabb style, her genuine fascination with the subject and her respectful approach turn up nuggets of information even the most ardent student of Parliament House might not have known, revelling in telling story after story hidden behind those imposing marble walls
There is, for instance, in the first episode a wander into a remarkable never-finished space underneath Parliament House which staff refer to as The Cathedral, for its towering walls and vaulted ceiling.
It has no purpose, just a forgotten space, left idle after the building opened in 1988.
The Cathedral looks like an underground building site, all mounds of rubble and the occasional shaft of light, making it seem more like the setting for some dystopian thriller; the antithesis of the clean, ordered lines of the spaces above.
"I love it because it makes you feel like there is at least one part of Parliament House that is still absolutely rooted in the earth. It's a very freaky place to visit," Crabb said.
The series starts with a bird-eye's-view of the "terrifying" monthly task to change the 12-metre wide Australian flag that flies above Parliament House; just one example of how the doco used stunning aerial and drone footage of the building. The Department of Parliamentary Services confirmed it was the first time it had approved the use of a drone in the parliamentary precinct.
"It is genuinely a view of Parliament House you've never seen before and it's been such a privilege to bring that to a wider audience," Crabb said.
"I think viewers will find a few things just surprising and gobsmacking about the building and its inhabitants. They'll probably have a bit of a laugh about some of the things we've captured, we try to capture the good humour and the amusing and eccentric elements of it as well as the deadly serious elements of what goes on in there."
Getting the green-light for the series from the powers-that-be across at least three departments was generally "incredibly difficult".
"It probably took us more than a year to negotiate," Crabb said.
"Our interest was piqued by the BBC series, Inside the Commons. I raised it initially with former speaker Bronwyn Bishop, which is going back a long way.
"And there had been some other production companies and individuals who were keen to do a similar thing so we ended up in almost like a tender process. We had to put in a detailed submission, which we did with the blessing of the ABC, and that was a lengthy process and we were eventually selected from that line-up.
"And then we started negotiating the filming agreement. And it was really difficult."
Working with the same director, Stamatia Maroupas, and producers who created six seasons of Kitchen Cabinet no doubt helped to tip the balance in their favour.
"I think it was clear from the work we did with Kitchen Cabinet that we weren't smash-and-grab merchants, we weren't going to make something that was sensationalised and that we came to the project from a position of respect for the parliamentary traditions and institutions ," she said.
Part of the series follows the machinations, late nights and horse-trading that resulted in two pieces of controversial legislation being passed, the backpacker tax and re-establishment of Australian Building and Construction Commission.
"I wanted to capture that energy and strangeness that envelops Parliament House at the end of a sitting session when you've got legislation that absolutely has to get through," Crabb said.
The series is also a kind of homage to the ordinary workers who make Parliament House hum. The building is essentially a mini-city, with carpenters, stone masons, electricians, chefs and cleaners among its workplace, with 1100 rooms sitting underneath the chambers.
Logistics manager Sandy McInerney, featured in the first episode, is queen of this subterranean world of tunnels and hidden spaces. Someone who "could throw Australian democracy into disarray simply by stopping deliveries of coffee and toilet paper".
McInerney refers to the loading dock of Parliament House as the "mouth and arse" of the place - where everything goes in and everything comes out.
Then there's chamber attendant Luch Jonceski, who has worked in Parliament House for 29 years, and before that, was a labourer on the building site.
Maria Ljubic, the building's head cleaner, famously gave the red carpet a last-minute vacuuming at the building's opening in 1988 and was briefly mistaken for the Queen.
And Crabb also speaks to art curator Justine van Mourik and visits Parliament House's own temperature-controlled art collection.
She peeks into the offices of the politicians, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, their choice of art and personal mementos reflecting their personalities.
Crabb also gets to discover which politician has a foldaway wardrobe and kitchen in her office. And which minister has a life-size talking Darth Vader figure. And which one keeps a 300-piece set of crockery behind his desk.
Did she get any inside info on the controversial fence planned for Parliament House? The series does look at how design integrity and security concerns slam up against each other.
"We worked a little bit with Pamille Berg, one of the moral rights holders over Parliament House. That in itself is one of the most incredible stories, that people who were part of [architect] Aldo Giurgola's design team decades and decades ago still retain moral rights over the building. And they are still in close consultation to this day with Parliament House authorities over any major, or even quite minor, change to the building that might potentially affect the design integrity.
"Pamille and HalGuida, who's the other rights holder on behalf of the original architect, are in love with this building. They carry it almost as a national mission to preserve the integrity of what is essentially a giant work of art.
"And every now and then they've got to to tangle with some quite difficult things - like what if you've got to whack up a dirty great fence to protect the building against marauders? And Pamille points out there is already a fence there that was put up with Aldo Giurgola's permission.
"But there's no doubt any attempt to interfere with this building is controversial because so many people have an investment in it."
Crabb finds the heart of the place in the most hidden of details. From the story of how the timbers were sourced to make those ubiquitous benches around Parliament House to the almost unseen features of perhaps the most important room in the place.
"My favourite thing, I think, in the building is that amazing marquetry above the cabinet table which is sadly only seen by a dozen or two people on a regular basis," she said.
"It's one of the only rooms in Parliament House that doesn't have any windows at all so to compensate for that the designers commissioned this extraordinary piece of marquetry [on the ceiling] which was designed by this guy who wasn't a marquetry expert at all, he was sort of a hobbyist, an enthusiast who had drawn animals ever since he grew up around the Adelaide zoo.
"Anyway, the artisan who made it inserted these little flies and bugs and things into the marquetry which was a little nod and a wink, I think, to the need for the entire enterprise to be swept for bugs. I love that. It's such a little funny in-joke in the cabinet room which I just really enjoy."
* The House with Annabel Crabb starts on Tuesday, August 8 at 8pm on ABC-TV.
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