Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Day at Government House

I went to work for Davis McCaughey as one of the two aides at Government House, Melbourne, in December 1987, when I was twenty-three. I had just returned from a happy year spent in Rome working for two extremely worldly Dutch nuns. I was an aspiring aesthete: self-confident, excessively opinionated, inclined to be garrulous, smug, wholly lacking in shyness (so I thought), and extremely wet behind the ears. To some extent one spends the rest of one’s life recuperating from the illness of youth, and if today I were to come face to face with that tall, rake-thin, occasionally well but more often flamboyantly dressed boy, standing in the Vestibule of Government House, I am not sure I would necessarily warm to him, even though his handshake was strong, he spoke acceptable Italian and a little Melbourne Grammar French, and before too long, thanks to the example of Charles Curwen and Loris Callander, he knew how to administer conversational first aid. I stayed for a little over three years, until early 1991. It was a life-changing experience. At that time, the aides still lived in Government House. Each of us had a large bedroom on the top floor, upstairs from the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey’s apartment and directly above state visitors’ suites and other guest rooms. We shared a dubious sort of kitchenette elsewhere on the same floor, and a comfortable sitting room overlooking what was once the kitchen garden, and the swarms of bats flapping eerily over the Royal Botanic Gardens farther down the hill. Our bedrooms looked in the other direction, across the immense front lawn, towards the lights and towers of the city. My bathroom was at the end of a long corridor, adjacent to a forbidding portrait of Field-Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey, G.B.E., K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., E.D. We parked our cars in the mews, near the huge, semi-detached laundry, and we generally came and went either through a kind of cellar which was where Alison the florist had her unconventional studio, or at times through the state entrance. There was a creaking old elevator tucked behind the billiard room that took you all the way up past the kitchen and pantry to the top floor. Our quarters didn’t really have the flavor of an apartment. It was more like a relatively unpopulated wing of a great house. When a state visit was in full swing and all available bedrooms were occupied, the quieter corners of the house sprang to life and functioned in every respect as one might imagine a large royal establishment did in the nineteenth century. Maids dashed to and fro. Handsome, semi-naked equerries strode along corridors, with valets trotting along behind cradling their freshly pressed uniforms. An ordinary day – to the extent that there ever was one – was always busy. Thanks to the generosity of the Governor, the household staff – the official secretary, his deputy, and both aides – had breakfast together and read the papers at the round table in the Small Private Dining Room. Every “reign” is different, but it is important to grasp that we, the beneficiaries of this arrangement, by no means took it for granted. It gave us a chance to talk over the events of yesterday, and what was coming up today. The Governor and Mrs. McCaughey had breakfast upstairs in their apartment. This daily meeting was always a lot of fun, and anyone in the entourage of a state visitor was also made welcome, especially the Queen’s private secretary Sir William Heseltine, a West Australian, and his deputy Robert (now Lord) Fellowes but occasionally other visitors as well. Lord Zouche (the 18th Baron Zouche of Haryngworth, sometime aide-de-camp to the Governor of Tasmania) was a regular, as was Ambassador Joris Vos of the Netherlands. On one occasion I remember President Cossiga of Italy and his entire staff joined Charles and the rest of us for breakfast, but I cannot now remember why. Occasionally, also, delegations visiting from China were likewise made welcome to breakfast, including Li Peng. On any given day one of the aides was “on duty,” which meant being in attendance upon the Governor, while the other was in theory making arrangements or preparing for future events. After breakfast, at around nine o’clock the Governor came downstairs to his study and almost invariably Charles joined him for at least fifteen minutes, sometimes a lot longer. I know that that time was especially important to Davis and Charles, and in due course from Charles I learned the valuable lesson that when, in the role of private secretary, you transact any pressing business with your boss it is essential to try and restrict that business to the one or two most important or pressing matters, never too many. Loris, whose office adjoined the Governor’s, would go in after Charles left, and take dictation in her elegant, expert shorthand, or deal with more routine correspondence and matters arising. If there were callers – both the incoming and outgoing presidents of the board of management of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, for example; a new High Court judge; the Moderator of some branch of the Presbyterian Church; presiding officers of learned or charitable or professional bodies, accompanied by their chief executive – these would begin to arrive at around 10 o’clock. The front gate would press a button, we would hear a bell, and the duty aide would meet them at the Private Entrance, ask them to come in and wait for a moment, check to see if the Governor was ready to receive them, then take them through and make the formal introduction, if that were necessary. The form of words was “Your Excellency, may I present…” Obviously the more important the visitors – above all the premier – the more likely it was that we would we check with the Governor before we met them at the front door, so that we could take them straight through without keeping them waiting. At around 10.30 the Governor liked as many of the household, office, and domestic staff as were available to join him and Mrs. McCaughey, and any callers who happened to collide with this happy ritual, for morning tea in the private hall, at the foot of the staircase. This was a custom that Davis imported from Ormond College, and it was characteristically generous. In a previous era the hall table had posed certain logistical difficulties, as for example during a long forgotten cup week house party when the wife of a governor visiting from another state famously issued the following, grand instruction to the then duty aide shortly before her host, Sir Rohan Delacombe, descended the stairs: “Young man, please move that table. I wish to curtsey to His Excellency.” On ordinary days when the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey were not entertaining anyone, the duty aide (often both aides) joined them for lunch and dinner. It is those occasions that I look back on with the greatest pleasure and gratitude because the often hilarious conversations we had furnished me with a kind of second education. We talked about novels and philosophy and the theology of grace and medical ethics and history and croquet and Ireland and geography and water policy and indulged at times in analytical discussion relating to whichever state visit had taken place most recently – never gossip in the conventional sense, and nothing of real moment that will ever pass beyond that room. There was much laughter. I suppose the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey enjoyed the company of two young people, but I cannot help feeling that we benefited from those occasions far more than they did! Every Tuesday the Governor went to preside at a meeting of the Executive Council in his office in the Old Treasury Building in Spring Street. But there were often extra meetings of the Executive Council in between when the clerk and a quorum of (I think) two ministers came to Government House on whatever urgent business it might be. They, too, went straight into the Governor’s study without being asked to wait. And they could happen really at any time, even late in the evening and on weekends, if the government business was sufficiently urgent. It is this aspect of the constitutional machinery of Australian parliamentary and executive government that few people, if any, fully appreciate. Without the governor-general’s, governors’ or territorial administrators’ signature, many executive decisions of state and federal government, some of them actually quite trivial but nevertheless specified in the relevant constitution cannot take effect. Frequently one read about something in the next day’s newspapers and realized after a few moments that whatever it was had actually occurred as a direct result of the previous morning’s meeting of the Executive Council. It is a massive indictment of the quality of Australian journalism that this was rarely acknowledged. By contrast, in America rarely is the signing of a significant document in the Governor’s mansion in Hartford, Connecticut, or Frankfort, Kentucky, or Baton Rouge, Louisiana, or Albany, New York, as the case may be, not noted in the (usually excellent) local newspaper as a matter of public record, and its implications suitably editorialized. True, the difference is in the nature of the executive branches of government in the United States, but that contrast exemplifies one of the strengths of the American system, and a corresponding weakness in ours. Late Afternoon Parties (L.A.P.s) – acronyms loomed large at Government House: H.E.’s (His Excellency’s) correspondence was generally marked M.R.U. (Much Regret Unable) or A.W.P. (Accept With Pleasure) – L.A.P.s took place in the State Drawing Room, but usually one or two key guests were asked to come to the Private Entrance to meet the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey beforehand, and they would cross over to the state apartments in tandem once all the other guests had arrived through the state entrance. On those occasions the Governor’s honorary aides-de-camp Warwick Teasdale (Navy), David Presgrave (Army), and Richard Bluck (RAAF) and their wives would be in attendance also, and, with the rest of the household staff, helped the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey to entertain their guests. Afterwards they and we would all go back to the private side of the house for a drink before dinner. Again, this was an entirely characteristic gesture of personal generosity on the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey’s part. The honorary aides wore full military uniform with dazzling aiguelettes looped over their shoulder, a distinction arising from their vice-regal appointment, and although it is perhaps too easy to see them in a Ruritanian light, as individuals they were the kindest and good-humored of men – eager and willing to help the duty aides in various ways. On huge occasions we simply could not have done without them. And it is true that for optimum crowd control there is nothing as effective as an impressive military uniform. When no formal gathering was taking place at Government House, the Governor, Mrs. McCaughey and both aides and naturally any houseguests would gather for a drink at around 7.00 o’clock in the Small Private Drawing Room. When the butler, Mr. Young, or the duty footman announced dinner we would go through to the Private Dining Room (accompanied by Sandy the dog). usually we stayed on after dinner for a little while and had coffee with the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey before excusing ourselves and saying goodnight at around 9.00 o’clock, sometimes a little later if our conversation led in that direction. It frequently did. It was largely a by-product of the celebration of the Bicentenary of European settlement of Australia that in 1988 the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey hosted a far greater number of state and other visits to Government House than usual. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who had visited Melbourne only a very short time after Davis took office in 1986; the Prince and Princess of Wales; the Duchesses of York and Kent; Prince Michael of Kent; Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Prince Claus; Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Prince Henrik, and the young Crown Prince Frederik; the Presidents of Israel, Greece, Italy, Nauru and Vanuatu, among other countries; Prince (now King) Albert of the Belgians; Prince Albert of Monaco (then heir, now reigning); Princess Benedikte of Denmark; Special Envoy, formerly Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger; Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria; the Taoisach of the Dàil; Countess Clementine Schenck von Stauffenberg (whose father-in-law was executed by Hitler following the assassination plot in 1944); the Knight of Glyn and Lady Desmond FitzGerald; the Duke and Duchess of Argyll; the Earl and Countess of Harewood (regulars, because of his artistic directorship of the Adelaide Festival of Arts, and the fact that in due course they became good friends of Davis and Jean); Li Peng of China; the Governor of Aichi Prefecture in Japan; a slightly dubious party from the yet to be transformed Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, including an over-sexed director-general of the Azerbaijan State Refigerator Factory; Lord and Lady Adrian (Master of Pembroke College); the Governors-General of Bermuda and New Zealand; the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta, as well as both governors-general (Sir Ninian and Lady Stephen and the Haydens) and most (if not all) of the other state governors and the administrators of the territories – all came to stay at Government House at one time or another in the McCaughey era, and I am sure there are others I am forgetting. In many instances they were given state dinners and other ceremonial entertainments. Later, Pope John Paul II, Juan Antonio Samaranch, along with various other members of the International Olympic Committee, of which he was then president, as well as President George Herbert Walker Bush – these visited Melbourne also. At Tullamarine, President and Mrs. Bush took the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey on an impromptu tour of Air Force One. This crush of V.I.P.s meant that Government House staged many more state dinners than usual, and for these events the enormous State Dining Room with its huge table was used to feed up to 54 guests. Now, if you have 54 guests coming to dinner it is something of a rarity for all 54 to turn up in one piece. Almost inevitably at the last minute somebody goes into labour, is declared bankrupt, has a car accident, heart attack, or nervous breakdown, and the exquisitely calculated placement, often with considerable political implications, is at the eleventh hour thrown into disarray. To guard against this eventuality, two dinners were staged: the main event in the State Dining Room, and a smaller gathering of the Governor’s household staff in the Small Private Dining Room. The Governor’s household were in attendance at the State Entrance and in the State Drawing Room when the principal dinner guests arrived, to help to make introductions, and to insure that people knew who was their next-door neighbor, and how to find their seat in the State Dining Room. After dinner was announced with the strike of an enormous, rather vulgar brass gong, the household would discreetly withdraw to the other side of the house and eat a kind of splendid “nursery tea” in the smaller Private Dining Room. But if at the last minute it was found that we were missing, say, two female guests and a male, we had a convenient pool from which to draw an appropriately chosen emergency substitute who discreetly took whichever vacant spot in the State Dining Room needed to be filled. It was a brilliant system. Formal toasts were exchanged, and after dinner the household rejoined the Governor, premier, and all the other state dinner guests in the State Drawing Room for coffee and a generous supply of Cognac, whisky, mineral water, chocolates, or whatnot. It was at state dinners that I made the important discovery that there is no such thing as a boring person, no matter how bleak the prospects may initially strike you when a succession of increasingly desperate and/or experimental conversational gambits fail to apply throttle, much less achieve lift-off. I think of the extremely shy wife of a middle-ranking public servant from Canberra, who seemed determined to deliver the message to her next door neighbor (me) that she was in every respect ordinary, uninteresting, wholly preoccupied by her children’s schooling, and that out of her life there was absolutely nothing of interest to be decanted and shared, much less admired. Yet I remember sensing also that she was holding something back. To uncover whatever it was simply required a little patient digging. Sure enough, after a few minutes I found out that this resourceful woman was an enthusiastic semi-professional sky-diver, and on this unlikely but fascinating pursuit, in which I am absolutely certain few people had ever been given the opportunity to express interest, she dilated for the rest of the evening – the feeling of exhilaration, the skills needed, the things she had seen and the places she had visited on her various dives. She even offered to take me up and accompany me on my very first descent, an invitation I confess I declined. In other words, it was as if this lady turned into a completely different person, and incidentally, one now saw her husband in a completely new light. Actually in this respect my friends and contemporaries, many of whom were inclined to view my Government House existence as that of a cosseted dweller in some remote ivory tower, failed to grasp the degree to which, on the contrary, it gave me and no doubt many other young and inexperienced members of staff before and since, an incomparable lookout from which to scan and learn about as many walks of life within the local community, indeed far beyond, as one was prepared to pay attention to: from the hardworking manufacturer of ice cream in Colac to ministers of the crown, from restaurateurs to breeders of racehorses, from prison workers to the Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Sydney and Melbourne. Nothing remotely packs that kind of education into your life as quickly and effectively as a tour of duty at Government House, Melbourne. One might add to all the events I have described the regular official lunches the Governor hosted for in-coming and out-going ambassadors and consuls-general. These took place in the Private Dining Room. Guests were greeted at the Private Entrance, ushered through the Private Hall, and announced by the aide at the door to the Large Private Drawing Room. Ambassadorial lunches were obviously arranged by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra, though never dominated by them because Davis was extremely shrewd in his selection of, as it were, supernumerary guests to help leaven each occasion. I do not think that any feelings will be hurt in Canberra if I say that the initial guest list for these occasions was often uninspired, and mainly sought to tick the boxes of international commerce. People who did business with the relevant country were, of course, a high priority. But where Davis’s genius lifted these occasions was in knowing, for example, that the wife of a prominent poet had grown up in the new ambassador’s home country, or that some lecturer in microbiology at Monash had for years done important work in partnership with an opposite number in Paris or Madrid, or that such-and-such an Ormond farmer had pioneered the use of salt-tolerant grasses in East Gippsland – my own uncle, David Borthwick – a skill he learned from Danish and Swedish agronomers. The 95% success rate of the resulting admixture was distinctly audible as the lunch unfolded, and in many cases firm friendships were formed – the economic or commercial benefits to Australia were not perhaps easily quantifiable, but the diplomatic and political effect upon foreign envoys returning happy to their glum embassies in Red Hill cannot have been lost on DFAT in Canberra. There were also any number of annual or at least recurring state and unofficial commitments such as investitures, state openings of Parliament, the ceremonies of ANZAC Day, the opening of the legal year, and the huge Queen’s Birthday reception which was normally held in the Ballroom, the annual staff Christmas party, and so on. The list is long, and very rapidly gives you get a sense of the demands on the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey’s schedule. In all of this they were supported by an amazingly cheerful domestic staff, headed by the butler Mr. Young. The late and much-lamented Ken Young, formerly of the Coldstream Guards, was a fine Englishman who took great pride in his work, and was supported in it by his kind, sweet-natured wife Margaret. He was built like a brick mausoleum, and in times of stress assumed a similar complexion. Below him were the enormously tall, brilliantly talented under-butler, Leigh Millington (now butler at Government House, Tasmania, and a person whom I would not hesitate to describe as a true artist), and three or four good-humoured, attractive, and occasionally naughty liveried footman, at least several of whom came to Government House from the R.A.N. I shall never say, though they know who they are, which of these I developed a youthful crush on – and it is a traditional, if rarely remarked aspect of life in a great house that domestic arrangements rarely go unaccompanied by sexual tension, sometimes as intense as the hours of day-to-day contact are long. But it is also true to say that discretion and correctness and appropriate boundaries were rarely (if ever) crossed – at least not by me, nor to my knowledge by anyone else in the McCaughey era, sorely tempting though it was late at night to steal silently from upstairs bedroom to upstairs bedroom, or down to the mews. Security was handled by the Shrine Guard – indeed the gatehouse was at that time still a fully functioning police station, with lock-up. I have no idea if it was ever used. A good proportion of the housemaids, I think, were Greek, and headed by the quiet but redoubtable Dimitra. The kitchen was at that time staffed by two full-time chefs and an ad hoc staff of caterers, waiters and waitresses, depending on the size of the event (occasionally enormous). As well, there were at least several gardeners, a handy-man, a full-time florist – who harbored an irresistible urge to create “themed,” occasionally unfortunate arrangements in honor of visiting ambassadors – and a much-loved, at times somewhat recklessly flamboyant Spanish launderess called Basi Carrasco. The Office of the Governor, meanwhile, was supported by at least six to eight full-time clerical staff, three drivers, a comptroller, Mrs. McCaughey’s secretary Marguerite L. Hancock, the Governor’s personal assistant Loris A. Callander, M.V.O., M.B.E., P.S.M., the aides, the honorary aides-de-camp, the deputy official secretary, and, at the top of the tree, our fearless leader Charles Roderick Curwen, C.V.O., O.B.E., official secretary. Charles was (and is) an impeccable courtier, a fair and generous employer, an invaluable asset to the Governor, and at length became a good friend. He is the best-dressed man I have ever known. There was very little he had not at one time or another seen or experienced at Government House. He enjoyed the confidence of Buckingham Palace, successive state governments, Governors, and earned the loyalty and devotion of his staff. There is much that I owe him, and I fear I shall never be able to repay that debt of gratitude. Despite the enormous demands on their time in Melbourne, and on the resources of Government House, the Governor and Mrs. McCaughey managed around three or four tours of country Victoria every year, as well as at least two state visits each to China and Japan, and two or three visits to England and Ireland when on at least one occasion they were entertained to lunch at Buckingham Palace by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and a chaotic Greek chorus of yapping corgis. Except for the speech from the throne, which of course was written for him by the Government, usually inelegantly, Davis wrote all his own speeches in his minute but always clearly legible, rather elegant longhand. They were invariably good, often excellent, and a high proportion of those completely dazzling. Part of the joy of listening to them was that as a professional minister of religion Davis had accumulated decades of experience and therefore knew instinctively what style suited what occasion, what audience, what was important to say, and how to say it. I never heard him miss a beat, or misjudge an audience. He was never nervous. Nor did he ever take his audience for granted. On the contrary, he was inclined to address a country classroom with as much dignity and respect for the minds of all present, as he projected unforgettable authority whilst reading the speech from the throne. Being in attendance on that occasion (the state opening of the 51st Parliament of Victoria, Tuesday afternoon, October 25, 1988) made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up, although I remember being horrified when afterwards we saw video footage that when the Governor made his inspection of the guard of honour I walked behind him in the manner of a large, semi-arthritic wading bird – not at all an adornment. I never used to feel anything other than tremendous pride when I listed to Davis, and I now realize that, having so often been, as it were, “ring-side,” I very rapidly learned to imitate his beautifully spare prose style. These days people fear long sentences. We’re told that short ones are preferable. But Davis knew that crisp, short sentences sometimes benefit from close proximity to long, sometimes exceedingly long ones, which set in train the pleasing ebb and flow of rhythmical prose without necessarily creating clutter or confusion and, when properly deployed, give you the power clearly to express complex ideas – even when those ideas are meant to be imparted by the spoken word and not read privately. For me that was a valuable lesson. Don’t be afraid of long sentences. They should be drafted with taste and judgment, never wasted on trivia. Use them, but use them wisely. And distrust anyone, especially media people, who will insist that short sentences are automatically clearer than long ones. In due course we collaborated on our book – a book which it would be more accurate to say Davis wrote, while Naomi and I fed him some documentation. (His insistence that we be named as co-authors was entirely characteristic of Davis’s intellectual generosity and esprit de corps.) No doubt working on the book made a big difference, but twenty years on I still find myself from time to time trying to write prose in the elegant manner of Davis McCaughey. I do not often succeed. Actually, as I reflect on that wonderful time, I think I learned more important lessons from the Governor’s amazing breadth of reading. He put me onto George Eliot, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain), the Psalms, Job, and Tolstoy. Mrs. McCaughey regularly re-read War and Peace and I remember being electrified when she told me that she had read the novel in 1942, when the great narrative of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was exactly and eerily mirrored by Hitler’s. On a few occasions when they were traveling abroad, I stayed behind to serve the Hon. Sir John Macintosh Young, A.C., K.C.M.G., who was then Chief Justice and Lieutenant-Governor. Davis and Sir John liked and respected each other enormously, yet they were very different. Sir John used to call in at Government House after he had finished his day’s work at the Court. Sometimes he saw Charles for a few minutes, dealt with whatever correspondence or government business needed attention, and afterwards went upstairs to change into black tie for dinner. I would then join him in the Private Drawing Room for a drink, also dressed in black tie, and the two of us would sit down to dinner – alone in the Private Dining Room. Afterwards a crown car would drive him home to Sorrett Avenue. It was on one of those occasions that Sir John told me the extraordinary story about how, as a young Irish Guards officer stationed in Scotland, he had had the awesome responsibility of bringing Rudolf Hess under close escort by train from Floors Farm near Eaglesham, just south of Glasgow, where he was captured, to the Tower of London. It was not until recently, when I visited the Tower, that I learned that the cell to which Sir John successfully delivered Hess was the same one in which Sir Thomas More was incarcerated four hundred years earlier. That cell is connected by a short corridor from the front hall of the official residence of the Governor of the Tower of London, and it retains an extraordinarily pungent atmosphere. In a neat twist, it turns out that, as a nineteen year-old, Charlie Curwen, who was an officer in the 11th (Prince Albert’s Own) Hussars, then stationed in Berlin, was for a brief time responsible for guarding those prisoners who remained in Spandau, including Rudolf Hess, and for returning his library books. He now regrets that he never noted down what they were reading. On Sunday evenings Davis and Jean’s enormous family of children and grandchildren came to dinner, and, again, it is typical of them that the duty aide was always made welcome, and treated as part of the family. The younger children disappeared into the wilderness of the state apartments – which nowadays causes me to break into a sweat because there were plenty of potential dangers which would today ring the alarm bell of occupational health and safety, i.e. the narrow, rickety, ill-lit staircase up to the top of the tower, the rather insubstantial railing along the balcony overlooking the ballroom, and the thrilling contents of the unattended offices and cellar. Anyhow, nothing ever seems to have gone wrong, and no doubt the children will treasure until their dying day the memory of those thrilling expeditions in search of buried treasure, poking around the Hopetoun suite, or investigating the junior aide’s suspiciously flamboyant wardrobe. Ha: They thought I never knew! Many people used to take for granted what they imagined were Davis and Jean’s political views, but it is worth dwelling on this matter for a moment because I do not think it is a simple one. True, they belonged to that generation which looked back with tremendous pride upon the achievements of the post-war Attlee administration, which addressed pressing issues of national importance – the unfinished business of the Great Depression in which so many people in Britain had suffered intolerable poverty. Nobody who voted in the long-delayed general election of 1945 should be remotely surprised by Winston Churchill’s crushing defeat, and most astonishment arising from the outcome is the result of cold war revisionism and Churchill’s enduring and somewhat baffling popularity in America. It was no secret that Jean and Davis, and many others in the same generation, also shared a generalized sense of dismay at the increasingly aggressive privatizing policies through the 1980s of Mrs. Thatcher’s government, and her notoriously ill-judged claim that “there is no such thing as society.” Certainly, in his role as Governor Davis knew perfectly well that it was his constitutional responsibility to maintain cordial relations with all political parties. However, it was largely as a result of having been Master of Ormond for so many years that he knew, admired, and was on the best possible terms with many federal and state politicians on both sides – extending far beyond any sense of obligation or responsibility. And I remember on occasion being moved by the fact that although there were clearly philosophical differences between them, actually bitter divisions, time and again what one might have assumed beforehand to be wholly improbable encounters between politicians on opposite sides of various legislatures regularly took place under Davis’s roof with astonishing friendliness and good cheer. Nor, I think, did Davis necessarily feel entirely comfortable with certain policies of the government which appointed him in the first place. He rarely if ever commented on particulars, and nor would the aides have ever pressed him for his views, but my recollection is that he maintained in office an impressive independence of outlook, which at times I am sure the Cain and Kirner governments benefited from, and may actually have acknowledged to themselves if not to the electors. I have no doubt that Davis exercised his constitutional right to be informed, to encourage, and to warn. Certainly his relations with both premiers could not have been better. Indeed, Davis and Jean were genuinely distressed by the departure of John Cain, whom they regarded as a fine premier, rightly, I think, despite the enormous economic problems that ultimately caused his administration to fall. Writing this after several cycles of global boom and investment bank-driven bust have unfolded, one now wonders if those problems were just grounds for Cain’s departure. I have no doubt that history will smile on his administration. It is one of the anomalies of the Constitution of Victoria that when a premier resigns, the rest of the government resigns with him. This is not the case in Whitehall, or in many other Westminster jurisdictions. I am sure that there were at least several, maybe even one or two actively disloyal members of John Cain’s cabinet who were genuinely shocked when on the day of his departure their permanent heads of department presented each with a formal letter of resignation pending the Governor’s invitation to someone else to form a new ministry. They had no choice but dutifully to sign it. I remember being occasionally surprised at how imperfect a grasp of Victorian constitutional arrangements certain ministers had, but in this respect I think it is probably a case of plus ça change, and not at all confined to one side or the other, nor indeed to the state of Victoria. So, if I were asked to sketch a portrait of the public or political Davis I knew, I would encourage the inquirer to lay in a background drawn from the public record: speeches, sermons, a fine collection of eulogies delivered at notable funerals across many years (always revealing), and Jean’s well-known charitable and research work in the social sciences, on poverty, and the family. I would gradually build up the principal forms with historical hues, in particular the ideal of the Attlee administration, the achievements of the Student Christian Movement with which Davis was so closely involved from the 1930s onward – the first Australian he ever met was my dear friend, the late, lamented Jean Mary Waller (q.v.), at an S.C.M. conference in San Francisco, Calif., some time around 1936 – not to mention the formation of the Uniting Church of Australia, and a tradition of enlightened dissent partly derived from the liberal end of the family’s Irish and Presbyterian heritage, partly modeled by his love for both Ireland and Scotland, together with the best qualities of the old Churches of Ireland, Scotland, and England, many of whose most distinguished bishops he knew well. He was a pioneering ecumenist, and knew more about Hebrew scripture and Judaism than many Jews. He was also in touch with German and Swiss theologians such as the charismatic Lukas Vischer, who at one point came to stay. Archbishop Frank Woods was a close friend, likewise Frank’s brother Robin Woods, also a bishop, formerly Dean of Windsor. I would add to the mix Davis’s respect for the traditions and values of the learned professions, which at times he felt were endangered by the Dawkins reforms, and what he saw as the inappropriate elevation to university status of institutes of technical and vocational training. That skepticism was based on the ancient traditions of the universities, from Cranmer to Newman, which the federal government did its best to undermine. Again, I wonder how many policy-makers would now regard the Australian universities as having benefited in the short to middle-term. Finally, I would try to balance the forthright social democratic aspect of Davis and Jean’s general outlook with a slight tinge of conservatism, conservative in the best sense – together with dazzling highlights of common sense, and plain wisdom. Davis was no different from anyone else in that the better you got to know him the more likely you were to detect occasional blind spots. He was inclined to be exasperated by what he regarded as the “middle brow.” He was impatient with empty gestures of political expediency, and the grotesque 6-second sound bite. He disliked the Murdoch media, yet Dame Elisabeth was a good friend – indeed few people admired Davis more. I never saw him lose his temper, while curiously innocent things tickled his funny-bone to the point of tears of laughter, and breathlessness. At length Davis encouraged me to resume my studies, and although I went on my way, eventually to the United States. He and Jean continued to write, and I tried to keep writing back with my not terribly interesting news. Jean knitted me a pair of woolly socks for the winter, and I saw them in Melbourne whenever I could. It should also be emphasized that Davis rarely discussed political matters with his aides. There were too many other, less important things to worry about. Naomi and I were fortunate that although we were almost as different from each other as it is possible to be, we became lifelong friends. Actually, I think we complemented each other perfectly. There was a ferocious looking sword in the cupboard behind my desk, long used for dubbing knights. Yet I was highly disorganized, hopelessly unable to master the intricacies of (inter alia) the military pecking order, when frankly it did not interest me very much. The junior professional staff officers based at Victoria Barracks struck me as a pretty unimpressive lot. No doubt that assessment was unfair, and I am sure it was amply reciprocated. I was fearfully accident-prone, but I never slept through my alarm clock on ANZAC Day when my job was to get up at some truly absurd hour, well before dawn, collect the Governor’s wreath from the fridge, meet Davis and Charles in the Private Hall, then walk with them, following a few steps behind, out the back gate, down past La Trobe’s Cottage, which has since then been shifted to its present position to Birdwood Avenue, and onwards to the Shrine of Remembrance. We made our way through the eerie darkness, an armed shrine guard or two in discreet attendance. It was always amusing to me when, discreetly skirting the public lavatories opposite the Observatory, which were at that time always rather busy, twenty-four hours a day, certain nocturnal habitués with other things on their mind were flabbergasted to see the Governor and his staff walk briskly past, pretending not to notice. Barely fifty paces further on, a dense crowd was gathered on the steps of the Shrine, and, after exchanging somber greetings with the President of the Shrine Trustees near Simpson’s donkey (was it Bill Littlejohn?) we mounted the north steps through a narrow path separating throngs of people, guided only by the light of a small torch. The heavy silence was broken only by the rustling against people’s cuffs and overcoats of the leaves in the fringe around the wreath, which was large and quite heavy. At the top we entered the Shrine, where the premier, leader of the opposition, diplomatic corps, clergy, and Shrine trustees were already assembled in two long, motionless rows, and at this point I had to discreetly turn the wreath around so that the Governor could with ease take and place it against the stone of Remembrance, a slightly tricky maneuver. He then uttered in a loud, clear voice the single phrase “Lest We Forget,” and everyone held what felt like an interminable, almost deafening silence, at the end of which a bugler played the Last Post and Reveille, and we walked slowly out the south door into the first glimmer of dawn. It was a strange ceremony, pungent with a kind of secular, slightly leaden religiosity – rooted in what then seemed the increasingly anachronistic symbolism of Flanders’ fields, which paradoxically still shows no sign of diminishing. It cannot have lasted for more than five minutes. Afterwards, we walked slowly back to Government House, only to return later in the morning for the long military parade, at the end of which – it was interminable – the Governor gave his annual address from the shrine steps. I did not always perform my duties so well. Once, I drove to Wodonga to plan the Governor’s country tour itinerary, and discovered when I arrived that I had left my brief case and overnight bag in the spot where I put them down in the porte-cochère at the State Entrance of Government House. I once announced His Excellency the Ambassador of Norway (it was actually Sweden), and for some baffling reason the Duchess of Devonshire instead of Grafton. When with many others I was given the rare honor of a private audience at the end of the Queen’s 1988 state visit, I forgot what to do, hyperventilated, then, attempting to flee, walked straight into a sofa, to my sovereign’s audible amusement. I failed to arrive at the V.I.P. Apron at Tullamarine in time to represent the Governor at a ceremony officially to bid farewell to the President of Nauru. All that one could do was to return as cheerfully as possible his enthusiastic Polynesian waving through the window of the R.A.A.F. aircraft which the government had placed at his disposal. Patrick McCaughey remembers with glee the time Davis left me behind at the front door of the National Gallery of Victoria, and I had to canter up the drive of Government House, black tie a-kimbo. This gave Patrick Famularo the head driver, and all the footmen exquisite pleasure for weeks. By contrast, Naomi was a consummate professional, in command of every detail, and exceedingly patient with her bumbling junior side-kick. We became great friends. Perhaps it is vanity, but I would say that those occasions on which I was able to nudge the imbalance of skills a little in the other direction were those when certain visitors to Government House exhibited a surprising, occasionally shocking tendency to overlook Naomi’s legitimate role and authority in certain situations purely on the grounds of gender, which was bad enough in 1988, but occasionally also on the crude and somewhat sinister grounds of undisguised class prejudice. Fairly brutal snobbisme was occasionally in evidence, and to those persons foolish enough to reveal this unattractive trait Naomi sometimes communicated her displeasure, even annoyance, and who can blame her? However, having been not too many years prior expensively under-educated at Melbourne Grammar, and being possessed of a measure of no doubt maddening self-assurance – as well as an exaggerated, at times puffy pride in my family’s place in the history of the state – I found that the ruder, more difficult, intractable, or even catastrophic the visitor (there were a few), the greater the satisfaction I derived from applying myself to the awesome task of smoothing ruffled feathers, conjuring the mot juste, selecting and applying the appropriate anecdotal balm, then as soon as acceptably possible lobbing him to exactly the right fellow guest in whose company he might possibly regain some contentment. I was quite good at it. But the main point is that Naomi and I were a good team. Others are far better able to attest to the beauty of the Governor’s long and happy marriage to Jean, and the great support they received from their family. Naomi and I loved hearing the story about how they first met. Davis gave a lecture in Belfast on some aspect of the S.C.M., and Jean, a medical student, was in the audience. Old photographs demonstrate how very handsome Davis was, eerily like his grandson Matthew at the same age. Afterwards Jean boldly introduced herself, and asked him if she could borrow a book. The rest is history. It is worth recording that very occasionally Davis felt faint, and it just so happened that the few times I witnessed this disturbing phenomenon we were having an “ordinary” weeknight dinner in the Small Private Dining Room: Davis, Jean, Naomi and myself. Jean was always alert to what was happening to Davis before he was, and would leap to his side in a split second, speak softly into his ear, and gently guide his head down between his knees for a few moments. The speed of this, and the almost embarrassing intimacy of it, made Naomi and I feel like intruders – certainly powerless to do anything useful – but after Davis recovered (the spells usually lasted only for a minute or so) he and Jean were adamant that we should not telephone the doctor, nor alert Charles. They must have known that this was an instruction which neither of us could possibly obey, and once again it is a measure of the wisdom of all parties that Charles evidently handled the information with exquisite tact, while Davis and Jean never expressed displeasure at our insubordination. While they were inclined to discount any alarm we may have felt from time to time on their account, Davis and Jean responded like lions to the needs of other people. In any other context they took a dim view of queue-jumping, but when a sick grandchild, a loyal member of their domestic staff, even Sandy the dog, evidently required special attention Jean saw no reason not to discreetly pull a carefully selected string. We loved them for it. Once when I was very sick in bed with a comparatively rare and horrid skin complaint (now unfortunately enshrined in a medical textbook), Davis came up to my room to see if I was all right. It was a typically kind gesture, and one I shall never forget.