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Morning Tea for The Allambee Club, Government House [Her Excellency Mrs Linda Hurley]


I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.

Good morning, ladies, and welcome to Government House – especially those who are visiting for the first time. It’s lovely to host The Allambee Club for morning tea at Yarralumla. I thoroughly enjoyed my recent lunch with you in your beautiful historic building in Yass and I’m pleased to be able to return the hospitality.

Ladies, today, I’d like to share a little of the history of this house with you.

The first land grant for Yarralumla was made about 100 years before your premises at 71 Comur Street were built. Your building was purpose-built. This house on the other hand can best be described as the house that grew!

The origins of Yarralumla date back to 1828 when a grant of 2560 acres was made to Henry Donnison, a Sydney merchant, who sold the land to Francis Mowatt in 1831. It was Mowatt who first built on the land. It was a long, low stone house. The next two owners were Terence Murray and Colonel Gibbes. But the house today really owes its design to Frederick Campbell, who bought it in 1881. Mr Campbell came from a long established family of colonial landowners and he had big plans. He pulled down most of the old stone house and, in 1891, built a red brick three-storey double-gabled house which is part of the house today.

In the 1890s, Yarralumla was the district’s largest house, with 40 rooms. One hundred and thirty years later, Government House has 67 rooms and 17 bathrooms. How do I know this? Because I counted them when David and I moved in. I wasn’t wrong when I said Yarralumla is the house that grew!

Incidentally, the architecture of this house is unlike the Government Houses in the state capitals. Most of the houses in the capital cities were built during Queen Victoria’s reign as residences for her vice-regal representatives. They are very grand houses. I’ve had the honour of living in one – Government House, Sydney, which is often referred to as The Castle!

Yarralumla is not a grand residence in the traditional sense. There is no ballroom and, unlike Government House Sydney, there are no turrets. Yarralumla is a house that has been progressively built. Each time a new resident arrives, they make changes. In that respect, it is uniquely Australian.

The first Governor-General to live here was Lord Stonehaven in 1925. The Stonehavens didn’t live here for very long, however. Their previous residence, Government House Melbourne, was stately and ideal for entertaining. Yarralumla appeared very cramped to them and so they didn’t stay here. But they did come up from time to time.

When the Duke of Gloucester came to Australia in 1934 for Melbourne’s centenary celebrations, Lady Isaacs – she and Sir Isaac were the first couple to move in – asked for a private sitting room to be built. Today, it is the room upstairs above the south entrance porch, with a wide window framing the ‘vista’. 

But that wasn’t the end of the growing.

In 1939, after the Duke of Kent had accepted the appointment of Governor-General, the brick bungalow section was pulled down and the Drawing Room (this room) was made larger, while more bedrooms were added to the second story. The Campbell porte-cochere was made more impressive and became the State Entrance, through which you entered the house today.

Ladies, I could go on and on. Suffice to say, there have been many changes to the house over nearly 100 years. But the 1891 three-storied structure, no longer red brick of course, remains the core of the house today.

I’m sometimes asked if I have a favourite room or a particular area of the grounds. I do. The Gowrie Garden, which is adjacent to the Vista Lawn to my left. The story of Lady Gowrie is a very poignant story.

Lady Gowrie had two sons. Patrick, who was the eldest, and Alistair, who died as an infant. Patrick was killed in Libya in 1942, during the Second World War, aged 29. She was devastated and wanted to have a memorial in honour of her son. That’s why the Gowrie Garden is special to me. I like sitting on the seat near the fountain. When I sit there, looking at the fountain, I often wonder what Patrick was like. It is both a lasting tribute and a beautiful space that can be enjoyed by visitors to the house.

There is also a view from the House that I particularly like. The Vista Suite above us overlooks the Vista Lawn to your right. At various times of the day and depending on the season the view is spectacular, all the way down to the Brindabellas. It is also The Queen’s favourite room. She and her late husband stayed in the Vista Suite when they visited in the spring of 2011. The views, the light and the gardens would have been stunning. Interestingly, when David and I spoke with her after the death of her husband one of the things she enquired about was the Vista Suite.

I admire Her Majesty greatly. She was mourning the death of her husband of 73 years yet during our phone call still managed to ask about the welfare of Australians and particularly Western Australians impacted by Tropical Cyclone Seroja. 

Ladies, thank you for making the trip from Yass to be here today. This Morning Tea is an opportunity for us to be together again, to enjoy each other’s company and to spread kindness.

As Patron of The Allambee Club, I want to thank you for the many ways you enrich our community.