Inside the Canberra Press Gallery

Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House
Authored by:
  • Rob Chalmers
ISBN (print): 9781921862366
ISBN (online): 9781921862373
Publication date: October 2011
Notes: Edited by Sam Vincent and John Wanna
Imprint: ANU Press

Before television, radio, and later the internet came to dominate the coverage of Australian politics, the Canberra Press Gallery existed in a world far removed from today’s 24-hour news cycle, spin doctors and carefully scripted sound bites.

This historical memoir of a career reporting from The Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House offers a rare insider’s perspective on both how the gallery once operated and its place in the Australian body politic.

Using some of the biggest political developments of the past fifty years as a backdrop, Inside the Canberra Press Gallery – Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House sheds light on the inner workings of an institution critical to the health of our parliamentary democracy.

Rob Chalmers (1929-2011) entered the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1951 as a twenty-one-year-old reporter for the now-defunct Sydney Daily Mirror and would retire from political commentary 60 years later – an unprecedented career span in Australian political history. No parliamentary figure – politician, bureaucrat or journalist − can match Chalmers’ experience, from his first Question Time on 7 March 1951 until, desperately ill, he reluctantly retired from editing the iconic newsletter Inside Canberra sixty years, four months and eighteen days later.

As well as being considered a shrewd political analyst, Chalmers was a much-loved member of the gallery and a past president of the National Press Club. Rob Chalmers used to boast that he had outlasted 11 prime ministers; and a 12th, Julia Gillard described him as ‘one of the greats’ of Australian political journalism upon his passing. Rob Chalmers is survived by his wife Gloria and two children from a previous marriage, Susan and Rob jnr.

Reviews

On 3 March 2012, Alex Mitchell reviewed Rob Chalmers’ Inside the Canberra Press Gallery for The Canberra Times’ Panorama section (p30). Mitchell describes Inside the Canberra Press Gallery as “a memoir in which he [Chalmers] recorded the highlights of his gallery career and his perceptive insights into the character of the nation’s political leaders.”

Mitchell’s praise for Chalmers’ writing continues “His observations are acidic, perceptive, laconic and pure Chalmers…a page-turner of historic significance” and concludes ”Independent journalism took a blow when Chalmers stopped patrolling the corridors of power in Canberra.”

(Mitchell, Alex. “Packed with rattlers.” Review of Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House, by Rob Chalmers, edited by Sam Vincent and John Wanna. The Canberra Times, March 3, 2012, Panorama.)

 

June Verrier reviews Inside the Canberra Press Gallery in the Spring 2012 edition of Australasian Parliamentary Review. She encourages “Political junkies and everyone who has worked in Old or New Parliament House” to read the book, which “at worst could be seen as a series of rollicking stories, and at best a collection of fascinating and unique observations from ringside seat on history.” The stories from Inside the Canberra Press Gallery raise important questions about the parliamentary people and process, as well as offering historical insights: “Fascinating, too, are his reflections on the faceless men, the power of caucus, last stand of the hustings and the shift to TV campaigns…a huge amount of history and a whole bevy of issues and episodes which were turning points in one way or another for Australian politics.” Verrier also praises the closing pages of the book: “[Chalmers] goes on in his Epilogue to sum up the problems that have come to beset parliamentary democracy — prime ministers too powerful, party discipline too tight, presidential style political campaigns — and take the toughest of challenges to suggest what could be done about it. Here Chalmers is at his most thoughtful.”

(Verrier, June. Review of Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House, by Rob Chalmers, edited by Sam Vincent and John Wanna. Australian Parliamentary Review, Spring 2012, Vol 27(2).)