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Catering to the crowd-people and the environment blog


Canberra’s Old Parliament Building was built and operated in the newly established capital. It aims to become an independent building to meet the needs of members of the Parliament, staff and tourists. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Refreshment Room (CPRR), located in the south wing of the building, is used to prepare and serve hundreds of meals every day during the meetings of the parliament, and to host grand dances and events for visiting VIPs. The story of the “silver service” provided for daily business and special events in the building is now part of the exhibition at the Old Parliament Building in the Landmark Gallery of the National Museum.

“The member restaurant can accommodate 150 people, as well as other restaurants. The large kitchen at the rear is surrounded by pantry and shops, as well as the chef and general manager’s offices. It contains elaborate electric cooking and cleaning equipment. Meals are delivered via electric conveyor belts. Enter the restaurant.” – Harry Grover, “A Guide to Canberra” (1927)

In the 1930s, as members of parliament and government workers began to station in Canberra, the regular staff in the refreshment room increased from 3 to 13. Other staff members are temporarily hired during meetings of the parliament or large-scale events. Women were first employed during World War II, but were fired after their male colleagues retired. By 1985, the catering service staff in the Capitol had increased to 65, providing restaurant-quality breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an average of 150 senators and congressmen and their guests every day.

“In the member’s guest restaurant, the service we provide is very different from the restaurant’s service-we provide lunch and dinner for an average of 150 senators and members and their guests. We also provide 40 to 60 senators and congressmen every day Breakfast. Our service is equivalent to a top restaurant, but we have time restrictions on meals-for example, we must serve four dishes from a rich menu within 90 minutes of the Parliament’s dinner break.” – Marie Lowa (1987 )

Silver service

The Capitol provides silver services to members, staff and guests every day. The refreshing white tablecloth complements the silver-plated tableware, including cutlery, kettle, coffee pot and toaster. Coffee and tea in lead crystal champagne glasses, ice sculptures, and bone china glasses used to toast the king and queen. The public debate on the luxury and economic management of the refreshment room has aroused fierce controversy from the beginning, and many parliamentary investigations have examined the cost and management of the refreshment room of the Commonwealth Parliament.

“Members and non-members’ restaurants are the best places to eat in Canberra. The menu is a la carte, with white tablecloths and linen napkins, and the waiters wear refreshing white uniforms. The restaurant is very popular and is subsidized by the income of non-member bars. The price is cheap.” – Rob Chalmers, “Inside the Canberra News Gallery” (2011)

The courtyard and gardens of the building are used for small luncheons and celebrations, while the King’s Hall between the House of Representatives and the Senate has been transformed into a grand ballroom for the Royal Ball, which is used for official receptions and formal banquets together with the member restaurants . Dinner for important guests.

The state banquet held in the member’s dining room on March 17, 1944 marked the second anniversary of the arrival of American General Douglas MacArthur in Australia. MacArthur arrived in Australia in March 1942 and was appointed commander of the Southwest Pacific, under his jurisdiction for the Australian army. The menu of the event is iced cantaloupe, followed by grilled sea bream (previously spelled schnapper), grilled chicken, fruit salad, ice cream and coffee. In the photo above, MacArthur is sitting next to Prime Minister John Curtin, eating his ice watermelon. There is a toaster rack on the table in front of MacArthur, which is used as a napkin holder like the museum collection. The catering staff walked among the guests, serving every dish and refreshing drinks.

Service of the king

In April 1949, when a state banquet was held at the Parliament Building, a Phnom Penh dinner, coffee and tea set were prepared for 1,000 people. Due to the poor health of the king, King George VI’s visit was cancelled, but Minton China, reserved for the country and other important occasions, is still called the “king’s service” decades later. Minton provided tableware for the royal family and international governments, and other Commonwealth countries ordered this Winchester K132 pattern.

A set of tags

The National Museum houses many examples of tableware used in the refreshment rooms of the Commonwealth Parliament from 1927 to 1988. Tableware was ordered for the dining room of the new parliament building to prepare for the opening event in 1927. The items were still in use or until the parliament moved to the new building in 1988.

The Commonwealth Parliament refreshment tableware is manufactured by many different companies in the UK and Australia, and some are manufactured through partnerships between countries. Like the building and its furniture, this piece of tableware reflects the strong bond between Australia and the Commonwealth and the emphasis on this relationship when the Old Parliament House opened in Canberra in 1927. By the early 1900s, many of the UK’s best-known tableware manufacturers had offices in Australia, and staff could easily order high-quality tableware for the Commonwealth Council’s refreshment room and give the items a new “Australian” flavor. Other orders involve lengthy communications and transportation between Australia and the United Kingdom. Famous Australian manufacturers including Stokes & Sons of Melbourne have received a large number of orders to provide high-quality tableware for the old parliament building.

The selected manufacturer’s logo on the tableware in the refreshment room of the Commonwealth Parliament is currently on display as shown below.

Tableware and other objects are now part of the landmark gallery’s old parliament building exhibition, sharing the history of the building and those who ate, worked and celebrated there.


Featured picture: On June 13, 1944, a dinner was held for visiting members of the British and Canadian Imperial Parliamentary Association in the member dining room. Photo album of the chief butler of HL Napthalia, National Museum of Australia.



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