Pets in the spotlight
Thrust into the spotlight by virtue of their human companions or place of residence, these pooches and pussy cats had the media profile and public adoration that some pollies would only dream of…
Droopy the Dog
Droopy was an English springer spaniel who belonged to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. Droopy became quite the celebrity. He starred alongside Malcolm and Tamie Fraser on their annual Christmas card in 1980, was a popular attraction at The Lodge Open Day, featured in the Canberra Times on more than one occasion and was even the subject of a parliamentary question on notice. The question revolved around the cost of replacing doors at The Lodge which had apparently been badly scratched – by Droopy! Since this damage exceeded ‘fair wear and tear’, the Prime Minister was asked by the Opposition to pay for these damages personally, rather than have the Australian taxpayers foot the bill. Fraser’s reply, recorded in Hansard, was to say that this question was: 'Not applicable.'
By the time Malcolm Fraser’s term as Prime Minister ended in 1983, old Droopy was deaf and partially blind. The Frasers decided that they couldn’t take him back to their property in Nareen, Victoria, because of all the grass seeds which would irritate his ears and eyes. So one of the gardeners who had helped to look after Droopy at The Lodge adopted him. Droopy was then able to live out his twilight years away from public scrutiny.
Mitzi the Cat
Mitzi was not so much a parliamentary pet, but a parliamentary prisoner! Mitzi was part-Burmese and one of many stray cats who roamed outside the building looking for food – which was often fed to them by parliamentary staff members. Unfortunately, Mitzi became bricked up inside a new wall being built as a tradesman’s entrance at the side of Parliament House in 1979. Poor Mitzi could be heard meowing, and would sometimes poke its face through one of the ventilation grilles. Thankfully, once the story of Mitzi’s imprisonment made the headlines, the tradesmen eventually found Mitzi a way out. The cat was not only captured but captured publicity – which ultimately led to Mitzi finding a benefactor and a comfortable new home.
Sir John the Sheepdog
Sir John was the beloved pet and faithful friend of former parliamentarian Fred Daly. Daly named his dog after the Governor General, Sir John Kerr, because he was born only a few days before the Dismissal – and because of his shock of white hair.
Sir John was a constant companion to Fred Daly whenever he attended events, and eventually it was the shaggy sheepdog who was in demand to appear at schools and other official engagements. Sir John became known as Canberra’s ‘dog about town’ and was invited to open libraries and kick off for the Canberra Raiders in their first game at Seiffert Oval. Sir John also appeared on the Mike Walsh Show, This is Your Life, several television advertisements and in several newspapers. Sir John even entered politics and campaigned against Ian Sinclair for the seat of Tamworth. He nearly won ALP pre-selection for the seat of Canberra. This would have made him the very first dog ever to have won pre-selection for a major party in Australia – although according to Fred Daly, he wouldn’t have been the first animal, because plenty of toads have actually been elected to Parliament.
When Sir John passed away in May 1986, the dog’s obituary made the front page of the Canberra Times. However, despite being a media personality, fame didn’t seem to faze Sir John. Never one to complain about the photographs, the publicity, or the paparazzi, Sir John was usually more interested in whether he would get a share of the afternoon tea!