The South Wing, dining and recreation block
The South Wing, referred to in building records as the dining and recreation block, was an integral part of the early design and development of the Provisional Parliament House. This wing was an important part of the building’s design to be fully self-contained and provide parliamentarians and (to a far lesser extent) staff with support services during long sitting hours in the building and the long periods away from their homes.
The dining and recreation facilities were constructed on two levels. Initially, the main level included the Members’ Dining Room (MDR), a billiards room, Senior Officers’ dining room, Members’ Private Dining Room, coffee lounge, card rooms and Members’ Bar. The lower floor contained separate dining rooms for press, messengers and women, an additional private dining room, the main kitchen, pantries and cool rooms, store rooms, changing rooms, lavatories, baths and showers. The initial design of the dining and recreation block was especially relevant in its early life when women, kitchen and waiting staff, and senior officers such as the Clerks of the House of Representatives and the Senate, were allocated separate dining rooms. Meals were sent upstairs from the kitchens via dumbwaiters, and served directly to tables from stations equipped with hotplates in the Members’ Dining Room.
Many state occasions were held in the Members’ Dining Room, which was also known as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Refreshment Rooms (CPRR). On these occasions, formal decorations reflected the nature of the event, and silver service and souvenir menus were the order of the day. Crisp white tablecloths and sparkling silver cutlery welcomed members and senators to their party’s particular tables, and for much of its history parliamentarians sat at the same table every day. Waiters, and later waitresses, provided silver service; they served from elegant silver platters directly onto plates at the table.
The South Wing underwent various significant changes throughout the life of the building, usually directly related to the growth of staff numbers in the building. As Parliament grew, the increasing numbers of Members, Senators, parliamentary and ministerial staff put pressure on the entire building. By the early 1950s Parliament had grown from 109 to 181 Members and Senators, which placed even more pressure on the kitchens, dining and recreation facilities. By the time of the Provisional Parliament House Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1977 it was calculated that more than 340,000 meals had been served during a recent 12 month period.
Significant changes included the 1950s modernisation of the kitchen, costing approximately £20,000, where original equipment purchased in the 1920s was replaced and upgraded. In 1946 the non-Members’ bar was built on the lower floor. This bar was for use by staff and press representatives and it became a focal point for social gatherings by journalists and staff who were required to spend up to 24 hours a day in the building when Parliament was in session. The main level also went through various changes including the addition of rooms to the east and west sides, a second billiards room, new staff and press dining rooms and a servery.
The South Wing is a highly significant component of the building. The dining and recreation facilities were an important part of the life of the building during its parliamentary use from 1927 – 1988 and were an important part of the intention for the building to be fully self contained, which reflects the modest state of alternatives in the new national capital in the 1920s, the need to have a full range of facilities close at hand, necessitated by the very long hours of parliamentary sittings, and the high status of parliamentarians. The facilities also played an important role in the Commonwealth Parliament and Government hosting Royal visits, official State receptions and formal dinners for important guests. The South Wing is also significant because of its long use for activities related to casual recreation, formal events or recreation combined with work such as lobbying or negotiating. It provided one of the few places in the building where members of different political parties could mingle. At the same time, and although the recreational facilities were associated with the largely male pursuits of billiards, cards and Members’ Bar is hardly surprising, given the realities of male dominance in Australian parliamentary representation during the twentieth-century, they contributed to creation of a parliamentary milieu in which women at times appeared to be quite marginal.