A wig and a mace: the Speaker’s regalia

Speaker, The Hon. Peter Slipper parades through Parliament House

As speaker, the Hon. Harry Jenkins went in for plain business suits and a minimum of ceremony. So when the Hon. Peter Slipper MP took the speakership, his decision to resurrect the pomp and circumstance of the position allowed for some minor and convenient controversy.

This article from news.com.au is representative of the media’s reaction; both for its mocking tone and its fixation on Mr. Slipper’s alleged fondness for silly wigs. Quoting the bullet points at the top of the article;

  • New speaker wants gown and wig
  • Plan hits snag – regalia donated to Museum
  • “The risk is he will end up looking like a clown”

In this post I look back through Trove’s wonderful newspaper archive, in search of past coverage of the speaker’s attire and adornments. Here is a similar controversy from 1929, albeit with a reversal:

NO WIG OR GOWN.

NEW SPEAKER’S DECISION. Mace “Relic of Barbarism.”

CANBERRA. Thursday – “Neither wig nor gown will be worn by the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Mr. Makin) during his term of office, nor will the mace appear on the table of the House.

In reply to a question by Mr. Thompson (N.S.W.) to-day, Mr. Makin said that he would find no intelligent reason why the mace should appear on the table. According to the meagre records available, it was a relic of barbarism, and he saw no reason why anything which symbolised that class of society, or the methods of treating one another in the ordinary relationships should find any opportunity of display in the Chamber during his occupancy of the chair. The mace did not represent anything associated with the Crown, nor did it do  anything towards asserting the authority of the Speaker. “I shall be quite capable” of asserting that authority without the mace,” said Mr. Makin. (Laughter.)

No instruction has yet been given about the wigs and gowns worn by the officials of the House, and at the sitting to-day   they wore them as usual.

– NO WIG OR GOWN. (1929, November 22). The Argus(Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1956), p. 7. Retrieved March 10, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4051903

Another article indicates that Mr. Thompson was so concerned at not seeing the mace, he queried to check it had not been stolen.

Of course, Thompson’s concerns were perfectly reasonable considering the events of 1914:

The Speaker’s Mace.

Result of Detectives’ Inquiry

MELBOURNE. May 31.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives says he has not yet decided what action to take respecting interference with the mace and his notes. The mace was removed, during Friday’s sitting. Both he and the Prime Minister consider the matter too serious to be thought merely stupidly jocular, especially as it had transpired that the keys of the chamber had been removed, thus making it impossible to lock the doors when a division was called for. The speaker has had special bolts put on inside the doors. Reports from detectives leave no doubt as to the identity of the culprits who may escape with simple exposure owing to the reluctance of the Government to take an unfair advantage of the Opposition.

– The Speaker’s Mace. (1914, May 25). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved March 10, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42887524

Ah, the heady days of the Melbourne parliament. Clearly that speaker had very little sense of humour, as he went on to appoint a Select Committee to look into the matter. The mace was recovered, but the speaker’s notes and the keys were not. Let’s hope Mr. Slipper is aware of the incident and keeps a watchful eye on Blackberry and car keys.

Going back even further, Broken Hill’s Barrier Miner proves that hyperbole is not a recent invention with its coverage of 1910’s “War on Wigs and Gowns”:

WAR ON WIGS AND GOWNS.

Now that the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate have declared war on wigs and gowns, it is proposed (says the “Telegraph” of July 15) to call a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee to consider whether an assault shall not be made on the mace in the House of Representatives and the sword worn on special occasions by tho Sergeant of Arms. The Usher of the Black Rod in the Senate has been found by the iconoclasts to carry a sword at ceremonial functions. It is proposed to exterminate this also. The rosette on the back of the sergeant has excited the indignation of several of the Labor members. A few angry speeches about it are threatened as soon as the Standing Orders Committee meets. Another object viewed with growing alarm is the white tie worn by the clerks. This is promised early annihilation. As the committee contains a majority of Labor members this work of destruction is likely to be undertaken with eager and relentless ferocity.

– WAR ON WIGS AND GOWNS. (1910, August 1). Barrier Miner(Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved March 10, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45129805

What with the extermination of swords and the annihilation of white ties we can only assume there was a Dalek time-travel incident. Hopefully someone wearing a fez sorted it out.

“It’s good-bye to you, Bill”

This puzzling quote is from a 1951 article covering the receipt of a a new ceremonial mace – still in use today. Here’s the Townsville Daily Bulletin’s coverage of the half-hour event:

CANBERRA, November 29. The Speaker of the House of Representatives (Mr. A. G. Cameron), on behalf of members at the House to-day accepted the mace  presented by the House of Commons to the Commonwealth Parliament.

Members then passed a resolution by the Prime Minister (Mr. R. G. Menzies) thanking the House of Commons for the mace snd asking their greetings be sent to members of the Commons. Nearly every member of the House was present and all the galleries were packed when the British delegation of four entered the chamber. The only interjection throughout the half-hour ceremony came from Mr. R. James (Lab., N.S.W.) when the old mace was removed from the table. He called out, ‘It’s good-bye to you, Bill.’

– Speaker Accepts Mace From Commons. (1951, November 30).Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved March 10, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63392115

Let’s hope old Bill is safely ensconced in a cupboard somewhere.

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