A Fleeting Return to the 30-year Work Base

7 March 2022

A whimsy compelled me to revisit the old Administrative Building in Canberra, the neo-Stalinist structure which housed the former Department of External Affairs and then the renamed Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). It now houses the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.

I first entered its portals in 1971. The entry was through the anal-retentive, single door on the building’s side facing the present Kings Avenue. Presumably, the restricted entry regime segued with sensitive foreign policy deliberations and secrets held within. In those pre-flexible working hours regime, most staff were punctual for the start at 8.30 am. Inevitably, that resulted in a longish queue for signing the Attendance Book. The same entry was recalled physically in the Book to sign off at 16.51 – the mandatory end of the working day.

(The 0830 – 1651 oddity was the result of hard union bargaining in the 50s regarding the working hours of the Public Servants. Incidentally, the ACT Supreme Court still follows the same timing regime.)

There were two lifts in the foyer. One, dutifully guarded, apparently led nowhere, but in fact to ASIS, the local ASIO (branch) and to green shoots of DSD (Soviet and other Embassies were in electronic sight from the roof). The other lift was for senior officers. Stuart Hume, the faithful and leashed minion of John Ryan, the Management Supremo, reviewed the list of entitlements every month. We, the hoi polloi, climbed the stairs muttering at the injustice of it all, but unaware of the good of it for our health.

The Admin Building was my spiritual professional pit-stop for nearly 30 years. Much, much transpired within those walls as most denizens of those times would verify. Sharing my fleeting return to a professional birthplace in a contrived and egoic style does not seem out of place. Or is it?

#DFAT, #Admin Building, #Canberra