Entertainment TV Kangaroo bits and buried cathedrals: the secrets of Parliament House

Kangaroo bits and buried cathedrals: the secrets of Parliament House

annabel crabb
Annabel Crabb ventures into the dark, secretive underbelly of the House. Photo: Josh Flavell/ABC
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As the host of Kitchen Cabinet, presenter Annabel Crabb has been privy to the private lives of some of the most high-profile pollies she’s reported on from the press gallery.

Shot over the course of 10 months, The House uncovers weird and wonderful facts about their shared workplace, exposing the 90 per cent of Parliament House the public never gets to see.

Kitchen Cabinet was about trying to give people a slightly different perspective on these people, and we thought that it would be wonderful to be able to do that for the building itself,” Crabb says. “There are so many funny little secrets.”

Flying high

After months of deliberation, The House crew wrangled security clearance to fly a drone over and through the building, offering breathtaking angles never seen before, including a close-up on the towering flagpole.

Crabb reveals that the winds are so fierce up there the Australian flag gets torn to shreds and is replaced monthly.

“We filmed that at the crack of dawn in the Canberra winter, so it was freezing, but you get such a sense of the scale of things up there.”

Digging deep

A vast subterranean network of workers once dubbed “troglodytes”, is ruled over by queen of the underground Sandy McInerney. “She runs the loading bay, which is probably the most significant function in Parliament House,” Crabb says.

“Because she’s a character, she describes it as the ‘mouth and arse’ of the place.”

The most staggering aspect is a vast unfinished hall dubbed the ‘cathedral’.

Annabel Crabb was even allowed to film in the Senate. Photo: Josh Flavell/ABC

“They basically ran out of money halfway through, and the builders just walked out and left it,” Crabb says. “We actually found this newspaper from 1988 and there are all these articles about Ronald Reagan going to the Moscow summit. It’s so freaky.”

Critter cabinet

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gives Crabb a close-up of the incredible marquetry mural that hangs in the cabinet room at the heart of the government of the day’s decision-making process.

“The artists had a sense of humour and put a few wooden bugs in there, because they were getting lectures about it being comprehensibly scanned,” Crabb chuckles.

Crock of s**t

Of the many colourful characters Crabb encounters, Senator Nick Xenophon does not disappoint. Surprised that Parliament House’s crockery wasn’t Australian-made, he commissioned a 300-piece set then tried to donate it.

“Of course they can’t use it because of some regulation or whatever, so now his office is totally full of boxes of crockery, with guests sitting on them,” Crabb reveals.

Kangaroo down sport

After watching The House, you’ll never look at the coat of arms of Australia the same way again, with regulations stipulating that the kangaroo must be demonstrably male, scuppering the original design of the giant version atop the roof.

“There are a thousand stories in the building, but the idea of a distinguished artist like John Coburn putting in a drawing of a roo that gets knocked back because it doesn’t have bollocks is just so funny,” Crabb laughs. “It’s so representative of the strange customs that rule that place.” 

The House starts on ABC1 on Tuesday, August 8 at 8pm. 

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