Long Room's Role Reversal Word
|During research for a book on the first 150 years of Tasmania's Parliament a story has emerged about the 'Long Room' of Parliament House. It concerns a rowdy public rally held inside this room, but first some historic background.|
Road Bill Rally
Long Room of Tasmania's
The appointed time for the 'death struggle' as the Colonial Times described it, was 10am on Saturday March 13, 1841 when a crowd of between 600 and 700 jammed into the Long Room of Customs House to denounce the operation of the new Act. This large number of people was capable of being accommodated in the 'Long Room' because at that time it measured slightly larger than it does today.
When the meeting started Edward Abbott, an opponent of the tax, replaced Josiah Spode, the Deputy Chief Police Magistrate, as chairman of the meeting on a technicality. By this manoeuvre the protesters successfully stymied the Road Act by voting for the meeting to dissolve itself without establishing the tax 'Commissioners' needed to collect the road funds. All the resolutions passed at the meeting against the Bill were reported as '.carried unanimously, with loudly repeated cheers, three times and three cheers for the Queen'.
This still apparently loyal and cheerful crowd, the Times reported then '.descended from the Long Room, which we hope will never again be required for another such attempt to introduce taxation in to the Colony until it is the will of the people expressed by their representatives.'. The victorious 'anti-rate-payers' trooped away from Customs House behind a musical band, and carrying aloft a coffin-like box marked 'Road Bill'.They marched erratically, however, stopping to either cheer or hiss outside of supporters or opponents businesses on their way into the city. Afterwards they '.dined together in order the better to celebrate the triumph of British rights over unjust, unnecessary and illegal taxation.'.
Following this triumphant march comes the ironic twist in this story. The purpose of the room was transformed, when three months later on Saturday 19 June 1841 the colonial Legislative Council held its first parliamentary session inside the 'Long Room'. They did this after deciding to stop using their purpose-built 'chamber' at Government House because it was becoming cramped, although the press of the day still described the new location as the 'temporary Council Chamber'. Therefore Customs House from shortly after its completion was a shared building. The Long Room and surrounding rooms were used for the Parliamentary Chamber and the Officers of the Parliament.
By this role reversal the hope expressed by the Times was to be realised. The 'Long Room' was never again used for politically charged public rallies, although more recently it has been used for Parliamentary Estimates Committees which have the potential to become heated.. But from 1841 Parliamentarians have largely generated the atmosphere in the room themselves. So Archer's fine building was botha new home for Customs House staff and the Parliament, as a result it increasingly moved towards more central importance in Tasmanian affairs.
A New Parliament
Tasmania was granted a its own self-governing Constitution in 1856 some moves were made towards building a new Parliament House, but these failed and it was decided to continue the sharing of Customs House by the Parliament. However, because the new Parliament consisted of 15 Members of the Legislative Council and 30 Members of the new House of Assembly the existing building was altered in April 1856 to accommodate this increase. A brand new chamber was built for the Legislative Council and the 'Long Room' was modified to suit the greater number of elected parliamentarians, and for example a press gallery was added
Customs and Contemporary Rallies
Space is not available here to present modern examples of the Tasmanian people gathering either peacefully or more forcefully on the lawns of the Parliamentary Gardens or in the public galleries of the State Parliament. We must, however, note that in 1903-04 the Customs House officers finally moved out of the building to new premises along Davey Street, and ever since the building has been used solely as Parliament House. Therefore, the continuation of its title as 'Customs House' is somewhat of an anachronism. Customs staff only had sole use of the building for nine months before it became a joint-use building, and it has functioned exclusively as Parliament House for almost 100 years.
Finally, in modern times Tasmanians unknowingly gather underneath the windows of the 'Long Room' to protest or support political issues. Most, if not all, remain unaware that in 1841 their political predecessors made their democratic voices heard inside the same room. But no longer do the protestors 'descend from the Long Room' as the Colonial Times put it, and march off to confront the politicians in another place. Today Parliament House is more often the end point of street rallies and marches rather than the starting point!