Billy Snedden and the advantage of being Speaker

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by our barren-wombed contributing editor-at-large, Tess Lawrence.
I miss Sir Billy Snedden, Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St John and Speaker of the House 1976 - 1983.

Billy unashamedly adored women, and openly put 'the hard word' on many of us, but in a soft way (he drank rather a lot) and invariably in front of everyone else in the room — and loudly did sing our praises as he did so.

I can only imagine what distress such amorous follies inflicted upon his family, especially his dear children, whom he loved unequivocably — and they should know that.

I think I was working for The Bulletin or The Herald at the time and was despatched to Canberra for a series of feature articles.

Sir Billy and I had been to lunch. He was naughty but nice. And I liked him. He wasn't a sleaze.

Not to me. And women will know the difference.

Anyway, in those days, I was betrothed to another. And Sir Billy knew him. And admired him. And thought he had political promise.

Even though I was a lapsed Catholic, Mother Ursula's words about 'the most precious gift you can give to a man' would ring in my ears. What a drongo I was/am.

It was in the days of the old Parliament House and I recall the Speaker's Chair as being reminiscent of the Queen's elaborate Coronation throne. I recall it as being high camp. It seemed huge to me. I don't know why, but I am thinking of Alice in Wonderland and The Walrus and the Chippie.

"Sir William," I enquired. "What is the best thing about being Speaker of our beloved House of the People?"

"Ah, my Dear Tess, you naïve child, ever quizzical, ever pondering the elusive mysteries of Life.

"The best thing about being Speaker of the House in the Parliament of Australia is this..."

I could hardly breathe in wonderment.

"It is this, my daughter, my neighbour's child, my ward... "

"The best thing about being Speaker of the House is this: -

You can have an erection and no-one else can see!"

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