I’ve walked past Old Government house on the banks of the Brisbane River many times but I finally made the time to stop and take a look inside. Well to be totally honest I desperately wanted a cuppa while taking a shortcut through the university and thought it was an excellent opportunity to try a lamington not far from the kitchen where they are claimed to have been created and named.
When we’re travelling overseas I don’t hesitate to take a look around the palaces, castles and stately homes we come across but Australia is a young country and the city of Brisbane is an infant having only separated from New South Wales in 1859.
So while the age and stature of Queensland’s Old Government House might not be in the league of others we’ve visited it is significant to the history of the region. During the time Queensland’s seat of power rested in the house Australia became the federation it is today, women gained the right to vote and the worlds first labour government was sworn in by the Governor of Queensland.
When Governor Bowen was appointed in December 1859 one of the first jobs of the new Parliament was to provide a fitting residence and official offices for him and his family. The home was completed in 1862 at a cost of £17,000 and quickly became the hub of colonial Brisbane.
Located up high on Garden Point the grand home had sweeping views of the Brisbane river and would have made quite the impression on visitors and immigrants arriving by ship to the new colony. The city probably made quite an impression on Governor Bowen too when he arrived by ship with his wife and young daughter to a crowd of 4,000 flag-waving colonials on the river’s edge.
Before the decision in 1909 to relocate the Government residence to its current location in Paddington 11 Governors and their families had lived and worked from what we now know as Old Government House in Brisbane’s central city.
A look inside Old Government House
The entrance to the old government house today is from the back through what was once the private drawing-room. This is now the interpretive centre and includes several interactive displays. You are free to wander through the house during the opening hours which are Sunday through Friday, 10 am until 4 pm. There are also 3 free guided tours during the week, you can join them at 10.30 am on Tuesdays through Thursdays.
In the upper level of the house in what was once the private quarters of the governors family is the William Robinson Gallery. A variety of exhibitions take place during the year in the venue named for the Brisbane artist whose paintings of Queensland and New South Wales landscapes made him famous. His paintings now also hang in esteemed collections such as the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Vatican Museum and the British Museum in London.
Is Old Government House the home of the lamington?
That’s the big question of course, is this the home of the lamington? The 8th Governor of Queensland was Lord Lamington who held the post for 5 1/2 years from 1896 to 1901. It was during his tenure that it’s thought the humble lamington came to be.
The tea cake was named and made popular after it was prepared by his staff under Chef Armand Gallan in the kitchens of Brisbane’s old Government House. The story, well one version of it, goes that with unexpected guests for afternoon tea one day his kitchen had no fresh baking and a bit of a dilemma.
He sprung into action, trimming up yesterdays sponge cake, dipping it in chocolate and rolling it in coconut. Viola, the very popular Lamington was created. A tasty treat you can still enjoy within the cafe of Old Government House today.
Recently I believe a New Zealand academic has claimed that an early watercolour painting shows a ‘wellington cake’ in the back corner. She claims the painting proves beyond doubt that the wellington was the early inspiration for the lamington and therefore it was created in New Zealand not Australia.
It’s an old watercolour painting and as you’d imagine the background splodge could well be a cake coated in chocolate and coconut or the Sunday roast, or maybe a cat curled up on the bench. But the painting predates Lord Wellington’s tenure as Governor of Queensland and who’s to say where and when a cake was first coated in those ingredients.
Many versions of the story abound but whatever the origin I’d recommend a lamington with your coffee or pot of tea from the Pantry cafe. It’s located in a part of the house that was once the servants quarters, you can see the demarkation from the family area to the workers area in the house by the styling and type of brick used in it’s construction.
Whatever the truth is with the lamington cake there is one of my favourite things that definitely is named after Lord Lamington and that’s the Lamington National Park on the Gold Coast, a 2-hour drive away. If your looking to spend some time out in nature make sure you check out some of our 5 top walks.
While Australia’s history is best seen in its many natural treasures, unique wildlife and landscapes it’s also interesting to visit some of the sites of its colonial history and Queensland’s Old Government House is one of the key heritage sites from the period in Brisbane.
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