The official residence of the Governor-General at Yarralumla was originally the homestead of a rural property established in the 1840s. Fifty years later, the house was extensively altered by pastoralist Frederick Campbell with a three-storey, double-gabled brick addition and a new wing with a porte-cochere and conservatory. The Australian Government acquired Yarralumla in 1913, after Canberra was chosen as the site for the new national capital.
In 1925 extensive alterations commenced under the supervision of John Smith Murdoch, Chief Architect of the then Department of Works and Railways. The cost of transforming Yarralumla into a suitable residence for the Governor-General, his family and large staff was more than £70,000.
Rebuilding at Government House, February 1926
NAA: A3560, 1377
Like The Lodge, Yarralumla was to be a temporary official residence while a permanent residence for the Governor-General was built. Canberra's designer, Walter Burley Griffin, had included a Capitol, a large state building atop what was later renamed Capital Hill. This would have included the permanent residence of the Governor-General, had the Capitol ever been built.
Walter Burley Griffin's 1913 plan of Canberra with the proposed site of the Governor-General's residence next to the Capitol Theatre
NAA: A1, 1917/7242
The renovations at Yarralumla were under way when Ruth Lane Poole was officially commissioned as 'Furniture Specialist'. She found the task of furnishing Government House much more difficult than the brand new Lodge. Government House had to provide accommodation for state visitors and venues for state occasions as well as provide a home for the Governor-General’s family. As well, Yarralumla was an old and much larger house, with mulitple renovations as she described
Rooms were merged together, passages were absorbed into rooms, rooms built on and even separate cottages were erected to house the staff (Table Talk, 2 May 1927).
When Ruth Lane Poole provided her plan for the furnishing of Government House in July 1926, her costing of £12,000 'completely staggered' the Federal Capital Commission, who ordered an urgent review. She responded that she had looked to 'save every penny possible' while maintaining the required standards and quality. When the review vindicated her estimates, Cabinet increased the sum approved from £10,000 to £13,400 (about $771,000 today), later adding £325 for furniture for the royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of York, the first state visitors accommodated at Yarralumla.
Cabinet approval for furnishing of the Governor-General's and Prime Minister's residences, 23 November 1926
NAA: A6006, 1926/11/23, p. 1
Ruth Lane Poole was already ordering materials before submitting her design scheme in July 1926 and had finished most of the furniture designs by October 1926, despite the delay over approval of the necessary funds. With ongoing delays in getting necessary approvals, both she and the supervising architect, Henry Rolland, were concerned that six months would not be enough time for the pieces to be made, upholstered, transported and arranged in the house before Lord and Lady Stonehaven would occupy their new residence. It was a rare area of agreement between them as the deadline drew nearer.
The Governor-General and Lady Stonehaven visited the unfinished Yarralumla in December 1926 and were reported to be 'pleased with the appearance of the place'.
Letter from the Governor-General's Military Secretary to JH Butters, Chief Commissioner of the Federal Capital Commission, 21 December 1926
NAA: A12006, 10/2, p. 54
The furnishing and decoration of Government House had to balance the house's dual roles as official residence and family home. Ruth Lane Poole regarded the layout of the residence as not suitable for all its ceremonial purposes, with no ballroom and a dining room that could only accommodate 22 people.
In response, Ruth Lane Poole gave the reception rooms and other official areas what she described as a 'rather severe treatment' to declare to their formal purposes. For the private apartments and rooms used by the family, she created a lighter air. The bedroom designated for the wife of the Governor-General she decorated in primrose yellow with a greyish jade green and moonlight blue. The bedspread she provided was embroidered by her cousin Lily Yeats in Ireland. The children's rooms were decorated in fresh blue and white, with furniture of a lighter style than elsewhere in the residence.
The drawing room at Government House
National Library of Australia
A more complex problem arose in January 1927 when the size of the considerable royal entourage became known, as there was very limited accommodation in Canberra. Ruth Lane Poole had consulted closely with the architect throughout the building work and between them they managed to arrange sufficient accommodation within Government House.
Estimate of numbers to be accommodated at Government House during the May 1927 Royal Visit, January 1927
NAA: A1, 1927/6507, p. 299
The Duke and Duchess of York arriving for the opening of the new Parliament House in Canberra, 9 May 1927
NAA: A3560, 3058