Swashbuckling days are at an end after officialdom blunts any future for de Groot’s sword
IT IS a sword that has seen things. Been places.
Francis de Groot’s famous blade, used by the cavalry officer to crash the gala opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, began its working life on the Western Front, where it was presumably used for swashbuckling purposes.
It had its celebrity moment at the bridge opening, when de Groot barged in front of the premier, Jack Lang, and used it to slash the ceremonial ribbon and declare the bridge open ‘‘in the name of the decent and respectable people of NSW’’.
Later, it wended its way back to Ireland, before being bought by the BridgeClimb entrepreneur Paul Cave, returned to the Antipodes and unveiled for the 75th anniversary of the bridge.
Now, it lives in a vault and, last week, its keepers sought to take it to the heart of democracy – into Parliament House in Canberra.
The sword, so effective at gatecrashing into Australian history, had not reckoned on the power of the bureaucracy or the rules of the usher of the Black Rod.
It began, ironically enough, with a Security in Government conference hosted by the Attorney-General’s Department. Mr Cave was invited as the main speaker at the formal conference dinner, to be held at Parliament House on Tuesday night.
Having dealt with serious security issues in creating BridgeClimb and worked closely with government to resolve them, Mr Cave seemed an ideal choice.
Mr Cave thought his speech would be enhanced, and a certain drama added, if he was able to bring the famous sword and unveil it before his audience at an opportune moment.
But in the modern age, moving such a valuable historical artefact is no small thing. First, Mr Cave had to liberate the sword from its bank vault. A legislative exemption had to be granted from the Office of Transport Security. Approvals were sought and given, and Qantas negotiated with the authorities to fly the sword from Sydney to Canberra in a secure locked box.
All that remained was permission to bring the blade into Parliament House.
Black Rod, Brien Hallett, was worried about the sword.
Media may be present and report the sword’s presence, which in turn could create a bad precedent. Other people might then insist on the right to bring swords into Parliament.
There were workplace safety issues, and that was not to mention the risk of skylarking. Which is an appreciable one when a certain kind of man is given access to free wine along with the opportunity to play with weapons.
‘‘As a general principle, weapons are not allowed to be brought into the Parliament for issues of security and workplace safety,’’ Mr Hallett told the Herald.
‘‘We followed the procedures we have and that was the beginning and end of it basically.’’
And so the sword sits lonely in its bank vault. Its swashbuckling years over, its day of skylarking denied.