Government House is a British invention and can be found in many current or former British Empire colonies. Essentially, it is a large regal residence where the Governor of the country or state resides and conducts official business. The house is also used for receptions and functions hosted by the occupant.
The occupant may either be a Governor-General or Governor. Their role is primarily to act as the representative of the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. A Governor-General is appointed at the country level, for example, Australia. A Governor is appointed at the state level, and in this case, the State of New South Wales.
The roles and responsibilities differ from country to country, and have also evolved over time. For example, the former British Governor of Hong Kong (until 1997) exercised the executive branch of the Hong Kong Government. In Australia, both the Governor-General and State Governors are figured head roles with no executive role, but with limited reserve powers. The appointees are eminent Australian’s who have retired from their profession. These have included Generals, Admirals, Archbishops and Professors.
In the early days of the Commonwealth of Australia (formed in 1901), both the Governor-Generals and Governors would have had significant more powers than present day. Formally, their appointed by the British monarch. In present day practice, the Prime Minister or Premier recommends the appointee and the British monarch appoints.
As the British Empire went into decline and British influence over the colonies were reduced, the powers of the Prime Minister and Premier increased, and the appointees had less power and influence.
Construction on the Government House in Sydney began in 1837. This was the second Government House in Sydney. The first was discussed in Week 4. The State Governor resided in the house until 1901, when for a brief period the house was used by the Governor-General of Australia. The house reverted back to the State Governor in 1914, and was used for that purpose until 1996.
In 1996, the centre-left State Government removed the Governor from the house. This was perhaps a stealth Republican move. Fifteen years later, in 2011, the centre-right State Government re-invited the Governor back to the house.
The house is designed in a Gothic revival style.
Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside. There are free weekend tours – highly recommended.
How to get to the Government House: Macquarie St, Sydney 2000