Life begins at Halcyon

Former high-flyer touches down at Lakeside

23 March 2018 | by Halcyon

Halcyon Lakeside newcomer Peter Hitchcock spent almost half of his 40-year public service career rubbing shoulders with premiers, prime ministers, ambassadors and even royalty.

The former accountant’s role as a senior protocol officer for Queensland’s Department of Premier and Cabinet made him responsible for rolling out the red carpet for the Government’s VIP guests between the early 1980s and 2000.

Peter worked under successive Premiers, from Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen to Peter Beattie, arranging everything from airport pick-ups and hotel drop-offs for dignitaries to official receptions and State funerals.

The job also required him to organise trips and escort VIPs to key Queensland destinations, ranging from dusty outback towns to the spectacular Whitsunday Islands and the tropical far north.

He survived the massive post-Fitzgerald Inquiry shake-up of the public service that followed the election of the Goss Government in 1989.

“It was a big changing of the guard,” Peter recalls.

The Goss era brought him into close contact with the new Premier’s inner circle, which included future Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and future Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan.

And he remembers helping to organise Prime Minister Paul Keating’s grand opening of the Waltzing Matilda Centre in the western Queensland town of Winton in 1995.

“There wasn’t a lot of accommodation in town, so we had all these dignitaries staying in tents,” Peter said.

“It was funny to see them all emerging from their tents in black tie suits and ballgowns to attend an official event.

“I don’t think Longreach Airport had ever had so many private jets parked on its tarmac.”

Later, he would be involved in a visit by Prime Minister John Howard to Brisbane to launch a bid to bring back the trams, and he also had a small part in US President Bill Clinton’s private ‘R&R’ visit to Port Douglas with First Lady Hillary in 1996.

On the royal front, Peter remembers people jostling to get a seat at a Brisbane reception for Queen Elizabeth II during one of her Australian visits.

“It was interesting how many people considered themselves important enough to get a ticket,” he said.

Peter’s other royal encounters included the Crown Prince of Thailand and his daughter in 1999, and the King and Queen of Nepal, who travelled to the Sunshine State with a 200-strong entourage.

He accompanied the Nepalese royal couple to Hamilton Island where they stayed in resort owner Keith Williams’ hilltop mansion, which the entrepreneur vacated especially for them.

“The Gurkha soldiers travelling with them had blades tucked in their belts and they stayed in Keith’s garage, which usually housed his vintage motorcycles,” he said.

“We went for a trip out to the reef and we weren’t allowed to look at Her Majesty in her togs when she went for a royal swim off the back of the boat.”

Charged with organising State funerals, Peter said the most memorable was the service for the first Indigenous Australian to enter Federal Parliament, Neville Bonner, who was farewelled in Ipswich in 1999.

“It was huge, thousands of people turned out to pay their respects,” he said.

“There were a lot of dignitaries, it really was the who’s who.”

Reflecting on the various Queensland Premiers he worked so closely with, Peter said Rob Borbidge was the best of the lot and a “seriously nice bloke” while

Sir Joh never mumbled in real life and loved sharing the controls of the government aircraft with his pilot Beryl Young.

He also recalls the ‘all-powerful head’ of the Premier’s Department who held so much sway that he could boss Sir Joh around.

“I remember him calling Joh and myself into to office to discuss something, and we just sat in front of him like schoolboys facing the headmaster,“ Peter laughed.

And although it was a thoroughly enjoyable and diverse job, making such high-level arrangements was also demanding and stressful. So Peter embraced the opportunity to retire in 2000.

Last year, he and wife Barbara decided to sell their northern Brisbane home of 30 years and head to the Sunshine Coast where their two daughters and their families live.

“We got sick of the hurly-burly of the big smoke and didn’t want to do it anymore,” he said.

“We are loving it here. We have very nice neighbours and everyone is so friendly. Everybody is out to relax and be social.

“There’s regular gatherings outside the house and half a dozen neighbours will appear with a glass in hand – and it suits me fine.”

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