The location of the Chief Secretary’s Building was selected to reflect the status of its original occupant, the Colonial Secretary, who, after the Governor and Chief Magistrate, held the most senior position in the colony of New South Wales. Completed in 1879, the architecture, decoration and furnishing of the Chief Secretary’s Building (known as the Colonial Secretary’s Building until 1959) were a collaborative effort between colonial architect James Barnet and Sir Henry Parkes.
The position of the Colonial Secretary was created in 1819 to acknowledge the rapidly expanding administrative responsibilities of the colony. The appointment carried with it a seat in the Legislative Council of NSW and membership of the Executive Council. The Office of the Colonial Secretary became the most influential government department with responsibilities for the general welfare of the colony and the administration of legislation which regulated everything from fisheries to charitable foundations. During the 20th century, the responsibilities were dispersed among a range of new government departments, including health, education, housing, police and justice. In 1959 the titled changed to Chief Secretary and from 1975 the remaining functions of the Chief Secretary’s Department were devolved to other government departments, until the office was abolished in May 1982.
The Chief Secretary’s Building, after having undergone a major refurbishment, re-opened in 2005. Its occupants, including the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW and the Office of the Governor, will uphold this fine tradition in public service for the people of New South Wales and add their mark to the building’s evolving history.
For over 12 decades, the standard of the Governor of NSW has been raised and lowered from the flagpole high above the dome of the Chief Secretary’s Building. This vice-regal tradition signified the Governor’s arrival and departure for meetings of the Executive Council. In 1902 the then Governor of NSW, Admiral Sir Henry Rawson, temporarily relocated his office from Government house to the Chief Secretary’s Building, into the office of the Vice President of the Executive Council on Level 2. This arrangement lasted until 1915, while Government House was on loan to the Governor-General during the establishment of Australia’s new federal capital in Canberra. In 1996 the Office of the Governor of NSW, as a result of the decision of the then Premier, The Hon Bob Carr MP, again moved from Government House to the Chief Secretary’s Building, this time into the historic suite of offices originally built, furnished and used by Sir Henry Parkes.