Who's who in the Senate: The Usher of the Black Rod

As part of the opening of the 47th Parliament on 26 July 2022, the Usher of the Black Rod will be directed by the Governor-General to summon members of the House of Representatives to the Senate where the Governor-General will announce the newly elected government’s program.

The Usher will walk to the House of Representatives and using a long ceremonial rod, called the Black Rod, knock on the door to request the attendance of members in the Senate.

The role of the Usher of the Black Rod dates back to fourteenth century Britain. The Black Rod was first appointed to serve the monarch in the British House of Lords and was originally an officer of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, a British order of knighthood.

The Black Rod was responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords and its precincts. As the job of the Black Rod was primarily maintaining order, the position holder carried a sword and could arrest and eject from the chamber those who misbehaved.

Today, the Black Rod carries the long ceremonial Black Rod rather than a sword although chamber security remains a central part of the job.

Life of a modern Usher of the Black Rod

The Black Rod

Image: Usher of the Black Rod, John Begley, knocking on the door of the House of Representative at the opening of the 46th Parliament, 2019

The Usher of the Black Rod is responsible for ensuring that the Senate chamber is secure and that its proceedings, as well as the proceedings in committees, are not disrupted.

When the Senate meets, the Usher of the Black Rod escorts the President of the Senate into the Senate chamber at the beginning of each sitting day, announcing the President’s arrival.

The Black Rod is also responsible for delivering formal messages from the Senate to the House of Representatives. When the Senate is required to formally vote on a matter before it and senators divide, by sitting on one of two sides of the chamber, the Black Rod will be instructed by the President of the Senate to lock the Senate chamber doors after 4 minutes. The doors are locked so there is no confusion during the count of the vote caused by senators entering or leaving the chamber. The Black Rod is assisted in these roles by a Deputy Usher of the Black Rod and a number of Assistant Black Rods.

When not in the Senate chamber, the Black Rod manages the Black Rod’s Office which provides a range of services to senators and the department including the provision and maintenance of offices, equipment, transport and printing, as well as corporate services.

Black Rod specs

The Black Rod DPS/Auspic

Image: The Black Rod DPS/Auspic

Made in 1927, the Black Rod is 1.44 metres long and serves as the symbol of the Office of the Black Rod.

It has a silver crown at the end above the Australian Coat of Arms with a body made of ebony.

The Black Rod will carry the Rod into the Senate chamber each morning when the Senate is sitting as well as carry it for ceremonial occasions.  

Dress code

Andrea Griffiths, first female Usher of the Black Rod 

Image: The first woman Usher of the Black Rod, Andrea Griffiths, appointed to the position in 2001

The first Usher of the Black Rod was appointed to the first Federal Parliament of Australia on Federation in 1901.

At the time and for many years, the Usher of the Black Rod adopted the ceremonial dress of its English counterparts comprising a long-tailed coat, knee-breeches or a kilt, court shoes, gloves and lace jabot and cuffs.

On 26 July 2022 when the 47th Australian Parliament opens, the Usher of the Black Rod will wear modern business attire.

There have been 19 Ushers of the Black Rod since the first in 1901, including three women.

The current Usher of the Black Rod is John Begley.

You can watch the opening of the 47th Parliament, including the Usher of the Black Rod summoning members of the House of Representatives live on the APH website on 26 July 2022.

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