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The Black Rod of Western Australia

26 April 2019 - Legislative Council

The Black Rod is primarily associated with the sovereign (King or Queen), or in the case of Western Australia, his or her representative, the Governor. The Black Rod is carried by the ‘Usher of the Black Rod’, who maintains the authority and order of the chamber he or she serves. This officer is an important link in parliamentary history and procedure.

The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod in England can be traced back to 1361 when the Order of the Garter (Honourable Knights) was founded by King Edward III. It was not, however, until later that the Usher of the Black Rod's duties in the Houses of Parliament were introduced. When King Henry VIII moved out of his residence in the Palace of Westminster in 1512, he left the Usher of the Black Rod to be his representative in the House of Lords. (The House of Lords had met at the Palace of Westminster since the 13th century). King Henry VIII excused the Usher of the Black Rod from his duties at court.

The earliest known holder of the office was Walter Whitehorse. On 23rd April 1361—St. George's Day—King Edward III issued letters patent charging his yeoman Walter Whitehorse, Usher of the Free Chapel in Windsor Castle, to bear the Black Rod in his presence before the College of the Chapel in the procession of feast days.

The qualifications necessary for Usher of the Black Rod were that he must be born within the sovereign's dominions, and must be a ‘gentleman of blood and arms’. This is why until recent times the office of ‘Gentleman Usher’ in the House of Lords was held in turn by a senior officer of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force. In a move from this tradition, the current ‘Lady Usher of the Black Rod’ in the House of Lords, Sarah Clarke—the first female in the role—has a background as administrator of the Wimbledon tennis championship.

As well as being responsible for maintaining the authority and order of upper house chambers and their galleries in the Westminster tradition, the usher is also is known as the ‘parliamentary messenger of the sovereign’. The duty that brings the usher most into prominence in Western Australia is at the ceremonial opening of Parliaments when the Governor, or commissioners, are present in the Legislative Council chamber, and the Usher of the Black Rod summonses the Speaker and members of the Legislative Assembly to the upper house chamber.

The Western Australian Black Rod comprises an ebony staff with cast silver pieces and gold plating at the top, bottom and centre. Unlike the Westminster House of Lords Black Rod, which is surmounted with a British lion, a Swan, the fauna symbol of Western Australia, adorns the top of the Western Australian Black Rod. The Western Australian Legislative Council’s Black Rod was made by the crown jeweller, Garrard & Co, in 1953-54 and was a gift from Hon Harry Hearn, MLC, on the occasion of the visit to the state of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in March 1954. At a special meeting of the Legislative Council on 18 March 1954, His Excellency Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Gairdner, then Governor of Western Australia, presented the Black Rod to the President of the Legislative Council, who in turn entrusted the Black Rod into the care of the Usher of the Black Rod.

The Black Rod is carried into the chamber by the Usher of the Black Rod on a sitting day when the President is announced and is laid on the table of the house until it adjourns.