While John Howard was busy campaigning in Bennelong and amongst the electorally-important Armenian community yesterday, Janette would have been waiting nervously. Her worry wouldn’t have been the health of her hard-working husband — he soldiers on despite young folk thinking he’s even older than he is — but the fate of the porcelain at her much-beloved Kirribilli House.

Once a year, Hyacinth receives a stark reminder that her modest Sydney waterfront home isn’t for the exclusive use of the Howard family and Liberal thank-you parties. The gates are opened and anyone — yes, simply anyone! — can pay $15 ($10 seniors concession, with card) to tour this 1855 twin-gabled residence in the Gothic picturesque style.

The unwashed masses have free reign of the gardens, taking snapshots of each other against the spectacular harbour views. Laughing children roll down the steep, manicured lawn. One bloke even had the cheek to wear his Kevin07 T-Shirt as he strolled through the Howard house:

The good people of the Australiana Fund ensure it’s all very respectable. Sea Scouts in freshly-ironed uniforms sell soft drinks, for charity. The row of Port-a-loos is placed discreetly out of view. Robust women in silk scarves pinned with gold brooches and very English surnames politely guide us through the downstairs entrance hall.

The hall stand dates from 1886, says the guidebook. “The basic structure of this cast iron hallstand was made in England in 1873 and the Australian firm James McEwan and Company removed its European motifs. Antipodean motifs such as Australian flora and fauna, Aboriginal faces and Aboriginal artefacts were then applied.”

We can peer (no photography permitted) into the roped-off study, sitting room, drawing room, etc. There is the PM’s favoured photograph of Sir Don! And there, near the Sunderland Jug (circa 1860) and the Staffordshire figure of Frank Gardiner (circa 1874) is the Prime Ministerial Panasonic flat-screen. How many Test matches has that seen, I wonder?

A chap in a navy blue blazer and a clipped Received Pronunciation accent enquires whether we’d been waiting long (we hadn’t). He tells us The Lodge in Canberra will be open for inspection in a fortnight – though they have trouble getting word out. Yes, apparently The Lodge is less popular.

“Very liveable,” one North Shore matron summed it up. And yes, Kirribilli House is very liveable indeed at a million dollars a year.

Unfortunately not everyone is impressed. “It’s pretty crap,” complained one teenage lad. “The White House is better. But it’s the location I guess.”

“It’s so old,” complained another. “It’d better not be old inside.” Sorry, young man, Kirribilli House is full of antiques.