Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House

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Posted 2023-10-27 by Ashleigh Meiklefollow
Museum of Australian Democracy

If you’re interested in learning more about the journey and history that Australian democracy has had since Federation, then the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House in Canberra is the place to go. Australia has been a democracy since 1901 after six colonies became a federation following a vote on a unified state of government. When Canberra was chosen as the capital, Old Parliament House opened in 1927, and was used until 1988, and is now the home of the Museum of Australian Democracy.

The Museum of Australian Democracy houses various collections and exhibitions that relate to the history of Australian democracy, with a glimpse into various Parliamentary offices – the Prime Minister’s Suite, Government Party Room, the Speaker’s Suite, Country Party Room, Senate Opposition Room, and the President of the Senate’s Suite as well as the House of Representatives and the Senate. These rooms are like a time capsule, caught in the 1970s or 1980s, and they even have the musty, historical smell that can transport you back in time. It's a great way to immerse yourself in history and see what Parliament was like in the 1970s and 1980s.

Parliamentary Office

The Museum also has a range of exhibitions that talk about different aspects of Australian democracy. Amidst some that appear to be permanent, there is often an annual one about political cartoons of the year. The 2022 cartoon exhibition is now closed, so keep a lookout for what is coming next.

The exhibitions I saw were:

Democracy DNA

Democracy DNA: The People, the Prime Ministers, and the World , which explores the journey of democracy in Australia and the thirty-one prime ministers, and the ways they shaped or affected Australia during their time leading the country. This exhibition teaches visitors about every prime minister, how democracy is part of Australia, and what it has meant since Federation – showing the history succinctly and in a way that is educational and accessible. This informative exhibition uses photographs as well as hands-on activities to teach visitors about democracy and their role in it.

Changemakers is an exhibition about the women who have made changes throughout Australia’s history, from the suffragettes to those involved in the #metoo movement, and just about everything in between. It aims to showcase a diverse range of women and issues as it explores how these women from a range of backgrounds have worked to make change and changed things for women in democracy. Former Governor-General, Quentin Bryce as well as activists and allies who worked for justice and equality. It examines the inequality that Australian women faced even though they got the vote in 1902 – they still had a long way to go in the fight for equal rights across the board. Stories like the fight for equal pay in 1974, led by Edna Ryan, and Nyadol Nyuon’s advocacy for refugee women today – the stories are ongoing and important.

Changemakers Banners

Like many stories across the exhibitions, the stories are accompanied by pamphlets and other memorabilia like the embroidered banners that greet you as you enter the exhibition that reflect the various issues women have been advocating for when it comes to equality. The website has a section for hidden stories that you can listen to online as well.

LINK Democracy: Are You In?] is another exhibition that focuses on how voters have had an impact on democracy and who runs the country. It shows the simple things that movements have used the influence change, like pins, slogans, and they even have a piece of the Berlin Wall. The Writs to Referendum exhibition [ is about citizen democracy and the role that citizens play in democracy beyond voting. It is an insightful exhibition that like the others, gives great insight into what happens with movements and advocacy that aims to influence the decisions made in Australia – very educational as well, and an eye-opening experience because it showcased many movements that I didn’t know a lot about, so I really do recommend this museum – it gives visitors an insight into Australian history, and insights that I have not seen at other museums in Canberra.



Have you ever wondered if there was a time when who you are – your gender, your skin colour, your disability may have meant you couldn’t vote? That’s where Blueprint comes in. It explores the steps that Australia has taken to form its democracy. One part of the exhibition, has an interactive section where you can select various aspects of your identity to determine if you could vote at certain times in history. I think this is a great thing, as it teaches people that some people are not as equal as others and explains in various panels how people in different groups have had to fight for their right to vote. Using stories of people, rather than facts made this more relatable for me. I think this is a great tool to help people understand the voting system.

Truth, Power, and a Free Press

Truth, Power, and a Free Press

This exhibition looks at the role of a free press in democracy – and how it functions and should allow a diverse range of voices to be heard, the challenges journalists face, and how different issues have been tackled throughout history. This is probably the most confronting exhibition I saw – the one with meat and grit, dealing with hard issues such as discrimination, detention, and graphic images. However, I felt it was important to show these, as it allows people to get some understanding of how the media functions and can affect democracy.

The Australian Public Service exhibition explores how the public service works, its role in elections, banking and any Commonwealth run services as well as its role in supporting the government of the day – another insightful exhibition that gives the history of Australia more depth than what might be written in history books. The Writs to Referendums exhibition was interesting too – it explored the role of referendums, what they are and the history of Australia’s referendums to explain how they let Australians have a role in their democracy.

All these exhibitions are educational, as are the other exhibitions that I didn’t get to. There was also a display of photos of Queen Elizabeth II from her Royal Tour in 1954 – Happy and Glorious. These exhibitions all tell a story and one that is an important part of Australian history. I have wanted to visit this museum for a long time and finally got a chance to do so during a recent visit to Canberra.

The Museum is open daily from 9am until 5pm (closed Christmas Day) and has free entry. The address is 18 King George Terrace, Parks, ACT, Ngunnawal, Ngunawal, Ngambri Country.



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