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Parliament House Canberra

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by Postcards from Shayne (subscribe)
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Published August 15th 2015
Learn about the history & design of Parliament House
When friends or relatives move house, it is a common courtesy to give them time to settle in, to have the boxes unpacked and the furniture arranged, before you visit. This was my thinking when Australia's government moved from the old to the new Parliament House. I didn't want to rush down straight away lest there were sheets hanging across the windows or the spare room was still full of unpacked boxes. But it has now been in use for 27 years so I felt comfortable with visiting, with one small note to self - it's probably time to drop the "new" prefix and start referring to it as Parliament House.

Parliament House Canberra
Parliament House Canberra (Image credit: Parliament of Australia website)

It was way back in 1908 when the featureless Limestone Plains, at that time occupied by sheep stations, were chosen as the ideal location for our national capital. Named Canberra in 1913, the name is taken from a local Aboriginal word Kamberra, meaning "meeting place".

The first Parliament House building was not completed until 1927 and even then it was only a provisional building. Old Parliament House was used from 1927 - 1988 when at last the "new" Parliament House building was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 9th May 1988. This building is designed to have a lifespan of more than 200 years.

Situated at one end of Anzac Parade and nestled in to the hill (an important design feature) Parliament House is an attractive building. The building itself was designed by Mitchell / Giurgola and Thorp architects and is one of the largest buildings in the southern hemisphere. Comprising 4500 rooms, Parliament House is 300 metres long and 300 metres wide, with a floor area of more than 250 000 square metres.

Parking is available at the site. If you take the time to do the 40 minute guided tour you will learn much about the building, it's design and uses, and where it sits in the Parliamentary Triangle of Canberra's original design.

Parliament House Canberra
The free guided tour is a great way to learn about the history and design of Parliament House

The free guided tours run at regular times every day, except Christmas Day. There are also in depth tours available for a fee. To book in for a tour visit the Visitor Services desk in the foyer. The free tour visits the following public areas of Parliament House.

Parliament House Canberra
The foyer

The foyer of Parliament House is impressive and striking in its use of marble pillars, said to denote the colours and feeling of a eucalypt gum forest, and designed to be a cool refuge from the intense heat of the summer months.

Parliament House Canberra
The Great Hall

The Great Hall, with its timber features and stunning parquetry floor is used for various functions, both parliamentary and public. It features a large commissioned tapestry based on an untitled artwork by Arthur Boyd depicting the landscape of our coastal forests.

Parliament House Canberra
Arthur Boyd artwork - Untitled

Parliament House Canberra
The House of Representatives or Lower House

The subdued green of the House of Representatives reflects the colour of the Australian bush. When Parliament is not sitting you can view the chamber from the visitors' gallery. The tour covers the functions of the House, the seating arrangements and the importance of the Mace.

Parliament House Canberra
One of the 17 courtyards

On the tour you will pass by some of the seventeen manicured courtyards often used for press conferences.

Parliament House Canberra
Do you know what the Reflection Pool is secretly used for?

As the name suggests the Central Reflection Pool sits in the centre of the building and if you look up you can see the Australian flag flying on top of the building. The reflection pool is not just a decorative feature, it also has an important practical function which may surprise you.

Parliament House Canberra
The Senate or Upper House

The ochre red of The Senate, or Upper House, reflects the colours found in Australian native flowers and in the bush. The tour covers the functions of the Senate.

Parliament House Canberra
Check out the PM portraits in the Members Hall

The Members Hall includes portraits of all of the Prime Ministers of Australia as well as displays of important historical documents such as the original Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK) and one of only four surviving 1297 issues of Magna Carta.

After the tour you are welcome to remain in the Members Hall, browse the exhibitions and the amazing artworks on display or take the lift to the roof where you can enjoy the views of the city, the lake and up Anzac Parade to the War Memorial.

Parliament House Canberra
Anzac Parade from the roof top - the view to Old Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial

From the roof you can also marvel at the size of the flag, said to be approximately the size of a double decker bus, flying atop the 81 metre mast.

My family found the free tour very informative and interesting and it was just long enough to give us an overview of the history and important features of the building. I particularly enjoyed seeing all of the amazing artworks by Australian artists on display in Parliament House and the views of Canberra from the roof. The forecourt mosaic is also worthy of a visit.

For more information about the different tours available please click here.
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Why? For an interesting & educational tour
When: Every day, except Christmas Day
Phone: 02 6277 5399
Where: Parliament House Canberra
Cost: Free
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