Old Parliament House

Old Parliament House, Australia's first seat of Government, made headlines for more than sixty years as home to Australia's Federal Parliament from 1927 to 1988. Erected as a temporary measure until a larger more appropriate building could be planned and built, Old Parliament House opened in 1927 and served as the home of Federal Parliament until 1988, well past its planned use-by date. In Canberra's early years the House was the social, geographic and political heart of the new Australian capital. Over time, this impressive building became synonymous with some of the country's most important moments including Australia's declaration of war against Japan in 1941 and the dismissal of Gough Whitlam's Labor Government in 1975. Today, this much-loved heritage building offers the visitor a unique glimpse into Australia's fascinating past with regularly changing exhibitions. Old Parliament House is now a Parliamentary museum.

The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House is a living museum of social and political history, located in a nationally listed heritage building in Parkes, Canberra. The Museum helps people to understand Australia s social and political history by interpreting the past and present and exploring the future. Decades of politics and passion echo through the corridors of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, making it one of Australia s most memorable heritage attractions.

Visitors can experience an atmosphere steeped in history, revisit dramatic events and enjoy the 1920s architecture and fine design. The museum offers an exciting program of exhibitions and engaging activities which explain how the building, its spaces and objects connect us with Australian democracy.

Contact: (02) 6270 8222.

Location: King George Terrace, Parkes, Canberra. How to get there: proceed from Canberra City Centre north along Commonwealth Ave., left into King George Tce.

About the Building

Old Parliament House was the first purpose-built home for the Australian Parliament. It witnessed the course and pattern of the nation's political, social and historical development from its opening until 1988 when the new Parliament House was opened.

It is a large three storey rendered brick building with the main floor on the intermediate level. The strong horizontal pattern of the white painted main facade is symmetrical and features four original bays with arched bronze windows, verandahs, balconies which have been enclosed with glass, end bays which are stepped forward, and the rhythm of stepped cornices and parapets.

The major axis through the building, aligned with the Land Axis of the Parliamentary Triangle, features a series of spaces: King's Hall, Parliamentary Library and the Dining Rooms at the back. The cross-axis features the Senate and House of Representatives Chambers, which are placed symmetrically either side of King's Hall. Surrounding these spaces are many smaller meeting rooms, offices and other service areas, which are placed on the lower ground, main and upper floors.

There were shelves of books and it was standard practice to have a day bed built into the Prime Minister's, President's, Leader's and Speakers' rooms. The prime ministerial suite had a wall bed in the anteroom. The bed, which was like a cupboard, went up into the wall and was used after late night sessions of Parliament. Between the anteroom and the office was a bathroom which included a bath, basin and toilet.

The 1938 edition of "Canberra A City of Flowers, The Official Tourist Guide to Australia s National Capital" describes Parliament House in glowing terms:

Spacious ministerial and party rooms, smoke rooms, club rooms, reading rooms, committee rooms, dining and billiard rooms, press rooms and officials' rooms, members' bar, lounges and housekeeper  quarters are no less impressive than the immense kitchen, boasting every culinary equipment, and second to none in Australia. Special suites, containing offices, dressing rooms, fitted with wall beds, lounges and bathrooms, are provided for the President of the Senate and the Speaker. The Prime Minister s handsome suite adjoins the Cabinet room.

The Members' main dining room seats 150, while there are several smaller refreshment rooms and lounges. At the rear of the House, the kitchen is surrounded by pantries and stores, and the offices of the Chief Steward. Elaborate electrical cooking and cleansing apparatus is installed, and speedy electric conveyors whisk the food to the dining rooms.

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