Queen Elizabeth II opened New Parliament House on Capital Hill on 9 May 1988.
The building was designed by Romanldo Guirgola of Mitchell, Giurgola & Thorp Architects, with the prospect of a lifetime of 200 years. It sits on a 32-hectare site on Capital Hill, at the top of one of the wide corridors, linking the Australian War Memorial, Old and New Parliament Houses.
If you stand in front of this modern, rather cold and functional building, you would not imagine how beautiful it is inside, and how full of history, culture and art. There could not be a bigger contrast.
But, ok, let's start on the outside, with a big Aboriginal mosaic in the Forecourt, based on the typical dot-style paintings. It depicts a meeting place and symbolises the continent of Australia, inhabited by Aboriginal people prior to European settlement. 90,000 granite pieces in seven colours had to be hand-guillotined to put this piece of art together.
In the foyer marble and timber are used to mark the arrival of the Europeans. The marquetry panels are inlaid with designs of Australian flora. I loved it!
The settlement and cultivation of the land are expressed in the Great Hall by the use of rich Australian timbers, tapestry and embroidery.
The Members' Hall is located directly under the flagmast in the heart of the building. The Senate and the House of Representatives chambers are to the left and to the right.
A lot of commissioned artworks, as well as gifted portraits and sculptures, give the rather dark and serene interior a touch of museum. To me, the building as a whole symbolises a young and modern nation on the outside with a rich history on the inside.
Free guided tours begin at 9am and follow every 30 minutes, the last tour starting at 4pm. When Parliament is not meeting tours take 45mins, when P. is meeting they take about 20mins. Audio-guides in various languages are available.
Self-guided tours are also possible. If you have questions you can ask the guides who are positioned at strategic points.
The flagpole on Parliament House is 81 metres high and made of stainless steel. The flag measures 12.9 by 6.4 metres. In their brochure they compare the size to the side of a double-decker bus. It weighs 220 tonnes; the steel comes from Newcastle in New South Wales.
With those measures it is one of the biggest stainless steel constructions in the world. It has become the symbol of national government and is flood-lit at night. So you will always see it dominating the city - and somehow this is a symbol of its own right, as Canberra once was only planned as the place of the Australian Government.
Having a rest day in Canberra I went to New Parliament House to get an insight into the daily life of Australian politicians. I got the impression I was not the only person to have a rest day. Aussie's politicians seem to rest at their work place ;-) But, of course, this is a totally wrong impression.
They told me everyting is totally different. The politicians are very busy, reassures the lady who guides visitors through the building which was inaugurated in 1988. They have so many sessions that they barely have time to sleep, she says. They start sitting at 8.30am and often do this until 10.30pm.
But I wonder where. The Chamber of the House of Representatives is close to empty. The Speaker is sitting centrally on a huge velvet seat. A member of the Labor Party is standing, his back towards the visitors' gallery, and monotonously reads out loud a speech about the labour market. A female politician is leaning on her chair and keeps herself awake by studying the visitors on the galleries. That's it.
The other 147 representatives have the habit of following the debates via In-House TV - on TV in their offices. That is very practical because nobody can check what they are really doing. It only becomes exciting if a green light starts flashing out of the blue. When this happens the members have exactly four minutes to sprint to the Chamber from one of the 4700 rooms. Those who do not make it in time find the doors locked.
Although the Australians are a sporty nation it is not so easy to reach the seats. In total, the aisles of Parliament House are 27 kilometres long. Perhaps to leave the guys time for training the sessions are rather short. The one I attended ended after eleven days - including breaks on the weekends. As everything is so exhausting, the day after my visit they took a rest and relaxed by watching a cricket game. A junior selection, named the Prime Minister's Eleven, played against the West Indies. I am sure this was nearly as exciting as the working day in the empty Chamber.
The Federal Parliament of Australia consists of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
76 senators form the Senate, 12 from each of the six states and two from each of the two mainland territories. The members are elected for six years, with half retiring every three years.
The number of members in the House of Representatives can vary slightly, due to the movement in the population, but it is always about 150 members. One member is elected for each district. The members are elected for about three years. The party that wins a majoity of seats forms the government.
The Senate chamber is furnished in shades of red, the House of Representatives in green. At the front of each chamber is an elevated chair for the presiding officer. This person is called President in the Senate and Speaker in the House of Representatives.
The members of the governing party sit to the right of the Speaker, the non-government members to the left. At the large table in front of the presiding officer you find the leaders of the major parties and clerks who advise members on procedure and make the formal records of the work of each chamber.
A gold mace is placed on the table when the House of Representatives is sitting.
From the Foyer you walk up to Queen's Terrace and Great Hall on the first floor. Having left the Great Hall, you reach Members' Hall. The Senate is to the right, the House of Representatives to the left.
Parliament House is open daily (except Christmas Day) from 9am to 5pm.
Question Time in both chambers begins at 2pm. Seats can be reserved for Question Time in the House of Representatives by calling (02) 6277 4889. (No res. necessary for Senate.)
The Queen's Terrace Café is open from 9.30am to 4.30pm.
Visiting the New Parliament House is possible. The trip is free and you can visit it with a guide or by yourself. You will be able to see for example portraits of Heads of the Country and both chambers - House of Representative and Senate. Nice gifts in a Parliament shop on the first floor, close to the main entrance.
The New Parliament House began with controversy, because of long arguments about where it should be sited. When the hill finally was agreed as the site for the New Parliament House, a contest led to the design of the current building complex, with the main building appearing to be built into the hill (actually the hill was entirely removed, then the roof grassed over). For security reasons it is no longer possible to walk on the roof.
The building complex consists of a large central area with grassed roof, an imposing facade, long curved walls on either side, with inter-connecting passages to separate office buildings on the outside. It cost what was considered a huge sum at the time, but that needs to be considered in the following context. Considered as a whole it is a very large building, additionally it is one of the very few buildings in Australia built with a design life of hundreds of years, so all materials and construction had to be first class.
The problem is that the large scale of the building and its layout means that Ministers can largely avoid contact with anyone should they wish. So the hurley-burley of the Old Parliament House no longer occurs and Parliament is the poorer for it. Maybe with time it will change, but having worked there briefly I have my doubts. If I sound negative, it is only about the workings of the building. In itself it is, indeed, a very impressive 'must see', of which Australia can be very proud and I do recommend a visit.
Join a free guided tour of the building (every 30 minutes 0900-1600), you will learn far more than could ever be presented here. The building is open 0900 -1700 daily except Christmas Day, there is a shop open the same hours as the building, and a licensed cafe open daily 0930 -1630.
Main photo New Parliament house from above (low elevation)
Second photo A high elevation view shows the building's form and the circular roads
Third photo Ground level view, with Old Parliament House in the foreground.
At 81metres high, the flagpole on New Parliament House is one of the world's largest stainless steel structures. The sheer size of it is not easily appreciated from a distance, but get up close and it becomes more obvious. Although security now precludes going to the top of the grassed roof of the building, you will still be able to get sufficiently close to appreciate it fully.
The flag on top may not look large, that is because of its height and the dimensions of the pole supporting it: the flags are actually about the size of a double-decker bus! Flags of differing fabric weights are used, depending on the wind conditions - if winds will be light, a gauzy flag is flown, if they are strong, a flag made from heavier fabric is used. The flagpole designers overcame the design problems of how to raise and lower the flags by consulting some of Australia's top yacht designers. There also is a small carriage on one of the sloping legs, to take maintenance workers up, should that be necessary.
Being the capital of Australia, Canberra is home to the Parliament House. A truly remarkable building! It is very beautiful and everything in this building has been thought of. There are free guided tours of the Parliament House. It's best to visit on a non-stitting day for the tour is a bit longer. You will start the tour in the great hall that is home to a very big tapestry that based on the works of Arthur Boyd. Take a close look at it to see many hidden things. Everything that is made of wood in the hall is real Australian Timber. After this you will be taken to some other rooms like the House of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Do explore the Parliament House a bit on your own after the tour has ended.
This is a unique building. Let's face, how many do you know that have lawns for a roof? Renowned for its impressive architecture, landscaped gardens and Australian art it is open from 9-5 daily.
Free tours are available in English, French, German, Japanese and Chinese and, if you book ahead, you can watch parliament in session. You can also take a self-guided tour (brochure provided).
One of the highlights for me was the Great Hall Tapestry, a wonderful work done by some ladies who have a lot more patience that me!
If you're hungry, the Queen's Terrace Cafe has food with a lovely view over the lake.
Going to Canberra without visiting the Parliament House is sacrilegious. It's like going to Sydney and bypassing the Opera House. This politician paradise is a huge complex which houses the House of Representatives and House of Senate. Built mostly underground underneath a well-manicured grassy patch, the crowining glory is a massive flagpole propped up by triangular shaped trusses.
Inside, its spacious and sterile. This building costs a lot of money from the taxpayers. So you better come over and enjoy it.
The Australian Parliament is the only Parliament House in the world that is available to rent for private events.
The quirks continue. Once a week, the government holds a "Question Time" usually around 2pm, during which visitors can watch Parliament in action, seated in the upper balcony. Theoretically anyone can take this time to ask their minister or the Prime Minister a questions on policy.
More often, the opposition takes this opportunity to berate the government on a job poorly done. The spectacle of grown adults yelling at each other is quite entertaining. While I was there, three ministers were forcibly removed from the chamber!
I'm not sure why Parliament House is given as one of the tourist attractions of Canberra.....maybe for people with more interest in politics than I have.
At any rate, we didn't get time to go there, but I was surprised by just how much you can see it by not even going there - it towers over and dominates the Canberra skyline - we could see it from just about everywhere in the city.
The first and last time I went to the Parliament House was on the opening day. I suppose not many people can say that! The queen was even there for the big day.
The flagmast of Parliament House has become the symbol of Canberra. Looming above the lake atop Capital Hill, it's visible from most of the city's main approaches.
Free guided tours leave every half hour, or you can wander the public spaces at your leisure, enjoying the art collection and magnificent architecture. When Parliament is sitting, you can observe proceedings from the public galleries. A visit to Parliament House is a must, your stay in Canberra simply isn't complete without it.
Public tours are free of charge
Entrance to NPH is free. However, before u enter, there will be a security check similar to those in the airport. Nice place to look around. Oh... there will be a public tour which will last about 45min.
daily 9am - 5pm
public tours start at 9am and follow by every 30 minutes.
Not much history has taken place in Australia's New Parliament House. Still, it is worth visiting if only to better understand todays Australia.
You used to be able to walk across the top of the building and the kids loved to roll down the hill. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible due to security concerns.
Make sure you take the tour as it will add to your appreciation. If convenient consider having lunch in the Queen's Gallery - fair food but at a reasonable price.