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New Parliament Building
The third Parliament building of Australia (Melbourne 1901-27, 'Old Parliament' House, Canberra 1927-88) was designed by an American firm (Mitchell/Giurgola) with an Italian (Giurgola) lead architect. It was chosen from 329 entries from 28 countries following Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's decision in 1978 to commission a new building.
Most of the building is buried under Capital Hill, but the front facade 'echoed deliberate designs of Old Parliament House' just down the hill towards Lake Burley Griffin.
Begun in 1981, it was originally intended to be completed by Australia Day (26 January) 1988, the 200th anniversary of European settlement. It just missed - Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the new building on 9 May (a dual anniversary of the first opening of Australia's parliament in Melbourne in 1901 and the first Canberra parliament in 1927).
With so much under ground, it's hard to realise the enormity of the building and the fact that from above it is designed in the shape of two boomerangs enclosed within a circle. There are 4,700 rooms, with both Senate (pink) and House of Representatives (green) surprisingly modest chambers.
It is designed in such a way that when looking from the shores of the lake, the new building appears to sit atop the Old Parliament, with the 81 metre flagpole embracing both buildings.
The building is open to the public every day except Christmas Day - free entry.
On Parliament 'sitting days' (Tuesday-Thursday) 8.30am - 5pm
All other days, 9am - 5pm
Strolling through the legislature!
The new Parliament house is a modern building which is vast.The auditorium/hall at the ground floor is huge and is used to conduct functions such as convocations etc..The corridors are full of potraits and other memorabilia.
VISIT WHERE THE LAWMAKERS DO THE DEED!
The Australian Parliament is open to the public for free but there are measures in place to maintain security and preserve the safety of our Parliamentarians.
As it is the seat of government, CANBERRA being the capital of Australia, security is tight here so your bags are checked and big ones are left at the foyer.(Not much has changed since we last went there, except that we have a new leader which I helped install! This inspired us to go back there!)
Cameras are allowed but there are off limit areas.
We also saw the main hall/chamber where the senators do their deeds - bickering and/ or making laws!
There are heaps of historical exhibits as well as leaders past and present of Australian government.
- Family Travel
- Road Trip
- Historical Travel
This is just a correction of another article I read on this site from someone. They said that due to security reasons people can no longer walk on the roof. This is INCORRECT. The public can access the roof but can only access it from the inside. People cannot walk up the side slopes onto the roof. All public who want to access the roof have to now go through normal security screening procedures to access it. Then they take a lift to the roof from the public area.
Get onto the Roof
The roof of Parliament House provides spectacular views of Canberra. Access is via the lift at Members' Hall in the first floor.
But it's not only the views. Also the roof itself is very interesting, with lawns (yes, really!) and outbuildings, designed in geometric shapes, offering frames for the views, or just other interesting aspects of the city and the region. You have 360° views. So it is really a perfect place for getting a feeling of the layout of the perfectly planned place in the middle of nowhere.
From the roof you understand best the concept of the National Triangle. New Parliament House is the main corner of the National Triangle which is formed by Kings Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue, originating right there. On the other side of Lake Burley Griffin, where ANZAC Parade starts, Constitution Avenue connects those two avenues.
So this triangle connects the three peaks of Capitol Hill (the location of Parliament House), City Hill and the Russell Apex (the location of the defence headquarters).
Inside the triangle, a smaller triangle is located; it is the "Government Group", now the Parliamentary Zone.
A Modern Shell filled with History
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.
- Historical Travel
... and do not forget the Flagpole
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.
Visit the Politicians at Work
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 Two Houses under One Roof
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.
New Parliament House
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 ivory tower on the Hill?
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.
- Family Travel
Go and look at the flagpole
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.
- Family Travel
- Road Trip
The Parliament House
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.
- Arts and Culture
New Parliament House
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.
- Family Travel
- Arts and Culture
Politicians stomping ground
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.
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