Old Parliament House, Canberra

18 Reviews

King George Terrace, Parkes 02 6270 8222

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  • tiabunna's Profile Photo

    Well may we say ...

    by tiabunna Updated Nov 23, 2006

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Old Parliament House
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    When Parliament moved to Canberra in 1927, it opened in the 'temporary' building now known as Old Parliament House, which was used until 1988. This much-loved building has enormous character and now contains a museum and portrait gallery. It was built here, mid-point between Capital Hill and the lake, to allow space for a permanent Parliament House to be built at the lakeside (as set out in Burley Griffin's plan for Canberra), an idea later promoted by Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's Prime Minister in the 1950s and early 1960s, who envisaged the Queen arriving by Royal Barge to open Parliament by the lake.

    There are many political stories relating to the old building which, because it was crowded, forced politicians, the media and the public into each other's company. That led to political intrigues, backroom chatter and leaks of information, and general merriment. The heritage-listed building still has its 1920s furniture and you can sit in the old Parliamentary Chambers which were the scene of many fiery debates. Kids can hunt for clues, with the aid of their familes, and even can put on period costumes. If you are interested in gardens, look at the extensive rose gardens at the sides of the building. This has been a winner in several recent National tourism awards.

    And the title for this tip? It comes from one of the more famous speeches in Australian politics, given on the front steps in 1975 when the Whitlam Government was dissolved by the Governor General - the Queen's Man.

    The building has a cafe and shop and is open daily 0900-1700, free guided tours are available (and recommended) and there are special displays. Entrance charges are $2A adults, $1A children/concession, $5A family.

    Main PhotoView from across the lawns and fountains
    Second PhotoThe view from above gives some perspective

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  • wabat's Profile Photo

    Old Parliament House – Identity Crisis

    by wabat Updated Mar 1, 2013

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    Unfortunately this magnificent attraction in under-going something of an identity crisis and for whatever reason seems to be trying to re-badge itself as the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House with an emphasis on the museum part. This identity crisis, I believe, stems from the move of the National Portrait section to its new permanent home at the newly built National Portrait Gallery in 2008.

    I feel compelled to write a separate tip on The Museum of Australian Democracy component of this attraction simply to include it in the Tourist Traps section. See further details there.

    That part out of the way Old Parliament House is a must see attraction and certainly one of my favorite buildings in the city.

    Australia became a united federation in 1901 and on doing so a capital city was required. Rivalry then (as now) between Melbourne and Sydney meant that neither of these two main cities would be accepted as a capital. A number of alternative sites were considered and what was, without meaning to insult the original inhabitants and settlers, little more than an isolated sheep paddock was chosen and named Canberra.

    The first Parliament of The Commonwealth of Australia met in Melbourne until a Parliament House (now Old Parliament House) was constructed in Canberra 1927. This building was only ever intended to be a temporary (Provisional) Parliament building pending construction of a permanent building by the lakeshore – as envisioned in the Walter Burley Griffin blueprint for Canberra. The lakeside idea was subsequently dropped in favour of a hill (Capital Hill) behind Old Parliament House – a story in itself which I will relate when I write about New Parliament House. Temporary, in fact, lasted until 1988 during which time the number of people working in this building increased to around 4000. It is hard to imagine how 4000 people (originally built to house 300) could have worked here as you walk around this rabbit warren of a building today.

    The two-thirds of the building not given over to the Museum of Australian Democracy is pretty much as it would have been the day Parliament moved up the hill. Both Houses of Parliament, the Prime Minister’s suite, Cabinet room opposition leaders , speakers and numerous other offices and meeting rooms within the building are fully open to the public. A few items like the Prime Minister’s desk are roped off to protect them. Certainly nothing palatial about these offices – many of which are barely functional and most of which would certainly not meet current day occupational health and safety standards. Contrast this building with New Parliament House.

    You will come across a few smaller, high quality, exhibitions including one on Australian Prime Ministers as you make your way around the building. Kings Hall, the rather grander entrance hall has an excellent display of paintings of Australian Prime Ministers together with an beautiful bronze statue of King George V who was monarch when the building was opened. King George V, then as Duke of York, represented his father King Edward VII at the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament on 9 May 1901 in Melbourne.

    Downstairs you will find an exhibition of political cartoons which is now updated annually – Behind the Lines 2012. This section while clearly sanitised is still very entertaining though will be more appreciated by visitors with a sound knowledge of current Australian politics.

    Fancy yourself as speaker for the day? If so when in the vicinity of the Speakers office keep your eye out for a large “speakers chair” and gown and wig. Put the gown and wig on and have a seat. Also when in the Prime Minister’s office look for the peep hole (which was actually used by staff to look in to see if the Prime Minister was available/ready to take guests, etc).

    The building itself, designed by John Smith Murdoch is a classical almost art deco style, a style which I am generally not a fan but I make an exception for this building and its quite stunning white façade.

    Old Parliament House hosts three eateries, The Ginger Room (high end) and two more modest offerings. All are recommended.

    For reasons which I suspect I know, there is a nominal $2 entrance fee (children $1) to Old Parliament House. Interestingly this is the only Federal Government attraction in Canberra, which has an entrance fee.

    Free 45 minute guided tours are offered at regular intervals. I encourage you to join one of these tours and listen to the stories of the goings on in this building over its 60 years of existence. Very high quality guides.


    Open daily (except Christmas day)9am-5pm

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  • wabat's Profile Photo

    King George V Memorial – view spoiler?

    by wabat Written Mar 1, 2013

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    King George V Memorial - King George Side
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    This is the only piece of statutory in Canberra which falls into the category of bold, imposing and larger than life pieces befitting of Empire.

    King George V was King when Old Parliament House (across the road) was opened in 1927. As Duke of York, he represented his father King Edward VII at the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament on 9 May 1901 in Melbourne.

    The memorial was sculptured by Rayner Hoff and unveiled in 1953 by Governor-General, Sir William McKell. The memorial was originally located on the lawn in front of Old Parliament house on the axis between Parliament and the Australian War Memorial.

    The base of the memorial and remaining components including the stone figure of Saint George, which faced towards the War Memorial, were actually completed in 1941 when the onset of WWII delayed the casting of the bronze plaques and the bronze figure of King George. King George “arrived” in 1953 and the memorial was completed.

    The King George V memorial in addition to being a memorial to the King doubles as a war memorial, commissioned before the Australian War Memorial was completed. As such, the monument has two distinct sides – the King George side, which honours both the reign of the monarch and Australian federation, and the Saint George side, honouring Australia’s contribution to the First World War.

    In 1968 the memorial was moved a hundred metres to its current location, supposedly the one preferred by its creators, on the basis that it disturbed the clear line of view along the Burley Griffin axis joining the War Memorial and (Old) Parliament House. It is interesting to note that King George V has since been replaced by rather more modest elements of the Aboriginal “Tent Embassy” on the very same axis.

    Attached is an old Department of Defence picture showing the memorial in its original location. Note also in this picture the then recently constructed Australian – American Memorial at Russell (towards the back). The is a great photo also in that it shows how much Canberra has changed in 50 years – the most obvious being the addition of Lake Burley Griffin since the photo was taken.

    Another life-size bronze statue of George V by sculptor Bertram Mackennal can be seen in Kings Hall across the road in Old Parliament House. George V was represented at the opening of Old Parliament House by the then Duke of York and later George VI.

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  • iandsmith's Profile Photo

    A step back in time

    by iandsmith Updated Sep 19, 2005

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    The sweeping view from Lake Burley Griffin

    When Australia’s Federal Government moved to Canberra in 1927, the Old Parliament House was its first home. Although the building was supposed to be a temporary structure, Parliament continued to sit here until the new Parliament House opened in 1988 on Capital Hill.
    This site is worth a visit for the surrounding rose gardens alone (over 5,000 at last count) or you can take a step back into history, with guided tours, sometimes by ex-pollies, of the building and the intriguing sound and light presentation "Order! Order!".
    For recreation there are tennis courts, bowling green and a croquet court and a recent addition is the stunning new Centenary of Women's Suffrage Fountain.
    The Old Parliament House is also the part home of the National Portrait Gallery (the rest is at Commonwealth Place), where you can see many of Australia’s most famous faces, as depicted by many of Australia’s most famous artists. The vistas from the front looking back to the War Memorial and from the back looking up to the New Parliament House are equally impressive.
    If you're feeling peckish there's the Cafe In The House where you can eat during the day or The Ginger Room is open for dinner.
    open 9-5 daily

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  • Kakapo2's Profile Photo

    Enjoy the History

    by Kakapo2 Updated Nov 3, 2007

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    Old Parliament House, seen from the new house.

    Old Parliament House does not really looks like an old parliament house, more like a mansion. It is a white beauty which gives the most important axis of the capital city the romantic touch. It is located between the War Memorial and New Parliament House and is a heritage place of outstanding importance.

    This building was planned as a provisional building that should serve for only 50 years, until a new house could be built. So the architect John Smith Murdoch chose the so-called "stripped classical" style, using simple geometric forms. Instead of looking grandiose it was modest and functional. But it still looked nice - and now, compared to newer buildings around, it looks like a little palace.

    Construction began in August 1923 and took until May 1927 and cost about £600,000. It was inaugurated on 9 May by the Duke of York, the later King George VI, accompanied by the then Prime Minister Stanley Bruce.

    Depite several extensions the building was already too small in the 1960s (no wonder, as it was designed to house 300 people but in fact had to cope with over 4000). But it had to serve 61 years until 1988 when the new building was ready for use.

    It has nothing of the darkness of the new house. On contrary, it is filled with natural light, floating to the inside through big windows and skylights.

    An interesting fact is that the original designer of Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin, had intended Parliament to be built on the lakeshore but this plan was dismissed.

    Open daily (except Christmas Day) from 9am to 5pm in winter and until 8pm in summer; admission $2. Free parking.

    Old Parliament House also hosts Australia’s National Portrait Gallery and has a nice restaurant.

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  • Kakapo2's Profile Photo

    Your Visit Should Start with Childish Fun

    by Kakapo2 Written Jul 8, 2007

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    Get into the cloak, put on the wig - and laugh!

    This is one of the harmless lasting memories. My visit to Old Parliament House.

    Yes, this visit started with a lot of fun. And you should have it, too. Fall into childish behaviour and have your camera ready ;-)

    Next to the entrance is a giant wooden chair, and on a coat hanger you find a black cloak and a white wig, so you can dress yourself up and have a seat, and feel like in the gold old days, or like an actor in an historic film. Everybody had fun like a child :-)

    And even more: It is totally legal to do so!

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  • ZiOOlek's Profile Photo

    Old parliament house

    by ZiOOlek Updated Apr 1, 2007

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    The entrance fee to the Old Parliament house is very low. It is worth to see the exibition inside and old chembers. Besides, the Aboriginal tent Embassies are situated in front of the Old Parliament House. If you are lucky you will see their ceremony. What is one of the biggest experiences from the trip to Australia is to take part in a concert of didgeridoo music. When you see and hesr an Aborigen playing the didgeridoo you will never forget it!

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    Have a Look at the Gardens + the Magna Carta Place

    by Kakapo2 Written Jul 8, 2007

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    SORRY - I did not take a close-up photo of this... :-(

    Not only Old Parliament House is a great place, also the surrounding gardens are well worth a visit, for a stroll around, a picnic, or just to relax. The gardens hold a special place in the hearts of many Australians. More than 5000 roses grow there, donated by people from throughout the country.

    If you stand in front of the building - with New Parliament House behind you - walk to the left. There you will find Magna Carta Place. In the middle of the place is a monument which the British Government gifted to the people of Australia in 1997, marking the 700th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta by King Edward I.

    Prime Minister John Howard unveiled the monument in 2000, prior to the centenary of the Australian Federation in 2001.

    Beneath the foundation stone is a time capsule to be unearthed in 2101.

    Magna Carta Place is located on a semicircular network of roads consisting of King George Terrace, Queen Victoria Terrace and Langton Crescent.

    Of only four remaining copies of the Magna Carta in existence, one is on display in nearby Parliament House.

    The gardens are open from 7am to 8pm in summer (daylight saving) and until 5pm only in winter (non-daylight saving).

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  • Interesting and Historic

    by fellman01 Written Apr 17, 2004

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    Both Parliaments in Canberra

    A visit to Old Parliament House provides you with a real sense of how a democracy should be run. This small building thrust politician and citizen together, thereby embodying the finest Westminster traditions. Its atmosphere of loyalty and responsibility helped to produce such great statesmen as Menzies and Curtin. Compare that to the grand and luxurious New Parliament House and perhaps you will understand why we are no longer have in Australia statesmen but politicians.

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  • martin_nl's Profile Photo

    The Old Parliament House

    by martin_nl Written Oct 22, 2005

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    The Old Parliament House

    Direclty opposite the New Parliament House you will see this Old Parliament House. This used to be the seat of government between 1927-88. Since we walked from the new Parliament House to the old one we couldn't find the entrance. I suppose it's best to take the car and park right next to the building, since that would also be where the entrance is. The building houses the National Portrait Gallery. Direclt opposite the main entrance you should be able to see the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

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  • MikoNgSV's Profile Photo

    Old Parliament House

    by MikoNgSV Updated Oct 2, 2004

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    A place where u can learn how parliament work last time. There will be a free guide tour everday. the tour last about an hour.

    Entrance fee : AUD$2.00 (adult)
    AUD$1.00 (concession)
    AUD$5.00 (family)
    open:
    daily (9am - 5pm)
    closed during x'mas day

    tour times:
    9.30am, 10.15am, 11.00am, 11.45am, 12.45pm, 1.30pm,2.30pm & 3.15pm

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  • leffe3's Profile Photo

    Old Parliament House

    by leffe3 Written Jun 3, 2009

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    Opened (finally) in 1927, Old Parliament House was known as the Provisional Parliament House as a temporary base, it was the seat of government until 1988.

    It's built in what is known as 'stripped classical style' - no columns, pediments etc of the classical bent, but incorporates the symmetry associated with neoclassicism. As a result of an intended temporary building, it isn't built on a huge scale.

    On 9 May 2009, Old Parliament House became the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House with the brief to encourage visitors to reflect on this history. Permanent exhibitions include Living Democracy: Australian Democracy: 2000+ Years in the Making: Prime Ministers of Australia. It will also host temporary exhibitions.

    Open Daily (closed Christmas Day) 9am - 5pm
    Admission Fees: $A2 adults, $A1 (kids and concessions), $A5 family

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  • Orchid's Profile Photo

    Does our Democracy Need a Museum?

    by Orchid Written May 12, 2013

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    Morning reflection
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    The Museum of Australian Democracy is located in the venerable old or provisional Parliament House, which housed our rowdy government for over 50 years.

    The building was designed by John Smith Murdoch and a team of assistants, and intended to be a ‘provisional’ building, until a permanant building could be constructed. The design extended from the building to include its gardens, décor and furnishings. The building is in the Simplified or "Stripped" Classical Style, commonly used for Australian government buildings constructed in Canberra during the 1920s and 1930s.

    The 'Museum of Australian Democracy' remembers the history of the building, with audio memories of significant moments in the history of the building provided in significant spaces. Members of the public can visit the old parliamentary chambers, ministerial and party room offices, even the bowels of the press room where journalists were packed into small spaces, but had be benefit of being cheek by jowl with the politicians.

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  • sunnywong's Profile Photo

    Old Parliament House

    by sunnywong Written Feb 25, 2003

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    When Australia's Federal Government moved to Canberra in 1927, Old Parliament House was its first home. Parliament continued to sit here until 1988, when the new Parliament House opened on Capital Hill.
    Open every day (except Christmas Day), 9am-4pm. ( Admission)

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  • Sweetberry1's Profile Photo

    Old Parliment House

    by Sweetberry1 Updated Jul 17, 2004

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    Old Parliment House

    A visit to the "Old Parliment House" is a must... A beautiful building, lots of character, and a feel of the past.
    I love older style architecture, and this building has History written all over it..

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