Parliament House Turns Twenty

By 8 May 2008 44

The achillies heel of the Fairfax conglomerate, The Sydney Morning Herald is all
hugs and kisses about the The Parliament House turning twenty this Friday.

That got me thinking about my early memories of the place. I can remember wandering around the House on the Hill as it was created watching fat tradies in far too little clothes play with ever so large machines cutting concrete or watching my mates and I throw stuff at the other workers. In fact, that description sounds alot like how it was when i actually worked there, instead I was throwing poo at the citizens of Australia on behalf of various drunken Members of Parliament.

So dear readers what was your earliest memory of the House, and what do you want to see happen to it in its next 20 years. I have always thought that as they have now stopped people wandering up the top of it, they could always plant a bunch of daffodil bulbs in the grass slopes making it look just that little bit more inviting around this time of year. Your thoughts?

[Ed. We also got the following in from Holden Caufield]

This Friday (9 May) marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of Parliament House, and subsequently will be 107 years since Australia’s Parliament first sat (IIRC). This Saturday there will be a Parliament House Open Day for ‘working families’ and everyone else to enjoy. I’ll be going along for a gander as I’ve only ever seen what is open to the public. I’ve had a couple of stints at living in the Canberra region and the the gap in the middle was largely when Parliament House was getting built. There was a great thread on here last year where people shared their memories of various government buildings around the city, it would be great if people could again share their memories and experiences of Parliament House during and after construction.

In the meantime information on the Open Day can be found on the website.

Please login to post your comments
44 Responses to
Parliament House Turns Twenty
justbands 10:34 am
08 May 08

“I have always thought that as they have now stopped people wandering up the top of it”

Actually, you can still get to the top. You just have to get there from the inside (so that you have to go through the security check).

Skidbladnir 10:43 am
08 May 08

I remember the days when as a bunch of scouts, you could walk up the hill with a bag, erect a tent on top of Parliament House, and get a photo, all before the security guards realised what you were up to…

Good times, those.

BenMac 11:36 am
08 May 08

I was only 5 when the house opened, and my parents decided to drag us along to watch the festivities. We lived in the Belconnen area and because my parents thought that the traffic/parking would be a nightmare, we took an ACTION bus. Getting on at Belconnen, the bus filled up pretty quickly, not even standing room.

The bus we got on looked like one of the fleets first, so it wasn’t a supprise when driving along Parkes Way, just before the ANU tunnel there was a huge bang and the sound of glass breaking. The engine had blown up, and the rear window had dropped out.

We all got out and it was only about 5 mintues before the next completely full bus came along. About half our bus got onto this one, which was by now double its capacity, and we were on our way. I remember the Queen speaking and seeing the Great Hall floor being polished, but it will be the ACTION bus that will remain with me forever. Ah the memories.

See you all on Saturday.

Holden Caulfield 11:37 am
08 May 08

While studying back in the early 90s I did a night-time photography assignment on top of and around Parliament House that saw me spend a few hours on site for a couple of nights in a row. I’m not sure a security guard even bothered to say ‘good evening’ to me as I sat there snapping away with all my gear. Now you can’t even get your camera out before being subjected to a full body cavity search and presenting 456 items of ID.

As noted, I still wish you could walk up top, all hours of the day, with the freedom our democracy supposedly allows.

Skidbladnir 11:38 am
08 May 08

Will the Open Day be show off the Cathedral space we were made aware of over in this thread, comment 86113 from niftydog?

niftydog said :

No secrets from what I saw, but Parliament House does have some interesting places underneath it! For one thing, there’s hundreds of people who work down there – it’s not just “service tunnels and janitorial quarters”! There’s offices, workshops, kitchens, printing rooms, HVAC plants galour, store rooms, server rooms, several security offices, a detention cell, and even a television studio!

At the far south-easterern end of the building, underneath the Senate side ministerial wing, there’s an ENORMOUS void – probably 3 to four stories high in parts. Nothing but a partially excavated dirt floor and very long columns supporting the “ground” floor above. It’s affectionately called “The Cathedral”. It’s not drawn on any of the architectural drawings that I saw, but the door into it was on the drawings, needless to say our curiosity got the better of us! The only sign of it from above is the very hollow sounding wooden floor outside the elevators on the “ground” floor.

The HVAC plants and ventilation tunnels are particularly impressive. There’s enormous intakes and exhausts at the front and back of the building – the ones at the front form the circular structure that the road into the car park follows. The tunnels they connect to are about 30 meters below the “ground” floor and are big enough to drive through in parts – if you could get your car down there! They run north to south and our theory was that you could in fact walk from end to end and pop out at the ministerial car park!

Another story goes that a wall was built a meter or two out of place, so they just rebuilt another wall next to it and left a void in between. In a small service kitchen at the front of the building there’s a half-height door in the wall, open it up and you are confronted with endless blackness!

Loads of stuff really… some we couldn’t investigate, like the mysterious stair-case-like structure that went downwards from the basement at a point where we all thought it was nothing but bedrock below!

Gungahlin Al 11:58 am
08 May 08

As a little kid here, I recall a lot of bitching about how much it was all costing, and particularly compaints about how many $00s each of those bumpy glass covers on the indicator lights outside each elevator was costing.
Recently I heard a project manager who worked on it on 666 mention that it had “an amazing appetite for money”.

But that said, I think that APH is one of the most amazing, inspired and symbolic seats of governance anywhere in the world. It makes the White House look decidely lame…

AG Canberra 12:13 pm
08 May 08

I reckon the security guards could write an interesting book on the happenings in the house…..

I first remember that very Canberran landscaping technique of putting decomposed granite across the entire forecourt. In the two weeks after opening the spectacular marble and wooden floors inside were cactus…. Hastily installed door mats stemmed the problem until some decent pebbles could be placed across the forecourt.

pug206gti 12:49 pm
08 May 08

The achillies heel of the Fairfax conglomerate, The Sydney Morning Herald

I’d have said that now Rural Press is part of Fairfax, the archillies heels of quality publishing *cough* would have stretched from Bourke to Guyra, but a great bunion would be reserved for our very own Crimes.

deye 1:19 pm
08 May 08

What I would like to see in the next 20 years is the removal of that stupid fence on the roof.

p1 1:40 pm
08 May 08

It was not designed to be a bunker, it’s much too open plan for that. If you can’t eat pizza on parliment house at 2am then roll down the grass from the top, it’s not a democracy.

isaidtoyou 1:41 pm
08 May 08

I was 8 when it opened, and every time a visitor came from interstate, or a school excursion took us there the highlight was definitely rolling down the grass.

It might sound a bit poncy, but I think that interaction with the building used to be such a highlight.
I think some of the security is overtop. I’d still quite like to roll down the grass now.

Thumper 1:46 pm
08 May 08

It’s a fabulous building and the outlook from across the lakem looking over OPH up to the new house at night is superb…

postcard stuff.

threeze 2:00 pm
08 May 08

When I was in highschool a (very straight-laced) guy I worked with lost his licence for driving his dad’s car up onto the grass and doing doughnuts on it.

Holden Caulfield 2:22 pm
08 May 08

Surely he was just exercising his democratic rights? :p

BenMac 4:14 pm
08 May 08

Will the Open Day be show off the Cathedral space we were made aware of over in this thread, comment 86113 from niftydog?

No chance mate. Only a selected few of us get to go in there.

Pandy 6:13 pm
08 May 08

I rode a horse over the top to the glare from security guards.

Thumper 8:25 pm
08 May 08

That is pretty cool man….

ant 8:36 pm
08 May 08

School groups of us used to walk from school up onto that hill in the evenings. It was just gravel, boulders and some scrawny trees then. When they started building there, we had an outpost office up there in an atco hut to co-ordinate the hiring of workers. A mate was one of the plasterer formen, he reckoned because of the skills shortage, they were grabbing truck drivers and getting them plastering. He reckoned it’d all start coming down in a few years. When it was time to get the Speaker’s chair out of OPH, they couldn’t work out how to do it, and even contacted my grandfather who was a carpenter on the OPH, to find out if the chair was put into the chamber before it was built up, or if the chair came in bits. They couldn’t find any evidence that it’d been put together in situ but joinery standards in those days were pretty high.

The best thing in NPH is that black tank where you can’t see the water falling, it’s so precisely cut. I wish they’d re-open the roof.

sepi 9:38 pm
08 May 08

I heard a similar story on the landscaping/irrigation of garden beds. They reckoned that would only last 10 years too. Water restrictions have probably got them to re-do it anyway I’d say.

ant 10:15 pm
08 May 08

They’re re-planting the grass in the fake bushland, it was normal leafy grass, and I see they’re putting in that grass that grows on runners, and using a lot of sand. It seems to do a better job and needs less water.

I-filed 10:27 pm
08 May 08

Back in the early 80s a ‘bundah boy broke his arm on saturday before the Monday he was due to start work at the House – endured it in agony for the weekend, turned up for his new job – “had an injury” and was on generous compo!

There was a select bunch of select people on the viewing platform on the flagpole on the day the RAF Red Arrows did a display in 1996 – one of the planes thundered toward the flagpole and turned 180 degrees a WHISKER (it seemed) before hitting it – nearly causing heart attacks.

A tiny unsecured balcony with a door unlocked to the outside, out of direct sight of Security was kept open well after 9/11 despite the security risk, largely so Nick Sherry could nip out on the first floor for a smoke – until frighteningly recently, ANYONE on the planet could have got in with a gun without going through security, with a hook and three metres of rope.

The (then) Art Curator was busted shoplifting in New York a few years ago. She used to be known as an ‘agent of death’ because the policy was to buy art from living artists – so she would turn up pretty much at deathbeds to secure deals!

Painter Mandy Martin was HATED by Security for throwing a massive tanty when the security guards wouldn’t allocate staff on a Sunday to open up the Great Hall in response to an imperious order from her, so she could show her visitor ‘her’ artwork. She complained to the Joint House, who told her to shove it.

The ‘red’ and ‘green’ Senate/Reps theme extends to very, very light shading of the plaster – natural alabasters or some kind of marble dust, sourced from Italy – on either side of the building.

When the front door, door to the Great Hall etc all the way past the PM’s office are opened, there isn’t even a glass pane in the line of sight from Mt Ainslie through to the base of the Land Axis – it used to be opened up once a year.

There is LOTS of “Joh for PM” graffiti all over the building, beneath the wall finishes.

The Joint House decided to skimp on just ONE aspect of the building when the budget had to be tightened. Not one cent was tightened up on the parquetry, soft carpet underlay etc – they inconsiderately tightened the gap in the ceiling, so cablers etc have a cruelly tight space to work in. It’s contrary to all OHS practices.

AussieGal83 10:54 pm
08 May 08

Thats so cool. How do you know all that stuff?

ant 11:12 pm
08 May 08

When they first opened it, the walkways were all parquetry. and then the Wimmin marched over it in high heeled 80s shoes and it was pock-marked in a trice. Yeah I know but in those days they actually didn’t think of things like that. So they had to re-think it, and put those upholstered walkways, bordered by parquetry.

Holden Caulfield 11:41 pm
08 May 08

I have very vague recollections of Capital Hill before building started, but can anyone tell me if the road we now know as State Circle existed prior to the completion of Parliament House?

ant 11:44 pm
08 May 08

It did, but they buggered around with it after NPH was done. It used to be 2 circles, that went all the way around!

jenny green 8:54 am
09 May 08

I remember going to the site video centre with Mum in school holidays and watching a timelapse film of the building being constructed.

Then my Grandma being thrilled to be invited to the opening by her old mate Joan child.

And finally a very chilly over-night stay on top of the house protesting against the first Gulf War in the early 90s…

jenny green 8:54 am
09 May 08

Site visitor’s centre…

Gungahlin Al 9:37 am
09 May 08

“I rode a horse over the top to the glare from security guards.”

Very cool indeed. Not many people could claim that one Pandy.

My dad’s older brother peeed off the Harbour Bridge during its opening ceremony – nah you trump that.

Best I’ve got for NPH is I was wandering around the government side one weekend about 10 years ago (was at a conference there), and walked straight past a cabinet meeting going with the door wide open. No security anywhere. I got some “looks” from those inside…

Wouldn’t happen these days.

And dined with Sen. John Woodley and his wife in the members’ dining room. Very nice.

GnT 11:23 am
09 May 08

Can we now please stop calling it ‘New’ Parliament House?

Skidbladnir 11:26 am
09 May 08

No, because there are still two Parliament Houses.
Unless they go with the original plan of “Knock down OPH and give an uninterrupted view down ANZAC Pde to Capital Hill”, there will be a need to differentaiate the old one from the new one.

who knows, it might end up like Paris’ Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in town.

Follow The RiotACT
Get Premium Membership
Advertisement Newsletter Sign Up

Should school bus travel be free?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Images of Canberra

RiotACT Proudly Supports
Copyright © 2014 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.