30 May 2005

Images of Canberra - The Surrounds of Parliament House

| johnboy
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Unbeknownst to most Canberrans the surrounds of Parliament House are at least as interesting as the interior. On a clear autumn’s afternoon you can easily spent a rewarding hour or so circumnavigating the building and taking in the curiousities.

It’s been something I’ve been meaning to record for posterity for ages. But lacking a digital camera it was all a little difficult. In the end I dragooned my ex-girlfriend into the cause because she’s got a newish camera she was mad keen to put to good use. The following is an effort to tell a story (of walking around Parliament House) with the pictures she took.

All these pictures were taken from public areas, outside of the security screen. Any of you can wander along any time you like. Although you can’t play on the tennis courts.

We started in the forecourt where a large team was frantically at work repairing the infamous leaky pond.

Fixing the leaking pond

Front of House (North)

The view over the leaky pond and Lake Burley Griffin to Telstra-Yama is spectacular.
Telstrayama over forecourt

As we went west towards the Senate side the stark beauty of the interim fences was irresistable.
Flagpole through wire

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Senate Side (West)

The North West parapet features a sundial donated by the Country Womens Association. We thought the parched earth surrounding it was a marked contrast to the leaking forecourt pond. But perhaps the CWA appreciated the solidarity.

The circumnavigation is not without its dangers. Thankfully, of a weekend, there seem to be few of the little buggies zooming around. Indeed my photographer wandered onto the main road (Parliament Drive) in search of a good shot without meeting calamity.
Dangers of the walk

The walking paths are blessed with numerous drinking fountains of unusual (and beautiful) design. When I tried to use one there was a lengthy delay before water started flowing which I at first took to be a sign of neglect.
Bubblers as art

The source of the delay with turning on the fountains became clear when we found one with it’s documentation intact.
Freeze proof drinking fountains

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This little glade is possibly the very best picnic spot in all of Canberra.
Perfect picnic spot?

As one wanders the paths there are, periodically, great gashes aimed at the flagpole.
The Gash

As we traversed the haunted paths we did encounter another human being, this one on a bike.
A cyclist proves we're not alone

And so we came to the first of the many double tennis courts which ring Parliament House.
The first tennis court

The geometric brutallity of the Senate Entrance is particularly evident from the wonderfull Senate Oval. The photographer was particularly taken by the “twig effect” which overtook the Parliamentary flagpole. The Senate Oval is (in my view) most notable for the frolicing sniffer dogs when they’ve been particularly good and get taken down there for a play.
Senate Entrance

There are serious people who write in the Sydney Morning Herald and on Crikey who believe that it is the isolation of the parkland around Parliament House, and the further surrounding roads, which drive Parliamentary staffers to drugs, debauchery, and decadence. This is that road of damnation, complete with demonically red utility. Personally I reckon they (the staffers) were prone to drugs, debauchery, and decadence before they got here.
The Evil Road

A bit further on we came across one of the gashes leading down to “The Road of Evil” and an appropriate background of Telstra-yama.
Telstrayama and the road of evil

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Over on the Senate side there are a lot of pieces of excercise equipment. This one is set up for “Dips”
Fitness is an option

In strategic positions overlooking the gashes one finds little walls serving little apparent purpose. We couldn’t help wonder if they’d make damn fine machine gun nests as they appear to have magnificent fields of fire.
Defensive perimeters?

At the second set of tennis courts we recorded the Parliament’s unique and admirable solution to public liability issues.
Tennis court two with public liability solution

From the South Western parapet (which happens to also have a commanding field of fire) you can also see the white walls of the Lodge (the Prime Minister’s residence)
View up to the lodge

If you turn 180 degrees from that barren view, the lush expanse of the slopes of Parliament House is remarkable. The white plastic barriers are in the process of being replaced by the more subtle low concrete wall which is responsible for most of the works around the building.
180 degrees

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Ministerial Side (South)

Down on the South West side is a perfectly functional golf-driving practice net. There’s nothing to suggest the public aren’t free to use it. In my daily walks around the building I have, once, seen it in use.
Driving Range

Even the grotesque construction works around the new wall (bottom left) can’t detract from the beauty of autumn leaves.
Autumn Leaves and ugly fences

Strange and mysterious grottos abound.
Yet another grotto

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The pig-ugly entrance to the underground Ministerial car park is framed by a beautiful stand of trees in full autumn finery.
Neo Brutalism meets autumn

Under the Ministerial Entrance Steps there are a cascading series of road signs. You’ll have to believe me there was actually a fourth sign hiding behind this series.
Road signs a-go-go

Leading up to the entrance the juxtaposition of brutality and beauty grow more striking.
Ministerial Entrance Steps

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The actual entrance to the Ministerial wing is quite pretty.
Ministerial entrance

And the forest surrounding it, equally so.
Ministerial Forest

Amongst the natives, and the gorgeous desidous trees, this one gnarled and lonely pine outside the Ministerial entrance stands out. Sadly it’s within the secured zone so we couldn’t search for an explanatory plaque
The Lone Pine

We thought this landscape was adorably interrupted by the orange plastic prongs.
Orange Prongs

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Reps Side (East)

The long, straight, line of the parched Parliament Drive, past the House of Representatives entrance, highlights the ugliness of current works and water resatrictions with the colours of autumn trees.
Parliament Drive up the reps side

Hidden in the bushes, but visible from Parliament Drive, is the mighty air-conditioning plant for the building. It looks a lot like a Blake’s 7 bunker and throbs and howls on high load days. Protective Services turned up around now and inquired politely why we were taking pictures of weirdo stuff like this. We asked them what we couldn’t take pictures of, and they suggested we stay away from the loading dock and the security cameras. We aquiesced to their desires.
The AirCon Plant

Having been so chastised my photographer was gun-shy about taking more shots of the tennis courts. But this was our third encounter with the breed. Yes they’re all double tennis courts.
Tennis court 3

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And so we came to what I like to think of as “The Pool Room”. It occupies the equivalent space of the Senate’s magnificent oval. It’s a tiered and subdivided garden in which gift sculpture that aren’t wanted (for whatever reason) inside the Parliament are placed. The only object on the tiers is this manorah which the Israeli Knesset (parliament) gave to our own. We’ll be showing off the other items in this peculiar place further along.
Manorah in the Pool Room

The Central Garden in the Pool Room is very beautiful.
Pool Room Garden

This bench was a gift from the War Widows Association. Behind it is a bed of roses which my horticulturally minded photographer informed me were of the variety “peace”. There’s symbollism in horticulture
War Widows bench

Here we have a closeup of one of the peace roses.
Peace Rose

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All around Parliament there are many magpies who know no fear.
Magpies in the Pool Room

We’re not sure exactly what the pattern is meant to represent, but our rorshach perverted eyes thought the letters K and Y were over-represented in the pattern.
Patterns in the Garden

The Pool Room features a beautiful singing fountain.
Fountain in the pool room

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In the Southern alcove of the Pool Room is a striking, but unnatributed sculpture of disturbingly yonic design.
Yonic Sculpture

The northern alcove is just a curious plinth covered by an engraved metal plaque.
Bali plinth

In this case, closer examination explains all. I suppose I can see why they want it out in the public area.
The plinth explained...

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There’s a pair of Chinese Lions which appear to be unsure if they’re guarding the entrance of the Pool Room or the House of Reps entrance. As a result they’re facing each other when they should be facing the world. They’re a gift of the Chinese Government to the Parliament. While the plaque gives little detail as to their provenance the amount of wear leads this amateur art historian to believe they are a very old and storied pair of lions.
A chinese lion a long way from home

The Nuremburg-like nature of the architecture is particularly evident when viewing the House of Representatives from the Pool Room.
House of Reps entrance

It might be a shame that the Pool Room is mostly deserted, but it does mean the effort put into arranging the gravel is preserved.
Patterns in the gravel

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On the right side of the Pool Room are the empty tiers awaiting tricky gifts from foreign parts.
Empty Tiers

Facing towards the Reps entrance we have the flagpole and a twiggy symetry to add interest.
Twig effect on the left

Moving right along we came to the fourth and last set of double tennis courts which ring the building.
Tennis courts part the fourth

Finishing up the Reps side is the RSL water fountain. Donated by the RSL and very considerate for those of us who walk around the building and need a bit more water. The inscription reads “Look around you – these are the things they believed in”. We thought there was a certain Ozymandias touch to the construction works lying all around.
RSL Fountain - Look around

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Back to the Front

So here we are where we began.
Back where we started

The forecourt collonade has interesting shadows and an endless stream of chinese tourists.
Forecourt Collonade

Walking down the steps to the carpark presents an interesting perspective shot.
Perspective from the steps

This would appear to be the point at which the budget for marble cladding ran out in the car park. (And who is casting that mysterious shadow?)
Out of marble

And that’s it! Hope you enjoyed the tour.

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Indeed you are quite correct! I shall inform the head of security down the corridor that he is wrong wrong wrong.

Bad fact checking must have given you a bad day yesterday. I bet VG still can’t sit down comfortably.



Guardian lions, also called Fu Dogs, and called Shi (獅) in Chinese or Ra shi da, are powerful mythic protectors that have traditionally stood in front of Chinese imperial palaces, emperors’ tombs and government offices. Since the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), imperial guardian lions were placed at the entrances to important official buildings and gates, until the end of the empire in 1911.

And they should NOT face each other.

And by inwards, I mean each other.

Fu dogs are supposed to face inwards too. So there!

Nice photos, but I’m gonna have to be a little pedantic here. In one caption (page 10 pic 2) you describe a ‘plinth’ with a plaque. A Plinth (besides being a very underused word – try incorporating it at least once a day into normal conversation) is a base for another structure. What you have shot there is a monolith, albiet a small monolith. Also, they are Chinese Temple Dogs, not lions. The ancient Chinese did travel, but, never historically made it to the Serengeti, let alone the African Continent. They are modeled around the Sharpei or Foo dog. (a Mongolian offshoot of the Siberian Husky.
Teej, you shoulda known better!

I have been down to the basement. it’s good fun down there.

whole other world.

we were a little suprised not to see any weddings in our travels.

My wedding photos where taken at Parliament House too.

Absent Diane1:35 pm 30 May 05

marriage is a strange concept – but yes they are very nice photos…. but the place is rabbit warren for sure!!! If you have ever been down to the basement area, with all the docking bays and so on……. it’s completely scifi/industrial….. and a bit of headfuk if your not that familiar with the place!!

I looked at the “pool room” as a possible site for my wedding but ended up choosing the lawn down near the High Court.

The owner of these photo’s also has a interesting piece on her blog on her last minute attendance at the Brumbies dinner accompanied by some (realy bad) photos. As always, much fun to read.

That’s a great set of photos.

I love the place too. I’ve been working here for two and a half years. Never get sick of being here.

I actually got married in the ‘pool room’ many years ago, before I worked here. The ceremony was in the central garden, near the end of the water feature, with guests scattered amongst the beds. It was in October (floriade time), so the beds were planted with lots of beautiful flowers, poppies I think.

Lots of wedding parties have photos taken in there apparently.


A great set of photos definitely a hidden gem, did security ask to see what photos you had taken I imagine to strategic firepoints and landing zones (tennis courts) could have also been considered senistive.

I will definitely try to get there for a wee picnic this weekend with the fam. This is the best idea in the ‘images’ series so far.

I’m am occasional user of the PH tennis courts on the sly. In the good old days you could even park down in the Reps car park. I haven’t seen or heard of anyone getting booted off the courts.

I love the place.

Canberra_unsung_hero11:53 pm 29 May 05

They’re all marvellous pictures.

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