22 April 2024

Parliament House to open its secret gardens for stunning autumn tours

| James Coleman
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people standing under a tree in autumn leaves

Each of the building’s 17 courtyards is designed to offer a “different feel”. Photo: Australian Parliament House.

It’s nearly Budget time for the Federal Government, which means Treasurer Jim Chalmers will front the cameras and microphones in the Senate courtyard to tout the government’s financial achievements of the past year, and what the years ahead may hold.

But a lot of eyeballs will also be drawn to what’s behind him.

The ‘Budget Tree’, as it’s become known, is a red maple that happens to be showing off its most vibrant autumn colours in early May when it forms the backdrop to the Treasurer of the day.

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A few days earlier, on 3 and 4 May, you’ll have the chance to take a selfie with the famous tree when Parliament House opens many of its off-limit courtyards to the public for its autumn tours.

Guides will escort groups of 20 through the courtyards over the Friday and Saturday, allowing participants to soak in all the colours of the exotic trees planted throughout.

Interpretation services manager Catherine Roach says it’s a chance to enjoy the landscaping design, plant selection and sculptures behind the white walls of Parliament House.

Ah, the serenity. Photo: Australian Parliament House.

All up, there are about 4500 trees and 135,000 shrubs across the site, and 17 courtyards weaved throughout the building’s ground level. Most are private, and others are only visible from inside the building. Others only pop up occasionally on the news.

“Many of the internal courtyards are used by the press gallery,” Catherine explains.

“They come down and interview parliamentarians and that’s quite often what we see on the television.”

The original design vision was to allow parliamentarians and other staff members places to “just come outside and sit in a quiet, reflective space”.

“It’s a beautiful space to have your lunch and have those lovely accidental meetings with other people who work here.”

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Each of the courtyards was designed to offer a “different feel” and complement the architecture of the building, Catherine explains, while also celebrating different aspects of Canberra’s seasons.

“A lot of thought has gone into the landscaping and how the courtyards would house the seasonal changes through a variety of trees.”

There are also practical and symbolic factors.

“The courtyards also allow a lot of natural light into the building, which is interesting in a sense of the openness and transparency we have here as Australia’s home of democracy.”

young people on tour of parliament house

The tours run for an hour each. Photo: Michael Masters, Australian Parliament House.

Spring and autumn tours are held each year, and naturally, at this time of year, the focus is on those areas overshadowed by a “canopy of red and golden leaves”. And yes, that includes the Budget Tree.

“We’ve chosen these two wonderful days in May because our gardening team says this is the time the Budget Tree will be in its most beautiful claret colour,” Catherine says.

The tours will be held from 10 am, 11 am and 2 pm, each lasting an hour, on Friday, 3 May, and Saturday, 4 May.

The cost is $38 for an adult and $29 for a concession. A refreshment package for an extra $10 includes a discount on a scone and hot drink at the Queen’s Terrace Café.

Visit the Australian Parliament House website for more information.

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So you pay $38 for a one hour look at something the taxpayer already pays for and maintains, and then for another $10 you get a “discount” on a hot drink and a scone. Sounds like a complete rip-off to me. I suggest a drive around Yarralumla for some free autumn colour.

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