The Parliament House Canberra complex is a major Australia tourist attraction. On an average annual basis, it receives approximately one million visitors. Among other reasons, people come to admire its architecture, to view its displays of Australian arts and crafts, and to see the country’s Parliament in action. The complex is open daily, save for Christmas Day, and several different kinds of tours are available. These tours include self-guided tours for those who wish to go it alone. Either way, a trip to Canberra just wouldn’t be complete without visiting this major focal point.
The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901, and the newly formed Federal Parliament first met on May 9th of that same year in Melbourne. This didn’t exactly mean that Melbourne had been designated as Australia’s capital city, however. The Parliament simply decided to meet in Melbourne until an actual capital location was decided upon. It took until 1908 to make the decision that the new capital would be in the southern part of New South Wales, on what is now the site of Canberra. The land was acquired by the Commonwealth in 1911, though the building of the city was delayed by various things, including World War I. As such, the Australian Parliament continued to meet in Melbourne until 1927. This was the year that Canberra’s first Parliament House was built. Now known as the "Old Parliament House," this original Parliament House was only intended to be a provisional building, though it served as the meeting place of the nation for no less than 61 years. It was finally replaced by what is generally referred to today as the "New Parliament House." The New Parliament House officially opened on May 9, 1988. In attendance for the event was Queen Elizabeth II.
Construction of the current Parliament House Canberra complex began in 1981. Previous to this, a competition was held to determine which architectural firm would be put in charge of the design. The New York firm of Mitchell/Giurgola won the competition, and the onsite work was directed by the Italian architect, Romaldo Giurgola. The chosen design sees much of the building buried under what is known as Capital Hill, and looking down from above, the building is in the shape of two boomerangs. While the structure has quite a modern look to it, the facades imitate some of the patterns of the Old Parliament House. Capping the New Parliament House building is a lofty spire that rises above the peak of the hill and is topped with an Australian flag. The flagmast is actually one of the largest stainless steel structures on the planet and is a national icon. Also worth noting is that the New Parliament House Canberra building is one of the largest buildings in the entire southern hemisphere.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Parliament House Canberra complex is open every day of the year except for Christmas Day. The general hours on parliamentary sitting days are from 9 am on Monday and Tuesday, and from 8:30 am on Wednesday and Thursday. On non-sitting days, the complex is open from 9 am to 5 pm. The general public can access about one-fifth of the building, which is relatively impressive when you consider that only some ten percent of the Houses of Parliament in London is accessible to visitors. Entry for the Parliament House in Canberra is through a main foyer which leads to the Great Hall and then on towards the Senate and House of Representatives Chambers. In the Great Hall, highlights include a large tapestry of an Arthur Boyd painting and one of the four known versions of the Magna Carta. Just outside of the main entrance of the Parliament House, it should be noted, is an interesting mosaic entitled Meeting Place. This mosaic was done by Michael Tjakamarra Nelson and represents a meeting of Aboriginal tribes. There is so much more to see during a visit to Canberra’s Parliament House, and anyone who is interested can enjoy a tour. The available tours include self-guided tours, guided tours, school tours, personalized paid tours, graduate tours, and garden tours. The various visitor facilities at the Parliament House include, among other things, a café and a gift shop. Free parking is available, though it may be limited at times, especially on parliamentary sitting days.
The various events that are held at the Parliament House Canberra complex aren’t limited to Parliamentary sessions. This is actually one of the few Parliament buildings in the world that is available for private use. Conferences and meetings can be held there, for example. Catering for such events is available and can provide clients with premium food and wine. Major public events are also held at the Parliament House from time to time, with an example being the declaration of the names of people who have won the Australian of the Year Awards. This celebration takes place on Australia Day eve and sees the Parliament House lawns full of revelers. In general, it can be a good idea to consult the events calendar for both of the Parliament Houses when planning a Canberra visit. Also, it should be noted that the New Parliament House is found within very close proximity of the Old Parliament House.