Your self guided walking tour from the steps of Old Parliament House around the democratic heart of our nation.
Stand on the steps of Old Parliament House and look down the magnificent vista of Walter Burley Griffin’s prize-winning 1912 plan for the nation’s capital. The plan was designed around Land and Water Axes. The Land Axis extends from Mount Ainslie through to Capital Hill (the location of Parliament House), and then behind and beyond to Mount Bimberi in the Brindabella Range. The Water Axis extends from Black Mountain, location of Telstra Tower, on the left, through to the Australian-American Memorial on the right, and follows the line of Constitution Avenue on the northern side of the lake.
In the distance, nestled beneath Mount Ainslie, is the Australian War Memorial—a symbol of the spirit of the Australian nation. The visually powerful Anzac Parade, with its memorials on either side, leads from the Australian War Memorial to the waters of Lake Burley Griffin.
On this side of the lake, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the International Flag Display, which represents those nations maintaining a diplomatic presence in Canberra. At the lake’s edge (but not visible) is Commonwealth Place, a place to celebrate, hold concerts, or just enjoy the view and have a coffee. It is possible to see the mound of Reconciliation Place—depicting Australians’ shared journey towards reconciliation—just beyond the three large reflection pools. The white turret of Questacon is visible on the left, through the trees.
Magna Carta Walk will take you across the Land Axis to Magna Carta Place, up Federation Mall to Parliament House and back to Old Parliament House.
Walking is one of the best ways to experience to enjoy your national capital.
Old Parliament House to Magna Carta Place and Parliament House and return
TIME: 2 hours
DISTANCE: 3.5 kilometres
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy, some uneven surfaces
Times do not include visiting Old Parliament House or the National Archives of Australia.
The Self Guided Walking Tour of the Old Parliament House Gardens brochure can be used in conjunction with this tour to explore the gardens surrounding Old Parliament House.
1 Old Parliament House is considered to be one of Australia’s most beautiful buildings. It was designed by John Smith Murdoch, the first Commonwealth Government architect, and was home to the Federal Parliament from 1927 to 1988. Murdoch preferred plain, classical designs with geometric patterns and uniform surfaces. In order to make every element of the building conform to his sense of style, all the furniture and fittings, even down to wastepaper bins, were made under Murdoch’s artistic control.
The first sod of Parliament House was turned on 28 August 1923, with the Duke and Duchess of York officially opening the building on 9 May 1927. The final cost of the building was some six hundred thousand pounds, more than three times the original estimate.
Old Parliament House is now home to the Museum of Australian Democracy.
Descend the stairs and cross King George Terrace. Stand by the King George V Memorial.
2 King George V Memorial This Memorial commemorates the reign of King George V who, as the Duke of York, presided over the opening of the first Australian Parliament on 9 May 1901. It was designed by G. Raynor Hoff (in association with H. Foskett) in 1937. After Hoff’s death in the same year, his nominee, J.E. Moorfield, was engaged to complete the memorial in accordance with Hoff’s design. Construction of the memorial began in 1941 and was not completed until 1951 when the bronze figure of King George V, cast in England, was added. The memorial bears 10 medallions to commemorate occasions such as the first National Australasian Convention in 1891, which played an important part in Australia’s Federation in 1901. There are also medallions commemorating the role of the Australian armed forces in World War I.
The memorial, unveiled in 1953, used to stand directly in front of the Provisional (Old) Parliament House. It was relocated to its present site in 1968 as it obstructed the vista from (Old) Parliament House along Griffin’s Land Axis.
Continue towards the western side of the National Rose Garden.
3 The National Rose Garden was built with donated plants and funding from individuals, organisations and rose societies across Australia. The planting of this garden began in 1933.
The design of the National Rose Garden is based on the petal shape of a fully opened bloom. A number of commemorative roses are planted within the garden. Named to commemorate the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the green and gold of Australia’s Olympic Gold Rose signifies Australia’s proud sporting tradition. Similarly, the Wildfire Rose—launched in the International Year of the Volunteer—recognises Australasian volunteer fire fighters and others who have died in the service of their communities.
Continue through the National Rose Garden to the main east-west pathway and turn right toward the Federation Centenary Fountains.
4 Federation Centenary Fountains Inaugurated in 1968, these water features include a central reflection pool flanked by two side pools. The four water fountains now on display were not in use for almost 30 years.
A generous bequest of almost $650 000 from Mrs Phyllis E. Glover of Newcastle, New South Wales, contributed to the restoration of the Federation Centenary Fountains. The Fountains were recommissioned and officially named in 2000.
Return to the National Rose Garden. Located in the south-west corner is the Lobby Restaurant.
5 LOBBY RESTAURANT ‘The Lobby’ was built in 1970, originally as a cafe, but quickly became a first-class restaurant. It was a hive of activity and intrigue with politicians, advisers and bureaucrats dining there daily when parliament, in the Provisional (Old) Parliament House, was in session.
Cross King George Terrace to enter the pathway to Magna Carta Place.
6 The Magna Carta Monument is a symbol of the special relationship between the peoples of Australia and Britain. Funded through a national appeal and generous gift from the British Government, the Magna Carta Monument was a Centenary of Federation gift to the people of Australia. The winning design draws on Magna Carta, a medieval document that, across time and cultures, has carried values and rules to our society today. The design of the monument explores the concept of the passage of time, reflected in the selection of timeless materials (cast bronze, bluestone, granite and recycled ironbark).
The site was dedicated in 1997, on the 700th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta by King Edward I. One of four remaining copies of the 1297 issue of the Magna Carta is on display in Parliament House.
Take the time to read the inscriptions on the Monument before continuing through Magna Carta Place to the West Block offices.
7 West Block Offices One of three original buildings in the parliamentary area (the other two were Old Parliament House and East Block), West Block was originally named Secretariat Building No. 2. This reflected the intention that, following the move of parliament from Melbourne to Canberra, each minister would be supported by a small secretariat while most departmental staff remained in Melbourne.
In the early years of World War II, when West Block housed the Prime Minister’s Department and East Block the Defence Secretariat, an underground pneumatic tube line was laid between the two buildings to facilitate the rapid transmission of information. The remnants of a similar pneumatic tube can be seen beneath the paving outside the main entrance of the House of Representatives Garden, across from Old Parliament House.
Follow Queen Victoria Terrace to your left behind Old Parliament House. Turn right onto Federation Mall towards Parliament House. Just after crossing the bridge over State Circle, turn left, following the wall. In the middle there is a small lookout over the State Circle Cutting.
8 The State Circle Cutting is a geological snapshot showing how the Canberra region was formed and has changed over hundreds of millions of years.
The area was originally covered by sea, and the rocks of the State Circle shale (the lighter brown, finer grained rocks) were folded by powerful tectonic forces, lifting them above sea level. Over millions of years, erosion gradually wore down the land. It was again covered by a shallow sea, and Camp Hill sediments (the pink coloured sandstone) were deposited on top of the older land surface, creating this geological feature, known as an ‘unconformity’.
Excavation of the site during the construction of State Circle in the early 1970s led to a major reassessment of how geological events over 400 million years ago impacted on the Canberra region.
Continue up Federation Mall to Parliament House.
9 The Forecourt Mosaic of Parliament House is based on a central desert dot-style painting by Michael Nelson Tjakamarra, a leading Aboriginal artist from the Papunya community in the Northern Territory. The mosaic stands within a pool on an island representing the continent of
Australia, and illustrates a gathering of large groups of men from the peoples of the Kangaroo, Wallaby and Goanna ancestors. It consists of 90 000 granite pieces.
10 Parliament House Officially opened on 9 May 1988, Parliament House is home to Australia’s democratically elected federal representatives and the meeting place of the nation. The architectural firm Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorpe won the international design competition, which attracted entries from 28 countries, to create one of the world’s acclaimed buildings. Sited on a 32-hectare site on Capital Hill, the building is one of the largest in the southern hemisphere and is constructed almost entirely from Australian materials. When the flag is unfurled on the eight-metre flagpole, it is approximately the size of a double-decker bus.
Return down Federation Mall towards Old Parliament House. Stop to have a look at the Canberra Foundation Stones, in the middle of the upper section of Federation Mall.
11 Canberra FoundationStones On 12 March 1913 Canberra was formally named as the national capital of Australia here on Capital Hill. Governor-General Lord Denman, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, and the Minister for Home Affairs King O’Malley, laid the foundation stones for a ‘Commencement Column’ (which was never built) and Lady Denman announced the name chosen for the city.
STOP AND LOOK:
Stand at the Canberra Foundation Stones. Here you are in the centre of the Griffin Land Axis. As you look towards the lake beyond Old Parliament House you will see:
• Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Originally erected in 1972, the embassy continues to be a focus for Aboriginal protest;
• On the right and left, two symmetrically located buildings housing Commonwealth Offices – the John Gorton Building on the right and the Treasury Building on the left;
• The mound of Reconciliation Place (Commonwealth Place is located by the lake side, but not visible);
• International Flag Display;
• Anzac Parade;
• the Australian War Memorial; and
• Mount Ainslie.
Parliament House is located directly behind Old Parliament House – the flagpoles of both buildings placed directly in line with one another.
The two coats of arms on either side of the entry to Old Parliament House are the English coat of arms, with the lion and the unicorn (on the left), and the Australian coat of arms, with the emu and kangaroo (on the right). The emu and kangaroo were chosen for the Australian coat of arms as both animals can only move forward, never backwards.
12 NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF AUSTRALIA The National Archives of Australia ensures that full and accurate records documenting Australian Government activities are created and preserved. The records in the collection trace the events and decisions that shaped, or are shaping, the nation.
This building was also designed by John Smith Murdoch, and was known as East Block. It was built in 1927 as one of Canberra’s first government offices. It was, at one stage, the national capital’s first post office and, for some years, was home to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
Cross King George Terrace and follow the wide gravel path. Look on the right for Constitution Place.
13 CONSTITUTION PLACE was named as a lasting tribute to the historic Constitutional Convention held in February 1998. The Convention took place in Old Parliament House to consider whether Australia should become a republic.
The windbreak here was planted by Charles Weston who, as Superintendent of Parks and Gardens, was responsible for planting two million trees in and around the national capital from 1913 to 1926.
Continue along the path towards King George Terrace then turn left to return to Old Parliament House. You may wish instead to walk through the House of Representatives Garden.