Building the provisional Parliament House – Fact sheet 109

Parliament House opening preparations - 1926
Parliament House opening preparations - 1926 (A3560, 32)

The provisional Parliament House (now known as Old Parliament House) was opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of York on 9 May 1927. It was a modest building intended to provide facilities for the legislative work of the federal government until a permanent, monumental structure could be built. With extensions and alterations it remained in service until 9 May 1988.

Architectural competition for a federal parliament building

In July 1914 an international design competition for a permanent Federal Parliament House was launched. It was suspended in September 1914 due to the outbreak of World War I. Attempts were made to revive the competition, but the huge war debt precluded the construction of any monumental buildings. In 1923 the competition was indefinitely suspended and work on a provisional building began. Official registrations had been received from more than 200 entrants, and in 1924, the Government paid compensation of £3000 in amounts ranging from £10 to £100 to 78 of the competitors.

Design and construction of a provisional building

The construction of a provisional Parliament House was investigated by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works in 1923. This committee recommended the erection of either the nucleus of a permanent building on Camp Hill or a provisional building on a site below Camp Hill. By August 1923 the second recommendation was accepted and finance approved by Parliament. The plans were prepared by the Department of Works and Railways and its chief architect, John Murdoch.

The opening ceremony, 9 May 1927

The opening of the provisional Parliament House was a gala occasion. Invitations were issued to 500 national and international official guests and a further 5000 tickets were distributed throughout Australia for seats in outside stands. The ceremony included the review of a guard of honour by the Duke of York and a reading in the Senate chamber of a message from the King. After the official proceedings, a review of 2000 troops and a Royal Australian Air Force flypast were held in York Park.

Records of the building of the provisional Parliament House

The Canberra office holds a range of records relating to the planning, construction and opening of the provisional Parliament House. The table below sets out select holdings of records relating to the architectural competition, the design and construction, and the 1927 opening ceremony.

Selected records relating to the provisional Parliament House

Architectural competition

Design and construction

Opening ceremony and Royal visit

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files Department of External Affairs1903–38A1
ItemOpening of Parliament at Canberra File No. 21927A1, 1927/199
SeriesCorrespondence files Prime Minister's Department1923–34A458
SeriesCorrespondence and administrative files 'DY' series1926–28A6680
SeriesAdministrative and general correspondence Royal visit1926–27A6976
ItemOfficial Opening Parliament House Part 11926A6976, 39 PART 1
ItemOfficial Opening Parliament House Part 21927A6976, 39 PART 2
SeriesUnregistered correspondence files Royal visit1926–27A6977
SeriesFederal Capital Commission records for Royal visit1927CP325/6

Photographs and memorabilia

Parliamentary Papers

Reports presented to Parliament, and later printed as Parliamentary Papers, give summaries of the architectural competition and the construction and opening ceremony. Sets of Parliamentary Papers are available in all Archives' reading rooms (some upon request).

Title of reportParliamentary Papers reference

Erection of Provisional Parliament House Canberra

Session 1923–1924, Vol IV, pp 645–70

Federal Capital Advisory Committee Reports

Session 1920–1921, Vol III, pp 2027–69
Session 1922, Vol II, pp 2791–2804
Session 1926–1928, Vol II, pp 1037–80

Annual Reports of the Federal Capital Commission

Session 1926–1928, Vol II, pp 1081–1116, 1117–84, and 1185–1305

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