East Block building, Canberra

Canberra’s East Block building, which now houses the National Archives of Australia, was one of the three original buildings – along with the interim Parliament House and the West Block building – in the city’s Parliamentary Triangle precinct. Originally known as Secretariat Building No. 1, East Block was designed by government architect John Smith Murdoch, who also designed Parliament House and West Block. Construction work commenced in 1925 and the building was ready for occupation in 1926.

The original name – Secretariat Building No. 1 – denotes the early intention that following the completion of Parliament House, and the move of the seat of government from Melbourne to Canberra, each Minister would be supported by a small secretariat, but most departmental staff were to remain in Melbourne. The secretariats would occupy East Block and West Block (then known as Secretariat Building No. 2).

East Block’s best known tenant was the General Post Office. From 1927 the original Canberra Post Office operated from the wing of the building facing Queen Victoria Terrace, and became the point from which distances to and from Canberra were measured. Other government agencies housed in East Block included the Department of Commerce, the Department of Trade and Customs, the Auditor-General’s office, and the Prime Minister’s Department.

After comprehensive restoration and renovation, East Block was occupied by the National Archives in 1998.

Records relating to East Block

The National Archives in Canberra holds a considerable range of records including correspondence files, photographs, and architectural plans and drawings relating to the design, construction and subsequent maintenance of East Block. Examples of these are included in the tables below.

Correspondence file

Title or description of record Date range Series, item number
Secretariat Building No. 1, now known as Commonwealth Offices, East Block 1924–28 A6270, E2/28/2240
Engineer's Drawing M3155A. Secretariat Building & Post Office Canberra. Heating 1925 CT86/1, E
No.1 Secretariat Building. Supply & installation of hot water system. (McAuley Bros. contract). Payment file 1925–26 A6270, E2/26/656
Commonwealth Offices (East Block) – additional work 1927–30 CT86/1, 298
Commonwealth Offices – East Block and West Block – internal renovations 1934–36 A292, C6558A
Erection of a new office block. Commonwealth Offices, East Block. Contractor – C Banks. 1937 A295, 420
Prime Minister’s Department – East Block accommodation 1951–67 A463, 1966/2911 part 1
Alterations to East Block – final stage 1963–65 A463, 1963/1387


Title or description of record Date range Series, item number
Sheaffe papers 1902–63 M4071
28 photographs recording the construction of Parliament House and the Secretariat (now East Block) 1924–25 M4071, 63
Mildenhall photographs of early Canberra 1921–35 A3560
East Block under construction – north-east aspect 1926 A3560, 36
East Block from Parliament House 1926 A3560, 143
East Block from Queen Victoria Terrace 1921–31 A3560, 304
Parliament House and East Block under construction 1926 A3560, 640
Early stages of construction of East Block 1925 A3560, 825
East Block under construction 1924–25 A3560, 827
Parliament House and East Block from north 1926 A3560, 2306
East Block from west (Camp Hill) 1926 A3560, 2384
Policeman at East Block wearing helmet 1927 A3560, 3682
East Block offices and Canberra post office 1934 A3560, 7412
Entrance to East Block offices 1927 A3560, 7756
View of East Block 1927–35 A3560, 7788

Architectural plans & drawings

Title or description of record Date range Series number
Aperture cards for ACT architectural plans and drawings 1921–59 A9663
Foundation plan and cable tunnel details 1924 A9663, A923
Ground and first floor plan 1924 A9663, A924
Sections and elevations 1924 A9663, A925
Concrete stairs and entrance porch 1925 A9663, A1057
Half inch detail of front 1925 A9663, A1099
Bike shed 1925 A9663, 7168
Detail of letter on front elevation undated A9663, 20201
Boiler house undated A9663, 20913
Detail of entrance door handles 1953 A9663, 22180
Reconstruction of paving 1954 A9663, 22468
Details of glazed partitions on ground floor 1954 A9663, 23749
Extensions – 1957 1957 A9663, 24499