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Strategic priority 3: Celebrating a spirit of place

In this nationally significant building, we will create a vibrant and contemporary hub that empowers civic and individual engagement in the democratic process. Progress will be achieved in harmony with heritage values that recognise, preserve and communicate the spirit of place.

The museum is the custodian of the iconic Old Parliament House building and is responsible for maintaining it in line with its heritage status and values.

In 2018–19, we met that responsibility through the conservation, care and sustainable use of the building and its nationally significant collections, underpinned by the implementation of the Old Parliament House and Curtilage Heritage Management Plan 2015–2020 (Heritage Management Plan). Those activities also contributed to our long-term understanding of how to best utilise the national heritage of Old Parliament House, addressing issues of values, access and collection management, to provide for a vibrant museum in the future.

Capital works

All capital works activities in Old Parliament House are managed to ensure that heritage values are maintained while improving the amenity and accessibility of the building.

In 2018–19, the second year of the current three-year capital projects program, key works included:

  • upgrading lighting and heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems
  • base building for the Freedom of the Press exhibition
  • upgrading closed circuit television systems
  • undertaking conservation work on timber and painted joinery
  • installing hearing augmentation equipment
  • auditing and upgrading hydraulic infrastructure
  • installing people-counter technology
  • redeveloping the DressUP exhibition space
  • installing heritage floor protection for the Speaker of the House of Representative’s Suite
  • replacing uninterruptable power supply units in network cabinets.

In addition, a number of maintenance and ICT activities were undertaken, such as a computer refresh for staff, implementation of a visitor access management system, and installation of digital screens to promote museum activities to visitors.

Preservation projects

The Speaker’s Suite carpet was the latest project in our ongoing management of significant floor surfaces and coverings to preserve them in place and in good condition for as long as possible. Synthetic replicas of four carpet types in the Speaker of the House of Representatives' Suite were produced and installed for the protection of the pre-1988 carpet underneath. A substantial amount of heritage work was also undertaken in the Prime Minister’s Suite, including conservation cleaning and object installation.

Other heritage and collections care projects completed during 2018–19 included the following:

  • a banner bearing the thistle emblem, from the Robert Menzies collection, was conserved and installed in the Prime Ministers of Australia exhibition
  • a photograph of Marine Helicopter Squadron One that was presented to John Gorton was conserved, framed and installed in the Prime Ministers of Australia exhibition
  • a cartoon of Jocelyn Newman by Graeme Dazeley was conserved and digitised for display in Behind the Lines
  • specialist storage boxes were designed for a fragile sculpture
  • two original 1927 door-closer mechanisms were conserved for storage and accessioned into the Reference collection after being replaced in an upgrade of staff security doors
  • during the refurbishment of the DressUP space, conservation works included a clean and wax of timber panelling and inbuilt cupboards, stabilisation of layers in a section of floor, patching of ceiling tiles, infill of render and skirting, and manufacture and installation of custom-made floor protection to protect the heritage carpets
  • the main front door was given conservation treatment to the hinge and top pin to remediate the door scraping on the floor—new replica hardware was used to replace failed fittings
  • replica hardware was installed on bathroom doors to allow existing heritage locks to function.

On 15 October 2018, the museum proudly accepted the National Trust of Australia (ACT) Heritage Award for an Outstanding Project, for the Lower Senate Wing Offices and Committee Rooms Refurbishment project. This award was in relation to offices and committee rooms that had been reactivated for modern-day use in accordance with the Heritage Management Plan.

Building interpretation

Interpreted spaces tell important stories, embody the heritage values of the building, and are appreciated by our visitors. Many such spaces aim to give the impression that the occupant has just stepped out of their workplace, and maintaining this illusion is a constant task.

A number of interpretation activities occurred during 2018–19, including:

  • a comprehensive refresh of the Prime Minister’s Suite, which introduced new and enriched room re-creations, engaging interpretive content, audiovisual programs and a soundscape
  • a reinterpretation of the Clerk of the Senate’s office and the kitchenette in the Speaker of the House of Representatives' Suite, fitting them out with furniture and accessories appropriate to the time represented
  • dressing of the main tables in the House of Representatives and Senate chambers to resemble their typical appearance for a sitting in the 1980s, to make the space more intelligible for self-guided visitors.

Collection development

The museum’s collection captures the ideas, movements, individuals and events of Australia’s democracy. Currently, 6,826 of the total 28,743 items in the Heritage Collection and the Political and Parliamentary Collection are available to the public via exhibitions and room re-creations, online, and through loans to other institutions.

Collecting is informed by the museum’s Collection Development Plan and conducted in consultation with key stakeholders and Board members. The plan arranges the collection into three subcategories:

  • The Heritage Collection includes all objects that have a direct association with Old Parliament House, including furniture and fittings that were designed for and used in the building between 1927 and 1988.
  • The Political and Parliamentary Collection is material culture that aligns with the museum’s purpose as a place to explore and communicate ideas and issues to do with democracy and government in Australia. This collection comprises objects, artworks, oral histories, personal collections, ephemera, pamphlets, images, audiovisual materials, books and serials.
  • The Interpretation and Learning Collection is a group of reproductions, facsimile pieces and learning and display props that do not require the higher level of heritage care given to items in the other collections. These objects help to interpret the museum’s values through room re-creations, public programs and learning programs.

Donations are a significant source for collection development. For generously donating to our collection in 2018–19 we thank the Hon John Howard OM AC; Mrs Mary Mather-Brown; Ms Tal Fitzpatrick; Mr Nick Xenophon; Mr Murray Holmes; Ms Deirdre Seddon; Mr Dennis Grant; Mr Peter Drew; Dr Bob Brown; the Hon Julie Bishop; Ms Susan Magarey; The Howard Library; the Hon Gary Gray AO; Ms Jann Brown; Ms Louise Allison; the Hon Rosemary Crowley AO; students at Santa Sabina College, Sydney; Ms Cathy McGowan AO; Ms Catherine Winfield Johnston; the National Library of Australia; Reconciliation Australia; Ms Mary O’Dea; Mr Will Douglas; Mr Stan Guilfoyle; Ms Helen Webber; and Mr Jim Boyce.

During 2018–19, the museum acquired 813 items for the Heritage Collection and the Political and Parliamentary Collection. Some notable additions are listed in Table 5.

Table 5 Key additions to the collections, 2018–19

Collecting category


Development of democracy and the systems of Australia’s federal government

  • A handwritten document from Bob Brown outlining new rules for the Australian Greens as a parliamentary party, dated 30 July 2005
  • A collection of items relating to Australian Labor Party support for the African National Congress during the 1994 election campaign in South Africa, donated by Gary Gray
  • A large collection of items from the Recognise campaign, including suitcases, a football and a map of the campaign tour route around Australia
  • A selection of papers relating to the preselection of Liberal Party candidates for the seat of Wentworth, New South Wales, in 2004

Prime ministers

  • A large collection of black and white photographic prints from the Fairfax Media archive, most of which feature Australian prime ministers, from Barton to Hawke
  • Photographs, cards, bibles, event programs and election leaflets relating to Earle Page
  • A Wallabies tracksuit worn by John Howard

Political influencers and movements

  • Approximately 40 paper-based items relating to Dorothy Tangney, including how-to-vote cards, an autograph book, a visitors’ book, letters, invitations and photographs
  • An illuminated letter addressed to Annie Parkes, daughter of Henry Parkes, written to accompany a gift of jewellery given in appreciation of her filial devotion, dated 1882 and accompanied by a photo of Annie Parkes, donated by a Parkes family member
  • A collection from former press gallery journalist Dennis Grant, including posters, speech notes from John Howard, and invitations
  • A pair of Rodo red satin block-heel shoes worn by Julie Bishop at her resignation press conference in August 2018
  • A school blazer worn by Rosemary Crowley, representing her passion for sport
  • A portrait of Margaret Guilfoyle by Australian portrait artist Paul Fitzgerald, donated by her husband, Stan Guilfoyle
  • A South African Springboks jersey from the team’s 1971 tour of Australia, worn by Aboriginal activist Gary Foley at a protest in Sydney

Old Parliament House

  • A signed copy of the poem 'My Dreams Matter' by Anhaar Kareem and a signed copy of the essay 'Simple things' by Matti Schwarz, prize winners in the Whitlam Institute’s What Matters? competition in 2017