10 things you might not know about Australian Parliament House

Posted 3 Nov 2017

Story by Visit Canberra

Chances are the last time you paid a visit to ‘The House’ as it’s affectionately known, you were on your primary school Canberra trip. Here’s some fun facts that are sure to amuse, delight and even inspire a trip to revisit one of Australia’s most iconic buildings.

1. Construction

Australian Parliament House took seven years to construct and involved 10,000 people. Since opening, over 30 million people have been through the doors. The House is not so new anymore – in 2018 it’s the 30th anniversary since the building’s opening.

2. How many people are in the House?

On a sitting day, around 4000 people are inside working including the 226 elected representatives, the staff of parliamentarians, the four parliamentary departments and the Press Gallery.

3. Reflective Pool

The Reflective Pool, located in the centre of the building directly beneath the flagpole, is made from a single piece of South Australian Black Imperial granite. At  3.5 metres2 by 250 millimetres thick, and weighing in at eight tonnes, it’s seriously impressive. The sound of running water has been intentionally created to cover any conversation taking place nearby – making it a great spot to enjoy conversations away from the prying ears of political opponents or pesky journalists.

4. The Marble Foyer

Parliament House incorporates a wide range of carefully selected natural materials. The Marble Foyer floor features black limestone, which is full of fossils of sea life that existed some 345 million years ago – see if you can spot ancient corals, sponges and crinoids, or ‘sea lilies’.

5. What’s that mysterious ticking noise?

2,700 – that’s the number of clocks you’ll find in Parliament House.

The clocks are fitted with two flashing lights (red for the Senate, green for the House of Representatives) to alert parliamentarians when they are required in the chambers. When the lights flash, a bell also rings through speakers located around the building (including in the courtyards). There are even lights in the Parliament House pool!

6. The Great Verandah

It doesn’t get more Australian than having a verandah out the front of your house – well, as long as there’s a clothesline out the back – so it makes sense that The Great Verandah is the public face of Parliament House. It is a space to welcome visitors and is the backdrop for ceremonies on the forecourt. Aboriginal artist Michael Nelson Jagamara designed the 196-square-metre forecourt mosaic, which reflects Australia’s ancient beginnings.

7. The Parliament House Art Collection

You already know Canberra is home to some of the most important cultural institutions, galleries and museums. Now you know that the Parliament House Art Collection features over 6,500 items and is one of Australia’s most significant—but perhaps lesser-known—art collections.

8. A lot of coffees

It takes over 1,800 coffees on a sitting day to keep Australian Parliament House functioning – making the APH Catering and Events venues extremely busy and very popular. You can enjoy local favourite Lonsdale Street Roasters’ blend with a serving of scones, jam and cream from Queen’s Terrace Cafe.

9. The resident behives

Parliament House recently installed three beehives in partnership with Aurecon and the ANU Apiculture Society. The beehive initiative follows other national and international institutions with resident beehives including the Scottish Parliament, the White House, the parliaments of Western Australia and Queensland and Government House in Canberra.

10. The Gardens

Australian Parliament House plays a part in improving local biodiversity in Canberra, through the focus on native and exotic plants and a bio-friendly approach to care and maintenance of the 23 hectares of landscaped gardens.

Internal courtyards have their own micro-climates that are different to the gardens outside. Plants that benefit from the conditions include Syzygium Australe Tiny Trev (or Tiny Trev Lilly Pilly), which struggles in the frost-prone Canberra winters but thrives in their internal courtyards.

Planning a visit to Parliament House? Find out more about tours and visits to the public galleries here.

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