A well-known landmark in Melbourne that is worthy of a visit is the meeting place of the Victorian Government: Parliament House. This striking building, which was listed on the Victorian Heritage Register in 1982, is on Spring Street, with the beautiful frontage facing Bourke Street.
When Melbourne was the nation’s capital between 1901 and 1927, the city’s Parliament House was used by the Parliament of Australia. Many important events of the early federal period occurred here, such as the declaration of the Great War in 1914, and the Federal Parliamentary Australian Labor Party’s formation. The Victorian Parliament met in Carlton’s Royal Exhibition Building during the period in which it was used by the Parliament of Australia and returned in 1928.
The Surveyor General, Robert Hoddle, was assigned the task of selecting a location for the new parliament to meet by Governor Charles La Trobe. This occurred due to a need for greater democracy as a result of the Victorian gold rush and a subsequent population boom. Hoddle chose the site at the top of Bourke Street due to the stunning view over the city of Melbourne. There was much debate regarding a suitable location, however, until the current site was decided upon in April 1854.
The Architecture And Design Of Melbourne’s Parliament House
Choosing architects and designs involved numerous options, rejections, and disagreements, just as the site decision had. Although Colonial Architect, Henry Ginn, put forth the first design in 1851, the Legislative Council went on to hold a competition in 1853. Ginn was offended by this move and resigned. The winning design came from Smith & Pritchard.
However, this too was ultimately discarded. Further proposals included one by Chief Engineer, Captain Pasley, in 1854, which was developed upon by John Knight and Peter Kerr. This underwent even further changes until a design of the first stages of Parliament House was published, credited to Knight & Kerr.
Due to the size and cost of the proposed design, construction was planned and undertaken in stages. This began with the chambers, one for the Victorian Legislative Assembly and one for the Victorian Legislative Council, in December 1855. This was completed in November of the following year, and the first session of the Victorian Government was opened.
The library and Eastern Wing came next during the period of 1858 and 1860. This was followed by the Queen’s Hall and the Vestibule in 1879 to 1882. The west front and stairs were built during 1881–1891, and lastly, in 1927–1929, the refreshment rooms.
An interesting feature of this building is the fact it is incomplete. Despite construction beginning in 1855 and continuing through the following decades, planned parts of the building, such as the prominent dome, remain unfinished. That is not to say, however, that it is not grand and impressive.
There are sweeping steps, gorgeous lamps, and eye-catching colonnades. Upon entry, it is clear the interior is just as stunning. Areas particularly worth viewing are the Queen’s Hall, the library, the Legislative Assembly, and the Legislative Council.
In more recent years, there has been several proposals to complete Pasley and Kerr’s designs and constructing the dome, but costs have stopped this from happening. A two-storey office building was created in the gardens for the MPs between 2016 and 2018, and cost forty million dollars.
Tours and Events
Whether you are a visitor to Melbourne or a long-term resident, this distinguished, historical building is a place you are sure to enjoy exploring. On days that Parliament is not sitting, there are free public tours. If your group consists of six or more people, you will need to book.
There are tours that focus on the architecture and design of Parliament House, and general tours that explore the history and modern use of the building. There are also free school-specific tours, which are relevant to the curriculum and can include role play to understand the parliamentary process. Online viewings of the building and of the Victorian Government meetings in progress are also possible.
Lunch and high tea can be enjoyed in the Strangers Corridor Restaurant, and events and functions can be held in the Rooftop Garden, Side Dining Room, Federation Room, and Queen’s Hall.
Visiting Parliament House
The building in which the Victorian Government meet is an important location that is fundamental to Victoria’s functioning and democracy. Viewing the stunning architecture and taking in the history of this significant building is a must do when in Melbourne.