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Parliament House


Parliament House, Spring Street, East Melbourne VIC, Australia


Exterior – Free to view

Interior – Arranged tours only, visit the Victorian Parliament website for info on Public Tours and Architecture Tours, or to access Virtual Tours

This site is accessible

Architectural History

Parliament House – modelled on a Classical Greek Temple structure with giant order Doric columns forming a grand portico – displays a very high standard of craftsmanship and detail. The external walls make use of sculptural stonework and the interior has an extensive array of decorative plasterwork, encaustic tiled floors, decorative painting and gilding, and French-polished, cedar joinery. The principal interior spaces, designed by Peter Kerr, use a classical architectural vocabulary to create a series of grand spaces appropriate to the weighty functions of Government. The ventilation tower in the garden built as a classical 'folly' is a significant feature of both architecture and innovation.

Despite its grandeur, the building remains unfinished. The original design included a large dome and required more work to finish the side and rear facades. Recent moves to finish the architect’s original vision were cancelled due to prohibitive costs.

Social History

Victoria’s Parliament House reflects the evolution of Victoria’s colonial (later to become State) government from 1851 and Australia’s federal system, which came into being with the creation of the Commonwealth in 1901. The Commonwealth Parliament sat here until 1927. The Victorian Parliament is a living example of the Westminster traditions and practices that apply in all the Australian Parliaments and a number of other nations that were once part of the British Empire. The first Parliament of Victoria was elected on 21 November 1856. Since then, there have been a further 59 Parliaments elected. 

While Victoria was the last Australian State to enable women to vote in parliamentary elections and to allow them to be Members of Parliament, it had actually empowered women to vote just seven years after the opening of the first Parliament of Victoria. In a piece of faulty legislative drafting, the Electoral Act of 1863 enfranchised all ratepayers listed on local municipal rolls. By some oversight, the Parliament failed to notice earlier local government legislation that had permitted women to be added to the municipal rolls for local government elections. Those women therefore now had the vote and proceeded to use it in the general election of 1864. Shocked at such effrontery, and embarrassed by their inattention, Members of the Legislative Assembly hastily amended the offending clause early in 1865 by restricting the vote for parliamentary elections strictly to male ratepayers.

Prompts & Activities

  • Why do you think the architect used Greek influences in this building? How does it relate to its purpose, and the people who would have occupied it?

  • In comparison, how is it used today, and is this thinking still relevant? Or does the modern use of the building subvert its history?

  • How many of the mentioned Greek architectural elements can you see? Can you count columns or other design features? Which types of columns are used, and why do you think this is?

  • What is your favourite element of this building? Does it have interesting ornamentation? What part does this element play in the overall design of the building, and why might it have been included? You might like to draw your favourite components! Observational sketching is a great way to get a deeper understanding of something.

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