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Research Guides

Parliament House Canberra, 1927


The National Archives of Australia

The National Archives of Australia ensures that full and accurate records documenting Commonwealth government activities are created and kept. From this massive body of information the Archives selects, cares for and makes available to all, those records of continuing value. This collection constitutes the archives of the Commonwealth government – a vast and rich resource for the study of Australian history, Australian society and the Australian people.

The collection spans almost 200 years of Australian history. The main focus of the collection is material which documents Federal government activities since Federation in 1901. There are also significant holdings of nineteenth-century records which relate to functions that were transferred by the colonies to the Commonwealth government at the time of Federation and subsequently. The records described in this Guide are a small but significant part of the collection.

Access to the collection is provided free of charge in public reading rooms located in each capital city. Researchers are assisted by specialist reference staff and also have available to them a range of reference tools to help them identify and use the records in the collection. These reference tools include databases, guides, publications and fact sheets. Researchers unable to visit a reading room may seek information and assistance by telephone, mail, facsimile or email.

More information about the Archives, the collection and the services provided to researchers is provided on the Archives' Internet site. The site contains descriptions of some of the most frequently used records in the collection and includes images of some original documents and photographs. It also provides online access to the Archives' databases, which you can use to search detailed descriptions of the collections as well as descriptions of over 2 million individual items and many of our photographic collections. A visit to the site will help you determine whether the Archives holds records that may assist with your research. The site also provides links to other archives in Australia. The site is located at

Using this guide

The aim of this guide is to describe and facilitate access to records relating to the design, construction and opening of the provisional Parliament House in Canberra. The provisional Parliament House served as the home for the House of Representatives and Senate of the Australian Federal Parliament from 1927 to 1988. Its white facade on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin is familiar to all Australians and the 70th anniversary of its opening is an opportune time to publish a guide to the records.

The records contain correspondence on all issues relating to the design and construction of the building and the opening ceremony. There are extensive photographs of all stages of construction and architectural plans and drawings of the building, the furniture and fittings and the gardens. The records contain copies of invitations and tickets to the opening ceremony.

As well as documenting the history of the provisional Parliament House the records convey information about the young city of Canberra and the people who were instrumental in developing the Federal Capital. A reader is able to gain some idea of the attitude Australians and their representatives had towards Federation, the building of the Federal Capital and Australia's place in the world as a new nation.

This guide is not a comprehensive finding aid to every item in the collection relating to the design, construction and opening of the provisional Parliament House. However, it describes in detail the range and variety of material held by the National Archives in Canberra. Some record series deal exclusively with the provisional Parliament House. In other cases, relevant files may be included with other correspondence from the agency. For most series some relevant items are listed and their contents described. Guidance on how to find other records is given below in the section on locating additional information.

This guide can be viewed online at

Structure of the guide

The guide is divided into four chapters which follow a chronological progression from the first mention of the building of a Parliament House to its opening in 1927. Within each chapter the records are arranged in series number order.

Chapter 1 gives an overview of the events and decisions leading to the building of a provisional Parliament House rather than a permanent building. It also describes the construction of the provisional building and its opening.

Chapter 2 describes records related to the architectural competition launched in 1914 for the design of a permanent parliament house. This competition never came to fruition and is now long forgotten. At the time it excited considerable interest around the world. The related correspondence is spread through many record series. Item descriptions are given for those files which hold the most important and interesting information.

Chapter 3 details records which relate to the decision to build a provisional rather than permanent building. The files also follow the progress of the construction including plans, drawings and photographs.

Chapter 4 deals with the opening ceremony held on 9 May 1927. Files not only contain correspondence about the planning and execution of the ceremony but also copies of invitations, plans of the layout of the stands, plans of the city of Canberra and newspaper articles. As the building was opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of York the files also contain correspondence about the entire Royal Visit.

The records contain correspondence by many of the senior public servants who were responsible for the establishment of the Federal Capital. Appendix 1 contains a list of these people and their positions. Several agencies were responsible for the administration of the Federal Capital Territory (now the Australian Capital Territory) from 1901–30. Appendix 2 contains a list of the major agencies and some brief information about them. Appendix 3 provides a list of further reading, while Appendixes 4 and 5 respectively give a glossary of archival terms and details of other guides to the collection. Appendix 6 gives the Archives' addresses and hours of opening.

Structure of the entries

Each entry in the guide describes a group of records which have been maintained together in a recordkeeping system, referred to as a series of records. A series is made up of items, which are the individual files, volumes, maps, cards, diaries etc that were received into custody by the Archives from the creating department, agency or individual. Series usually consist of many items, but can occasionally consist of just a few or even a single item. A definition of series is given in Appendix 4.

The entries have been designed to give the researcher not only an idea of the contents of a sample of items within each series but also some idea of the context of the record – for example when it was created and by which agency. An indication of other types of records in the series is also given.

Each entry includes the series title and the date range of the series contents. On the right hand side is the series number (eg A6680, CP325/6 or M4071). This is the Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) number assigned to the series by the Archives.

The title and CA (Commonwealth agency) number of the agency(ies) which recorded the series (eg Federal Capital Commission CA 226) is given along with the dates for which each agency was responsible for creating the records.

Quantity, given in either metres for boxed files or number of items for volumes and books, is a guide to the extent of the series. However, this is not always a guide to the amount of material relevant to the provisional Parliament House. Some very large series may contain only a small number of relevant items.

The location indicates in which office of the National Archives the records are held. In this guide, the records are all held in Canberra.

The description for each series attempts to set the records in their administrative context, and to describe its function and overall content. Whether the series is listed on the item level database, RecordSearch, or has a paper listing is stated where possible.

All items in the series are listed at the end of the entry if the total number of items is small. If the series is extensive and it is not possible to list all items in the guide, an example of items from the series is given. For many items a general description of the contents is given. In other cases the title is self-explanatory. Against each item on the right hand side is its citation consisting of the CRS number and the item number. This must be cited in any inquiry about the records. More information about citing archival records is given below in 'Citing the Records'.

Many items in these series are described at item level in our online item database, which is available in our reading rooms and on our website at Descriptive information at series level is available on the National Archives RecordSearch database, which is available for online searching in each of our reading rooms and on our Website.

Locating additional information

Additional information on the building and opening of the provisional Parliament House,the development of Canberra and the history and events of the provisional Parliament House since it was opened, can be located by conducting searches on the National Archives' databases. Some useful key words to use are 'parliament house', 'federal territory', 'Canberra', 'federal capital' and 'royal visit'. During the period this guide covers the ACT was called the Federal Capital Territory.

Series containing useful information on the construction of the provisional Parliament House were created by the Department of Home Affairs (I) (CA 8); the Department of Works and Railways (CA 14); the Federal Capital Office (CA 601); the Federal Capital Advisory Committee (CA 292); the Federal Capital Territory Branch, Department of Home Affairs (CA 756); and the Federal Capital Commission (CA 226). For some series individual items are listed in the Archives' RecordSearch database (available online in our reading rooms and on our website at For others there are paper indexes or inventories. Reference staff can help researchers to use these lists and also access series where unfortunately there are no lists at all.

The construction of Parliament House was only part of the development of the National Capital at Canberra. The series and files in this guide also contain considerable information about the development of Canberra. The National Archives has produced fact sheets which can help researchers locate useful records. These are: Administration of the ACT (Fact Sheet 35), Design and Development of the National Capital (Fact Sheet 60) and Walter Burley Griffin and the Design of Canberra (Fact Sheet 95). Copies of these are available on the Archives' Internet site.

Access to the records

Please note that not all items listed in RecordSearch are available immediately for public access. Some may first require examination to ensure they do not contain information which remains sensitive (eg personal details). If individual record items within a series have not been examined you are free to apply for access to them but there may be a delay while they are examined. In most cases this should take no more than a day or two.

Most of the records in this guide are old, ranging from 90 to 60 years. Many of them, particularly the plans and architectural drawings are fragile. In some cases you may not be able to have access to the original item. In these cases you will be given access to either a photocopy or microform copy.


No charges apply to the services described above unless copies of records are requested. Copy charges are set out in Fact Sheet 51.

Citing the records

The correct citation of archival records is important both when requesting them from the Archives and when referring to them in written or published works. The correct method of
citation will not only help staff of the Archives to more readily locate the records you are seeking, but will also help other researchers to find the material you have used if they wish
to examine it for themselves.

The correct form of citation for records held by the National Archives is expressed as follows: the name National Archives of Australia followed by a colon; the series number followed by a comma; and then the item number. An example is :

National Archives of Australia: D4189, 68

The name National Archives of Australia may be abbreviated to 'NAA'.