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Official Opening of Canberra by His Royal Highness the Duke of York (1927)

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Official opening of Old Parliament House education content clip 1, 2

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

This shows the Duke of York officially opening Parliament House in 1927, which is now Old Parliament House, in Canberra. A statue of King George V is then unveiled in the foyer and the senators leave for the first ever sitting in the Senate Chamber.

Curator’s notes

This newsreel clip was produced to inform the Australian public of the official opening of Parliament House.

Several cameras were used, enabling them to capture the events outside as well as inside the foyer.

As it is a silent newsreel, intertitles have been used to explain was we are about to see as well as to link the segments together.

The negative of this film was flown to Sydney for processing immediately after the ceremony, arriving at Mascot 90 minutes later. It would have been screened in cinemas within the week.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows the 1927 opening of the first national Australian Parliament House, now Old Parliament House. It begins with the Duke of York standing on the steps of Parliament House and reading a message from his father, King George V. A long shot shows the Duke, with the Duchess of York at his side, flanked by dignitaries. The Prime Minister, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, crosses the steps to hand the Duke a key to open the doors of Parliament House. The camera pans across the assembled group as the Archbishop of Perth, Charles Owen Leaver Riley, leads them in prayer. Various dignitaries are then shown entering the building where the Duke unveils a statue of King George V in 'King’s Hall’. This silent, black-and-white clip was shown in cinemas as part of a newsreel.

Educational value points

  • The clip shows images of the official opening of Parliament House in the newly built national capital, Canberra, on 9 May 1927. After Federation in 1901, Federal Parliament met in the Victorian Parliament House in Melbourne until a parliament house was built in Canberra. The newly constructed Parliament House in the national capital was a modest building that was intended to house the Federal Parliament only until a permanent structure could be built.
  • The opening of Parliament House was a gala occasion, with the Federal Government wanting the opening to be a major international event that reflected glory upon Australia and the new federal capital. Five hundred official guests and 50 press representatives attended, and 5,000 tickets for the outside stands were distributed throughout Australia. Organisers had anticipated a crowd of 100,000 but numbers fell well below that. Restrictions on movement within the capital and the location of camping grounds well away from Parliament House, as well as newspaper reports about Canberra’s freezing weather, were blamed for the low turnout. Several tonnes of food that had been provided to feed large crowds had to be buried.
  • Dignitaries such as the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), Governor-General Lord Stonehaven with Lady Stonehaven, Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce and Mrs Bruce (later Lord and Lady Bruce) and Sir Adrian Knox, Chief Justice of the High Court, attended and are portrayed in the clip.
  • Part of the formal proceedings at the opening is shown. The proceedings, which included addresses by the Duke of York and by the Prime Minister, a performance of the national anthem by Dame Nellie Melba, and a united religious service conducted by the heads of the Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist churches, were broadcast via radio to over 1 million people across Australia. The absence of a representative of the Roman Catholic faith is notable, as approximately one-quarter of the Australian population adhered to this faith.
  • The presence of the Duke and Duchess of York, who represented the British monarch, and the naming of the foyer of the building 'King’s Hall’ after King George V (whose statue takes centre place in the foyer) revealed the depth of Australia’s allegiance to Britain and to the Crown in this period. In his address the Duke said that 'one feels the stirrings of a new birth, a quickened national activity, of a fuller consciousness of your destiny as one of the great self-governing units of the British Empire’.
  • Later, when Prime Minister Stanley Bruce addressed the Duke in the Senate Chamber, he continually stressed Australia’s attachment and devotion to the 'mother country’. By 1927, the 'White Australia Policy’ had been in place for 26 years and more than 90 per cent of the Australian population was of British descent. It was not until 1949 that the restriction on immigration began to be relaxed.
  • The parliament building is a leading example of the work of the first federal government architect, John Smith Murdoch. While it was criticised for its lack of grandiosity and was irreverently dubbed 'The Wedding Cake’, Smith Murdoch’s fairly plain 'stripped-classical’ design, which made use of simple geometric forms (an aesthetic that was also applied to the interior), came to be regarded as handsome and functional. The design is similar to Smith Murdoch’s other Canberra buildings, including Hotel Canberra and the public service buildings known as East and West Blocks, now all heritage-listed.
  • While the building was intended to house Federal Parliament for no more than 50 years, it functioned as Parliament House until 1988, quickly becoming overcrowded and needing numerous additions and alterations. After the new Parliament House opened in 1988, Old Parliament House became a museum and a temporary home for the National Portrait Gallery.

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