The Parliament House Project 1984-1986

In 1978 the Malcolm Fraser government decided to proceed with a new building on Capital Hill in Canberra and the Parliament House Construction Authority was created.  A design competition was announced and it drew 329 entries from 29 countries.

The competition winner was the Philadelphia-based architectural firm of Mitchell/Giurgola.  Their design involved inserting the building into Capital Hill and capping the edifice with an enormous spire topped by a very large Australian flag.

Construction began in 1981  The site covered 80 acres (32 hectares).  About one million cubic metres of rock had to be excavated from the site.  The granite used to cover the curved concrete walls was sourced from Australia.  The building was finally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on the 9th of May, 1988.  

Rather than developing the art program after the building was completed, the architects involved artists, craftspeople and curators in the early phases of the construction project. An Art Advisory Committee was formed within the Parliament House Construction Authority.  They met regularly from 1982.

The brief that I wrote to express the ideas that I wished to pursue involved photographing the earth the building was to displace.  It was my understanding that the land was an Aboriginal campsite and had been visited seasonally for a thousand years or, potentially, much longer.  Unfortunately by the time my proposal was accepted the major earthworks were completed and the main curved concrete walls were up.  I had no choice but to work with the remaining indicators of the 'earth' on which the building was erected and the imported earth that became a part of the building itself.

I visited the site three times.  The fact that I arrived late in the construction process, eliminated my initial plans and, early on, I struggled with that fact.  Eventually I accepted the reality and did what I could within the confines presented.  Some of my early work involved working at night with flash but later I decided to work with natural light and simple broken panoramas that gave the viewer the opportunity to move through the space and to make the connections indicated from one image to the next.  That movement involved a period of time.  This was a way of taking the viewer into an experience of certain aspects of that landscape.

Many of the works acquired by the Parliament House Project during this period are part of the Rotational Collection, which is the largest part of the Parliament House Art Collection.  Artworks from the Rotational Collection are displayed in the public spaces and the offices of Members, Senators and the Party Leaders.