A new mace for the old House of Representatives
Visitors to the Museum over the summer holidays may have been surprised to see that there was no mace in the House of Representatives. Strictly speaking, the answer to ‘why’ is that the official mace was removed along with the despatch boxes when Parliament moved up to Australian Parliament House. The mace was a gift from the House of Commons in Great Britain to the House of Representatives to mark the 50th anniversary of Australia’s federation in 1951. It was made by Garrard & Co Ltd, jewellers to the Royal Family.
So, what did we do with the empty space on the table in the House of Representatives? Old Parliament House is a nationally listed heritage building and the House of Representatives is a key space within the building, so a replica was commissioned. It was also made by Garrard though it isn’t an exact replica—the Clerk of the House of Representatives requested that though the Old Parliament House mace should be similar to the original mace, it should lack some of the more intricate detail. This first replica mace is made of beech wood, overlaid with silver and gold gilt. Visitors to the Museum can see it in its securely locked case in the Speakers’ suite.
The availability of a mace which can be handled adds greatly to the museum experience especially for visitors with special needs. In 2004 the Schools Learning team commissioned a prop mace for use in school programs. That mace was made of wood, steel, aluminium and resin, with several layers of gold painted fibreglass resin coating—much the same as a car. It served the Schools Learning team well but now has some problems. Firstly, the wood base and additions made the crown end particularly heavy. Anyone picking it up felt the weight imbalance and often compensated by swinging the mace upright—with potentially dangerous results! Secondly, like a car, the paint became chipped and the mace was beginning to look rather rough.
At the Museum we pride ourselves on the depth and quality of our school programs. This extends to the standard of props we use in the program. In order to maintain these high standards a replacement replica mace was commissioned. The creation of the new mace has been a great learning journey. The learning was mine; the journey was taken by the mace. It was quite a long journey as the successful contractor was Ewin Wood whose business, Natural History Productions, is in Darwin. Ewin has extensive experience as a museum preparator, designing and producing displays and exhibitions.
The old replica mace was taken from the table in December and transported to Darwin where Ewin made a mould from it. The new replica was cast in sections, in reinforced and integrally pigmented polyester resin. Our Facebook page has more photographs. Special attention was given to fine structures such as the flattened crosses which were hand shaped in hardened aluminium and coated in epoxy resin. The mace has been finished in a composite gold leaf and protected by several coats of clear acrylic lacquer which was then ‘aged’.
Ewin was happy to share the creation of the mace despite the distance and sent us photos throughout the fabrication process. It was fascinating, and when it arrived home with its predecessor we extracted it from its bubble-wrap with bated breath. What did we see?
The new replica is a soft, aged gold colour, and it glows. It weighs approximately 3.5 kilograms, which is only a little lighter than the previous mace but it is much better balanced which makes it safer to handle. One of our Schools Learning presenters had the honour of placing the mace in our specially padded cradle where it has been much commented on and admired through the week.
The design brief was for a more robust, better balanced mace in a more realistic gold colour; in short, a mace that would reflect the dignity and history of the House of Representatives. We think that the new replica mace provides exactly that.