The best laid plans of Murdoch and the Department of Works and Railways
For the last couple of months I have been sequestered away in the museum bunker poring over and cataloguing more than 600 architectural plans. The plans trace the design, building and evolution of Old Parliament House from 1921 until 1988.
The plans are magnificently diverse. I have marvelled at the beauty of the sketches, floor plans, blueprints, mechanical and engineering drawings, even garden designs. The plans are printed on plastic, paper, cardboard and the oldest of the plans drawn by the architect John Smith Murdoch are on linen. They are faded, yellowing, stained, dusty and come in all shapes and sizes—some with intricate print, others with bold designs—but all made an impact on me.
The original plans of Old Parliament House provided for minimal office accommodation. Backbench members and senators were not allocated offices. Accommodation for the executive arm of government was also not intended. However, it became necessary for the prime minister, ministers and staff to be housed in the same building. This necessity, and the growth of the parliament, caused chronic overcrowding and numerous extensions and sometimes makeshift changes to the building. The plans provide a valuable record of these changes and preserve a unique snapshot of the times.
The plans also reveal the hidden workings and specialised rooms of a large and complex parliamentary building. The massive plant rooms, the air conditioning ducts and electrical wiring that wind through the structure, the industrial kitchens and the workshops for carpenters, painters and electricians. An insight into the social life of Old Parliament House is also evident. Important recreational spaces such as billiards rooms, card rooms and multiple bars are documented in the plans.
The inventory of these precious architectural plans is now complete and they are stored in protective polyester film sleeves and safely housed in a sturdy metal plan cabinet. They were all interesting but I have included images of twelve that captured my imagination.