Sometimes even politicians need to get away from people and politics. The gardens on either side of the building gave them the chance to do that. The gardens were for the exclusive use of members and senators, although parliamentary staff also had access to them at certain times. Surrounding cypress hedges, planted around the edge of the gardens, acted as a wind break and made the gardens feel more private.
The parliamentary gardens were central to architect John Smith Murdoch’s vision for the building. Parliamentarians wanted private gardens, as they had enjoyed the attractive gardens of the State Parliament House in Melbourne. Once the Old Parliament House gardens had grown, they became a focal point for formal and informal gatherings, sporting activities, recreation and relaxation. The sporting facilities included tennis courts, a bowling green, cricket pitch and later, squash courts.
The gardens were used for formal events associated with royal visits and the opening of Parliament. Some politicians used the gardens to launch new policies and initiatives, and journalists using the gardens as a backdrop for television programs. Others thought of creative uses for the gardens. One politician set up his beehives there and used the jars of honey as peace offerings to members of the opposing parties.
The gardens also provided floral decoration for offices and the dining rooms. The harmony created by John Smith Murdoch between the building and its unpretentious gardens was recognised when they were listed on the Register of the National Estate. The Register cites the importance of the gardens as ‘expressing their history in plantings, sports facilities, modest features and layout patterns’. When Parliament left in 1988, the National Capital Authority took over the management of the gardens. In 2002, the gardens were refurbished with a fresh design and upgraded amenities.