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Occasional Table #1999-1782

Walnut occasional table; plain top with curved edges and scroll decorations on apron; four spider legs connected by platform shelf with small fretwork walls; four other deeply curved legs run from outer corners to the platform shelf.


This table was not designed for the Provisional Parliament House in the 1920s, but was purchased at a later date. The origin of this table and its purpose within the building is unclear. This table is a unique object in the museum’s collection as it is quite ornate, in contrast to the majority of the furniture in the collection with its minimal and utilitarian design. Stylistically this table dates from the 1920s. It has ‘in stock’ printed on its base which suggests that it was an ‘off the shelf purchase’ rather than a commissioned item. We suspect that this piece was purchased for a particular reason, such as a special event or for use by a Senior (Parliamentary) Officer. However, the photographs of the Royal visits show different furniture in use and do not support this claim. A Parliamentary Official who worked in the building during this time is convinced that this chair was not purchased for the Queen’s visit, but was purchased in 1956-57 for Speaker Sir John McLeay’s (1956-1967) reception area along with two chairs (1999-1783), two armchairs (2001-2071) and an extension table.

It has also been suggested that this table was used at the Proclamation of the first Federal Parliament in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne, 1901.

If this table was purchased for the reception area in the Speaker’s suite, which seems highly likely, it is certainly symbolic of the importance of the role of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Provisional Parliament House. The Speaker’s most important duty was to preside over and maintain control of debate in the House of Representatives Chamber. The Speaker kept order by interpreting and enforcing the rules of parliamentary procedure and practice. Although usually elected from the governing party of the day, the Speaker should be fair and impartial. Outside the Chamber the Speaker managed the Provisional Parliament House together with the President of the Senate; their large corner suites reflect the status of the two presiding officers. The Speaker and the President of the Senate both received foreign Heads of State and delegations visiting Australia from other nations, and other distinguished visitors to the House of Representatives or Senate. Hospitality for these events is one aspect of the responsibilities of the Speaker’s office and the Speaker’s suite includes rooms and furniture to support these duties.

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This occasional table is significant through its associations with the Speakers from the 1950s to the last Speaker at the Provisional Parliament House, the Hon Joan Child, who was also the first female Speaker.

This table is significant as a component of the Heritage Collection, which comprises those pieces of furniture which were used in the Provisional Parliament House between 1924 and 1988. The collection has associations with the process of government, the ceremonial, administrative, promotional and recreational functions conducted within the building, and with the individuals who governed Australia between 1927 and 1988. The Old Parliament House building has a richness of internal fabric and collections that convey the way in which parliamentary functions were conducted, the everyday use of the building, and the hierarchical nature of parliamentary staffing practices.


Width 560mm
Height 700mm
Depth 560mm
Medium Walnut; timber
Creator’s name Unknown
Date created Circa 1900s