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Armchair #2001-2071

Maple armchair; elaborately carved back with scroll top rails and a central anthemion motif; padded arms and stuff-over padded seat upholstered in antique gold brocade fabric, arms with scroll decoration on shaped supports with open sides, seat has a shaped front rail; on out-swept back legs and cabriole front legs.


This armchair was not designed for the Provisional Parliament House in the 1920s, but was purchased at a later date. The origin of this chair and its purpose within the building is unclear. This chair 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. The design of this armchair dates from circa 1750-90, although the chair itself is a reproduction and was probably manufactured in the mid 20thcentury. It is suspected that this piece was purchased for a particular reason, such as a special event, or for use by an important person, such as a Senior Parliamentary Officer. It was initially thought that this armchair was purchased as part of a suite to be used for one of Queen Elizabeth II’s visits to Parliament, due to its design and the similarity of this piece with furniture evident in photographs of the Queen’s visits. 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 a matching armchair, a table (1999 - 1782), two chairs (1999 - 1783) and an extension table.

If this armchair 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 is to preside over and maintain control of debate in the House of Representatives Chamber. The Speaker keeps 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 Department of the House of Representatives; this large corner suite reflects the status of this presiding officer. 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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Statement of values

This armchair 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 armchair 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 565mm
Height 988mm
Depth 475mm
Medium Maple; textile; timber; metal
Creator’s name Unknown
Date created Circa 1950s