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Senate Chamber Bench Seat #2003-1369

Two seater chamber bench seat; with a plain upholstered back covered in red leather with plain arms, padded seat with two cushions, over a kidney shaped apron with two locking drawers with brass drawer pulls, on six square section legs.


This Senate Chamber Bench was used in the Senate Chamber between 1927 and 1988, and is still located in the Senate. This bench was designed in 1926 by the Architects Department of the Federal Capital Commission, led by principal architect John Smith Murdoch, specifically for Provisional Parliament House. Murdoch’s design for this bench seat and the other Senate Chamber furniture was inspired by the Westminster system of Parliament. The design of the Chambers in Provisional Parliament House had a significant impact on the design of the furniture which was to be housed in it. Murdoch had originally designed the seating arrangement to mirror the configuration of parallel seating in the House of Commons in England, but this was rejected by the Standing Committee on Public Works who advocated the horseshoe or semicircular pattern used in the French Chamber of Deputies. This arrangement impressed them as enabling all Members to hear and see proceedings clearly, while allowing each of them to be clearly audible and visible themselves. This meant that the furniture had to fit around a semicircle, presenting a difficult design and manufacturing challenge.

While most of the ceremonial furniture in both Chambers was built by Beard Watson & Co Ltd, the desks and bench seats were supplied by the Myer Emporium Ltd in Melbourne. Made out of Australian blackwood and leather supplied by Howe and Co Ltd, Myer subcontracted Messrs Johnstone and Morrison of Burnley, Victoria to manufacture these items. Sample items of the desks and bench seats were made and delivered so that Members could inspect and comment on their design. Based on their recommendations, alterations were made to the final design of the bench seats, and included the widening of the depth of the seats, and the alignment of the drawer beneath the seat.

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Statement of values

This Senate Chamber Bench Seat is a significant item of furniture through its association with the Senate Chamber. The Senate has outstanding significance as a venue for the debates, petitions and votes associated with sixty-one years of Australian legislature, and recognisable by its red upholstery. This bench seat was used in the Senate between 1927 and 1988, associating it with significant people in Australian political history, while also reflecting the formal and adversarial nature of debate, and the role of the Senate in the parliamentary process.

This Senate Chamber Bench Seat 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 House, and with the individuals who governed Australia between 1927 and 1988. The building is a primary example of the Inter War Stripped Classical style of architecture prominent in Canberra’s government architecture of the 1920s to 1940s. The characteristic expression of the building’s style is due to the design work of the Commonwealth’s first government architect, John Smith Murdoch. The Old Parliament House building has a richness of internal fabric and collections, which include the purpose designed furniture and furnishings, that convey the way in which parliamentary functions were conducted, the everyday use of the building, and the hierarchical nature of parliamentary staffing practices. This furniture is significant as it has remained within the building for which it was designed.

  • Senate Chamber Bench Seat - Image from the Old Parliament House CollectionSenate Chamber Bench Seat - Image from the Old Parliament House Collection


Width 1680mm
Height 870mm
Depth 560mm
Medium Blackwood; leather; brass; timber
Creator’s name John Smith Murdoch
Date created Circa 1927