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Senate Chamber Table #1999-1431Senate Chamber, North Wing, Main Floor

The blackwood Senate Chamber table of ‘T’ shape with a plain top, moulded edge and curved ends inset with tooled red leather in nine panels; over an arrangement of thirteen small drawers with wooden drawer pulls and brass locks; brass button plate in apron on right hand side; the recessed base with panelled sides and three inset bronze vent grilles, on a moulded platform.

History

The Senate Chamber Table was used as the central table of the Senate Chamber between 1927 and 1988, and is still located in situ. The table 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 table and the other Senate Chamber furniture was inspired by the Westminster system of Parliament. The table was manufactured by Beard Watson & Co Ltd, one of the six firms that were contracted to construct Murdoch’s designs. Beard Watson & Co Ltd were renowned in Sydney as a retailer and manufacturer of high class furnishings, initially manufacturing floor coverings and carpets but diversifying into furniture in 1901. A 1917 article in The Australian Manufacturer stated of Beard Watson that ‘the furniture it sells, and particularly the furniture it produces, is distinguished at once for its good workmanship and for its artistic beauty.’

Copies of the Journals of the Senate were kept on the table, while around the table two chairs on the government side were for swearing in newly-elected Senators, and the swivel chair adjacent to these was for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. On the opposition side, the large swivel chair was for the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, while the stool and ‘round-backed’ chair were for Hansard reporters.

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Statement of values

The Senate Chamber Table 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. The table 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. The significance of the Senate Chamber Table is enhanced through its rarity as the only table of this design.

The Senate Chamber 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 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 Table - Image from the Old Parliament House CollectionSenate Chamber Table - Image from the Old Parliament House Collection
  • Senate Chamber Table (desk) - Old Parliament House CollectionSenate Chamber Table (desk) - Old Parliament House Collection

Details

Width 2510mm
Height 800mm
Depth 3870mm
Medium Blackwood; black bean; leather; timber; bronze; brass
Creator’s name John Smith Murdoch
Date created Circa 1927