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Senate Chamber Desk #2003-1290Senate Chamber, North Wing, Main Floor

Blackwood chamber desk with two recessed ink bottle holders and two pen trays; inclined writing surface inset with tooled red leather; moulded edge to the curved top above a recessed apron with two drawers with wooden drawer pulls and brass locks; two chamber bins below, suspended on wooden rails; triple panelled front; on an angled platform base with inclined foot rest.


This Senate Chamber Desk was used in the Senate Chamber between 1927 and 1988, and is still located in the Senate. This desk 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 desk 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 galley seating of 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 a number of European parliaments. At the same time, they rejected the suggestion of the Speaker that a rostrum be provided from which speeches would be given, maintaining the tradition of speeches being delivered at the central table. 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 chamber desk, and included the location of the inkwells, ventilation for the circulation of heated and cooled air, and the installation of a receptacle for waste paper. Later added details include attendant call buttons, volume switches and speakers, earphone jacks, and holes for microphones. The original configuration of the Senate was comprised solely of two-seater desks such as this one. Unlike the House of Representatives Chamber where the front row of bench seating is without desks, the Senate Chamber includes a front row of chamber desks.

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Statement of values

This Senate Chamber Desk 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 desk 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 this desk is enhanced through its demonstrable association with the growth of Parliament, in particular the evolution of communications technology applied to the public reporting of parliamentary debates and events.

This Senate Chamber Desk 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 Desk (then) - Image from the Old Parliament House CollectionSenate Chamber Desk (then) - Image from the Old Parliament House Collection
  • Senate Chamber Desk - Image from the Old Parliament House CollectionSenate Chamber Desk - Image from the Old Parliament House Collection


Width 1340mm
Height 810mm
Depth 500mm
Medium Blackwood; leather; timber; brass
Creator’s name John Smith Murdoch
Date created Circa 1927