Forecourt mosaic


Michael Nelson Jagamara, Possum and Wallaby Dreaming, 1985, acrylic on canvas

Michael Nelson Jagamara, Possum and Wallaby Dreaming, 1985, acrylic on canvas

Parliament House Art Collection © Michael Nelson Jagamara

One of the best known artworks at Parliament House is the Forecourt mosaic. This unique feature is one of the original architectural commissions for the building, and forms part of the Parliament House Art Collection. 

The mosaic was designed by Indigenous artist Michael Nelson Jagamara, a leading artist from the Papunya community of the Northern Territory. It is based on his painting Possum and Wallaby Dreaming, which describes a gathering of a large group of people from the kangaroo, wallaby and goanna ancestors. The groups are meeting to talk and to enact ceremonial obligations. The work derives from the sand-painting tradition of the Warlpiri people, and has complex layers of meaning known only to Warlpiri elders.

The architects, Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp, wanted the Forecourt mosaic, as the first work of art encountered along the north/south Land Axis, to embody the idea of Australia prior to European settlement. They felt that a site-specific work by an Indigenous artist would recognise the unique relationship of Aboriginal cultures with the land. 


The architects stated:

Both the imagery and style of the Papunya painters are especially appropriate to this location, since the iconography of their paintings is frequently one of itineraries through the landscape, of special powers associated with particular places, and of moments of meeting and coming together.

(Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp, Report on the Conceptual Basis of the Art Program for New Parliament House, 1983).

Five artists from the Western Desert were invited to submit designs for the mosaic: Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Paddy Carrol Tjungurrayi, Maxie Tjampitjinpa, Two Bob Tjungurrayi and Michael Nelson Jagamara.  Each artist submitted two paintings of 140 cm x 140 cm (one tenth of the scale of the mosaic), in a range of colours that corresponded to the available colours for the stone mosaic pieces. The mosaic took stonemasons William McIntosh, Franco Colussi and Aldo Rossi 18 months to complete.