The decorative timber inlay panels (known as marquetry) in the main Foyer represent one of the most successful collaborations in the Parliament House Art Collection. Designed by Adelaide artist Tony Bishop, the twenty panels were made by Sydney craftsman Michael Retter, and depict native flora from around Australia. The project was another of the key commissions proposed by architects Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp, with their intention to create a sequence of symbolic spaces along the north/south axis of the building. The marquetry panels refer not only to the Australian landscape, but to the entwined histories of Aboriginal and European cultures.
Bishop began his research at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, later travelling to both coastal and desert areas of Australia. He devoted the six panels on the northern side to plants used by Aboriginal people for food and medicine, such as yam, quandong and bunya pine. On the southern side the artist chose species that were of interest to British botanist Sir Joseph Banks on his arrival in Australia in 1770. These include wattle, waratah and various eucalypts. The four panels on each of the west and east sides depict examples of Australia’s ancient vegetation, including rainforest flora up to two hundred million years old.