Tony Bishop (artist, born 1940) and Michael Retter (fabricator, born 1935)
Various veneers inlaid into base veneers, MDF substrate
Parliament House Art Collection
The twenty decorative timber inlay panels (known as marquetry) that depict native flora from around Australia in the Marble Foyer were designed by Adelaide artist Tony Bishop, and fabricated by Sydney craftsman Michael Retter. 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 and south axis of the building. The marquetry panels refer not only to the Australian landscape, but to the entwined histories of Indigenous and European cultures.
Bishop’s research involved travel across 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.
The timbers used in the fabrication of the panels mirror the broad range of Australian timbers used throughout the building. The panels consist of a central coachwood background bordered vertically with the darker toned jarrah. Together Bishop and Retter selected the most appropriate timber to achieve the tonal variations in the flora. These included Queensland walnut, poplar, kauri pine, camphor laurel and Australian red cedar.
Shown above are (clockwise from top left): Native Hibiscus [Alyogyne hakeifolia], Banksia, Idiospermum australiensis and Cycads [Cycadaceae].