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Parliament and the new Federal capital 1927

Harold Power (1877-1951), The Arrival of Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York at the Opening of Federal Parliament House Building, Canberra, 9 May 1927, 1928, Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection. 

On 24 March 1927 the federal Parliament met for the last time in Melbourne. On 9 May, HRH The Duke of York (later King George VI) opened the new federal Parliament House in Canberra amid ‘scenes of epic pageantry’.1 Over one million people listened to the ceremony via radio broadcast, which featured Dame Nellie Melba singing the national anthem (which was then ‘God save the King’).2 To ‘the accompaniment of thunderous cheers’, the Duke unlocked the Parliament’s doors with a golden key at the invitation of Prime Minister Stanley Bruce,3 who in a ‘stirring address’ declared:

Within these portals will be framed those laws which will mould the destiny of a people. May those who enter this open door govern with justice, reason and equal favour to all. May they do so in humility and without self-interest. May they think and act nationally. May they speak with the voice of those who sent them here – the voice of the people.4

Harold Power and William McInnes were both commissioned to capture the opening of federal Parliament House. While McInnes was commissioned to paint the ceremony inside the Senate chamber, Power was contracted to paint ‘The general scene in front of Parliament House on the arrival of Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of York [or] The general scene at the opening of the Door of Parliament House by His Royal Highness The Duke of York’.

With this commission (above), Power drew on his experience as an official war artist in World War I where he captured large-scale scenes of cavalry conflicts. Power’s painting shows the Duke and Duchess of York approaching the steps of Parliament House in a horse-drawn carriage. Waiting there are Prime Minister Stanley Bruce with Governor-General Lord Stonehaven, and Dame Nellie Melba poised to sing the National Anthem. The Duke of York’s flag waits unfurled above the entrance, the British Union Jack to the left and the Red Ensign to the right.5