This article, by Dr Shirleene Robinson, was originally published on the Queensland State Archives website, July 2012.
In 2010, Queensland Parliament celebrated its 150th anniversary. Over the course of those 150 years, this institution of governance underwent changes in both its location and its structural composition. It has, however, consistently represented the interests of a diverse group of people and a geographically large terrain.
Queensland Parliament met for the first time on 22 May 1860 and was declared officially open seven days later on 29 May. The initial Parliament was a bicameral system and consisted of an Upper House, whose members were elected. It was established legally under the provisions of Letters Patent and an Order in Council of The New South Wales Constitution Act of 1855, which had been invoked on 6 June 1859.
Queensland had seperated from New South Wales almost 12 months before the first Parliamentary sitting took place in May of 1860. The lapse of time between separatoin from New South Wales and the first sitting was necessary though, as it had taken considerable time to finalise electoral records and prepare the colony for its first elections. While these preparations were taking place, the colony was governed by an interim Executive Council.
Between April and May of 1860, after the informataion required to hold an election was recorded, Queenslanders voted for 26 members from 16 electorates. In addition, 11 men were appointed to the Upper House, known as the Legislative Council.
While the present Queensland Parliament building is considered one of the state’s finest architectural feats, the initial location of Parliament was not so salubrious. When the first session of Queensland Parliament was called, members met at the Old Convict Barracks, which were located on Queen Street, Brisbane. The Convict Barracks were selected because they represented one of the largest spaces available in this era.
From the first sitting, the use of the Convict Barracks was viewed as a temporary solution and in 1863, a site on George Street, Brisbane, near the Governor’s residence, was selected as the permanent location for a new building that was to house Queensland’s Parliament. The structure that was erected was designed in French Renaissance style by the prominent colonial architect, Charles Tiffin.
On 14 July 1865, Governor George Bowen laid the foundation stone for Queensland Parliament. In 1866, when the building was only partially completed, economic difficulties forced the adjustment of Tiffin’s original design. A major alteration saw the removal of a carriage porch from the design. The following year, prominent Queensland identity John Petrie, was contracted to complete the modified design and the impressive plans he delivered to Queensland’s Department of Works are held in the collection at Queensland State Archives. Although the new structure was not completed in the style Tiffin had originally designed, it received widespread acclaim when it was opened on 4 August 1868.
The architectural structure of Queensland Parliament has been extended a number of times since its opening. In 1878, colonnades were built and in 1887, construction on the Alice Street frontage commenced. One of the major additions was the completion of a 22-storey Parliamentary Annexe building in the grounds of Old Parliament House, which was completed in 1979. Tiffin’s original carriage porch was completed between 1980 and 1982.
Although the design and further extension of Parliament House throughout the late 19th Century and in the 20th Century was a major achievement, there were other significant milestones pertaining to Parliament House. In 1899, Queensland Premier Andrew (Anderson) Dawson led the world’s first Labor government. In 1915, an amendment was made to the Elections act that allowed women to stand for parliament.
Major changes in governance in Queensland occurred in 1922, when Labor Premier Edward Theodore presided over the abolition of the bicameral system and introduced a unicameral system. This meant that Queensland maintained only its lower house of elected members. The signed legislation, implementing this significant change, is held in the collection at Queensland State Archives.
Since 1860, Queensland’s Parliament has moved from Convict Barracks to an architecturally impressive and unique building. The population of the state has also increased dramatically, resulting in a subsequent increase in the number of electorates and members of parliament. Over the past 150 years, Queensland’s history of responsible government has seen many changes but Queensland Parliament has consistently been at the centre of democratic reform, architectural achievement and Queensland life.
Dr Shirleene Robinson