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Built in 1988, Australia's national parliament building is a graceful and deeply symbolic piece of architecture. Sitting atop Capital Hill, the building is crossed by two axes, north–south and east–west, representing the historical progression and legislative progression of Australian democracy. There's plenty to see inside, whether the politicians are haranguing each other in the chambers or not.
After passing through airport-style security, visitors are free to explore large sections of the building and watch parliamentary proceedings from the public galleries. The only time that tickets are required is for the high theatre of Question Time in the House of Representatives (2pm on sitting days); tickets are free but must be booked through the Serjeant-at-Arms. See the website for a calendar of sitting days.
After entering through the Marble Foyer, pop into the Great Hall to take a look at the vast tapestry, which took 14 weavers two years to complete. Upstairs in the corridors surrounding the hall, there are interesting displays including temporary exhibits from the Parliamentary art collection. Look out for a 1297 edition of the Magna Carta and the original of Michael Nelson Tjakamarra's Possum & Wallaby Dreaming, which features on the $5 note and is writ large as the mosaic you passed in Parliament's forecourt.
There are further displays in the Members' Hall, ringed with august portraits of former prime ministers. From the hall, corridors branch off towards the two debating chambers. Australia has a Westminster-style democracy and its chambers echo the colour scheme of the famous 'Mother of Parliaments' in London, with a subtle local twist. Rather than the bright red of the House of Lords and the deep green of the lower house, Australia's Parliament House uses a dusky pink for its Senate and a muted green for the House of Representatives, inspired by the tones of the local eucalypts.
Lifts head up to the roof. It used to be possible to walk on the lawns up here – a reminder to the politicians below that this is the 'people's house' – but since 2017 a 2.5m-high metal fence has prevented this due to security concerns. As the focal point of Canberra, however, this terrace is still the best place to get a perspective on Walter Burley Griffin's city design. Your eyes are drawn immediately along three axes, with the Australian War Memorial backed by Mt Ainslie directly ahead, the commercial centre on an angle to the left and Duntroon (representing the military) on an angle to the right. Interestingly, the church is denied a prominent place in this very 20th-century design.
Free guided tours (40 minutes) depart from the desk in the foyer at 9.30am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3.30pm.