Parliaments of Oceania

A Glaswegian Twitter-user has posted an excellent thread reviewing every national parliament or congress building in the world, the kind of thing Twitter was made for. He courted controversy early on by bagging the Australian federal parliament, which I loved (as well as the old one) when I lived in Canberra in the 1990s. Its 1980s interiors remind me of my youth, and feature some impressive tapestries, and the flagpole towering over the hill makes a great visual shorthand for Australian cartoonists. The building’s confident modernism was a good match for the Australia of the late 1980s and early 1990s—the one that all went to pot in 1996 (cf. UK architecture of the late-1990s and early-2000s). I was dismayed when they fenced off the grass running over the top of the building, as it was so fundamental to the concept and the experience of the place. I haven’t seen it since that was done, and am not looking forward to seeing the fence in person.

Moving southeast, the Beehive in Wellington is indeed a silly thing, even if it offers another handy visual shorthand for cartoonists, but houses the prime minister’s offices rather than parliament itself—that’s the older building next to it. New Zealand’s parliament is fascinating for being propped up on giant springs, which have been inserted in its foundations to limit earthquake damage. You can even see them on a tour of the building, which is one of the things I most remember about Wellington.

I hadn’t noticed that Fiji’s parliament had moved back into the old Government Buildings in 2014. Its parliament building of the 1990s and 2000s was an impressive sight, modelled on a traditional Fijian thatched house, or bure, with big banners of stencilled bark-cloth (masi) inside the chambers.

Sadly, he wasn’t able to review Tonga’s quaint century-old parliament house, with its weatherboards and red roof, as it was flattened by a cyclone last year. He also posted a picture of the wrong building, because half the results on a Google image search show the prime minister’s buildings, not parliament itself, which was a much simpler single-storey affair.

Even sadder, ‘Akilisi Pohiva, lifelong pro-democracy campaigner and Tonga’s prime minister since 2014, died in office last month. I interviewed him when I was there in 1993; I’ll have to dig out the transcript and post some excerpts in his memory.

3 October 2019 · Memory