The last time we were in Sydney, Ruth & I were walking down Macquarie Street not too far from the famous Opera House when we noticed that the building across from us was the Parliament of New South Wales. We decided to cross the street and see if there was anything for tourists inside. There was. We took a self-guided tour of the 19th century colonial building and learned about local government. Australia has 6 states, and this turned out to be the equivalent of touring a U. S. state capitol.
There are some differences, however. Like in the U.S., there are 2 democratically elected houses here, but New South Wales’ lower, the Legislative Assembly, is alive with the color green thanks to British tradition. It has 93 members. This is the actual center of state government, so the Premier and most Ministers belong to it. The Upper House is resplendent in red. It has only 42 members serving 8 year terms. Although bills can originate in either assembly, most come from the Lower House. The system is based on the British Parliament, and NSW’s parliament was Australia’s first.
Sydney was founded as a British convict colony in 1788, but this building wasn’t built until 1811 to 1816. By this time there were more free settlers and the Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, felt he needed help to establish a truly democratic government. The British Monarchy would supply no funding, so Governor Macquarie cleverly financed the project by allowing contractors to import and sell 60,000 gallons of rum. This building is now the oldest one still in public use in the city of Sydney.
The venerable old structure has undergone many changes over the years but still looks very 19th century, especially the Legislative Assembly’s vestibule. Built in 1867, it has largely been preserved as it was way back then. It displays art from the Parliamentary Collection including a portrait of its first female member, Millicent Preston-Stanley, which pleased Ruth.
Australia is a constitutional monarchy with Her Majesty Elizabeth II still considered the Queen of Australia. She remains the constitutional monarch in 15 other countries as well, for now. If Scotland, which is part of Great Britain, breaks away next year there will be 15. The Royal Family has visited Australia a lot over the past 144 years. In 2015 Queen Elizabeth II journeyed to Australia for 10 days during what is expected to be her last official tour. Her grandson William and his wife Catherine Duchess of Cambridge are very popular in Australia as the result of a couple of representational visits. These will probably increase.
The old parliament building’s Fountain Court features sculptures, temporary art displays, and items of historical interest. The west wall is reserved for showing only the works of New South Wales’ Aboriginal artists. This is, therefore, a good place to learn something about Down Under’s people and cultures.
A tour of parliament is not essential for Sydney visitors, but it is fairly interesting. For those who are really into government, group tours are given on the first Thursday of each month.