Illuminations – Australian Parliament House

4 - 14 February

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Women’s suffrage in Australia: the Suffrage Banner
Dora MEESON, 1869 – 1955

The Women’s Suffrage Banner, 1908. Oil paint on green hessian ground. 261.3 x 165cm

Australia was the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote and to stand for parliament.

Melbourne-born artist Dora Meeson Coates (1869-1955) created the banner in 1908 as a celebration of women’s suffrage in Australia. In 1911, the artist, together with her husband and a contingent of women suffragists from Australian and New Zealand, carried the banner at the head of a women’s suffrage march in London. Leading the contingent were Australian suffragist Vida Goldstein with Margaret Fisher (the wife of the Australian Prime Minister) and Emily McGowen (the wife of the New South Wales’ Premier).

The banner reads ‘Commonwealth of Australia. “Trust the Women Mother As I Have Done”’ and was donated to the Parliament House Gifts Collection in 2002.

The Women’s Suffrage in Australia exhibition will be on show at Parliament House from late May to early November 2022.

Indigenous art and culture

Kumantye Jagamara’s Possum and Wallaby Dreaming

KUMANTYE JAGAMARA, 1945 – 2020, Warlpiri / Luritja People

Forecourt Mosaic Pavement, Parliament House Canberra (Possum and Wallaby Dreaming), 1986-87

100,000 granite setts. Sources of granite: Tarana pink – Tarana NSW (Oberon area) Sard white – Buddoso, Sardinia. Esmeralda Green – Esmeraldas, Brazil. Juparana Yellow – Juparana, Brazil. New Imperial red – Tandrur, India. Blue Pearl – Norway (processed in Italy).1400 x 1400cm

Parliament’s forecourt mosaic is based on the painting Possum and Wallaby Dreaming by Warlpiri artist Kumantye Jagamara. It depicts a gathering of the kangaroo, wallaby and goanna ancestors and is a contemporary depiction of an ancient Western Desert Dreaming.

The mosaic symbolises the deep spiritual relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their ancestral land. Kumantye Jagamara was a Warlpiri Elder from Papunya, west of Alice Springs. He was one of the foremost proponents of Western Desert painting, one of the first contemporary Indigenous art movements.

The mosaic is 196 square metres, is made up of over 90,000 individual pieces of granite and was fabricated by William McIntosh, Aldo Rossi and Franco Colussi.

Contemporary art collection

Catherine NELSON, born 1970
Tropic, 2020
pigment print (Edition 4 of 7)
107 x 112cm

Australian Parliament House is home to an art collection of international significance.

The collection is respected and diverse, featuring official portraits of notable Australians, to work by acclaimed artists including Brett Whiteley, Howard Arkley and Emily Kame Kngwarreye, to an active contemporary collecting program.

Catherine Nelson is an Australian artist who uses digital technology as her paintbrush. She constructs imaginary landscapes using images from the world around her. Tropic is from Nelson’s 2020 Future Memories series which merged hundreds of richly detailed images of lush, tropical flora to create a representation of Carins. Art is an essential part of the building within the architectural vision and narrative. The collection includes sculpture, painting, photography, drawing, digital media and decorative art and craft in public and private areas of the building.


Tony BISHOP (artist) born 1940 and Michael Retter (fabricator) born 1935
Coachwood [Ceratopetalum apetalum], one of twenty marquetry panels, (1986-1987)

Queensland walnut veneer inlaid into base veneers of coachwood and jarrah, MDF substrate
Each 137.5 x 121cm

Architect Aldo Giurgola communicated meaning and content not only through architecture, but also in craftsmanship and materials selected in the building to ensure that Australians and Australia are embodied in the building.

The unique marquetry panels in the Marble Foyer depict Australian native flora, designed by Adelaide artist Tony Bishop and produced by Michael Retter. There are 26 panels in total depicting plants used by Indigenous Australians and species collected by Sir Joseph Banks in 1770.

Parliamentary firsts

The Historic Memorials Collection is Australia’s longest-running commissioning art collection. A number of important parliamentary ‘firsts’ have been commemorated as portraits including the first women elected to the federal parliament – Enid Lyons to the House of Representatives and Dorothy Tangney to the Senate. Another significant ‘first’ is the commissioned portrait of Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous Australian elected to the federal Parliament, by 1979 Archibald Prize winner Wes Walters. Walters’s iconic image of Bonner was later acknowledged in Jude Rae’s portrait of Linda Burney (2018), the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives. Burney wore a large, prominent ring, referencing the shining blue ring worn by Bonner. Other commissions of parliamentary ‘firsts’ include the first portrait by an Indigenous Australian artist, with Jandamarra Cadd’s portrait of Nova Peris, the first Indigenous woman elected to the Senate, unveiled in 2019.

To celebrate the 110th anniversary of the Historic Memorials Collection, a small exhibition of artist studies (drawings and sketches) and select portraits will be shown at the Parliament House Presiding Officers’ exhibition gallery from 22 November 2021 to 15 May 2022.

WALTERS, Wesley Barton WALTERS, 1928 – 2014
Neville Bonner AO, 1979
oil on canvas
183.4 x 90cm

Jude RAE, born 1956
The Hon Linda Burney MP, 2018
oil on canvas
125 x 105cm

Mary MOORE, born 1957
The Hon. Kenneth (Ken) Wyatt AM, MP, 2017
oil on board
190 x 137cm

Archibald Douglas COLQUHOUN, 1894 – 1983
Dame Dorothy Margaret Tangney OBE, 1946
oil on canvas
117.2 x 101.5cm

William Alexander DARGIE, 1912 – 2003
Dame Enid Lyons, 1951
oil on canvas
116.2 x 90.6cm

Jandamarra CADD,  born 1973, Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warung people
Nova Peris OAM, 2019
oil on canvas
179.2 x 114.2cm

National Triangle