Our Parliament’s library

0
238

It provides the research hub for our MPs and their staff, with its thousands of books, vast stacks of newspapers and more documents relevant to the workings of our government than you can shake a stick at.

It was conceived in 1897 when Premier Seddon saw a need to bring all of parliament’s library resources under one roof. Architect Thomas Turnbull was commissioned to provide plans. He came up with an ornate three-storey Gothic structure.

Then, as now, the question of cost inevitably raised its head, and government architect John Campbell was called in. He trimmed a storey from Turnbull’s plans and ditched some ornamentation.

Turnbull promptly spat the dummy and demanded his name be removed from the foundation stone. The downsized building opened in 1899.
And then came the Night of The Great Fire. On December 11, 1907, Parliament’s nightwatchman was heading off at around 2am for his mandatory hot cocoa when he thought he heard rain.

He stuck his head outside to find a major blaze had erupted. He sounded the alarm, threw open the gate for the fire brigade and endeavoured to tackle the fire with a hose that promptly burned through.

The fire had started via an electrical short in the interpreters’ room. It spread quickly through the old wooden parts of our original parliamentary buildings and then began gutting the masonry additions of the 1880s.

By 5am the main complex had been totally destroyed and firemen were struggling to save the library. It survived intact, protected by its fire walls and iron fire-door.
Come the 1980s and the old girl was a little down-at-heels. She was also deemed an earthquake risk. Her white knight proved to be the foresight of the Historic Places Trust who had declared her to hold considerable architectural and historic significance.

The demolition hammers wielded by assorted political vandals were stopped in their tracks and a total refurbishment ordered. It commenced in the early 1990s.
For starters, the entire structure was strengthened. This was followed by a complete makeover, with restoration of the elaborate stained glass, ornamental stone and plaster work.

But all did not run smoothly. In 1992 three fires occurred. The most serious damaged the main staircase, plaster work, stained glass and roof.
Subsequently, another destroyed some of the splendid original basement toilets.

Eventually the building was reopened in late 1995, with the former 19th Century lobby recreated as the library’s reception area and newspaper reading room.
It is well worth a visit.