The Gardens of Old Parliament House were laid out in the emerging capital of Canberra in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Gardens were a welcome refuge for parliamentarians, a pleasant escape from daily debate and party meetings. Maintained for the private use of members and senators, the Gardens contributed to their enjoyment and general well-being over many decades.
The original quadrant layout was established by Robert Broinowski, secretary of the Joint House and Usher of the Black Rod. He sought and obtained permission to start a campaign in 1931 asking Australians to buy roses for the ‘Rex Hazelwood’ garden at a cost of one shilling and fourpence each.
The scheme was very successful and, in 1933, Broinowski persuaded Dame Mary Hughes, Dame Enid Lyons and other parliamentary wives to support the ‘Ladies Rose Garden’. This was followed in 1937 with the ‘Macarthur Garden’.
In 1935 Broinowski invited the Japanese trading company Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha to contribute 100 Japanese lily bulbs, and bulbs were also accepted from Holland and Britain, and trees from Canada and the USA. As these matured and flourished, the gardens on both sides were regularly used for formal events associated with the Parliament.
The gardens continued to be a source of recreation for parliamentarians for nearly five decades, until the opening of the new Parliament House in 1988. After that, these gardens no longer had a specific purpose and over the years became secluded and largely forgotten.
In the late 1990s the National Capital Authority began a major project to return the gardens to their former splendour, conserving the significant heritage value and improving amenities.