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 the 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.
The original ‘Friends of Old Parliament House Gardens’ under the auspices of the National Capital Authority (NCA) ceased to be in 2007, owing to budgetary constraints placed on the NCA.
Months later Dr Malcolm Beazley AM from the University of Canberra, approached the Acting Chair of the NCA, Professor Don Aitken to discuss the future of the ‘Friends’. Time passed and Dr Beazley sought the support of horticulturist and radio presenter, Mrs Judy Refshauge, to meet with the Director of the NCA, Mr Gary Rake.
The outcome of this meeting was very positive and the ‘Friends of Old Parliament House Rose Gardens’ was born. One may say a rose by another name!
Once incorporated, the inaugural Annual General Meeting was held on 24 May 2010, with the following officer bearers being elected: Mr Greg. Cornwell AM – President, Dr Malcolm Beazley AM – Vice President, Ms Megan Douglas – Hon. Secretary, Ms Svetlana Manns Hon. – Treasurer, Mrs Judy Refrhauge – Public Officer and Media Officer. Committee Members: Ms Jane Bradhurst, Mr Cedric Bryant, Mr Graham Evans (Head Gardener, OPH Rose Gardens), Mrs Lorraine Gentle. The Patrons of the original ‘Friends’, Mrs Tamie Fraser AO and Mr Richard Broinowski, agreed to continue their role in the new ‘Friends’.
*Information is taken from NCA and FOPHRG publications.