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Parliament and the Landscape

The most prominent feature of this landscape - a cultural construct reflecting personalities, circumstances and constitutional obligations associated with the Parliament of Victoria - is Parliament House. Located in the parliamentary reserve at the intersection of Spring and Bourke streets, the building is a Melbourne landmark, at once a modern legislature, an incomplete architectural icon (construction commenced in 1855) and a historical reference to 19thcentury colonial values. On the northern boundary of the parliamentary reserve lies the Parliament Garden, a public space best known for the Coles fountain.

North of this historic precinct stands the Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton, home to the Parliament of Victoria from 1901 to 1927, while to the west, at 470 Bourke Street, is the site of the first Legislative Council of Victoria (1851-56), which met in St Patrick's Hall, now long demolished. Directly to the south of the parliamentary precinct lies the concentration of government offices in Treasury Place, its proximity a reminder of the necessary if sometimes testy relationship between parliament and Executive. Still further south stands Government House in South Yarra, home of the governor of Victoria, who, representing the Crown, forms with the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly the tripartite parliament.

Many land-boom buildings in the Central Business District are a legacy of property developers who were also parliamentarians: the Windsor Hotel (Sir James Munro), the railway viaduct between Spencer Street and Flinders Street railway stations, and the Royal Arcade stand as exemplars of a more extensive urban environment created by ministers of parliament that includes suburbs, housing estates, roads, railway tracks, tram lines and the relict spaces of the Outer Circle Railway. Raheen (built by Sir Thomas Wrixon in Kew), Cliveden (built by Sir William Clarke in East Melbourne) and Rippon Lea (built by Sir Frederick Sargood in Ripponlea) are representative examples of other notable buildings associated with prominent members.

Members of parliament are recalled in the names of such suburbs as Bentleigh (Sir Thomas Bent), Ballyshanassy (now part of Burwood; John O'Shanassy), Keon Park (Stan Keon), Knox (Sir George Knox) and Patterson Lakes (Sir James Patterson). Armadale, Black Rock, Burwood, and Elsternwick represent suburbs that were named after buildings owned by Victorian members of parliament. Anstey, Patterson, Jewell and Ruthven railway stations recall former members. Charles Hilton Dight is remembered by Dights Falls in Collingwood, while Sir James Patterson gave his name to various landscape features, including a river at Carrum.

The parliamentary landscape is perhaps most evident in Melbourne's street names. Sir Thomas Bent's name, for example, is attached to 15 thoroughfares. Eighteen roadways bear Sir Graham Berry's name, while 23 carry that of Sir James Munro (including an intersection with Berry in Edithvale that might have left both displeased). In one district of Nunawading are found such prominent Victorian parliamentarians as O'Shannassy, Nicholson, McCulloch, Haines, Fellowes, Deakin and Gillies. Deakin's name is attached to 13 streets, Childers' to six and Higinbotham's to two, while despite being Victoria's longest serving premier, Sir Henry Bolte's name is attached to just one court and a bridge.

Other parliamentary markers on the landscape are found in the form of statues (Bent in Brighton; Higinbotham in East Melbourne), in educational and research institutions (Deakin University; the Arthur Rylah Institute, Heidelberg) and even, perhaps, in the association that certain neighbourhoods had with members of parliament (as in the still common belief that the parliamentary mace was taken to the red-light district of Little Lon, now Casselden Place).

The feature of the parliamentary landscape that most directly engages Melburnians is arguably the lattice of electoral boundary lines that marks out the parliament's electoral districts and electoral provinces. There are 88 members of the Assembly, each representing a single electoral district; 55 such districts are located within Melbourne. As of 25 November 2006, there will be 40 legislative councillors, with each of the eight electoral regions being represented by five councillors. This hidden grid is made partly visible by some 83 electorate offices located across the city and, on election days, by the schools and community halls that serve as polling booths. In such spaces and buildings reside the most contemporary, the most dynamic and the most influential components of the parliamentary landscape.

Ray Wright

See also

Coles Fountain