Government House, Canberra

Government House, Canberra

Government House, Canberra, commonly known as Yarralumla, is the official residence of the Governor-General of Australia, located in the suburb of Yarralumla, Canberra.

The house is set in 54 hectares of parkland. The suburb of Yarralumla, which has grown up around Government House, is one of Canberra's most expensive and exclusive areas, and is the site of many foreign embassies.

At Government House, the Governor-General presides over meetings of the Federal Executive Council, holds ceremonies to present honours such as the Order of Australia, receives visiting heads of state and other dignitaries and the credentials of ambassadors to Australia, and entertains people from all walks of life. It was in his study at Yarralumla that Sir John Kerr dismissed Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister of Australia on November 11, 1975 - the culmination of the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis.

Australia's head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, stays at Government House when she visits Canberra, as do visiting heads of state.


Between 1901, when the Commonwealth of Australia came into being, and 1927, the Australian government was located in Melbourne, and the official residence of the Governor-General was Government House, Melbourne. When Canberra was designated as the site of the future capital of Australia in 1913, the government bought "Yarralumla," a large brick house built by the Campbell family in 1891, for use as a permanent "Government House".

Because of the First World War and post-war economies, however, the government did not move to Canberra until 1927, and it was only then that the Governor-General began to use Yarralumla. Between 1927 and 1930 the Governor-General continued to be based at Government House, Melbourne, and stayed at Yarralumla only when the Parliament of Australia was sitting.

In 1930 the government, as an economy measure during the Great Depression, returned Government House, Melbourne, to the state government of Victoria, and Yarralumla became the Governor-General's only official residence.


Walter Burley Griffin included a Government House in his plan for Canberra, which was to be placed in the government precinct with a vista to the lake but, as with so much of his plan for the city, practicalities intervened.

The original house was owned and built by the Campbell family, who also owned “Duntroon”, which is now the Royal Military College, Duntroon. In 1891, Frederick Campbell demolished most of the old stone-built Yarralumla homestead, which had been occupied by the inter-related Murray and Gibbes families from the 1830s right through to the early 1880s. (Augustus Gibbes had purchased Yarralumla sheep station from his brother-in-law, Sir Terence Aubrey Murray, in 1859; Gibbes sold the property to Frederick Campbell in 1881 for 40,000 pounds.) Campbell then had a red brick three-story double-gabled house built to replace the homestead, which was partially demolished. (Campbell borrowed money from Gibbes to help pay for the project.) In 1899, Campbell razed what was left of the homestead, replacing it with a smaller brick building. The shearing shed built by the Campbells remains, near the banks of the Molongolo River, below the Scrivener Dam.

After the Commonwealth Government decided to use the house as a temporary residence for the Governor-General, another three-storey block was built behind the existing one and a new entrance was then constructed on the south front. A stable block was built to the west of the house and cottages built for staff. Since the 1920s the house has been extended and renovated several times, but the basic structure of the 1891 house can still be seen on the south front.

Lord Stonehaven was the first Governor-General to live in the house, after the opening of the new provisional Parliament House (now Old Parliament House) in 1927. Sir Isaac Isaacs was the first Governor-General to live at Government House for his entire term. The house remained small, particularly when compared to Government House in Melbourne, and successive Governors-General and their wives complained about the house’s inadequacies as a place for official entertaining. Plans for a permanent and more substantial residence were never implemented, as a consequence of the Great Depression and Second World War.

In 1927, the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) stayed in the house when they visited Canberra to open the Provisional Parliament House. Prior to their visit, extensive changes were undertaken to ensure the building was suitable for their visit, which were overseen by the Commonwealth Architect, John Smith Murdoch.

The interiors of the house, along with much of their furniture, were originally designed by Ruth Lane Poole of the Federal Capital Commission in keeping with the prevailing stripped-classical style, with more formal interiors for the official entertaining rooms, and a lighter scheme in the private residential rooms. Lane Poole was also responsible for the interiors of The Lodge, the official residence of the Prime Minister. The Australiana Fund has provided furniture, artworks and other objects of national significance for use in Government House.

A private sitting room was built in 1933 at the request of Lady Isaacs over the south entrance porch, which looks south across the gardens to the Brindabella Ranges and the foothills of the Australian Alps beyond.

In 1939, Government House was extensively renovated and expanded in the stripped classical style typical of Canberra’s early public buildings, to a design by E.H. Henderson, Chief Architect of the Works and Services Branch of the Department of the Interior. By the late 1930s, when Lord Gowrie lived in the house, it was not regarded as large enough for the demands made of it. The 1899 extension was demolished and a new south front erected. The drawing room was made larger, more bedrooms were built on the second storey and a State Entrance was built on the northern side. Further alterations to the existing building were also made, adding a nursery on the third-storey and extending the dining room.

These changes were spurred by the proposed appointment of the Duke of Kent as Governor-General to succeed Lord Gowrie in early 1945. However, the Duke died in an aircraft crash in Scotland in 1942 while on active service in World War II; his elder brother the Duke of Gloucester was appointed in his place. The changes were completed in time for his arrival.

In the 1990s a new Chancery building, built in a stripped classical style to a design by Roger Pegrum, was constructed to house the offices of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General and the Governor-General’s administrative staff.

Some critics have said that the house lacks distinction, and there have been various proposals to build a new Government House. None of these are currently known to be under consideration.

The House

Government House is situated to the west of Canberra, in the suburb of Yarralumla. It is located on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin on a north-south orientation and is reached by Dunrossil Drive (named after the only Australian Governor-General to die in office, Lord Dunrossil). At the entrance to the grounds are gates, decorated with the Royal and Commonwealth coats of arms, and a gatekeeper's cottage. The drive leads to the house through landscaped lawns and gardens.

Government House is made up of a central block, erected by Frederick Campbell in 1891, which was extended in the 1920s. Further additions were made in the 1930s and 1940s. All of these are rendered and painted cream. The roof tiles are green.

The State Entrance to Government House is located on its eastern facade, and is protected by a porte-cochere, within which there is a set of steps leading up to the entrance doors.

Running along the centre of the house is the panelled State Entrance Hall, lined with Australian artworks and furniture, including a study by Sir William Dargie for the so-called “Wattle Portrait” of Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia and a study for a portrait, again by Dargie, of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Official ceremonies, such as the swearing-in of ministers, presentation of honours and receptions take place in the Drawing Room, which is hung with paintings by Australian artists and contains examples of early Australian furniture.

The Drawing Room leads through to the Private Entrance, which is composed of a series of rooms leading from the south façade (with views of the Brindabella Ranges) through to the State Entrance Hall. Again, these are hung with paintings by Australian artists and contain antique Australian furniture.

Beyond the Private Entrance are a morning room and a small dining room. The small dining room contains a series of paintings by Australian indigenous artists. These rooms lead back to the State Entrance Hall.

On the lakefront side of the house is the State Dining Room, which has a large bay window overlooking Lake Burley Griffin and leads out onto a terrace. Also on the ground floor, and overlooking the lake, are the Governor-General’s Study, where the Governor-General works and receives visitors, along with a sitting room and a vestibule leading to a number of offices and service rooms.

The upper floors contain the Governor-General’s private residence and guest rooms.

The furnishings and decoration of Government House represent a range of Australian styles, artists and craftspeople, from colonial times to the present day. It also houses a large collection of artworks by Australian indigenous artists. National institutions, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia, and The Australiana Fund, have lent much of the furniture and objects of art used in the house.

Artists represented in Government House include E. Phillips Fox, Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, William Dargie, Margaret Preston, Rupert Bunny, Nicholas Chevalier, W.B. McInnes, Elioth Gruner, Lionel Lindsay, Bertram Mackennal, Hans Heysen, Lloyd Rees, Fred Williams, Arthur Boyd, Sydney Nolan, Leonard French, Justin O’Brien, Ray Crooke, John Dowie, Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula, Margaret Olley, Pro Hart, Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungarrayi, Charlie Tjararu Tjungarrayi and Paddy Japaljarri Sims.

Note: A detailed account of the genesis of Yarralumla appeared in 1988, under the title "Gables, Ghosts and Governors-General" (edited by C.D. Coulthard-Clark and published by Allen & Unwin, in conjunction with the Canberra & District Historical Society). See also the monograph "Yarralumla: the Gibbes Years" in the "Canberra Historical Journal" (New Series, Number 48), September 2001, pages 11-31.


Extensive landscaped grounds surround the house, and were originally laid out by Charles Weston. Many of the trees in the gardens have been planted by visiting dignitaries. The grounds include extensive plantations of trees and sweeping lawns, which provide vistas towards Black Mountain in the north and the Brindabella Ranges in the south.

The Wild or English Garden was laid out by Lady Gowrie, and includes a memorial to the only son of Lord Gowrie, who was killed in the Second World War. The design of this garden was influenced by the work of Edna Walling and Paul Sorenson. Other gardens have been laid out by successive Governors-General and their wives.

The lakeside lawn and terraces were developed at the time Lake Burley Griffin was filled in the early 1960s, during the tenure of Lord De L'Isle. Further developments to the terraces were undertaken during the term of Sir Ninian Stephen in the 1980s.

A rhododendron garden was laid out in the 1970s by Otto Ruzicka, and is called the "Hasluck Garden" after Sir Paul Hasluck and Dame Alexandra Hasluck. Large numbers of bulbs were planted along the eastern side of the Vista Lawns to the south of the house in the 1990s at the suggestion of Mrs Dallas Hayden, wife of Bill Hayden.

ee also

*Government House
*Government Houses of Australia
* Government Houses in the Commonwealth
*Governor-General of Australia

External links

* [ Official Site of Government House]
* [;search=place_name%3Dyarralumla%3Bkeyword_PD%3Don%3Bkeyword_SS%3Don%3Bkeyword_PH%3Don%3Blatitude_1dir%3DS%3Blongitude_1dir%3DE%3Blongitude_2dir%3DE%3Blatitude_2dir%3DS%3Bin_region%3Dpart;place_id=14304 Official National Heritage Listing]
* [ Ruth Lane Poole]
* [ The Australiana Fund]

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