Environment, Heritage and Water Minister Mark Butler has announced that Australia House in London has earned a spot on the Commonwealth Heritage List.
Australia House represents Australia’s diplomatic presence in the UK over a period of great change in the nation’s history and served as the primary place of work for Australia’s High Commissioners.
Completed in 1928, the building is also significant for its unique design, Beaux Arts style and the materials used in its construction.
Butler said he was proud to place Australia House on the list and recognise its importance as one of the first buildings to represent the newly-federated nation of Australia to the world.
”I am delighted to place Australia’s first and longest-serving overseas diplomatic mission, Australia House, London, on the Commonwealth heritage list in the week of the 100th anniversary of the laying of its foundation stone,” he said.
The building is located in the heart of London on a site bounded by the Strand, Aldwych and Melbourne Place. To the east, it faces a small square which has the 17th Century -heritage listed- Baroque St Clement Danes Church at its centre.
While large modern buildings front the southern side of the Strand, the southwest side is home to the heritage-listed 18th Century church of St Mary-le-Strand. Other nearby historic buildings include Clement House and Somerset House.
Australia House’s main entrance is at the corner of the Strand and Aldwych. The triangular floor plan features two basements, seven floors and a mezzanine. While rooms are located around the perimeter, there is a central planning axis from the entrance through the building with the main rooms and the grand staircases along either side along its length.
The two magnificent semi-circular staircases are symmetrically located either side of the axis close to the entrance. The southern staircase leads to all floors while the northern staircase goes from the lower basement to the second floor. Another notable feature is the two-storey cinema hall at the back of the building.
Artworks displayed on the facades include Bertram Mackennal’s bronze sculpture over the entrance of the god Phoebus/Apollo and Harold Parker’s sculptures flanking the entrance featuring on one side a female figure, a dying explorer and his companion representing the ‘Awakening of Australia’, while on the other figures portraying Commonwealth industries denoting the ‘Prosperity of Australia’.
There is also a decorative bronze door to the High Commissioner’s balcony located over the building’s main entrance, above which Australia’s coat of arms is proudly displayed in bronze.
The interior features a number of large, beautifully decorated rooms such as the Exhibition Hall and the Downer Room. The building boasts marble floors, Alabaster light fittings, wood panelling, columns, a main spiral staircase running the full height of the building, wall decoration and furniture.
Carved panels of Blackbean timber decorate the Downer Room and High Commissioner’s room. Varieties of timber from all Australian states have been used in the building, though Blackbean is the most common. The Australian marble used includes Buchan marble extracted from Victoria, Caleula marble from New South Wales, and Angaston marble from South Australia.
Art inside the building includes Tom Thompson murals on the first floor, Jack Carington Smith murals, and paintings in the foyer by Ray Crooke. The building is also home to a range of other artworks procured over the years.
”Its impressive architecture, marble floors, alabaster light fittings, wood panelling, columns, main spiral staircase, decorative metalwork, sculptures, murals and paintings distinguish Australia House as one of our most splendid public buildings,” Butler said.