This site is dedicated to the life and work of Edwin Hubert Henderson, architect (1885-1939). Henderson was Chief Architect of the Commonwealth of Australia from 1929-1939.
A new exhibition at the Museum of Democracy at Old Parliament House will feature the Golden Key used to officially open Parliament House in 1927. EH Henderson designed this key.
The work was praised by the Minister for Works and Railways who asked for a note to be placed on Henderson’s file:
While recently passing through Sydney I availed myself of the opportunity of visiting the Works Branch when the work of the officers was exhibited to me. In course of my interview with Mr Henderson, Chief Senior Architect, he showed me a photograph of the key with which the Duke of York recently opened Parliament House, Canberra. I was informed that Mr Henderson was the designer of the key and also the case which was to contain it. Apparently no record has been made of that unique fact and I think it is only right that credit should be given to Mr Henderson for this special work. It appeared to me to be a work of high quality and as this article was associated with a great national event in connection with the Commonwealth of Australia, I directed that it become part of the permanent records of the Department. (2 August 1927).
Here is the ABC’s story on the exhibition.
The gold key used to unlock the heavy front doors at the opening ceremony of Old Parliament House has returned home for the first time to mark the 90th anniversary of the historic ceremony
But mystery surrounds two other keys believed to have been made at the same time.
“Three keys were commissioned,” said Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD) curator Stephanie Pfennigwerth.
“However we can only find one of them — [we] don’t know what happened to the other two.”
Photo: The gold key used to open Parliament House on May 9, 1927. (Supplied: Parliament House Art Collection)
The 14-carat gold key was designed by Edwin Henderson, a senior architect with the then Department of Works and Railways, who also designed Manuka Pool and Ainslie Primary School.
It was used by the Duke of York, later King George VI, at the official opening of what was then the provisional Parliament House on May 9, 1927. According to Ms Pfennigwerth, the Duke created “a slight kerfuffle” by handing the key to then prime minster Stanley Bruce after he unlocked the wooden and glass doors.
“A former speaker of the House of Representatives was very upset by this gesture because he interpreted that as elevating the executive above the custodians of Parliament who are the speaker… and the president of the Senate,” she said.
Key on display in new exhibition
The key was kept for years in a brown velvet box in a cupboard at the National Library before eventually finding its way to the custodianship of the speaker.
It is on display for six weeks at The Opening Day: 9 May 1927 exhibition which tells the stories of the people who witnessed the ceremony. Ms Pfennigwerth said the key symbolised the importance of the event, that was attended by dignitaries, politicians and residents of the fledgling city of Canberra.
“Having a new place for the new Parliament in a new national capital of a new nation was… a highly symbolic moment,” she said.
“It consolidated people’s ideas of nation and identity.”