Full title: Conservation of hand painted wall features in the former Members Private Dining Room, Old Parliament House, Canberra
Recent discoveries at Old Parliament House have shed new light on how colourful the interiors of this historic icon once were. In late 2002, investigations were undertaken in the Private Dining Rooms in preparation for the reconstruction of the spaces for use as a fine dining experience. Heritage conservation staff spied a tiny piece of what looked like a painted flower underneath a chip in the painted plaster wall. It was decided that further investigation was needed. After some careful conservation work by eight specialist conservators, scraping and stripping back some six layers of paint, an extraordinary sight was revealed. The walls of the Private Dining Rooms had once been covered in highly decorative and colourful, hand-painted wall panels. Painted in shades of purple and green in 1927, these panels hark back to an era, before standard building measurements and power tools, of careful and painstaking craftsmanship. This type of interior decoration is unique in Old Parliament House and quite rare elsewhere and they are in very good condition.
Now the detailed and careful conservation, restoration and reconstruction work is complete, the evidence of highly skilled craftsmen is presented for everyone to appreciate. After 12 months of careful planning, approvals, heritage research, conservation and construction, the Private Dining Rooms are now home to the new restaurant, The Ginger Room. This paper will describe the history of the space, methods employed to complete the paint removal, paint investigation techniques, render stabilisation and lime mortar infilling, protection techniques of the panels during the construction phase and infilling and reconstruction of the 1927 hand painted design. Finally, the paper will outline the success of the space two years on, including the protective techniques, and examine the merits of reconstruction of the missing elements versus conservation of the original features combined with plain sealed lime mortar to very clearly delineate old and new.