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A letter to MoAD’s visitors & friends

A letter to MoAD’s visitors, supporters and friends, Museum of Australian Democracy, January 2022

From Daryl Karp AM, Director of the Museum of Australian Democracy 

Dear friends of MoAD,

On December 30 2021, a fire was deliberately lit at the front doors of Old Parliament House, causing substantial damage to the doors, the front steps, the building façade and the interiors. The image of police and firefighters framed by the blackened entry is indelibly etched in my mind. Though I am truly devastated at these events, it is now time to consider how to move forward, and how you – our wonderful supporters – might help. 

Damage and Destruction  
Sadly, the damage to Old Parliament House is extensive, due to the thick, acrid smoke that permeated King’s Hall and to a lesser degree, the Chambers. Most of the rooms on the main floor are tarnished by soot. Everything will need to be individually hand cleaned, repaired and repainted. The water damage from the fire hoses and sprinkler systems near the entry and on the lower floor is also substantial.   

Mercifully, most of the treasures in our collection and on loan were largely unaffected. Almost everything can be restored, including the doors and entryway, and the original 1927 rubber flooring in the lower gallery.  

However, the front entrance to Old Parliament House, an iconic image of Canberra and the site of countless historic events, will never be the same. 

Restoration and Renewal  
Old Parliament House is one of only a handful of buildings in the ACT to be recognised on Australia’s National Heritage List. Our talented Heritage and Collections and Facilities teams are committed to restoring Old Parliament House to the magnificence and splendour that inspires awe in locals and visitors alike.   

These repairs will take many months, with initial costs likely to be over $4 million.

We have had tremendous support from our fellow cultural institutions in Canberra, as well as the government during this difficult period. For this we are grateful. 

Peaceful Protest and Open Doors 
Australia has a proud reputation as one of the freest and most successful democracies in the world. The right to participate in citizen activism is an important entitlement. But, as a museum and a workplace, we cannot tolerate aggressive demonstrations that threaten the safety and rights of others. Those who perpetrated these destructive acts do not speak to the democratic values of tolerance and respect. Instead, they have chosen to further their cause through hate and destruction.  

MoAD is known for throwing open doors that were previously locked. Visitors can take a seat in rooms where top-secret conversations took place or explore the once-private offices of the people that shaped our nation. From our first days of operation, we have been dedicated to preserving the museum as ‘the people’s place’. Our commitment to openness reflects Australia’s democratic values of fairness, equality, rule of law and open elections. We do not wish to cower from undemocratic behaviour, but the challenge now is achieving a balance between safety and openness. 

How You Can Help  
We are heartened by the past visitors who have reached out to MoAD in the days following the fire to express their sadness at seeing one of Australia’s most iconic buildings in flames. Yet while the events of the last few weeks have been tragic, I can assure you that the MoAD community is stronger than ever.  

Many people have offered support such as donations, building supplies and other assistance. If you also want to support and engage with MoAD as we work towards reopening, there are three things you can do: 

  • Consider making a donation to support MoAD’s programs and conservation works. Even a small donation of $25 can make a real difference to our recovery and restoration projects within the building. All donations above $2 are tax deductible.
  • Share your memories of Old Parliament House on our social media channels. Some of you have already shared stories and photographs on our social media pages and we would love to showcase more. What does democracy mean to you?
  • When the doors to Old Parliament House open once again, we ask that you come back to visit us. Gather with friends and family to explore our beautiful building. Reflect on the decisions and events that shaped Australian democracy in the very place where they unfolded. 

I look forward to announcing a reopening date and welcoming you and the rest of the community back through our doors soon. 

Daryl Karp, AM