Fact Sheet I3

Fact Sheet I3: Why is  the Assembly Green?

 

Summary: The Legislative Assembly's green carpets and upholstery are modelled on the United Kingdom House of Commons. Many Westminster-style Parliaments follow this tradition of green colouring. The origin of the colour green in the House of Commons is not certain, but we explore some possibilities in this fact sheet.

 

Origin of Parliament's colour scheme Cost of green dye
The House of Commons in the UK Oak leaf carpets
St Stephen's Chapel at Westminster Tradition rather than symbolism

 

Origin of Parliament's colour scheme

One of the first things visitors to Parliament House notice is that the carpets and upholstery are red in the Legislative Council and green in the Legislative Assembly. The use of red and green is a tradition upheld in many Westminster-style parliaments around the world.

Some of the Assembly's documents, such as the notice and question papers, are printed on green paper.

 

The House of Commons in the UK

The use of green in the Legislative Assembly reflects the use of green in the United Kingdom's House of Commons. However, the origins of its use are uncertain. In 1663 Balthasar de Monconys, a French traveller, described the House of Commons upholstery as sarge verte, which translates as green fabric.

We therefore know the Commons has been green for at least 340 years, but before that, we have no evidence of the Commons' colouring. Unfortunately de Monconys does not mention any reason for the colouring. Some possible reasons why the Commons uses green are outlined below.

 

St Stephen's Chapel at Westminster

From 1548 to 1834, the Commons sat in St Stephen's Chapel and there is some suggestion that it may have been painted green. However, there is no evidence of this, and it is more likely that the walls were decorated with multi-coloured biblical murals. When the Commons moved in, these walls may have been covered up with tapestries in the Tudor colours of green and white.

 

Cost of green dye

Another theory is that of cost. The Commons may have had to use cheaper decorations than the nobles in the House of Lords. Red cloth was dyed with expensive imported madder (a climbing plant, the root of which was used for dyeing), while green cloth was much cheaper to produce.

 

Oak leaf carpets

The carpets throughout Parliament House have an oak leaf pattern, again, red on the Legislative Council side, and green on the Legislative Assembly side. One theory suggests the oak leaf pattern symbolises the oak tree under which the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 by King John of England. The Magna Carta is seen as one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy.

The Parliament of Victoria is strongly associated with the oak tree in the Parliamentary Gardens, the Federal Oak. Sir Henry Parkes planted it in 1890 at the start of the Australasian Federal Convention. Representatives from the colonies met at the Convention to agree on the concept of federation.

 

Tradition rather than symbolism

Whatever the symbolic reason for the use of green, the use of the colour is now traditional. Green has become the distinguishing colour of the Commons, and Westminster-style lower Houses in general, by association rather than by any particular symbolism.

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