9 May 1901

Australia opens its first parliament in Melbourne.

The Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York, May 9, 1901, more commonly known in Australia as The Big Picture, is a 1903 painting by the Australian artist Tom Roberts. The painting, measuring 304.5 by 509.2 centimetres, or roughly 10 by 17 feet, depicts the opening of the first Parliament of Australia at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne on 9 May 1901.

The painting is part of the Royal Collection but has been on permanent loan to the Parliament of Australia since 1957. The work, currently on display in Parliament House, Canberra, has been described as “undoubtedly the principal work of art recording Australia’s Parliamentary History.”

On 1 January 1901, after years of debate, the various colonies in Australia joined in a federation. While the new Constitution of Australia called for a new capital to be constructed, away from the major cities, until that time Melbourne would act as the seat of government of the new nation. Elections were held for the first Parliament of Australia and on 9 May 1901, the new parliament was sworn in at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne.

The opening of the new parliament was seen as a historic and momentous occasion with King Edward VII’s son, the Duke of Cornwall and York coming to Australia to officially open the new parliament on behalf of the King. To appropriately capture the occasion, the “Australian Art Association”, a consortium of private benefactors, sought to commission a painting of the event as a “gift to the nation”. Their motives were not entirely altruistic; the consortium hoped to profit by selling prints. Roberts was not the consortium’s first choice, with J. C. Waite initially preferred.

he painting was first exhibited in the Royal Academy in London before being presented to King Edward VII by the Commonwealth Government in 1904. It was then moved to St. James’s Palace where it remained on display until 1957. That year, Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia requested the permanent loan of the painting from Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen consented and the picture returned to Australia in 1958.

The picture was to be exhibited in the King’s Hall of the then Parliament House with the other historic records of events as the opening of the first Parliament in Canberra in 1927 and the Royal opening of Parliament in 1954, however it was too big for the available space. The decision was made to store the painting at the Australian War Memorial after a tour of the various state galleries. In 1969, the painting was moved to the Parliament House basement where it remained until 1980.

As a result of its travels, the picture had deteriorated considerably and required major restoration work.

The picture had long been unprotected from changes in temperature and humidity, it had been constantly rolled and unrolled and untacked from its stretcher frame. At one stage it was even folded in half for transport. All this seriously affected the canvas. It gradually sagged, undulated and malformed and was in danger of becoming completely dilapidated.

—?Katrina Rumley, quoted in Mackenzie.
The School of Materials Conservation at the Canberra College of Advanced Education started restoration work in 1980. The work included infra-red and ultra-violet photography to determine the condition of the painting followed by removal of old varnish and grime, repairs to the tacking margin and restoration of some small areas of paint. The work was completed in time for it to be taken to the new High Court of Australia building for its official opening by the Queen in 1981.

The designers of the new Parliament House were mindful of the need to provide an appropriate space to display The Big Picture in the new building. The Joint Standing Committee responsible for the new building made the decision to place the painting in the Main Committee Room Foyer. The architects worked to ensure that major design elements in the room such as the skylight and balustrade around the work allowed for the integration of the painting with the available space. Because the fragile state of the picture prevented it from being rolled, moving the painting from the High Court to Parliament House was a major logistical exercise. The move required removal of some windows at the High Court, the construction of a special carrying frame and scaffolding and a system of winches to support the picture in place. The painting remains in this specially designed location to this day.

On the occasion of the centenary of Federation in 2001, the Premier of Victoria Steve Bracks led a call for ownership of the painting to be formally transferred from the British Royal Collection to the Australian Crown. This was opposed as being both impracticable and unnecessary, as the Queen or her successors were unlikely to request its return.

9 May 1887

Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show starts in London.

A well-known scout for the army and a buffalo hunter for the railroads (which earned him his nickname), Cody had gained national prominence 15 years earlier thanks to a fanciful novel written by Edward Zane Carroll Judson. Writing under the pen name Ned Buntline, Judson made Cody the hero of his highly sensationalized dime novel The Scouts of the Plains; or, Red Deviltry As It Is.” In 1872, Judson also convinced Cody to travel to Chicago to star in a stage version of the book. Cody broke with Judson after a year, but he enjoyed the life of a performer and stayed on the stage for 11 seasons.

In 1883, Cody staged an outdoor extravaganza called the “Wild West, Rocky Mountain, and Prairie Exhibition” for a Fourth of July celebration in North Platte, Nebraska. When the show was a success, Cody realized he could evoke the mythic West more effectively if he abandoned cramped theater stages for large outdoor exhibitions. The result was “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West,” a circus-like pageant celebrating life in the West. During the next four years, Cody performed his show all around the nation to appreciative crowds often numbering 20,000 people.

Audiences loved Cody’s reenactments of frontier events: an attack on a Deadwood stage, a Pony Express relay race, and most exciting of all, the spectacle of Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn. Even more popular were the displays of western outdoor skills like rope tricks, bulldogging, and amazing feats of marksmanship. Cody made a star of Annie Oakley, an attractive young Ohio woman who earned her nickname “Little Sure Shot” by shooting a cigar out of an assistant’s mouth.

Many American’s were convinced that Cody’s spectacle was an authentic depiction of the Wild West. Cody encouraged the impression by bringing audiences “genuine characters”-real Native American performers Cody had recruited from several tribes. Even the famous Sitting Bull toured with the show for one season. Enthralled by the site of “genuine” Indians, few audience members questioned whether these men wearing immense feathered headdresses and riding artfully painted horses accurately represented tribal life on the Great Plains.

Having effectively defined the popular image of the West for many Americans, Cody took his show across the Atlantic to show Europeans. He staged his first international performance at the Earls Court show ground in London on this day in 1887 to a wildly appreciative audience. Queen Victoria herself attended two command showings. After London, Cody and his performers amazed audiences throughout Europe and then became a truly international success. One bronco rider, who stayed with the show until 1907, traveled around the world more than three times and recalled giving a performance in Outer Mongolia.

Though his Wild West show waned in popularity in the 20th century-in part because of competition from thousands of local rodeos that borrowed his idea-Cody remained on the road with the show for 30 years. When the show finally collapsed from financial pressures in 1913, Cody continued to perform in other similar shows until two months before his death in 1917. More than 18,000 attended the great showman’s funeral, and the romantic power of his vision still draws thousands of visitors a year to his gravesite on Lookout Mountain above Denver.