About the Committee
The Magna Carta Committee of Australia was established in February 2009 by a small group of Canberra residents interested in the ongoing significance of Magna Carta to Australia.
Its objectives are:
- To increase knowledge of Magna Carta among the Australian community and its place in establishing the rule of law and democratic freedoms that Australians enjoy;
- To assist in promoting knowledge of the 1297 inspeximus issue of Magna Carta housed in Parliament House, Canberra and to encourage its safe conservation and display to the visiting public;
- To assist in promoting knowledge and appropriate public use of Magna Carta Place in Canberra; and
- To cooperate with the Magna Carta Trust of the United Kingdom and any other bodies established elsewhere to promote the continuing significance of Magna Carta to the world at large.
Air Marshal David Evans AC DSO AFC (retired) former Chairman of the National Capital Authority is the Chair of the current Committee, while Dr Don McMichael CBE is its Secretary.
The Committee has taken a number of actions in pursuit of its objectives including promoting knowledge of the Magna Carta display at Parliament House and its use by school groups and other visitors to Canberra; ensuring the Magna Carta continues to be recognized in the school history curriculum; initiating a range of activities to recognize the 800th anniversary in 2015 of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, England on 15-19 June 1215, including the issuing of special postage stamps and coins, special events in the Courts and in Parliament; and establishing close relationships with the Magna Carta Trust in Great Britain.
Australia’s Magna Carta
Australia is one of only two countries outside of the United Kingdom to own a copy of the Magna Carta. Originally sealed at Runnymede in 1215, Magna Carta was finally adopted as English law in 1297 and represents the basis of the common law of many countries, including Australia.
Australia’s Magna Carta is the 1297 version and was purchased from the King’s School, Bruton, Somerset in 1952 for £12500. It is now priceless and is on permanent display in Parliament House, Canberra. A full account of Australia’s Magna Carta, including a translation of its provisions, was published in 2010 and may be purchased for Aus$5.00 from the Assistant Director of Research, Procedure Office, Department of the Senate, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2600.
Magna Carta Place, Canberra, Australia
The Magna Carta Committee of Australia is a successor to an earlier Committee, which conceived the idea of Magna Carta Place as a means of recognizing the significant on-going relationship between Great Britain and Australia, at the time of the Centenary of Australian Federation. That Committee, chaired by former British High Commissioner Sir John Mason with Air Vice Marshal Desmond Hall as Vice Chairman, and established under the auspices of the Australia-Britain Society, worked closely with the National Capital Authority in developing the concept and design of Magna Carta Place and its Monument and received significant financial support from the Governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, and the ACT and from many private citizens.
Magna Carta Place is a semi-circular tree-bordered area of about 1 hectare adjacent to Old Parliament House in Canberra’s central Parliamentary Zone. It is bounded by Langton Crescent, named in 1952 after Stephen Langton who, as Archbishop of Canterbury, had been instrumental in having King John seal the Magna Carta in 1215. The area was formally named Magna Carta Place in 1997 on the 700th anniversary of the sealing, by King Edward 1, of the 1297 issue of Magna Carta, the version which first became the law of England.
The earlier Committee’s concept of a Monument in Magna Carta Place to commemorate “Freedom under Law” in Australia was supported by the National Capital Authority which, in 1999, arranged a competition advertised in both Australia and Great Britain for a design for the Memorial. The competition was won by a team headed by Canberra-based architect Alastair Falconer. The Monument, pictured, comprises a long raked wall backed by a grassed mound and a pavilion with a central buried stone. The mound is intended as a reminder of the ancient burial mounds of the English countryside – with the mound cut open and its treasures “unburied” to reveal the pavilion and its foundation stone – representative of Magna Carta as a symbolic treasure of humanity.
The long walls, or cut side of the burial mound, are clad in stone on which are etched, to the left, eight images of the life and times of Magna Carta and to the right, ten images illustrative of the development of the rule of law in Australia and of its parliamentary system. These murals are supported by six bronze plaques whose themes are: Magna Carta- the history of an idea; the early history of Magna Carta; the Great Charter; Magna Carta and Australia; the Australian Constitution; and the Spirit of Magna Carta.
The pavilion has a cast bronze dome with radial slots and a central ocular opening, encircled by a crown-like ring on which is inscribed the Latin text of chapter 29 of the 1297 version, all supported by three paired Australian ironbark columns. Between the paired wooden columns are set brass rubbing plates combining text and images related to Magna Carta. In the centre of the Pavilion is the foundation stone, under which is buried a time capsule to be opened in 2101.
The Magna Carta Monument and Magna Carta Place are freely open to the public, easily accessible from adjacent car parking or public transport routes with a number of benches to facilitate rest and contemplation. A full account of the development of Magna Carta Place and its Monument has been prepared by Dr John Gray, a member of the original Committee, a copy of which has been lodged in the National Library of Australia under the authorship of Magna Carta Committee, Australia-Britain Society.
REPORT ON MAGNA CARTA 800TH ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATIVE EVENT, MAGNA CARTA PLACE, CANBERRA 14 JUNE 2015
The Magna Carta Committee of Australia, with financial assistance from the UK’s Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee and other local organisations *, celebrated the 800th anniversary on 14 June with a ceremonial parade of the Federation Guard (an elite group of the Australian Defence Force comprising about 80 soldiers, sailors and air-force personnel) supported by the band of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Canberra.
The event took place on a glorious sunny winter afternoon at Magna Carta Place, Canberra, adjacent to the Magna Carta Monument, which was established to mark the Centenary of Australian Federation in 2001 with substantial financial support from the UK Government.
The Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, took the salute and inspected both the Guard and the Band, before speaking briefly to the 100 plus guests and members of the public about the importance of Magna Carta for Australian democracy.
The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and a former Defence Minister, spoke about the role of the Australian Defence Force over the last century in defending the freedoms and values which Australians hold dear and which stem in large part from Magna Carta.
Dr Nelson drew attention to the Memorial in Englefield Green, Surrey, which overlooks the River Thames and Runnymede Meadow. Known as the Air Forces Memorial, it commemorates 20,456 men from across the air forces of the British Commonwealth killed in operations during the Second World War.
He observed that
“Inscribed onto the memorial are the names of 1,382 Australians who died fighting with the RAF while serving in the Royal Australian Air Force. None has a known grave. They died in defence of the truths upon which we pause here to reflect. We do so as free and confident heirs to a legacy conceived in a document signed 800 years ago, shaped in free democratic debate, forged in bloody self-sacrifice and passed now to our generation”.
Following the ceremony, a bronze plaque marking the event was unveiled after which guests enjoyed refreshments while the Prime Minister and Dr Nelson mingled with those attending
*The Australia Britain Society Foundation and the Society’s ACT Branch; the Rule of Law Institute of Australia; the National Trust of Australia (ACT) and the National Capital Authority.
The Federation Guard on parade.
Prime Minister Abbott addresses the assembled guests; with Australia’s Magna Carta Monument at the side
Dr Brendan Nelson greets the British High Commissioner, the Hon Menna Rawlings CMG while Prime Minister Abbott congratulates Air Marshal David Evans AC DSO AFC (Rtd), Chairman of the Magna Carta Committee of Australia, following unveiling of the commemorative plaque in Magna Carta Place.