Guide to the Papers of Sir John Overall

MS 4874

National Library of Australia

Collection Summary

Papers of Sir John Overall
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 4874
2.45 metres (6 ms boxes + 1 medium folio box + 1 elephant folio)
Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The collection comprises papers, reports, publications, photographs and correspondence which document aspects of Overall's outstanding career as an architect and urban planner. Of particular interest are the items which record his significant role as the National Capital Development Commissioner, together with his long association with planning for New Parliament House, including chairmanship of the New Parliament House Design Competition.

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Sir John Overall, National Library of Australia, [class/series/file number]'.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The MS 4874 consignments were donated in two instalments: the main instalment by Overall in 1975, and a smaller addition by his son, Tim, in 2001.


The MS 4874 consignments were arranged in the six series groupings by National Library staff in 2002. For the most part, within each series the material has been retained in the order in which it was transferred to the Library.

Further correspondence by Overall is located among the Records Relating to the Grenfell Ruddock Memorial (MS 4588). Texts of a speech given by Overall at the opening of St John's Schoolhouse Museum, Canberra in 1969 are held at MS 2662 and MS 4577. An interview recorded by Mel Pratt with Overall in 1973 is in the Oral History Collection at ORAL TRC 121/45. Other papers relating to Overall's official duties in the Commonwealth Works Department, the National Capital Development Commission and Cities Commission will be found in the collections of the National Archives of Australia.

Biographical Note

Date Event
1913 Born 15 July
1920s Educated, Sydney Technical College
1931-1935 Robertson and Marks, Architects, Sydney
1935-1939 Stephenson and Turner, Architects, Sydney
1940-1946 Engineering Officer, Australian Infantry Force and Commanding Officer, First Australian Parachute Battalion; awarded Military Cross
1943 Married Margaret Goodman
1946 Awarded Board of Architects New South Wales Overseas Travelling Scholarship
1946-1948 Chief Architect, South Australian Housing Trust
1948-1951 Private practice, South Australia
1949 Awarded Australian Medallion, Board of Architects New South Wales
1951-1952 Deputy Chief Architect, Commonwealth Works Department
1953-1957 Chief Architect, Commonwealth Works Department
1956 Chairman, Olympic Games Fine Arts and Sculpture Committee
1958-1972 Commissioner, National Capital Development Commission
1962 Appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire
1964 Awarded Sidney Luker Memorial Medal
1967 Adviser to the New South Wales Government on the redevelopment of Central Sydney
1968 Knight Bachelor
1970 Awarded Sir James Barrett Medal; Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the Australian Exhibit Organisation, Expo' 70
1970-1971 President and Chairman, Australian Institute of Urban Studies
1971-1975 Member of Australian Academy of Science, Science and Industry Forum
1972-1973 Foundation Commissioner, National Urban and Regional Development Authority (renamed in this period the Cities Commission)
1973-1974 Adviser to the United Nations
1973-1983 Principal, John Overall and Partners; Director, Lend Lease Development Corporation, Sydney
1975-1983 Director and Chairman, Alliance Holdings
1976-1983 Director, General Property Trust
1979-1980 Chairman of Assessors, Competition for New Parliament House, Canberra
1979-1985 Member, Parliament House Construction Authority
1981 Parliament House Canberra : two stage design competition : assessors' final report
1982 Inaugural recipient, Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal
1984 Honorary Fellow, American Institute of Architects
1991 Published Canberra : reflections
1995 Published Canberra : yesterday, today and tomorrow : a personal memoir
2001 Died in Canberra, 2 September

Item Descriptions

Class MS 4874. Consignments received 1975 and 2001

Series 1. Overseas Travelling Scholarship in Architecture, Board of Architects, New South Wales, 1949

In 1946 Overall was the recipient of the New South Wales Board of Works Overseas Travelling Scholarship in Architecture. He used the award to travel to Europe in 1949 where he surveyed trends in architectural and urban design. This series contains typescripts of two reports which record his observations, and include photographs of the buildings and cities visited. Based on the results of his European investigations, Overall received the Board's Australian Medallion.

File 1. 'The architecture of Northern Europe in 1949' - Box 1
File 2. 'A review of post war architecture in England and Europe with particular reference to housing, schools, industrial and town planning achievements', 1949 - Box 1

Series 2. Commonwealth Works Department, 1956-1958

Overall held the position of Australian Government Chief Architect in the Commonwealth Works Department between 1953 and 1957. This series contains some ministerial notes and correspondence relating to the development of Canberra, together with documents recording his proposed appointment to the National Capital Development Authority.

File 1. 'Some comments on government building in the USA, Canada, Germany and Great Britain', 1956 - Box 1
File 2. Ministerial notes and correspondence relating to the development of Canberra, 1956-1958, including notes documenting Overall's proposed appointment to the NCDA - Box 1

Series 3. National Capital Development Commission, 1955-1972

In 1958 Overall was appointed Commissioner of the then National Capital Development Authority (from late 1959 known as the National Capital Development Commission), where he oversaw a period of great transition and expansion in Canberra's planning and development. He served in this capacity for 14 years, before taking up the position of Commissioner of the newly created National Urban and Regional Development Authority in 1972.

The series chiefly comprises published and unpublished reports of investigations and study tours, together with the results of a consultation undertaken on the Rocks Area of Sydney. Also included are some submissions and photographs of Canberra's development, and an interesting sequence of files on the design philosophy of Canberra.

Papers relating to Overall's association with the planning for, and design of, New Parliament House are contained in Series 5.

File 1_2. Photographs of Canberra, The Rocks (Sydney), c. 1965-1967 - Box 1
File 3. Newspaper cuttings, 1955-1962; Preliminary outline of a case study of the comprehensive development of the new towns of Canberra, Australia, (1972) - Box 1
File 4. Planning survey report of Canberra City district, (1959) - Box 1
File 5_6. Impressions and observations following tour of world capitals, (c. 1962) - Box 1
File 7. Observations on the future planning and development of Darwin, N.T. (1969); The urban pattern of Canberra : a land-use strategy to meet Canberra's probable expansion in the next decades (1968); Development of the new towns of Canberra, (1972) - Box 2
File 8. Papers, 1963-1972, including observations following study tour of world capitals (1963) and on overseas developments in urban design (1972); Observations on redevelopment of the western side of Sydney Cove Rocks area to Grosvenor Street, (1967) - Box 2
File 9_11. Papers relating to the design philosophy of Canberra, 1964-1969 - Box 2
File 12. Report on Sir William Holford's observations on the future development of anberra, A.C.T., (1958) - Box 2
File 13_14. 'Submission to the National Estate Committee of Inquiry from the Commonwealth/State Law Courts Building Joint Planning Committee on the Planning of the Environment of 'Law Courts' Project with particular reference to the Supreme Court Buildings', c. 1972 - Box 2 and Folio-Box (No. ?)
File 15. Redevelopment western side of Sydney Cove Rocks Area to Grosvenor Street following review of state held lands in the inner city area : brochure 1, (1967) - Map-Folio (No. ?)

Series 4. National Urban and Regional Development Authority and Cities Commission, 1972-1973

Overall served as the foundation Commissioner of the National Urban and Regional Development Authority from 1972 to 1973, during which period it was renamed the Cities Commission. In mid-1973 he put into effect a long-held personal plan to retire at the age of 60, and established his own architectural design firm, John Overall & Partners.

Included in this series are copies of ministerial papers and published reports relating to the Cities Commission activities. A transcript of an interview conducted by Mel Pratt with Overall on his retirement from office is contained in Folder 19.

File 1. Ministerial papers, 1973 - Box 2
File 2. Summary of initial investigations of urban centres, (1973) - Box 3
File 3. First five year report : a summary (1973); Cities Commission bulletin, (June 1973) - Box 3
File 4. Report to the Australian Government : a recommended new cities programme for the period, 1973-1978, (1973) - Box 3
File 5. Corrected transcript of interview recorded by Mel Pratt following Overall's retirement from the Cities Commission, 1973 - Box 3

Series 5. New Parliament House, Canberra, 1954-1994

Overall first became associated with plans for a new and permanent Parliament House whilst Chief Architect in the Commonwealth Works Department in the mid-1950s. A decade later, as NCDC Commissioner and a member of the specially convened National Area Study Group, he was closely involved with investigations into the proposed site for the building. This long-standing association with the design of the structure was extended in 1979-1980 when he served as Chairman of the New Parliament House Design Competition, and through his membership of the Parliament House Construction Authority in the period 1979 to 1985.

This series contains papers which document a number of the stages of the siting and design process, including minutes of the National Area Study Group, government submissions and comparative studies of other parliamentary buildings. Of special interest, Files 15-16 comprise a special commemorative File of papers and photographs which were presented to the judges of the New Parliament House Design Competition, to record the development of the final plan.

File 1. Papers relating to the proposed new Parliament House, Canberra, 1954-1968 - Box 3
File 2. Parliament houses : comparative studies of existing buildings with an examination of sites for a permanent building for Canberra (1966); Report of the Inquiry on the proposal to establish a system of survey integration in New South Wales, (1974) - Box 3
File 3_8. National Area Study Group minutes and papers, 1967-1969 - Box 3-4
File 9. The new and permanent Parliament House : a comparative study of Capital Hill and the Camp Hill area, (1969) - Box 4
File 10_13. Submissions to the Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House, c. 1970 - Box 4-5
File 14. Correspondence, 1985-1994, regarding New Parliament House (Canberra), and from Charles Atherton, Committee of 100 on the Federal City (Washington); assessors' reports for the design of the Australian National Gallery, the Canberra Carillon, National Gallery of Canada, High Court of Australia, 1968-1977 - Box 5
File 15_16. New Parliament House design competition commemorative brochure, 1980, including photographs - Box 5 and Folio-Box (No. ?)

Series 6. 'Book notes' and correspondence, c. 1956-1994

A series containing a sequence of files entitled 'Book notes' and related correspondence, which comprise research notes compiled by Overall, principally for his histories on Canberra's development.

File 1. 'Book notes', c. 1956-1962, including annotated copy of a Cabinet submission by Alan Fairhall entitled 'Development of Canberra as the seat of government' (1956), together with notes on Brasilia - Box 5
File 2_3. 'Book notes', 1985-1994, chiefly for history of Canberra's planning and development, but also for a memoir of Margaret Overall - Box 5
File 4_5. Correspondence, notes and cuttings relating to the planning of Canberra, 1985-1994, including photograph of the turning of the first sod of Parliament House (1923), copy of the Sir James Harrison Memorial Lecture (1989), Overall's curriculum vitae, (1985) - Box 5-6
File 6. Correspondence relating to the planning of Ottawa, Washington and Brasilia, 1994, together with handwritten notes on New Delhi - Box 6