It’s been a long year and a half with COVID-19 delaying many of the works underway at the National Carillon.
Please see our Agency updates page for current COVID-19 lockdown periods affecting opening times of the NCA buildings and assets.
While you are waiting for the concerts to return – pop into the National Capital Exhibition at Regatta Point to learn more about the National Carillon.
See the original instrument that was installed in 1969 and learn more about the National Carillon: the history, the mechanics and the people behind the music.
The National Capital Exhibition is open weekdays 9am to 5pm and weekends 10am to 4 pm.
Access to the National Carillon is via Kings Avenue (north bound lane only) or from Constitution Avenue.
Located on Queen Elizabeth II Island, Lake Burley Griffin, the National Carillon was a gift from the British Government to the people of Australia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the national capital.
Carillons have a minimum of 23 bells. With 57 bronze bells the National Carillon is large by world standards. The pitch of the bells ranges chromatically through four and one half octaves. The bells each weigh between seven kilograms and six tonnes. Cast in England by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough, they are fine examples of the art of bellfounding.
With the tower rising to a height of 50 metres, this allows the music of the bells to drift across Lake Burley Griffin and through Kings and Commonwealth Parks. The tower is lit at night, providing a magnificent landmark in the national capital.
The best location to listen to the National Carillon is anywhere with an unobstructed view of the tower, within a radius of about 100 metres. The carillonist may be greeted at the base of the tower approximately five minutes after the recital.
Carillonists play the suspended stationary bells from a keyboard of wooden batons and pedals, called a clavier. A system of individual cables and wire linkages draws soft iron clappers on to the bells as each wooden baton or pedal is struck by the carillonist. A separate mechanical system of operation allows the quarter hour striking of the Westminster chimes.
Much variation of musical expression is obtainable in the hands of a competent carillonist. Carillon 'schools' are well established in Europe and North America and carillonists regularly participate in international recitals. The carillon can also be played in concert with other instruments.
Timothy Hurd, QSM was appointed as the National Carillon Director in Canberra in July 2001. His graduate training in music was at Yale University, followed by carillon studies in the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States. In the early 1980s Timothy was awarded the Dutch ‘Prix d’Excellence’ in carillon performance and, in 1994, he received the Queen’s Service Medal for services to music. Timothy has performed concerts and taught master classes throughout the world.
Local and visiting carillonists perform recitals at the National Carillon throughout the year. All styles of music are represented, from compositions specially written for the carillon to popular song arrangements and improvisation. It is often used to celebrate special occasions and in conjunction with other events.
The National Carillon is played on a regular basis during the year by both local and visiting carillonists. It is often used to celebrate national days and is played in conjunction with other events such as Australia Day. Meet here our National Carillonists.
All styles of music are represented, from compositions specially written for the Carillon to popular song arrangements and improvisation. The best place to listen to the National Carillon is one where you have an unobstructed view of the tower and usually within a radius of one hundred metres. Approximately five minutes after the conclusion of the recital, the carillonist may be greeted at the base of the tower.
The National Carillon, on Queen Elizabeth II Island (formerly known as Aspen Island) is managed and maintained by the National Capital Authority on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia.
The National Carillon tower was the prize-winning design of Western Australian architects Cameron, Chisholm & Nicol. The design of the tower comprises three angular columns clad in striking quartz and opal chip. Each shaft is a triangle in plan and each is aligned with one of the three sides of a central equilateral triangle. Each of the shafts serves a different function: the highest contains a passenger lift, the next a steel staircase, and the lowest is a service shaft. The maximum height of the tower is 50 metres from ground level. The first floor is approximately halfway up the tower and contains the chamber for the clavier that operates the bells, a practice clavier for recital preparation, and a shower and dressing room. Above this is the carillon chamber itself, and lastly, at a height of 36 metres above ground level, is a small viewing called 'Chimes'.
The Carillon was constructed with a concrete frame and site-fabricated, by positioning and jointing the cladding, erecting self-climbing formwork on the inside and infilling stage by stage from the bottom with reinforcement and concrete. An aperture had to be left in the centre of the floor to allow the biggest bells to be hoisted to the carillon chamber, since they were too large to pass up any of the three shafts.
Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the National Carillon on 26 April 1970. John Douglas Gordon, after whom the Aspen Island footbridge is now named, played the inaugural recital. The National Carillon was refurbished in 2003, with the clavier chamber and function room on the top floor being substantially expanded and renovated. Two new bells were also added.
In 2020 we celebrated the National Carillon's 50th Anniversary, find more here.
Acknowledgement of Country
Our work is on the land of the Ngunnawal People, Ngunnawal Country. We pay our respects to their Elders – past, present and emerging.