The Despatch Boxes are two wooden chests that sit on the central table in the House of Representatives, next to the Prime Minister's chair and the Leader of the Opposition's chair.
The Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, ministers and shadow ministers use the Despatch Boxes to rest their speech notes and other documents on while addressing the House—that is when they are said to be speaking 'from the Despatch Box.'
The Despatch Box on the government side of the chamber also contains forms and religious books previously used for swearing-in new members of the House.
The Despatch Boxes are made of rosewood and decorated with silver and enamel. They are hinged and lockable.
Despatch boxes were first used in 17th century Britain, to transport parliamentary documents to the chamber. The Australian Parliament's Despatch Boxes are replicas of two boxes which sat in the House of Commons in the British Parliament, before being destroyed by a bomb explosion in 1941 during the Second World War.
King George V gave the Despatch Boxes to the Australian Parliament to mark the opening of Old Parliament House in 1927. Inside the lid of each box is an inscription signed by King George V. In 1988, the Despatch Boxes were brought to the current Parliament House.
Along with other parliamentary symbols, the Despatch Boxes symbolise the link between the British House of Commons and the Australian House of Representatives.