Royal commissions with their wide powers, independence and uncertain outcomes are adopted sparingly by government. Hence, those charged with establishing such an inquiry are often left to begin anew. The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (VBRC) provides a means of exploring lessons for public administration in light of its inquiry approach and internal operation. Similarly, recent reports on the conduct of statutory inquiries provide the opportunity to examine good practice. This article explores the central issue of what mode of inquiry is suited for particular circumstances. It characterises three different types of inquiry and analyses their features. The author provides participant observer insights from the VBRC and reflects on lessons learned.