[Deborah Tout-Smith]

Deborah Tout-Smith provides a tour of Melbourne's History

The Australian History section of the Museum of Victoria was found to be quite unpopular with the public when it opened in 2000. It seemed to have no sense of story or history that people could understand and it was decided that a new approach was needed. Money was provided to totally strip the original area of 1,400 square metres and additional space was acquired from an adjacent gallery. A three year period was allowed to develop a program with Deborah Tout-Smith as the Lead Curator for The Melbourne Story.

Once the original display was removed, large sheets of paper were spread out on the floor. The paper was divided up into decades from 1835 to the present and the team of workers were invited to write down their ideas. It was decided to break up the story of Melbourne into eras. The first era, 1835 - 1850, is called Melbourne as a Meeting Place and acknowledges the aborigines. A treasured artefact is an aboriginal canoe. This section includes John Batman's treaty with the aborigines, John Pascoe Fawkner's newspaper and printing press and Robert Hoddle's books and surveying tools.

1850 - 1880 is called Gold Town and one of its most prized exhibits is the last Cobb & Co. coach to run on the gold fields. As this era was a time of massive immigration, there are models of ships which brought out immigrants. A replica of the "Lightning" is being built.

The era 1880 - 1890 includes objects from the Great Exhibition in Melbourne and also the re-creation of 2 cottages from Little Lonsdale Street. Visitors are encouraged to sit on the furniture in the cottages. Coles Book Arcade is represented and a symphonium stands in this area.

1900 - 1920 covers the era when Melbourne was the first capital of Australia. One very popular exhibit, especially with politicians, is the coat of arms supported by a stuffed kangaroo and emu. The diversity of the exhibition is demonstrated by examples of dresses worn at the time of Federation, stories about the Kew Asylum and work done by the enviromentalist A. J. Campbell who had a sense that we were losing our natural history and this section shows birds which no longer live in the Melbourne area.

During the time 1920 - 1945, the impact of electricity and other technologies were felt. This area includes carriages from the scenic railway at Luna Park. Old film footage taken with hand held cameras is screened and rumbling under the carriage seats make it realistic. Here also you can sit and have your photo taken on the 1920's moon that was at Luna Park.

[Photographed at Lunar Park]
The Moon at Luna Park

Taken c.1924-1925, the photo shows Jan Hanslow's mother on the right with an amazing bow in her hair and fur trim on her clothes.

( Source: Jan Hanslow's Collection. )

1945 - 1980 highlights the post war migration and spreading suburbia. A re-creation of a lounge room includes a television and shows of the time, like the Tarax Show.

The curators found it hard to choose what to include in the present era so have presented a film which covers the history of Melbourne and concludes with thoughts from various people on whether recent changes have been good or bad.

Visitors to the Museum are varied with half coming from outside Melbourne. There are many school groups. Some visitors want excitement and enjoyment whilst others want information and education. Some people want stimulation and inspiration. There are those people who feel duty bound to visit and who wish to reminisce and have an emotional experience.

A fresh approach to the exhibition has been successful which is satisfying for all those involved. A map of Melbourne which changes as you watch it sounds really interesting and involves the use of new technology whilst the inclusion of old favourites like Phar Lap and other old treasures from the Museum's collection add authenticity which hopefully means that all tastes are catered for and that visitors will keep coming.

(The above is a report on Deborah Tout-Smith's address at the General Meeting on 10 May 2008)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)

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