Story of the bells

Detail of the Federation Handbells display
The Federation Handbells display on the western end of level one, Melbourne Museum.
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Celebrating the Centenary of Federation

The Federation Handbells were created in 2001 to celebrate the Centenary of Federation. There were three parts to the Federation Bell project:

  • The Federation Handbells
  • The Federation Bells, a large-scale sculptural installation at Birrarung Marr. You can compose music for the Federation Bells online.
  • A set of harmonic orchestral bells made for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Unique design and construction

The handbells were designed and constructed by physicist and instrument maker, Dr Neil McLachlan and sculptor, Anton Hasell, co-directors of Australian Bell. It took almost three years to research and develop the world's first true harmonic bells.

Unlike church bells that usually produce a chord-like sound, the handbells produce a single clear musical tone. This opens up a whole lot of new possibilities for bell music, since, as Neil McLachlan said, "for the first time, they can actually be scored for."

McLaclan and Hasell worked with technology originally designed to analyse and fine-tune car parts to control vibration and reduce engine noise. This technology, developed by Dr Josef Tomas of RMIT, was was perfect for predicting how various bell profiles would vibrate. Dr Tomas was delighted - "We’d only ever tried to get rid of noise, never make it," he said.

There is a sculptural display of the Federation Handbells located at Melbourne Museum and examples of their music can be heard on the hour (between 11am and 4pm). The pieces are arranged and performed by master percussionist Peter Neville.