Royal Exhibition Building

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Royal Exhibition Building

The Royal Exhibition Building is one of the world's oldest remaining exhibition pavilions. Gloriously restored and still used for exhibitions, it was the first building in Australia to achieve a World Heritage listing.

New trees for the plaza

Author
by Paul Howell
Publish date
22 September 2014
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Paul edited the MV Members' magazine Six Months over the past year.

Work starts today on a green upgrade of the Melbourne Museum plaza. The raised seating areas at both the Nicholson Street and Rathdowne Street ends of the plaza between the museum and the Royal Exhibition Building are being remodelled into two large planter boxes, each planted with 16 Tristaniopsis laurina 'Luscious’ trees.

Flowers of Tristaniopsis laurina Flowers of Tristaniopsis laurina
Image: Flowers of Tristaniopsis laurina
Source: Tatters ❀ via Compfight cc
 

These Australian natives, also known as Kanookas or Water Gums, are a common sight in city landscaping. They have bright yellow flowers and quick-growing shady canopies. The trees will grow between 4.6 metres and 9.1 metres tall.

Under the Plaza Planters Project, which has now won agreement from both the Melbourne City Council and the Museum Victoria board, the two 864-square metre boxes will also be grassed over with lawn (as well as mulch at the base of each tree). The three long seats currently in each space will remain, creating a more comfortable area to take in Melbourne’s unique Museum precinct.

The revitalised plaza will help to visually connect both buildings with the established gardens on either side. As well as adding some extra greening to the central corridor through the Carlton Gardens, the trees will create an intriguing contrast of natural beauty alongside the architectural splendour of both Melbourne Museum and the Royal Exhibition Building.

Works are due to be completed by mid-October. The new seating areas will be ready and accessible well before the start of summer—which is just the right time to see the trees in full bloom.

Links:

Tristaniopsis laurina (Australian National Botanic Gardens)

10 years of World Heritage status

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
1 July 2014
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Many of us have precious heirlooms that escort our families through the decades, cherished by each generation in turn. Perhaps as a child you loved the treasures in the house of your grandparents and now you are the custodian of these objects, charged with keeping them safe for future descendants.

Few of us experience quite the scale of family collections as Will Twycross, who describes his childhood thus: "I grew up in a weatherboard house that contained European paintings, intricately carved ivory chess pieces, brilliantly coloured ceramics, and long Polynesian arrows that we were told were poison tipped and shouldn't be touched…. The paintings with their strange scenes and exotic colours hung on the walls, breathing the soft mists of Europe into the harsh sunlight of the suburbs."

Photograph of a room The drawing room at Emmarine II, the Twycross family home at 23 Seymour Road, Elsternwick, showing various pieces of the John Twycross collection displayed in the home during the mid-20th century.  

chess pieces Ivory puzzle ball chess pieces from a set carved in China in the late Qing Dynasty, circa 1870-1880. Will Twycross played with these as a child.
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Will Twycross is the great-grandson of Melbourne merchant and art collector John ‘Top Hat’ Twycross. The wonders of Will’s childhood home were originally bought by John and his wife Charlotte ‘Lizzie’ Twycross at the 1880 and 1888 Melbourne International Exhibitions. There they acquired several hundred paintings, pieces of furniture and decorative items for their grand house in Caulfield. Through the years, the Twycross family cared for the collection until 2009, when they donated over 200 objects to Museum Victoria's Royal Exhibition Building Collection. "We decided to return it to the place it had come from," notes Will. "The decision seemed to have a certain symmetry to it."

People at an exhibition Illustration of the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition bustling with visitors.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Today marks ten years of World Heritage status for our beloved Royal Exhibition Building, and we're celebrating with the release of a book and accompanying website about the extraordinary Twycross Collection. In Visions of Colonial Grandeur, curator Dr Charlotte Smith has researched not just the Twycross legacy and the collection itself, but the impact of two international exhibitions – which were, at the time, the largest events held in Australia.

The Royal Exhibition Building is no longer surrounded by the temporary annexes that housed the grand courts of the Melbourne Exhibition Building, but it remains the only Great Hall of its era to survive in its original setting and the world's oldest continuously-operating exhibition hall. On 1 July 2004, the REB was the first Victorian site and the first Australian building to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It followed the 1980s listings of places of outstanding natural and cultural significance such as Kakadu National Park, the Tasmanian Wilderness and the Great Barrier Reef.

Links:

Visions of Colonial Grandeur website: museumvictoria.com.au/colonial-grandeur

Visions of Colonial Grandeur book

John Twycross Melbourne International Exhibitions Collection on Collections Online

Australian sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Flags for Melbourne

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
25 November 2013
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Two new flags are flying above the Royal Exhibition Building for On Top of the World: Flags for Melbourne. This public art project takes the NGV’s new exhibition, Melbourne Now, outside the gallery and to flagpoles across the City of Melbourne.

Melbourne Now flag John Warwicker's Melbourne Now flag flying above the Royal Exhibition Building.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The first of the flags was unfurled at Princes Hill on Tuesday in tribute to Ivor Evans, a Princes Hill student who was one of the five winners of a public competition to design the current Australian flag in 1901. This design was first flown at the Exhibition Building, which was the seat of the federal parliament at the time. On 3 September this year, the Royal Exhibition Building celebrated the 112th anniversary of flying the Australian flag, while the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander flags have been permanent fixtures since restoration of the flagpoles at either end of the building in August this year.

Each of the art project's sixteen flags were designed by local artists; those flying from the Royal Exhibition Building are by designer John Warwicker. In his artist’s statement, Mr Warwicker explains his design as an acknowledgement of the connection of Aboriginal people to the land, with the sun shared between the traditional owners of Australia and the immigrants who settled here, guided by the Southern Cross. Mr Warwicker sought permission from Harold Thomas to adapt his iconic Aboriginal flag design, and Mr Thomas is expected to visit for a viewing early in the new year.

John Warwicker's Melbourne Now flags John Warwicker's Melbourne Now flags flying above the Royal Exhibition Building, with the Australian Flag up above.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The flags will be in place until the Melbourne Now exhibition ends on 23 March 2014.

MV TOURS app

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
11 October 2013
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Excellent news for urban stickybeaks – we've just released the first three walking tours for the new MV TOURS app. If you’re the kind of person who likes to look up at the older bits of Melbourne, download these free, self-guided tours to your smartphone or device: Spotswood Industrial Heritage, Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, and Melbourne's Golden Mile. Think of the app as having a curator in your pocket, telling you stories on demand.

MV TOURS app This chap is on the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens walking tour, and learning about the Hochgurtel Fountain. This was a top spot for promenading in true 1880s society fashion.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I had a chat to one of those pocket curators, Dr Charlotte Smith, about her favourite parts of each route. She led the curatorial team developing the three tours and she's proof that there is always more to learn about the city, even if you’re already an expert historian. She’s particularly smitten with the strange corrugated iron annex hung from the side of the Gothic Rialto Building in Flinders Lane – urinals from the 1890s. "They’re just beautiful! I had no idea they were there," says Charlotte. "In those times they didn't have internal plumbing, but an office building still needed to provide a place for men to relieve themselves."

Melbourne's Golden Mile tour app Screenshot from Melbourne's Golden Mile app showing the Rialto Building urinals.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This urinals are a stop on the Melbourne's Golden Mile walking tour, which is based on Professor Graeme Davison's original booklet guide to accompany the path of circular metal disks embedded in city pavements. "We've neatened it a bit, but we follow the Golden Mile disks except where footpaths have been resurfaced and the disks are gone." This tour traces the boom era of Melbourne when the young city was flush with gold money and eager migrants.

Charlotte describes the Spotswood Industrial Heritage walking tour as "fabulous. I’ve really fallen in love with Spotswood." Among stories of manufacturing – fuses, agricultural equipment, glass bottles and more – is the sense of a place that evolved a distinctive character.

Says Charlotte, "we’ve tried to tell the story of it as a suburb with an old soul. There are stories about migration and changing manufacturing needs. The reason why the suburb is so important is its location – it is slightly lower than Melbourne, the river flows past it, and the first train line passed through Spotswood  to the main port at Williamstown." The walking tour also features items of notoriety produced in Spotswood: the glassworks made the suburb the 'Home of the Stubbie', while bushranger Ned Kelly's armour was fashioned from ploughs made by local firm Lennon and Company.

Stubbie Stubbie
Image: Laurie Richards
Source: Museum Victoria
 

All three tours are richly illustrated with hundreds of photographs and images drawn from MV's collections and other important sources, such as Wolfgang Sievers' photographs of industry and Mark Strizic’s beautiful photos of Melbourne in the 1950s. Charlotte particularly loves "a photograph we found for the Fuse Factory on Hall Street, of women working with their heads covered in scarves to protect themselves from flying bits and pieces." These and other images show how places have changed over the years, and in many cases, places that no longer exist.

While Charlotte expects that the Spotswood tour will be most used by local residents, international visitors are a big audience for the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Garden tour, requiring certain concessions for those unfamiliar with the damage that possums can do. Those strange rings of metal around trunks of trees? Possum guards. (That grey furry mound in a tree hollow? Possum.)

The REB tour also includes exquisite drawings by builder David Mitchell of the Exhibition Building. "They’re at the University of Melbourne archive and not often seen. It's fascinating to look at one of the historical drawings then look up at the building and see how it has been realised." 

These three tours are the first instalment in what we hope will be a library of tours of Melbourne and regional places. Download one or all of the tours to your device through either the App Store or Google Play, and let us know what you think! 

Links

Walk through History support page

View all Museum Victoria apps

Immigration Museum: Melbourne's Golden Mile

MV Blog: A golden morning

Of wreckage, ships and dinosaur bits

Author
by Wayne
Publish date
26 July 2013
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I stare out to sea, a heaving blur of grey with white-capped breakers. Two thoughts occur to me – why didn’t I bring better wet weather gear, and how did this place get this odd name?

view of the ocean A lovely, clear Autumn day onsite at Eric the Red
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I am perched on a rock in a sheltered pocket of the beach and near some dune vegetation, the wind and rain intermittently reminding me of my inadequate clothing. Between myself and the sea is a small pile of grey rock which I have been progressively breaking open with my hammer and chisel, searching for fossils. A few metres beyond some of my fellow crew are swinging sledgehammers at a large section of this rock, working on extracting more material to be broken down in a search for more fossils.

Digging at Eric the Red site A group of volunteer diggers brave the elements onsite at the 'Eric the Red' fossil dig.
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We are sitting on a beach near the Cape Otway Lighthouse in late March, close to a location called “Eric the Red”. The grey rock we are processing were once sediments laid down in a streambed in a rift valley over 100 million years ago. Amongst the grey sediments are seams of fossilised plant material, and very occasionally, fossil bones of animals that lived and died nearby.

A rock onsite at Eric the Red A rock ready for breaking onsite at Eric the Red - who knows what fossils it might yeild? As it turns out - none.
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I am here as part of a Museum Victoria field trip to collect these fossils; amongst me is a wonderfully diverse group of people; Palaeontology students and academics, Museum staff, amateur enthusiasts and assorted interested folk. Together, our aim is to process this Cretaceous rock, search for fossil bone, record our finds and package them carefully for their voyage to the Museum Victoria Palaeontology collections, housed in the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens.

But...’Eric the Red’? What’s that name all about?

Weeks later, in the decidedly more dry and comfortable setting of the Museum, I decide to research why the site is called “Eric the Red”. It turns out that ‘Eric the Red’ was a vessel that was shipwrecked close to the shoreline of where we were digging; it ran aground in 1880 on a reef composed of the very same unit of rock we were excavating. The vessel was wrecked on the final leg of its otherwise uneventful voyage from New York to Melbourne, carrying a cargo of exhibits for the USA pavilion at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition – silverware, toys and pianos were among its diverse manifest. An interesting coincidence was that the ultimate destination for the Cargo of the Eric the Red was the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens in Melbourne – this is also the destination for the fossils we were extracting from the site, as Museum Victoria’s Palaeontology Collections and laboratory are in the basement of the Exhibition Building.

Royal Exhibition Building The Royal Exhibition Building - the intended destination of the cargo of Eric the Red, and in part, home to Museum Victoria's Geoscience collections
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria
  

Thankfully the fate of our diggers and our precious cargo was less tragic than that of the crew and cargo of the ‘Eric the Red’; the wreck resulted in the loss of life of some crew. You can read a full account of the wreck of “Eric the Red” on Heritage Victoria’s website, and also a the reportage of the tragedy in “The Argus” via Trove.

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch

Author
by J. Patrick Greene
Publish date
7 December 2012
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Yesterday we heard the sad news of the death of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, an enthusiastic supporter of Museum Victoria who always took a keen interest in the Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum and Scienceworks. As recently as September this year I received a letter on her behalf thanking me for sending her the Museum's magazine, Six Months, and commenting on the wide range of activities and projects described in it.

  Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Dame Elisabeth at the launch of Ancient Hampi at the Immigration Museum in 2008.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I first met Dame Elisabeth shortly after I took up my post as CEO of Museum Victoria in 2002. Harold Mitchell, then President of the Museums Board of Victoria, had written to inform her of my appointment. She asked to see me and we met in my office. It was immediately apparent that I was in the presence of a formidable but charming woman, who immediately put me at ease by saying how much she wanted to meet "another Greene". She revealed that her maiden name was Greene, and told me about her grandfather who had arrived from Ireland to work as an engineer for Victorian Railways. One of his many projects was the construction of the viaduct that carries the lines into Flinders Street Station. She gleefully told me that The Age had at the time described it as 'Greene's Folly' and her pride that more than a century later it was still performing its task so well – some 'folly!'

A notable occasion was the celebration of the museum's 150th anniversary in 2004 which took place in the Royal Exhibition Building with Dame Elisabeth as the guest of honour. Harold Mitchell discovered that her birthday was just a few days away and spontaneously asked the army trumpeter to play Happy Birthday, which all the guests joined in singing.

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Dame Elisabeth arriving at Harold Mitchell's farewell party in 2008.
Source: Museum Victoria

Dame Elisabeth was renowned for her warmth, her ability to remember names and of course her philanthropy. I spoke at a Philanthropy Australia event held in her honour about her contribution to Museum Victoria's activities and was amazed at the range of other causes that she supported. She was a very special person who made a considerable contribution to Victoria.

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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