‘Streets of Melbourne’ at the Old Treasury Building

While I sometimes feel as if I am the only person who’s not away at the beach, the mountains or where-ever everyone else goes, there are some advantages in being home during the close-down around Christmas and New Year.  Off into town we went yesterday, feeling like tourists in our own town, to see the ‘Streets of Melbourne’ exhibition at the Old Treasury Building.  It’s on until May 2014, so there’s plenty of time to catch it!

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If you haven’t been to the museum in the Old Treasury, I strongly suggest that you pop in.  It’s FREE, it’s grown-up and it gives a much better narrative of the history of Victoria than the House of Fun that pretends to be the Museum of Victoria.  It’s open every day except Saturday between 10.00 – 4.00 each day, and its website is here.

The building itself was designed by J. J. Clark, who was only 19 when he started work on it.  It is a three-story Rennaisance Revival- style building, constructed between 1858 and 1862 at the cost of approximately 75,000 pounds.  It’s a proud building that boasts of the wealth that gold bequeathed to Victoria.  It was built to store gold in the vaults below (which you can access) and originally provided office facilities for the Governor, the Premier (then called the Chief Secretary), the Treasurer and the Auditor General.   It is still used today for Executive Council meetings.  The left hand side of the building usually has a bride or two hovering around it because it’s the home of the Victorian Marriage Registry (as you can see if you click to enlarge the image above).

We were fortunate to see the Executive Council rooms upstairs because they’re not always open. I’ve obviously been dwelling in pre-Responsible Government days for too long, because I’m rather ashamed to admit that it hadn’t occurred to me that there even IS an Executive Council any more.   In Port Phillip during Judge Willis’ time (i.e. prior to Separation), the executive council of New South Wales consisted of about 5-7 men, all appointed by the Crown and on the Executive Council by virtue of their substantive positions i.e. the Governor himself, the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, the Lord Bishop of Australia, the Colonial Secretary, the Colonial Treasurer, the Chief Justice and the Attorney General.   You don’t tend to hear much about it, because the Legislative Council was much more significant in the granting of Responsible Government.   But here we are, 170 years on in the separate state of Victoria, and the Executive Council, which meets in this room,now  consists of the governor and the senior ministry (although I do wonder how they all crowd around the table).  It was pleasing to see photographs of the current-day Executive Council with both men and women, compared with the rather dour and serious men-in-suits in some of the older pictures in the corridor outside.

The exhibition of early Melbourne paintings is also on the first floor.  You can only see them through a tour (Mondays 2.00pm. from Jan 20th or other times by appointment $8.00). I purchased the catalogue because there’s images there that I have never seen before.  Many of them are from the Roy Morgan Research Centre collection.

The museum downstairs has a large permanent display, but the first two rooms have special displays, and at the moment it’s of the streets of Melbourne, with an emphasis on the Hoddle Grid.  There are some fascinating maps there, and various surveying instruments and artefacts.

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We probably spent 90 minutes poring over a large map of the grid on the wall that has numbered street scape photos surrounding it.  There were photographs that I hadn’t seen before here as well, and we spent much time picking out buildings and arguing about which direction the photograph was taken from  (a compass and directional arrows on the map, which we suggested, would resolve such disputes!)

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This is a fantastic museum and I’m pleased that it has survived and is still free after the earlier City Museum closed there.  You can see (and purchase) a terrific video of a trip on a cable car just before it closed during WWII, the exhibitions change frequently, and there’s actually something real in the museum to see,  as distinct from a series of ‘experiences’ and ‘immersions’ that we seem to be fobbed off with in museums these days.

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2 responses to “‘Streets of Melbourne’ at the Old Treasury Building

  1. I did go there when it housed the City Museum and I was not impressed by much, apart from the history of the building. I went again a couple of years ago for an exhibition of trams painted over by artists. It sounds much more interesting now. I knew nothing of the Executive Council, let alone where they met.

    • We saw the tram exhibition too. They’ve got painted trams again, I gather, but they’re stick-ons, rather than actual painting- you’d know more about this than I do, having trams going right past your window. Somehow a decal doesn’t seem to have the same commitment to the artist as turning over the whole tram to them.

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