From Riches to Rags and Back Again
This story tells of St Kilda’s changing fortunes through its diverse housing styles.
St Kilda’s changing social status over time is visible in the different block sizes and the variety of homes, often sitting cheek-by-jowl.
St Kilda is a great place to live – its density makes it vibrant, exciting, close to the beach and the bay and it has plenty of parks – and it's within easy reach of the city. Waves of residents have washed through St Kilda, attracted in the boom times by its exclusivity and status, and in periods when the suburb was more down at heel, by cheap rents and low priced land.
The story is also an audio tour. Download the audio files and the map from the Heritage Victoria website, and head to St Kilda to see the houses for yourself.
The tour begins at Cleve Gardens, on the corner of Fitzroy Street and Beaconsfield Parade.
From the audio tour From Riches to Rags and Back Again, created by Heritage Victoria.
Walhalla: fires, floods and tons of gold
In a remote, steep, and heavily timbered valley in the Victorian Alps, in the summer of 1862-63, a small party of prospectors found encouraging signs of gold at the fork of a tributary of the Thomson River. It was December. By February of the next year an immense quartz reef had been discovered.
This reef – Cohen’s Reef - yielded over 50 tonnes of gold, making Walhalla one of Victoria’s richest and most vibrant towns, and home to thousands: with hotels, shops, breweries, churches, school, jail and its own newspaper. It also had its own photographic studio, headed by the Lee brothers.
Several albums still survive of Walhalla at its peak, providing a fascinating, evocative photographic record of a 19th century mining town; capturing a moment that was to be shortlived.
In 1910 the railway arrived, but too late: the gold was disappearing. The town emptied out and began its long sleep, until the 1980s when restorations began in earnest, and electricity finally arrived in 1998.
William Joseph Bessell (ex Councillor of the Shire of Walhalla) was presented this series of photos in 1909 on the eve of his departure from Walhalla.
Stories of Support
The 2016 Museums Australia (Victoria) Conference held at Phillip Island in October, was the inspiration for this story. A drive around the Island on arrival unearthed a surprise in Newhaven - the former Boys Home standing silent and abandoned, looming over the ocean.
Care homes were once an essential part of Victorian life. The gold rush and population increase in Victoria created a need for charitable organisations to provide care to those who could not care for themselves, most notably children. Providers of care have also included societies for people with special needs including the 'Deaf and Dumb', and the asylums and hospitals of Victoria. This continued until the late 20th century when reform was prompted by revelations of abuse in the institutional system. The care model has since shifted towards kinship and foster services.
Victoria’s former institutions of care are an important part of our history. Whilst many of the buildings—often architecturally brilliant— no longer exist, they are remembered through the photographs and artefacts held by collecting organisations across the state and catalogued here on Victorian Collections.
Viewbank: Unearthing a Colonial Homestead
Viewbank Homestead was one of the first grand homesteads built on the outskirts of Melbourne. Built around 1840, Viewbank was located near the junction of the Yarra and Plenty Rivers in Heidelberg.
The homestead was built in two phases. Originally a four room house, it was renovated and expanded in the 1850s and 1860s after it was acquired by wealthy squatter Dr Robert Martin.
Viewbank was destroyed by a professional demolition team in the early 1920s, long after the Martin family moved away from the area. By then, the house had fallen into disrepair and locals believed that it was haunted. For most of the 20th century, cattle grazed over the ruins and knowledge of the former grand homestead slipped from public knowledge until archaeologists returned to the site to unlock its secrets.
Between 1996 and 1999, Heritage Victoria conducted three excavations at the site with help from archaeologists from Melbourne, La Trobe and Flinders Universities, and more than 140 archaeology students and community members.
The archaeologists uncovered the stone foundations of the house and remnants of hand-made brick walls, fireplaces and other features. A range of artefacts were found during the excavation including children’s toys, coins, gaming tokens, thimbles and pins. A network of servant’s bells, fragments of marble fireplaces, and pieces of richly decorated plaster cornices reflect the affluence of the Martin family.
This story is made up of audio interviews with an archaeologist, an historian and a conservator. They discuss the Viewbank excavation, describe the artefacts found there and explain the process of their conservation at the Heritage Victoria conservation laboratory.
The Viewbank Homestead is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. For more information on the Viewbank or other heritage sites visit The Victorian Heritage Database.
Lighthouses: The romance and the reality
Everybody loves a lighthouse. The image of the shining light in a tall tower seem to stir something in everyone’s imagination. We imagine a romantic life in one of these isolated outposts. Away from the hustle and bustle, in a sublime and wild setting, at one with the elements…
The reality was a little different. Lighthouses were built on remote sections of the Victorian coast or on islands, some only accessible by sea. Light keepers and their families relied on infrequent supplies brought in by ships. During emergencies there might be no help at hand and the consequences could be tragic.
Over 600 shipwrecks are recorded along the treacherous Victorian coastline with the loss of many lives. Many of the wrecked ships were bringing people from all over the world to try their luck on the goldfields. The establishment of a series of Lighthouses along Victoria’s coast from the mid 1800’s didn’t stop the wrecks altogether; human error was often a contributing factor in these disasters.
Lighthouse keepers had their part to play, sometimes helping shipwreck survivors and communicating news of these disasters to the outside world.
Adventurous travellers have been visiting lighthouses since soon after they were built. They are now iconic destinations that most people can access and they haven’t lost their romantic appeal.
The Unsuspected Slums
Campaigner Frederick Oswald Barnett recorded the poverty facing many in the Melbourne slums of the 1930s.
“All the houses face back-yards…The woman living in the first house…was so desperately poor that she resolved to save the maternity bonus, and so, with her last baby had neither anaesthetic nor doctor.”
So observed campaigner Frederick Oswald Barnett of the poverty facing many in the Melbourne slums of the 1930s. After touring these slums with Barnett, it’s said the Victorian Premier, Albert Dunstan, couldn’t sleep for days.
In 1936 Dunstan established the Slum Abolition Board, and Barnett became vice-chairman of the newly established Housing Commission of Victoria in 1938.
A Methodist and accountant, Barnett became determined to improve the situation for the poor, sick, elderly and unemployed after encountering a slum in the 1920s. He was an astute crusader who coordinated letter writing campaigns and lectured throughout Victoria using many of his own poignant and arresting photographs of the cramped and unsanitary housing conditions.
Summon the Living
Prior to the advent of electronic sound systems, bells were heard ringing throughout the day.
Large bells were attached to buildings. Handheld bells sat on tables and mantel pieces. Bells rang for morning prayer, school time, half time, and dinner time. Bells announced a fire in town or the death of a local. Some bells were passed around within their local community, or re-purposed as presentation gifts, being easily engraved and potentially useful.
This story was originally inspired by Graeme Davison’s book The Unforgiving Minute: How Australia Learned to Tell the Time.
The steamship SS Casino served the Western District of Victoria for almost fifty years during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
A popular cargo ship, the Casino was a regular sight on the Moyne river and along the coast. The ship was an integral part of coastal life until she was shipwrecked in the 1930's, and objects from the Casino can now be found in collections from across the region and gathered here on Victorian Collections for the first time.
Transporting large quantities of wool, potatoes, onions, grain, sheep, cattle and other produce provided a great economic opportunity to business men in Port Fairy and in March, 1882, the Belfast & Koroit Steamship Company was formed with a capital of £20,000 in 10,000 shares. The SS Casino on her delivery voyage from England was due in Warrnambool to load potatoes for Sydney and the Directors inspected and purchased her there.
She arrived in Port Fairy on 29th July, 1882, steaming triumphantly up the Moyne River, and was greeted with cheers by a large crowd, many of whom had come from the surrounding countryside. She operated alone for almost all of the next 49 years. She was much loved by the whole Port Fairy community and the coastal ports that she serviced, bringing news and goods from far away and transporting passengers.
A celebration for the Casino's fiftieth anniversary was planned for the 29th July, 1932. Unfortunately soon after 9 o'clock on the morning of Sunday 10th July, 1932, disaster struck when the Casino was lost at Apollo Bay together with the lives of the Captain and 9 crew members.
North Shore: Geelong's Boom Town 1920s-1950s
In its heyday of the 1920s - 1950s, North Shore (a small northern suburb of Geelong) was the hub of industrial development in Victoria’s second city.
Situated against the backdrop of Corio Bay, North Shore and its immediate surrounds was home to major industries including Ford, International Harvester, Shell, the Corio Distillery and the Phosphate Cooperative Company of Australia (the 'Phossie').
Residents grew up with these companies literally over the back fence and many of their stories depict childhood memories of mischievous exploration. Many residents were employed by the industries, some hopping from job to job, whilst others spent the majority of their working lives at the likes of Ford or the Phossie.
At the commencement of World War II in September 1939, much of the local industry was placed on war footing. Two thirds of the newly opened International Harvester was commandeered by the R.A.A.F. and an ad hoc airfield was established. The U.S. Air Force arrived shortly thereafter.
The presence of American servicemen has left an enduring impression on the North Shore community. Their arrival was the cause of much local excitement, particularly among the children who made a pretty penny running errands for them. They were also a hit with the ladies, who enjoyed a social dance at the local community hall. The story of the American presence in North Shore remains largely untold, and the reflections of local residents provide a fantastically rare insight into a unique period in Victorian history.
A special thanks to local historians Ferg Hamilton and Bryan Power for their assistance during the making of this story. Also thanks to Gwlad McLachlan for sharing her treasure trove of Geelong stories.
Isaac Douglas Hermann & Heather Arnold
Carlo Catani: An engineering star over Victoria
After more than forty-one years of public service that never ended with his retirement, through surveying and direct design, contracting, supervision, and collaborative approaches, perhaps more than any other single figure, Carlo Catani re-scaped not only parts of Melbourne, but extensive swathes of Victoria ‘from Portland to Mallacoota’, opening up swamplands to farming, bringing access to beauty spots, establishing new townships, and the roads to get us there.
Making & Using Transport on the Goldfields
During the nineteenth century, horse-drawn vehicles were an essential part of life in rural Victoria.
In Ballarat, local coachbuilding firms assisted with the town’s growth in more ways than providing passage to the diggings. Horse-drawn vehicles were vital for the delivery of goods, responding to emergencies and often symbolised one’s social standing.
The Gold Rush ushered in a period of incredible growth for colonial Victoria. Ballarat’s escalating population and burgeoning industries highlighted the need for horse-drawn transport – not only for getting to the diggings, but also for delivering goods and building material, responding to emergencies and performing significant social rituals.
In the early nineteenth century, the goldfields were dominated by vehicles either imported from England or English-style vehicles built locally. Coaches, carriages and carts were typically constructed part-by-part, one at a time. As a result, each vehicle was highly unique.
By the mid-1850s, the American coachbuilding tradition had arrived on the goldfields. The American method, which had been developing since the 1840s, relied on mass-produced, ready-made components. In comparison to English designs, American coaches were known to be more reliable for goldfields travel; they were primed for long-distance journeys on rough terrain and were less likely to tip over.
As the nineteenth century progressed, a plethora of English, American and European vehicles populated Ballarat – both locally made and imported. The abundance of coaches, carriages and carts – and their value to the Ballarat community – can be seen in photographs and objects catalogued here on Victorian Collections.
Talking Shop: Ballarat in Business & City Life at Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute
Between January and April 2019, the Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute hosted the exhibition Talking Shop, exploring a world of Peters ice cream cones, milk bars, vintage advertising, historic photographs and ephemera.
This nostalgia was complemented by contemporary photographs and creative responses exploring Ballarat’s shops and businesses. Community events throughout the exhibition invited the people of Ballarat to contribute their images and memories to the BMI collection, and are shared here in this story.
This exhibition was curated by Amy Tsilemanis at the BMI who worked with artists Pauline O'Shannessy-Dowling and Margie Balazic, collector John Kerr and Ballarat businesses, council, and schools to create a 'generative' exhibition where material and collaborations could grow.
Wanting to know more about Ballarat’s booming business history? Take a digital tour of the exhibition here: https://invictoria.com.au/talking-shop-exhibition
These house plans from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, give us an indication of how those with the means to build larger houses lived.
Servant's quarters, groom's rooms, sculleries, stables, parlours and children's areas give us clues to social attitudes, relationships to children and employees, social mores and living conditions.
What House Is That?
More than just bricks and mortar, our homes are prisms, reflecting the society of the time they were built. Through them, we can understand the changing context of social, economic and architectural history, and the values and assumptions of the people who built and lived in them.
What house is that? is an exploration of the social and architectural history of Victoria’s housing styles. From our earliest Victorian cottages through to the light filled, open plan houses of the Modern era, we look at the houses Victorians call home.
The nine images and text give an overview of each of the main housing styles of Victoria’s history from the 1840s onwards. The 15 videos feature interviews with architects, historians and residents and explore the styles in more detail. This collection of images, text and videos comes from an interactive website created by Heritage Victoria.
Young and Jackson Hotel
The Young and Jackson Hotel, built in the 1850s, is one of Australia's most well known hotels. It was built, as the Princes Bridge Hotel, on part of an allotment originally purchased by John Batman in 1837.
Young and Jackson were both born in Dublin, and "chummed together" to New Zealand chasing the Otago gold deposits in 1861. It is not known when they came to Victoria, but they purchased the lease on the Princes Bridge Hotel in 1875.
Lighting fades away when a lamp is blown out, or when a switch is clicked off, but the history of lighting has left traces in Victorian cultural collections.
This story looks at items and images relating to the history of lighting in Victoria and considers the various lightscapes created by different types of lighting. This story is inspired by the book Black Kettle and Full Moon by Geoffrey Blainey.
After thousands of years of Aboriginal firelight, European households spent their evenings in dim smoky rooms huddled around a spluttering pool of light. Bright lighting was a luxury. As new energy sources and lighting technology became available nights became brighter, extending the day and changing the night time.