Shortlisted for the Higher Education Category of the 2019 Melbourne Writers Festival's storytelling competition 'Love & Melbourne' .
Melbourne – A Treasure Trove
By Hei Wai Hilary Kwan
It was through interchanging trains at Flinders Street Station, sitting for exams in the Royal Exhibition Building, having Asian cuisines in Chinatown and strolling down the Aboriginal heritage trail in Fitzroy, that I become fascinated in Melbourne’s history.
As a history and anthropology major student, I’m amazed by the city of Melbourne as a living history museum. The city of Melbourne was founded in 1835 when the Europeans came and settled. Although Melbourne only has a short urban history, the well-established and developed city claimed herself the fame of the most livable place on earth. It was the colonial influences and the Indigenous cultural footprints that shaped the multicultural Melbourne today. Allow me to speak my mind, wandering around the parks and ‘getting lost’ in the laneways were the best experiences in my journey of history learning.
To give you an idea, while I was shopping in the Melbourne Central Shopping Centre, I came across the Shot Tower Museum which I later used as part of my history course assignment that explores the meaning of the place for the city and its people over time. I did a fieldwork study in the Coop’s Shot Tower and realised that it was one of the tallest and most significant industrial shot-making towers in Melbourne until the mid-1940s. From what I could observe, the tower has a dynamic heritage which incorporates the well-preserved original structure and new shops. I am astonished by how the building is now protected and encased in a large transparent glass cone roof that is located in the heart of Melbourne enabling anyone passing by, like me, to appreciate this historic landmark.
Walking out of Melbourne Central on Swanston Street, my eyes were caught by the enticing Corinthian columns of the State Library of Victoria that were built in the 1850s. Entering the La Trobe reading room I could see people reading, studying and playing chess under the octagonal dome glass ceiling. Around them, the walls were filled with shelves full of books on the Corinthian interior balconies.
The State Library of Victoria is the trove of Melbourne’s treasures because it contains unique materials from Victoria, such as diaries donated by historical and political figures, records of discovery and settlements of Victoria by the Europeans, and collections regarding the Indigenous people of Victoria. The Library website made it very convenient for me to request any of those materials from the Library archive. When I was working on another history project about Australia in World War One, I utilised the library archive and got to read the actual diary written by George Haines who is an Australian soldier who served in the First World War. Through reading the manuscripts of the diary, I experienced an utterly new way of learning history. The archive materials are the primary sources of history, which is the evidence of events and the stories of individuals. As a history student, I am amazed by the quantities and quality of archive materials that I can get access to in the Library.
Melbourne is a multicultural place with many well-preserved heritage buildings, extensive libraries and museums and galleries. The Museum of Victoria and the National Gallery of Victoria were two of the oldest museums and galleries that once shared the same site with the State Library when it was built in the nineteenth century, before they both relocated. They are the favourite places for me and many others to visit regularly because they showcase a wide range of exhibitions with many significant national items. I particularly enjoyed the ‘Melbourne Story’ exhibition at the Melbourne Museum because it provides an immersive history of Melbourne and the stories of Melburnians from early settlements, to the gold rush and marvelous Melbourne, to modern Melbourne. The exhibition is definitely captivating for everyone, especially for expatriates who can gain a deeper understanding of the place in which they live.
Melbourne is a magnificent treasure trove for me which allows me to learn its history and culture. Every day as I head out something new can be discovered, historical places can be explored and cultural tales can be heard. As an international student, I am genuinely grateful to be living in Melbourne, learning its legacy and understanding the values of its people. Next time when you are walking along the streets of Melbourne, try looking around, you may be surprised by what the city can inspire in you.