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Victorian Archives Centre public opening hours

Monday to Friday: 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
(excl. public holidays)
The second and last Saturday of every month

Discover North Melbourne 1855-1905

Here is an image of a page out one of the rate books. It is handwritten by the rate collector of the time.

This Item is part of Series number: VPRS 5707

Digitised North Melbourne rate books for 1855-1905 are now available through our online catalogue.

In the nineteenth century, North Melbourne was known as the Hotham Ward of the City of Melbourne. Melbourne’s stockyards and meat markets were centered around this area and evidence of this activity survives to this day in features such as the wide streets for cattle and the Meat Market Arts Centre, as well as the colloquial name of ‘Shinboners’ for the North Melbourne Football Club.

Rates for commercial and residential properties in the area were ‘assessed’ and collected annually. Rate collectors walked the streets assessing properties and noting details of owners and tenants. The Rate Book for each year was then signed off as a key record of the city’s finances.

Download copies

Rate books for North Melbourne for the years 1855-1905 are now available for download here.

These records will be of particular interest for property research and finding out original home owners in the area.

Navigating the archives

To find details of a particular property you need to browse the online files, listed by year, and then find the street address.

The rates are listed by the street that the property was on – though the streets are not listed alphabetically – we think that the books are in the order in which the assessors walked the streets. Once you’ve found a property in a volume for one year, it will generally be in a similar position in volumes for other years, although the boundaries were redrawn and property numbers changed every so often.

These volumes were digitised with the support of the Melbourne Library Service as part of a project to digitise previously microfilmed records. As well as these volumes (VPRS 5707) rate and valuation books for the Melbourne CBD (VPRS 5708) and the Flemington/ Kensington area (VPRS 4097) were also copied and are available online. Copies of these images are also available at Melbourne Library Service branches.

Celebrating the Arts Centre’s 30th anniversary

cL8tar1414387348To celebrate the Arts Centre’s 30th anniversary we dug through our archives and came up with some gems from the last 30+ years.

From original seating and lighting plans, articles announcing the opening and clippings from the first set of performances, there’s a treasure trove of history to be found – including an article on one of the very first performances after construction.

The performance was in 1982 when the construction workers were treated to a performance alongside their family, friends and the Arts Minister of the time, Mr Matthews. After working so tirelessly on the project, this allowed the workers a chance to show off their efforts and experience the venue ahead of the general public. According to our records, the performance was capped off with refreshments served outside under the Riverside Terrace.

Gems from the collection

You can read the original newspaper article on this performance alongside some of our other Arts Centre records here.

A new system of government inquiry: what impact on record keeping?

Introduced in September this year, the Inquiries Act 2014 formally establishes three tiers of government inquiry in Victoria. The Act carries new implications for records received and created by inquiries, including a change in the agency responsible for dealing with Cabinet records. Perhaps though, what is most interesting about the regime is that it permits the handing over of Cabinet records (which are ordinarily closed from public access for a minimum 30 year period) to an inquiry; an issue that received much attention at a federal level earlier this year during the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program.

 WB bridgeThe Inquiries Act 2014 clarifies and enhances the powers of existing Royal Commissions and Boards of Inquiry, while introducing a new tier of inquiry, Formal Reviews.

Production of documents

Royal Commissions and Boards of Inquiry can call upon agencies to produce documents, even if other legislation prohibits the production of a document/s. The only exception is where another Act specially excludes the production of documents to the inquiry, or where this is prescribed by regulations. This means that:

  • Public records which are closed under sections 9, 10 &10AA of the Public Records Act 1973 would still be available for such inquiries;
  • Cabinet documents are also not excluded from call up provisions. The Freedom of Information Act 1982, under which cabinet documents are classed as exempt documents, specifically does not apply to documents in the custody of an agency (or the inquiry body) during the life of an inquiry.

The Act comes in the wake of the decision in early 2014 by Attorney-General George Brandis to release Cabinet documents of the former Rudd Government during the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program, which generated controversy in some political and legal quarters. The debate centered on whether the release of the documents set a precedent for publication of Cabinet documents before their set release date, and the possible consequences of this for free and open discussion in Cabinet. These questions have yet to be raised in the context of an inquiry body in Victoria.

 Records of inquiries

The Act provides that when a Royal Commission, Board of Inquiry or Formal Review has wound up, all its records are to be transferred to the Department of Premier and Cabinet as the responsible public office. That is unless the Premier, by legislative instrument, determines that they are to be transferred to another public office. Permanent value records must then be transferred to Public Record Office Victoria as soon as practicable.

 Previously, the Department of Justice has been the primary responsible agency, although at times other Departments have been responsible for the records (for example Department of Treasury and Finance).

 The new arrangements under the Act will apply to all future Victorian government inquiries.


Image: Front page of the Royal Commission into the Failure of West Gate Bridge, supplied by Public Record Office Victoria.


History Week – Victorian Community History Award Winners 2014

Exceptional Australian Garden MakersPublic Record Office Victoria announce the 2014 Victorian Community History Award winners

20 October, 2014

As part of History Week celebrations, Public Record Office Victoria today honours the winners of the 2014 Victorian Community History Awards.

The annual Awards, funded by the Victorian government, and coordinated by the Public Record Office of Victoria recognise the people and projects that helped preserve and share Victoria’s history in 2014. The Awards have grown since their conception in 1999 and this year they attracted a record 167 entrants over eight categories.

The overall prize was awarded to an impressive publication which celebrates Australia’s gardening culture.  Anne Vale’s, Exceptional Australian Garden Makers is a thoroughly researched book which explores the global influence on Australian garden styles and trends over the past two centuries and the pioneers who shaped them. It beautifully illustrates the adaptability of early gardeners to merge European styles with the dry yet beautiful Australian landscape.   

Other winners include an exhibition showcasing the history of the Mornington Peninsula, an interactive website which invites users to explore the history of the buildings and people of John St, Lilydale, and a personal memoir on the challenges of maintaining identity following the Black Saturday bushfires.

This year’s winner of the local history project category will be of particular interest to historians. Marguerita Stephens has published the first transcription of William Thomas’ diaries, the Assistant Protector of the Aborigines of Port Phillip Victoria 1839-1867, an important resource on early Victorian history.

Minister for the Arts, Heidi Victoria MP said the Awards highlighted the importance of local history in shaping Victoria’s identity.
“Our identity as Victorians is shaped by our collective stories and experiences. These Awards recognise and celebrate the passionate community historians who are dedicated to researching and sharing local stories and in doing so, supporting all Victorians connect with the past,” Ms Victoria said.

This year honours a range of projects including exhibitions, history publications, phone apps, websites and DVDs. By interpreting our stories in different ways we will continue to attract new audiences and keep Victoria’s rich history alive.

Justine Heazlewood, Director and Keeper of Public Records, Public Record Office Victoria congratulates the winners of this years award.
“Many of these projects utilised local historical collections to help preserve and tell stories. It highlights the importance of local collections in shaping our State’s history,” said Ms Heazlewood.

The Victorian Community History Awards are managed by Public Record Office Victoria in partnership with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.

Media Enquiries:
Rebecca Young, Media Advisor, 03 9348 5722 / 0418 698 364 /
Kate Follington, Co-ordinator Communications, 0412 328 632


Victorian Community History Award ($5000) – Anne Vale
Exceptional Australian Garden Makers
This beautifully presented book is an overview of garden history that reinforces the importance of gardens and gardening in Australian life and culture. Vale explores the major influences on Australian gardening and designs.  Particularly from significant individuals like Ferdinand von Mueller to the present and the enormous literature to which many of them contributed.  She researched in depth the early women gardeners who have largely been unrecognized for their influence over domestic and public gardens.

Local History Project Award ($2000) – Marguerita Stephens
The Journal of William Thomas, Assistant Protector of the Aborigines of Port Phillip & Guardian of the Aborigines of Victoria 1839-1867, 4 volumes
The diaries of William Thomas have long been recognised as an important source for contact history, For the first time, these four volumes make Thomas’ hand written diaries accessible and easy to interpret. Each volume is annotated and indexed and the fourth volume collects language material from Thomas and others. Overall this is an enormously useful publication which will have a big impact anyone wanting to research Aboriginal history.

Historical Interpretation Award ($2000) – Friends of La Trobe’s Cottage
The Garden at La Trobe’s Cottage, Kings Domain, Melbourne
This is an intriguing historical project – the recreation of the garden that surrounded Charles and Sophie La Trobe’s Jolimont cottage 1839-1854. While the cottage is not on its original site, contemporary paintings and references from written sources have been used to discover, and as closely as possible duplicate, the original plantings including a number of heritage species and garden features.

Multimedia History Award ($2000) – Lilydale & District Historical Society Inc.
Gun Alley: The Forgotten Story of Lilydale’s Back Streets 1880 to today
This remarkable website is the result of an ambitious project to capture online the history of the people and buildings in John Street, Lilydale.   The website is cleverly designed, its various layers enabling the viewer to select a time period and then delve into the history of individual properties and their residents through a combination of maps, images, interviews and other presentations.

Judges’ Special Prize ($1000) – Mornington Peninsula Local History Network and Lavender Hill Multimedia
Postcards: Stories from the Mornington Peninsula (DVD)
This travelling exhibition and DVD brings together stories from eight local historical societies. Each society focused on a local heritage theme, for example the development of holiday attractions and local industries in the Mornington Peninsula.

History Publication Award ($2000) – Robert Kenny
Gardens of Fire: an investigative memoir
This book is a moving account of the authors experiences during and after the devastating Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 in the small central Victorian community of Redesdale. The book focuses on the author’s experiences of the bushfires and the rebuilding process and includes reflections of the consequences of loss of identity.  The book also includes discussions on the nature of fire in Australian ecosystems, history, society and culture.

Local History – Small Publication Award ($1500) – Margaret Bowman
Cultured Colonists: George Alexander Gilbert and His Family, Settlers in Port Phillip
This book follows the life of artist and teacher, George Gilbert and his family who arrived in Melbourne in 1841. By using a wide range of sources the author traces the lives of these ‘cultured colonists’ as they make their way in the developing society of Port Phillip, Victoria in the 1840s and 1850s.

Collaborative Community History Award ($2000) – Gerry Robinson and friends
From Apples…To Coffee, the first 90 years of the Heathmont shopping centre, 1923-2013
This book, the result of collaboration between the author and a group of four friends, focuses on the Heathmont shopping centre and tracks its development from 1923; post World War Two all the way up to 2013. The book includes photos, paintings, newspaper clippings and more to tell the story of the Heathmont area and its people over the past 90 years.

Recordkeeping Policy: Mobile Technologies now issued

Business woman holding smartphone sending mailPublic Record Office Victoria is pleased to announce the issue of the new Recordkeeping Policy: Mobile Technologies, which was based on the Mobile Technologies and Recordkeeping Issues Paper.

The new Policy is available from the PROV website:

The use of mobile technology can improve and streamline government processes and also reduce operational costs.

From a recordkeeping perspective, mobile devices allow information to be accessed and managed without being anchored to a set physical location or work station.

However, any uptake of new technology also creates new risks, which need to be managed.

We would like to thank all those who provided feedback.

Vida! The Australian Suffragist Who Shook Up An Empire

blackand white photo of VidaGoldstein

World Famous Australian Suffragette Vida Goldstein

It’s impossible to discuss the Australian and global suffrage movement without talking about Melbourne woman Vida Goldstein. One of the women who tirelessly traveled across Melbourne and Victoria gathering 30,000 signatures for the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition.

Aimed at securing Victorian women the right to vote. The petition was the largest known petition of the 19th Century, at 260 metres long,and it was also the catalyst for similar petitions in New Zealand and England.

 Inspired by her mother Isabella, a vocal suffragist and worker for social reform, and the inspiring speaker and well traveled feminist Annette Ellen Bear-Crawford, Vida was well educated and passionate about reformist legislation, often attending parliamentary sessions in Melbourne to learn about political procedures.  She was a very good looking woman and a witty public speaker, she helped to challenge the populist anti-suffrage claim that feminists were he-women who had ‘never been kissed’. An influential speaker, she also won the support of politician’s wives.

By 1899 Goldstein was the undisputed leader of the radical women’s movement in Victoria and was focused on securing Victorian women the right to vote.

‘In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity’ Vida Goldstein.

She was known  as a witty and impressive speaker because she was able to handle the most abusive hecklers.  Between 1891 and 1919 she helped to educate women about political process through her publication the Woman’s Sphere and her touring lecture series.  She was vocal about women’s equality, including equal property rights, raising the age of marriage and consent to 16, women’s worker rights, pacifism and in her older years improved access to birth control. She was a known lobbyist and directly influenced many Acts of parliament. Her most famous was her cost-living-table which influenced the Harvester Judgment which established the concept of a basic wage.

Vida ‘was the biggest thing that has happened to the woman movement for some time in England’. Melbourne journalist for The Argus Alice Henry

Of all the Australian suffragettes Goldstein was the only one to develop an international reputation. She visited England and the United States and always drew huge crowds. In 1902 she spoke at the Woman Suffrage Conference in the United States and was elected secretary. Women in Australia were given the right to vote in the Federal election in 1902, and Goldstein was one of four women to be nominated for election, and went on to run for the Senate as an independent throughout the First World War. The first of such women in the British Empire. Australia and New Zealand were trail blazers in securing women the right to vote. 

It was the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition which kick started Vida’s career as an activist, lobbyist and aspiring (inspiring) politician.

The petition is a treasure in the Public Record Office Victoria Collection, and is on display at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka for a time from October 2014 – January 2015.

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Suffragette Brettena Smyth Taught Birth Control in 1880

Black and white photo of sfrragette Btrettena Smyth

Prominent activist Brettena Smyth was a suffragette and championed right

Brettena Smyth was a feminist freethinker, author, lecturer, suffragist and women’s health reform campaigner. She was also a vocal supporter of the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition, an important public record now on display from October 2014 at the Museum of Democracy at Eureka.

In 1873 Brettena Smyth, a recently-widowed mother of four children, closed the family greengrocery in Errol Street, North Melbourne.  Instead, she opened a drapery and druggist’s shop, which became a landmark in the struggle for women’s rights. The shop was a venue for meetings of the Australian Women’s Suffrage Society in the 1880s–90s and, more controversially, the source of birth control advice and ‘preventives’ for Melbourne women.

At Six Foot Tall Smyth Was Recognisable

Smyth became one of Melbourne’s most prominent activists in the feminist cause; at almost six feet tall, she was also the most recognisable. A  member of the first Australian suffrage organization, Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society, she left that organization in 1888 to found the Australian Women’s Suffrage Society, after some members found her ideas on birth control objectionable. Smyth recognised that access to artificial contraception, which could be ‘used without the knowledge of the husband’, was as liberating as the power of the vote.

Brettena Smyth died in 1898; her organization did not long survive her. Others groups, such as the Victorian Women’s Franchise League (backed by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union) and Vida Goldstein’s United Council for Women’s Suffrage, took the suffrage campaign into the twentieth century. 

The 1891 Women’s  Suffrage Petition is a treasure in the Public Record Office Victoria Collection.

Written by Helen Harris, Public Record Office Victoria.

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Ballarat Suffragette Signed Petition to Stop Alcoholism

Sepia photo of suffragette Mary Morrison

Australian Suffragette Mary Morrison

Mary Morrison was living in Ballarat, Victoria at the time she signed the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition. It is one of Victoria’s most important public records and on display at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka from October 2014.

She was born in 1863 in Morrisson’s, a small gold-mining settlement near Ballarat. Her father worked at the diggings at Dolly’s Creek in one of the gold-bearing quartz reefs there, and suffered from what was known as “miner’s complaint”, or pulmonary fibrosis, from which he eventually died. 

Mary ‘In Service’ at 12

As he was unable to work for many years, Mary had to leave school at the age of 12 to work “in service” to help her younger siblings. However, she read widely and her considerable drive and energy led her to become a local leader in the temperance movement, an activity that continued after her marriage to Duncan McPhee, which took place in the same year that she signed the Petition – 1891.

 Passionate About Abstinence

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was established in 1889, and Mary became an active member in Ballarat. Members of the Union not only supported total abstinence from alcohol but also feminist objectives.

“From childhood until death she was always busy, and never an idle moment could I detect. She was puritanical in outlook and was active as a church worker from childhood. She had a fairly simple faith, was very kindly, always helping people worse off than herself.” Mary’s son, Stuart McPhee.


Champion for the Monster Petition

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union were one of the chief organising bodies for the massive Women’s Petition, arguing for votes for women on the grounds of social justice. They continued to put pressure on the government for women’s suffrage in Victoria until it finally came to pass in 1908.

After she died in 1932, Mary’s son Stuart, one of her five children, wrote: “From childhood until death she was always busy, and never an idle moment could I detect. She was puritanical in outlook and was active as a church worker from childhood. She had a fairly simple faith, was very kindly, always helping people worse off than herself, had many friends, was intelligent, but without much learning except through reading and self-improvement, was extremely industrious and was very capable, naturally taking the lead when required. She took life very seriously but was a devoted mother.”

Image and text courtesy of Jan Harper,  grand-daughter of Mary Morrison.

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World’s Largest Petition Of 19th Century Back In Ballarat

Photo of the 1891 Women's Suffrage Petition

The 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition

On 1 October, 2014,  the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) in Ballarat will publicly display the giant 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition.

That year, a band of extraordinary women set out to prove to the Victorian Parliament that women should have the right to vote.  Led by early women’s rights activists like Isabella Goldstein and her daughter Vida, they spent six weeks traveling by train and foot collecting signatures from across the state.

They convinced 30,000 Victorian women that voting could improve conditions for them and their children. In particular they hoped to influence liquor laws, enable equal pay for women, a higher age of consent for girls,  introduce playgrounds and schools, and afford themselves greater equality around issues of land ownership and divorce.

‘Because, to sum up all reasons in one – it is just.‘  Vida Goldstein.

Largest Petition of the 19th Century

On its completion it was 260 metres in length and the largest known petition of the 19th Century, inspiring similar efforts across Australia and the world.



To the Honourable the Speaker and the Members of the Legislative Assembly of the Colony of Victoria the humble petition of the undersigned men and women resident in Victoria respectfully sheweth that the exclusion of women from the Franchise is both unjust to them and inimical to the welfare of the state


Australian women were the first in the world to be granted both the right to vote and the right to stand for Parliament. This was greatly influenced by the 1891 Petition, and the determination of women like Vida Goldstein who continued to lobby for a position in parliament throughout this period.

The Legacy of 1891

The 1891 ‘Monster petition’ as it was later known was a landmark for Victoria’s fledgling women’s movement. Tabled to the Victorian Parliament 1891, the petition, while unsuccessful in gaining women the right to vote in Victoria at that time, demonstrated the gathering strength in their determination to gain women’s rights.

Often ‘ordinary’ women’s voices are left out of historical accounts and the petition provides a historical record of women’s commitment to their right to be heard.  
This amazing icon of the women’s rights movement in Australia is now a treasured part of the Public Record Office Victoria Collection. Researchers can search the database to find out whether their female ancestors were one of the great women who signed the petition and made a significant contribution to women’s rights today.

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Records management on trial? Justice Legislation Amendment (Discovery, Disclosure and Other Matters) Act 2014

New case management powers in Victoria for discovery and disclosure provide an even stronger case for government agencies to ensure compliance with the standards issued by Public Record Office Victoria.


“The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings. Viewed by this light it becomes a coherent scheme, and not the monstrous maze the laity are apt to think it. Let them but once clearly perceive that its grand principle is to make business for itself at their expense, and surely they will cease to grumble.”
―Charles Dickens, Bleak House

 Magnifying lens  on the stack of old filesIn August this year, the Justice Legislation Amendment (Discovery, Disclosure and Other Matters) Act   2014 came into effect. The Victorian legislation is the capstone in a longstanding push by members of the  legal community to reduce costs and delays associated with discovery and disclosure of documents required in court proceedings. It comes in the wake of modern-day Dickensian litigation such as Seven Network Limited v News Limited, where the estimated cost of discovery ($200 million respectively) has been grossly disproportionate to the amount of relief  sought (in that case, a damages estimate of between $195–$212 million).

The amendments introduce a range of additional mechanisms targeted towards better case management. Most relevantly, it arms the courts with more sophisticated legal tools under the Civil Procedure Act 2010 in a bid to:

  • minimise the production of voluminous documents (and in doing so reduce the burden associated with sifting through them for evidence);
  • aid in the discovery of relevant documents.

As a result, the provisions will likely open up records management practices and systems of businesses and government to greater scrutiny during pre-trial processes. 

Scope of discovery

First, courts can order a statement of issues which identifies and summarises the key issues in dispute in a proceeding. If the parties cannot agree on the contents of the statement, it may be determined by the court. Second, a court can limit discovery to a class or classes of documents specified in the order; or to documents relating to one or more specified facts or issues in dispute. Courts are also empowered to order that a party pay the costs of discovery of another party, creating an incentive for parties to avoid extraneous requests for documents.

Discoverability of documents

Under new section 55A where there is the agreement between the parties, courts can order that all relevant documents to a matter in the possession of one or more parties are handed over. Parties can still opt to exclude documents protected by privilege from discovery. A court can only make the order where it is comfortable that:

  • the documents can be identified and located by the person providing the documents without incurring unreasonable costs in the process;
  • the documents are able to be identified by a general description or category; and
  • the party providing the documents will not be substantially prejudiced in giving the other party access to the documents.

What’s apparent is that the key benefits arising from use of these powers are prefaced on evidentiary documents being managed under an effective records or document management system. That is, under a 55A order the providing party will not be required to review each of its documents for relevance prior to production, saving it time and money.  But by the same token, a robust records management system must be in place to enable cost-effective retrieval. This assumption is reinforced by additional powers which enable courts to direct that documents are provided in a searchable electronic format, or any other format that the court requires.

Affidavit of document management

The amendments also introduce section 55B powers by which courts can require parties to a proceeding produce an ‘affidavit of document management.’ This affidavit can include the volume, manner of arrangement or storage, type or location of discoverable documents. It can also pertain to a party’s ‘processes of document management.’ In addition, the court can order that the deponent (person giving evidence in the affidavit) or an appropriate person (for example a records or information manager) be orally examined about the affidavit of documents management. Notably, the court can order that any party has to pay for the costs of an oral examination. Parties therefore have an incentive to prepare full, accurate and reliable affidavits of document management.

Be prepared!

So what to expect? It is hoped is that discovery requests will become more targeted as the scope of discoverable documents will be commensurate with the matters at issue. At the same time, arguments that documents have not been sufficiently described in a request for discovery so as to identify them; or that the documents are ‘hidden’ in an organisation’s document management system, are less likely to hold water. Orders for the release of all relevant documents, coupled with orders to reveal the organisation’s document/records management system create expectations of fewer barriers to accessing and retrieving records.

Against this new set of expectations, government agencies can better weather pre-trial discovery processes through ensuring compliance with the standards and specifications issued by Public Record Office Victoria. In particular:

  • Having a standards-compliant records management framework already in place will reduce cost and effort associated with complying with section 55A or 55B orders.
  • Standards cover the complete spectrum of records management activities and facilitate access to hardcopy and electronic records. Records management policies and strategies developed under the standards can be readily reproduced in an affidavit context, avoiding the need to capture and describe these retrospectively.
  • Finally, an agency can demonstrate compliance with the standards to show that records have been managed and disposed of in a legally responsible way.

Public Record Office Victoria welcomes the introduction of the amendments and emphasises the role that good records management in increasing access to justice in our Courts and reducing costs associated with discovery.

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