Author: Tara Oldfield
February 1998, then Premier and Minister for the Arts, Jeff Kennett, announced the construction of a new Victorian Archives Centre to be built on the former Government Printer and Gas and Fuel site in North Melbourne.
A few months later, architects from Bates Smart unveiled the design to North Melbourne residents. In the Victorian Archives Centre PROgress Report, we published a photo of architect Alan Lamb showing off the working model and described what the building would look like:
“The Shiel Street frontage will be a mix of soft grey and copper tones. The north face of the wings (or pods) which abut Shiel Street will be covered in grey vitreous tiles. The return sides will be clad in silver pearl metal panelling… The rest of the building will be in shades of metallic grey.” And so on.
Around the same time, appointments were made to assist with planning and relocating the archival collection from Laverton to the new repository in North Melbourne. The process of design, construction and relocation took a few years, but by 2000, many staff were ready to move in to the brand new, state-of-the-art, Victorian Archives Centre.
Then Minister for the Arts, Mary Delahunty, officially opened the Victorian Archives Centre building on 9 November 2000. She said:
“The opening today represents the culmination of a great deal of work and planning over a number of years. On behalf of the Government I congratulate all those who have been involved in the project.”
The official opening was attended by almost three hundred people including researchers, professionals from the archives, records management and cultural sectors, genealogical and historical society representatives, and local community members.
In 2000, researchers were mainly still utilising the archives centre at Casseldon Place in the City while we got the new reading room up and running, however, from November 2000 some records could be viewed at North Melbourne by appointment. The reading room was finally officially opened to the public on 29 April 2004 and named after the first Keeper of Public Records, Harry Nunn OAM, as a facility shared by PROV with the Melbourne Office of National Archives of Australia.
Staff remember the move to North Melbourne
Justine Heazlewood, Director and Keeper of Public Records remembers choosing the bright paint colours to help visitors find their way:
“One message I get frequently from first time visitors to the VAC is that the building does not look it’s age and I think the stark colour scheme has something to do with that. It was me that got the walls painted bright colours. When we developed the design for the Reading Room, the same designers gave us some options for the doors and walls in the rest of the building. Personally I like the bold colours and I do think they help people know where they are. Other than the Reading Room the public facing parts of the building have mostly retained their original rather austere but elegant colour scheme of white walls, blond wood and dark flooring.”
Kathy McNamara on “the move”:
“Oh, how I remember "The Move....." It was a huge project, that included barcoding the collection for the first time, processing/reboxing, appraisal, disposal, collection plotting, logistics, comms, clean up and so much more. It was "all consuming" and "overwhelming" at times. It was also a sterling achievement by a team of committed staff. The outcome of which was celebrated with the "Laverton Wake." An afternoon spent with all the current staff and many invited previous staff. The history of Laverton was acknowledged during some wonderful speeches. A buffet of spit roast, seafood, salads and desserts, table tennis and pool tournaments, a cricket match and a comedy show that lead to a night of music and dancing. It was an exciting time to have been part of the organisation. Much was done and much more had to be done.... A new millennium. A new building. A new service model.”
Charlie Farrugia on relocating records:
“The relocation of the collection occurred between July-October 2000 and involved moving 12.5 million files, 500,000 boxes or 1,760 truckloads of records. The meterage moved was estimated as 79,938m. The Reading Room at Casselden Place (known as the Melbourne Archives Centre) continued to operate until the Harry Nunn Reading Room at the VAC opened for the first time immediately after Easter in 2004 (or maybe 2003). Prior to this, a temporary reading room was established on Level 1 at the VAC in what is now the Volunteer Room. This room opened on 10 October 2000. Both this temporary room and the Melbourne Archives Centre closed upon the opening of the VAC Reading Room.”
Read more of Charlie’s memories of this time here.
We wrote in our Autumn 2001 newsletter that:
“The $32 million building now houses eighty kilometres of the State’s archives.”
Almost twenty years later, it now houses around 100 kilometres!
Victorian Archives Centre facts and stats
• The Victorian Archives Centre holds around 100kms of records dating from the 1830s to the present day.
• The repository is kept stable at 20 degrees constantly, 50% humidity.
• Repository air locks help to keep the environment stable and are also a security feature.
• In case of fire we use water, not foam or gas. If a record is wet we can freeze dry, de-humidify and even digitise the record to protect the information.
• Last year PROV welcomed around 10,000 visitors to the reading room, issuing 45,000 records from PROV’s collection, plus 7,000 records to government.
Improvements along the way
In 2019-20 the Victorian Archives Centre underwent some building improvements including structural work and reading room changes including a wider entrance for better wheelchair access, a new training room and relocation of the microfiche area. And in the last few years we’ve seen refurbished public restrooms, as well as environmental improvements just to name a few.
Thank you to all our volunteers, researchers, community groups and local residents who have visited the Victorian Archives Centre over the last 20 years. We look forward to opening our doors again soon!