Events that occurred in early Melbourne 1880-1900 as outlined in Museums Victoria's Melbourne Story exhibition.

In 1880, Melbourne was home to an international exhibition, marking its new place on the world stage. The new Royal Exhibition Building was a powerful symbol of its booming economy and confidence. New suburbs burgeoned, land prices sky-rocketed, grand commercial buildings and imposing mansions sprang up round the city. Melbourne took a leading role in the movement towards federation, hosting the Australasian Federation Conference in 1890.

Melbourne was now a city larger than most European capitals, and money was poured into the lavish decoration of banks, hotels and coffee palaces. One of the chief delights of the city was the rainbow-arched Coles Book Arcade, a colourful, joyous place in the city centre where patrons could read as long as they liked without pressure to buy. Some of the chief attractions of the Arcade, including the Coles Little Men and the Mechanical Hen, are shown in the exhibition.

In 1891, however, the economy crashed. Its massive expansion had been in no small part fuelled by land speculation; now it was replaced by Victoria's worst depression. Banks collapsed, unemployment bit deep, and families were evicted from their homes and torn apart by poverty. Soup kitchens appeared to feed the city's poor, and marches on Parliament by thousands of unemployed workers replaced the grand parades of the previous decade. Representatives of the Aboriginal mission at Coranderrk petitioned the government for the right to come and go freely and "not to be bound down by the protection of the board" (that is, the Central Board for the Protection of the Aborigines).

The area of the exhibition recreating life in Little Lonsdale St in the 1890's introduces students to what has been revealed of the city's past through historical archaeology. It also opens a window on the flip side of Marvellous Melbourne - overcrowded, struggling, multi-cultural (long before the term was coined), and teeming with life - and -death.

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