The lives of all Victorians are shaped by organisational and institutional structures in the public sphere. Such structures are dynamic, always in the process of creation, redefinition, maintenance, and change.

While some individuals may have the opportunity to participate in the creation of some of these structures, and to influence their direction, others suffer under, negotiate with or react to them. Groups of people may then combine to bring about changes to the ways the structures operate and develop.

This collecting field is concerned with communal and institutional activities in the public sphere in Victoria since 1835. Material evidence generated as a result of particular forms of public, cultural, political and institutional activity in Victoria is collected to document distinctive forms of urban and regional life.

The collection focuses on the operation of particular structures at particular times, and also on the processes of change, continuity, reaction and adaptation. Sub-themes include celebrations and festivals; political history; charity and welfare; ritual and belief; and images and icons of Melbourne.

It also illustrates the events and patterns that help us define and understand Australian identity in all its complexity and diversity. A wide range of material has been gathered from many organisations and institutions, both active and inactive.

Significant collecting areas:

  • Collections relating to the history of Melbourne and Victoria, especially focusing on imagery of Melbourne; 1934 Centenary of Victoria; 1956 Olympics; 1988 Bicentenary.
  • Royal Exhibition Building collection: material from the Melbourne International exhibitions of 1880-81 and 1888-89, plus objects and documents relating to more recent events in the building.
  • Federation: material from the opening of the first Federal Parliament in 1901 and centenary of Federation celebrations in 2001.
  • Museum History collection: material chronicling Museum Victoria's history since 1854.
  • Political collections, including the anti-Vietnam War movement.
  • Posters from the 1970s to the 1990s representing various social movements, including the feminist movement.
  • Phar Lap and associated material.
  • Psychiatric Services collection of objects from Victoria's psychiatric hospitals: the collection provides substantial evidence of the conditions within psychiatric hospitals and the treatments given to patients before 1950.
  • Friendly and temperance societies and religious collections.
  • Collections from charitable institutions such as the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind.
  • Objects from the 'Whelan the Wrecker' collection relating to Melbourne institutions and prominent public buildings.
  • Pentridge Prison collection.
  • Melbourne Water collection, objects and oral histories relating to the institutional history of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works.
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