This collection aims to document and preserve the history of Victorian workers, and to record their impact on and contribution to Australian society.

Focussing on the post-European settlement period to the present, it aims to reflect the experiences and actions of individuals and groups of workers in different historical, personal, social, economic and cultural settings. It also aims to document the personal and unique renderings of workers' experiences and actions.

Much of the collection documents 'case studies' of working life in Victoria and Australia. These offer insight into a particular type of workplace and work, with some emphasis on workers' voices, while the wider collection represents a variety of working-life skills, experiences and cultures.

The strengths of the collection lie in its coverage of early to mid-20th century factory work, small businesses and trades and the trade union movement. It focuses on work practices in more formal work environments such as factories, commercial workshops and the traditional apprentice-based trades, but is complemented by other collections of less formal workplace objects, such as the home work and handicrafts area in the Domestic and Community Life Collection.

Trades relating to metalworking and precision engineering, especially those requiring the extensive use of machine tools and power tools, are covered under the Engineering Collection rather than in Trades.

Significant items

  • Barfoot Bootmaking Collection: 211 items from a former surgical bootmaker's business.
  • Bruhn Collection: 985 items from a father and son woodturning shop operated in Carlton and later South Melbourne, 1920s-1980s.
  • Grenoble Gloves Collection: 454 items from a Melbourne glove factory started in 1944.
  • McInnes Delicatessen and Butcher's Shop: 106 items from the East Malvern shop, which operated from 1933 to the 1970s.
  • Newmarket Saleyards Collection: 27 items from former livestock saleyards.
  • Pigment Manufacturers of Australia (PMA): 135 items from a major paint manufacturing plant at Laverton, 1960s-1990s.
  • Sam Brown Bootmaker's Collection: 297 items from a former bootmaker's shop in Albert Park, c. 1930s-1980s.
  • Simpson's Gloves Collection: 1491 items from the former Simpson's Glove Factory which operated in Victoria Street, Richmond, from 1924 until 1988.
  • Victorian Institute for the Blind Collection: 107 items from former RVIB workshops.
  • Artworks, including Ambrose Dyson, David Armfield and Aileen Brown, 1950s-1980s.
  • 'Stick Together' radio program oral history collection, 1970s-1980s.
  • Contemporary occupational health and safety material, 1990s.
  • Stonemason's tools and early bootmaking machinery.

See The Working Life Collection, and an essay on this collection from A Museum for the People: A history of Museum Victoria and its predecessor institutions 1854-2000.

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