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Swanston Street 1887
The Public Library building in Swanston Street.
Image source: Museum Victoria

animal diorama
Hoofed mammals diorama on display in McCoy Hall, the National Museum of Victoria, 1914.
Image source: Museum Victoria

emu diorama
Emu diorama on display in McCoy Hall, part of a series of dioramas featuring Victorian fauna created in the 1940s and 1950s.
Image source: Museum Victoria

100 Years at Swanston Street

Melbourne's Age newspaper had long promoted the view that the rightful home for the National Museum of Victoria was the Public Library building in Swanston Street. Its relocation there for the start of a new century was greeted enthusiastically. Meanwhile, the Industrial and Technological Museum, which had been housed on the site since 1870, was consigned to the vaults. It would not be revived again until 1915.

The National Museum's collections continued to grow steadily, and the institution took to collecting in anthropology as well as the natural sciences. The practices of purchase and donation were soon supplemented by a program of museum expeditions and fieldwork within Victoria and interstate.

Professor Walter Baldwin Spencer, director of the National Museum from 1899 to 1928, was primarily a biologist, but also pursued an interest in anthropology. He carried out major expeditions to study Aboriginal communities in Central and northern Australia. Spencer built up a precious collection of Indigenous artefacts for the museum, along with supporting notes and photography, and motion picture and sound recordings.

Over the years, important material from the geological, biological and ethnographic collections was exhibited in the various museum galleries, including the grand McCoy Hall. The revived Industrial and Technological Museum continued to grow, and eventually became the Science Museum of Victoria.

In 1983, Melbourne's two big museums on the Swanston Street site, the National Museum of Victoria and the Science Museum of Victoria, amalgamated to form the Museum of Victoria (later to become Museum Victoria). For the first time, the state’s natural history and technology and human history collections were managed in an integrated way, and under the one roof.

Several new museum facilities were commissioned and completed during the 1990s. Scienceworks at Spotswood was opened in 1992, featuring the science and technology collections, and the Immigration Museum in Flinders Street opened in 1998. For the museum on Swanston Street, the collections were being packed in readiness for the move to another new home, for the start of another century.

© Museum Victoria Australia