Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tour Town Hall

I was just checking up about Chinese New Year celebrations in the city at the Melbourne City Council website when I noticed that there are free tours of Melbourne Town Hall twice daily. Bookings were essential, so I booked for today by email.

I was an interesting tour with a knowledgeable guide, although I did stump him when I asked about Lord Mayor Woodruff having a turntable installed in the small car park to turn his car around. The guide was interested and said he would follow it up. The fellow tour members were a couple from Denmark and a couple from Germany.

We were shown a couple of works of art hanging on the walls. One was a lithograph of a model made for the Great Exhibition in Melbourne. It showed the city shortly after the grid of streets were laid out (1830s?). It featured lots of farm land, trees and a few buildings. Typical of governments, no trains or trams. I noted the turning basin in the Yarra, the depression where Elizabeth Street lay that turned into a river with heavy rain, and still is inclined to do so and Flagstaff Hill before it had the top chopped off it. The other work was some twenty to thirty years later and Melbourne was by then a well populated city with grand buildings already constructed. Gold is a city's best friend.

After seeing some other bits and pieces, we sat in council chambers. It is smaller than I imagined and the elevated public galleries are not very big either. The seating, all facing the mayoral chair, was old leather and they place had a bit of a musty smell. The ceiling was stunning, the woodwork beautiful and the lead light window impressive. What I could not get over was how poor the lighting was, even with daylight coming in. At night it must be very gloomy. If you have issues with City of Melbourne councillors, maybe it is because they could not read properly during council meetings.

Then onto the auditorium. This would be where Jayne recently attended an orchestral performance where the organ was cranked up.

Upward to examine the workings of the organ. It has 10,000 pipes and is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. After its last renovation around ten years ago, it is now computer controlled with fail safe air reserves should it run short puff with some extravagant playing by maestro. Some of the pipes are monstrous, metres tall and some are tiny, just a centimetre tall. The pipes sit in an airconditioned and dust free environment. Around 1925 an accumulation of dust in the organ pipes and a sparking solenoid set the auditorium ablaze. It had to be completely rebuilt. The organist has four keyboards and one footboard to play. Sounds challenging.

Still on the same level I think, is the old council chambers and then the reception room where VIPS are greeted and entertained.

Out onto the portico. In 1964 The Beatles greeted the crowds below and in the eighties Abba followed suit. Evidently there is a scene in Abba The Movie where they are shown on the balcony.

Trivia learnt: Kangaroos can't go backwards and almost one million tons of gold dug in Bendigo. At around $1200 per ton, the present price, roughly $1,000,000,000. Only £700,000,000 for you Brian. No argument re my maths will be entered into, but no wonder we have some very grand buildings.

Clearly Getty Images own the copyright for this photo of the Beatles on the balcony of the Melbourne Town Hall. Getty are becoming the Microsoft of the world. Don't the Beatles have such cute and fresh faces.

Abba on the same balcony from the website www.raffem.com

Melbourne Town Hall by Tramwalker.

The door to the portico.

This photo doesn't really capture it so well, but I never realised how beautiful the Century building is.

I full well know how stunning Manchester House is. Pity about the ugly air con units jutting out. An ex workmate was murdered within MH a decade or so ago.

Later edit: It may not have been Flagstaff Hill that had its top chopped off. I could be thinking of Batman Hill. Nevertheless, Flagstaff Hill looks very high in the lithograph.

with ordinary traffic outside the Town Hall.


  1. Both roos and emus can't walk backward, hence why they're on our coat of arms.
    Loved the tour with you, thanks ;)
    That organ is just bliss when played with an orchestra.
    That amount of gold will never be found ever again and , with it, all those buildings that have been/will be demolished will never be replaced in equal grandeur.

  2. ...almost one million tons of gold dug in Bendigo.
    Are you sure?!

    I think someone is pulling your leg!

  3. They are always looking forward Jayne, but the roo on the emblem I saw had his head turned back, in recognition of what had been before, or there was a squatter on his trail.

    Does sound a lot Altissima. The guide gave a figure of over 900,000 ton. Perhaps he meant Victoria or perhaps he meant ounces. I did not mishear. While there are statistics out there, it is difficult to work out because of ounces etc.

  4. re The Gold: Victorian gold built the British Empire ... and the Melbourne Town Hall.
    The basement gold vaults at the Old Treasury is a great place to visit.
    One vault has an amazing 19thC panorama photo of Melbourne, another has a lot of gold bars and some figures re the value and amount mined. I think ther were about 80 gold bars and it said they represented .08% of the total mined, and that it was $2.3 million value back then.
    Old Treasury is under threat - about to be closed and changed to Register Office for weddings. There was a petition at their front desk. The exciting part of the tour was the caretakers residence with great old photos of the family living there and their washing on Spring street. go now before it's all rooned.

  5. Manchester House is such an amazing building. What's the story about your former workmate being murdered? Wasn't Florence Broadhurst murdered in her studio in the MH building??

  6. Brownie, I found the City Museum a disappointing. http://highriser.blogspot.com/2008/03/city-museum.html

    Evol, once he left my work place, he became a diamond dealer. Robbery was the motive of course. Probably late 1980s. Google fails to bring anything up.

  7. Swansong.3:02 pm

    The British Empire was already well-established by the time of the Victorian gold discoveries. Shipping built it: a superior Navy. The spice trade in India alone was already of more value than gold. Indians meanwhile were exported throughout the colonies as coolies. Now they're driving taxis

    Four men were made to lay on the floor in that jewel robbery and were shot dead. No one was ever charged.

    Florence Broadhurst was murdered in Sydney. There's an excellent and very entertaining documentary dealing with her life, it's called Unfolding Florence and has been shown on TV twice already. She was a one-off, a genius, a fascinating woman.

    Bugger off. Yes.

  8. Swansong3:55 pm

    Manchester Unity Building. That was its name. There's an apartment in the tower now, two or three floors of it.
    The four men were shot on a lower floor. The robbers were probably known to them

  9. Elizabeth st is where a creek once ran, I think, hence its proneness to flooding.
    Florence Broadhurst was indeed murdered in Sydney, aforementioned doco by Gillian Armstrong often airs on u.s. t.v. and I reckon it's worth a look!

  10. Swansong (still going)5:05 pm

    A creek ran into the Yarra along Elizabeth Street. The creek bed is still there, covered over.

  11. Anonymous7:47 pm

    Ah - Melbourne! Thanks Highriser - with your regular tours I won't get homesick!

  12. "Don't the Beatles have such cute and fresh faces."

    I think gormless would be a more accurate description.

  13. Maybe Batman's Hill? Batman's Hill is completely gone, flattened for the rail yards and Spencer Street station.

  14. Different robbery Swansong.

    Now a drain under Elizabeth Street Ian, which is large enough for most rain events, but not all. I don't know about Florence Broadhurst. I will investigate.

    Pleasure Scott. Hasn't changed much in a few weeks.

    Brian, gormless too but still, fresh faced.

    Ben, as per my later edit. Necessary I suppose if we were to have trains.

  15. Swansong (RH is a genius)12:46 pm

    You mean there were two separate jewel robberies at Manchester Unity with people murdered?

  16. Yes, the one I know was a Cambodian born refugee who was dealing in diamonds. He was the sole victim during a robbery.

  17. Okay.

    The other was very strange.

  18. Just a slight correction, ABBA appeared on the balcony of the Melbourne Town Hall on 5th of March, 1977. They attended a "civic reception" given by the Lord Mayor, where they were reportedly presented with "the keys to the city". The event was pandemonium and eventually ABBA were whisked away well before their expected departure time due to concerns for their well-being inside as so many people had been invited...and they all brought their kids. Swanston street was blocked off and traffic diverted as the crowd grew into the thousands as their arrival time approached. I was there as a besotted 12 year old...outside...and the entire event is indeed captured in ABBA - The Movie. Wonderful memory :)

  19. Great extra colour Luke, thanks. I think I have seen Abba the Movie, but a long time ago. I was late teens I think when Mama Mia came out and we first heard of Abba.