The Royal Exhibition Building – Melbourne

Possibly Melbourne’s most beautiful building, located in the middle of the gorgeous Carlton Gardens.

I’ve photographed it on a Spring day – it looks beautiful white and photographed it on a fine Winter afternoon – it was glowing gold. 

Australia being the new settlement country has very few buildings which can boast of being part of the world heritage. And yet, in the heart of Melbourne city, there is this 140 years old building, which in 2004 founds its way into UNESCO World Heritage list. It has a brilliant exterior adorned by an iconic fountain. The Carlton gardens surrounding it are beautiful to spend an afternoon.

You can walk here from Parliament Station or Melbourne Central Station, enjoy a walk through the avenues of trees in Carlton gardens. If you have a chance to look inside must do that. Otherwise, make sure you admire the building from all sides (same, same but different 🙂 ).

You can make it part of a trip to the Museum and IMAX (next door) and finish with coffee or a meal in Lygon Street – a block or two to the west.

The Royal Exhibition Building is a product of the optimism, enthusiasm and energy of the people of Melbourne in the late 19th century. In 1879, when the foundation stone was laid, Melbourne was an extremely prosperous city, basking in the wealth from the richest gold rush in the world. The future seemed unlimited, and Victorians wanted to publicise their achievements in an international exhibition. So they felt a need to have this iconic place to showcase and share their achievements. 

Some Historical facts about this beautiful Building:

  • The building was designed by Joseph Reed. 
  • The first exhibition opened on 1 October 1880. The excited crowd included many who had immigrated during the 1850’s gold rush. They had seen Melbourne change from a scatter of wooden houses to a marvellous modern city. The new Exhibition Building, the largest building in Australia, was a symbol of their confidence in the future.
  • The Opening of the First Federal Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia on 9 May 1901 saw 12,000 people attend the ceremony in the Great Hall. The restored interior replicates the decorative scheme designed for that event.
  • As we are in the midst of Coronavirus crisis, in 1919, the building was used as a temporary hospital for Spanish Flu sufferers; 
  • From 1921-1925 the first Australian War Museum was housed there (the precursor to the Australian War Memorial); 
  • 1941 and 1945 the building was requisitioned by the RAAF No 1 Technical Training School; 
  • From 1949-1962 a migrant reception centre was housed in the grounds north of the great hall; 
  • In 1956 weight lifting, basketball and wrestling competitions were held as part of the Melbourne Olympics. Between these events the building has continued to be used for trade fairs, motor shows, balls, meetings, flower shows, examinations and rock concerts.
  • To mark its centenary in 1980, Princess Alexandra, cousin to Queen Elizabeth II, bestowed Royal title on the Exhibition Building. 

It’s significance as the only surviving 19th century ‘Palace of Industry’ located in its original landscape setting, still used for events, saw the Royal Exhibition Building listed on the World Heritage Register in July 2004. We always enjoy the interior of this grand building, at its best with the flowers during the Melbourne Flower and Garden show. This is a beautiful icon in Melbourne. The inside exhibition space is worth a look if you get a chance. The Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show is held here each year which I would recommend attending (just as good as the Chelsea garden Show)!

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