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The changing face of Victoria

About the exhibition

Since its establishment in 1854, State Library Victoria has collected material in an extraordinary variety of forms. In addition to books, magazines and newspapers, the Library houses photographs, drawings, prints, paintings, letters, diaries, papers, maps and artefacts.

Many of these items are associated with the people, places and events that have shaped life in Victoria from the time of first contact between Europeans and Aboriginal people through to today.

The changing face of Victoria provides a window into some of these Victorian stories. The exhibition presents an ever-changing display of objects from the Library's collections, ranging from key historical artefacts to items from daily life.

We invite you to discover new stories upon return visits to the exhibition, and to use the Library's collections to undertake your own journeys of discovery.

The themes explored in this exhibition are:

Plan your visit

1920s photo of men standing near tram tracks

Laying of cable tram tracks In Elizabeth Street, looking towards Flinders Street Station, ca. 1920

Tuesday, 1 January 2019Thursday, 31 December 2020
Dome Galleries, Level 5

Calling all Melbourne coffee makers!

Graphic image of a coffee tin label

One theme of The changing face of Victoria in 2020 will be a celebration of Melbourne’s relationship with coffee - from the palatial palaces in the 1880s to the design of the KeepCup!

We’re looking to collect a selection of contemporary examples of coffee labels and cafe logos from Melbourne’s cafes and coffee roasters. The selected labels will be displayed alongside examples from the past.

Want to have your design considered? Send your brew-tiful coffee labels or cafe logos to coffee@slv.vic.gov.au by 31 Januray 2020. 


regatta in early Melbourne

WFE Liardet, View of the north shore, Port Melbourne, 1862

Discover the people and events that shaped Victoria's colonial history in our 'Colonisation' online gallery, including:

  • objects from early European contact and settlement
  • documents and illustrations by early colonists
  • the establishment of the city of Melbourne.

Law & order

black background with sepia photo of bearded man in chains against bluestone wall

Charles Nettleton, Ned Kelly in chains, 1880

Explore our 'Law & order' online gallery to:

  • discover stories from the history of the Melbourne Public Library (now State Library Victoria)
  • learn about the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition of 1860–61
  • meet the notorious Kelly Gang.

Marvellous Melbourne

Victorian-era poster map advertising real estate sale

Troedel & Co, The Sandringham Estate, Picnic Point, Brighton

Revel in the splendour of our 'Marvellous Melbourne' online gallery to:

  • meet entrepreneurs, detectives and public transport enthusiasts
  • explore Melbourne's shopping culture and sporting history
  • learn about the land speculation boom of the 1880s.

Victorians at war

sepia photo of WWI soldiers in a trench

Victor Rupert Laidlaw, In the front line, Anzac Cove, 1915

Explore wartime photographs, letters and diaries from the Library's collections in our 'Victorians at War' online gallery.

Yesterday & today

photographers on beach photographing waves and surfers

Rennie Ellis, Big Saturday

Browse a fascinating array of images and objects that reflect aspects of 20th- and 21st-century life in Victoria in our ‘Yesterday & today' online gallery.

Ned Kelly

detail of 19th-century letter written in ink

Letter written by Joe Byrne at the dictation of Ned Kelly, Feb 1879

Ned Kelly's famous suit of armour is featured in the new exhibition Velvet, Iron, Ashes, on display until 20 July 2020 in the Victoria Gallery.

But the armour is just one of the Library's many Kelly-related treasures. Items on display in The changing face of Victoria exhibition include the Jerilderie letter, in which Kelly's uniquely potent turn of phrase is evident, and the bushranger's death mask.

Georgiana McCrae's paintbox & easel

Take a guided look at Georgiana McCrae's portable paintbox and easel, as paper conservator Albertine Hamilton reveals the construction of the beautiful folding easel and the hidden compartment containing watercolours and painting implements, including a porcupine quill.

Meet the curator: Kate Bird

Dome Galleries, level 5

Kate Bird is an Exhibitions Curator at State Library Victoria. With a specific focus on The Changing Face of Victoria exhibition, she is interested in uncovering the stories of Victoria's past.

A little history

For a more detailed look at Victoria's story:

View our other image galleries

Cobb & Co horse team and passengers outside colonial country home

Digitised collections

Sands & McDougall's Directory of Victoria 1950

Explore our digitised collections based on historical themes, including the Port Phillip papers, preserving key records of early European settlement in Victoria; our Sands & McDougall directories and historic street directories; and selected records from the Coles Myer archive.

Ned Kelly armour deinstallation

Watch as Ned Kelly's iconic armour is deinstalled and removed from The changing face of Victoria exhibition. The armour is now on display in the new Victoria Gallery exhibition, Velvet, Iron, Ashes.

3D video tour

Tour the Library's 1866 Great Hall, a temporary structure built to house the Intercolonial Exhibition, almost 20 years before the Royal Exhibition Building was erected.

See how the Library has evolved

Watch our video to see how the Melbourne Public Library has evolved since 1856 into today's State Library Victoria.