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“If these walls could talk”: new tour uncovers the weird and wonderful history of State Library Victoria

Media release

This is an archived media release. Links were correct at the time of publication, but may have changed or expired.

Tuesday 11 July 2023


There is a new way to experience State Library Victoria, with a free digital tour, Wander, now available for anyone and everyone to learn the fascinating history of the Library’s iconic spaces.

Available to download on smart phones and tablets, Wander reveals insights into memorable moments of the Library’s 167-year history and the people who have made the institution what it is today, as well as pointing out the Library’s best features, and others that are harder to spot.  

It covers “juicy Library gossip”, introduces the Library’s founder Sir Redmond Barry: “a lawyer, judge and man about town” and reveals “How the dream of a public library started when Redmond Barry invited the public into his house to browse his books.” It also introduces the first chief librarian Augustus Tulk – who we can thank for amassing the Library’s first 80,000 or so books.

It discloses “One of the most requested items in the [Library’s] guestbook was a toilet,” why there was a plane on the Library steps for three months and where to see the alleged medieval flea that was discovered within the pages of a centuries-old manuscript.

Uncovering these tidbits was a highlight for the team behind the new experience – I’m Free Walking Tours’ Ross Pickrell, Liam Bell, Daniel Aguiar, Astrid Watt and Andreas Baruhas.

Astrid Watt said they are excited to share the history and secrets of Australia’s oldest public library. 

“We had a lot of fun uncovering quirky facts and stories about the Library – we hoped to create a kind of ‘if these walls could talk’ tour, highlighting some of the funnest and funniest aspects of the Library while imparting information about its history and literally guiding people through it.

“A lot of people see the Library as a tourist destination and come to take snaps of the Dome – but there’s so much more to it, and now it’s easy to get the full experience.”

State Library Victoria CEO, Paul Duldig said he is thrilled to see this creative idea come to life.

“We are delighted to see this experience become a reality with the launch of Wander. It’s fantastic to see the awe and wonder on people’s faces as they traverse the Library listening to the stories revealed in the tour.

“It covers the early establishment of the Library, the first chief Librarian Augustus Tulk and the family who lived in the Library in the 1960s-70s; the history of The Ian Potter Queen’s Hall, the marble staircase and murals, the Dome and all our fabulous reading rooms with lesser-known facts and funny moments peppered throughout.”

Wander was developed through the Library’s 2021 grants program, Alchemy, as part of Creative Victoria’s City Revitalisation Fund.

It is one of three digital tours to be released in 2023, with Child Nation and Solace to go live in September and October this year.

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A selection of images is available here.