From the iconic Ned Kelly armour to the famous Ashes Urn, from a polluting power station to a glittering silk and velvet fancy-dress costume, this selection of images from the Library's Velvet, Iron, Ashes exhibition will inspire you to explore history like never before.
Velvet, Iron, Ashes online gallery
Centenary of Victoria costume
Fancy dress costume worn by Jessie Clarke at Centenary of Victoria celebrations, oil paint and batik dye on rayon, cotton velveteen, lead glass, paint, glitter, 1934. Photograph by Broothorn Studios, 1935, Jessie Clarke Papers, Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria.
Thelma Thomas (later Afford) was a costume designer, performer and art teacher, and in the early 1930s she was active in Adelaide’s avant-garde theatre scene. In 1934 she was studying with influential modernist artist George Bell, when she was approached by the International Club of Victoria to design nine costumes for the centenary of Victoria Pageant of Nations. The costumes were to represent each state of Australia, as well as ‘peace’ and ‘prosperity’. Thomas' costume for the state of Victoria comprised two petticoats, a skirt, cloak and headdress, and each part represented an aspect of Victoria, including the State's irrigation scheme (cloak) and Yallourn power station (headdress). The costume was worn by Jessie Brookes (later Clarke) in 1934 and 1935.
Pageant of Nations celebration for the centenary of Victoria, photographer unknown, gelatin silver photograph, 1934, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
The International Club of Victoria was established in 1933 by Herbert and Ivy Brookes, who had been in inspired by the International Club in New York City and its capacity to bring people together across cultural and political divides. In 1934 and 1935, the International Club of Victoria produced the Pageant of Nations in Melbourne, as part of the celebrations of the centenary of European settlement in Victoria. Performed four times between October 1934 and June 1935, the pageant featured over 600 participants in costumes, including national dress from various countries.
Disposal of overburden at the Yallourn coal mine, JP Campbell, photographer, c1920–33, JP Campbell Collection of glass negatives documenting industrial enterprise at Yallourn, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
In mining, the overburden is the rock or soil that lies over the top of a mineral deposit and it's referred to as ‘waste’ or ‘spoil’ once it’s removed. At Yallourn, the growing mountain of overburden was popularly referred to as ‘Mount Monash’.
Building the first weir at Yallourn, JP Campbell, photographer, c1920–33, JP Campbell Collection of glass negatives documenting industrial enterprise at Yallourn, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
Before the advent of a brown coal industry in Victoria, the State relied on black coal from New South Wales for its electricity supply. A NSW miners' strike in 1916 was a catalyst for the formation of the Victorian Brown Coal Advisory Committee in 1917, which recommended the appointment of electricity commissioners and the construction of a power station near Morwell. In 1920 the electricity commissioners were replaced by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, and in 1921 John Monash was appointed its first chair. Photographer JP Campbell’s aesthetic was informed by his love of the Gippsland landscape, and his work traces the transformation that mining and industrialisation wrought in the area.
Yallourn power station, photographer unknown, gelatin silver photograph, c1940–49, Reginald Fulford collection of photographs, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
The Yallourn mine was referred to as the ‘open cut’ and mining was described as ‘coal winning’. This kind of positive language cultivated an image of Yallourn as a modern, technologically advanced operation – and it succeeded in attracting workers. But it obscured the reality that the work remained dangerous, and that its pollution created environmental and health hazards. Yallourn was constantly shrouded in coal dust that dirtied laundry, coated foliage and polluted the water supply. Residents developed the ‘Yallourn squint’ to try to keep coal dust out of their eyes. Coal dust threatened not only Yallourn’s reputation as an ‘ideal town’, but also the reputations of town engineers who believed the town's environmental problems were insoluble.
Briquette sales office
Briquette sales staff at Yallourn, JP Campbell, photographer, c1930–50, JP Campbell Collection of glass negatives documenting industrial enterprise at Yallourn, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
Yallourn workers and residents colloquially referred to those employed in professional and administrative roles as 'staff', and skilled tradesmen and labourers as 'wages'. This photograph by JP Campbell shows 'staff' in the briquette sales office. Briquettes were made from brown coal at Yallourn and were used both for domestic heating and to power industrial furnaces. Household briquettes were stamped with the letter ‘H’ while industrial briquettes were marked with an ‘I’.
This will be the place for a village: Victoria and Melbourne Centenary Celebrations, Percy Trompf, colour lithograph, 1934, Charles Weetman Collection of travel posters, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection. Percy Trompf Artistic Trust, courtesy Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney.
Percy Trompf received international acclaim for his bright, colourful and optimistic posters. The illustration on this poster, however, appears to reference Victoria’s violent beginnings. The ghostly figure of John Batman leaning on a rifle is superimposed over the city of Melbourne. Batman claimed to have purchased the land on which the city was founded; however, because the local Indigenous people of the Kulin Nation did not recognise property ownership, this land transaction could be seen as fraudulent. Many people believe that the Kulin Elders understood the signing of the deeds presented by Batman to be a form of tanderrum, a welcome ceremony in which visitors were granted protection and access to country on a temporary basis.
World’s greatest air race for MacRobertson trophy. England to Australia. Victorian & Melbourne Centenary, 1934–1935, Percy Trompf, colour lithograph, 1934, Charles Weetman Collection of travel posters, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection. Percy Trompf Artistic Trust, courtesy Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney.
Confectionery magnate Macpherson Robertson's gift to the city of Melbourne on its centenary included £15,000 and a gold trophy for an air race from London to Melbourne. From its announcement, Australia was swept up by aviation fever. The Sun News-Pictorial claimed the race would ‘make Melbourne known to the world more than any single event in history’. Twenty entrants from seven countries took off from the RAF Mildenhall airfield near London in October 1934. British airmen CWA Scott and T Campbell-Black won the race in their De Havilland DH88 Comet, in the record-breaking time of 71 hours.
Macpherson Robertson & staff
Welcome home for Macpherson Robertson, photographer unknown, c1935, MacRobertson Chocolate Factory collection of glass negatives, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
At its height, MacRobertson’s chocolate factory employed around 2500 workers. Many of his staff saw Macpherson Robertson (pictured centre right) as a benevolent father-figure. Occasions such as his birthday or his return from trips overseas were celebrated in grand style, with staff and locals lining the streets and waving flags. On his return from a world tour in 1927 he told his employees, ‘I do not wish you to think that I am vainglorious in stating that in no other factory in the world are the methods of manufacturing better than this. I have succeeded, but I have only done so by your good help’.
Toffee production line
Toffee production line at MacRobertson's chocolate factory, photographer unknown, c1910–40, MacRobertson Chocolate Factory collection of glass negatives, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
As the MacRobertson’s confectionery empire grew, MacPherson Robertson built more factories for the specialised manufacture of new lines. He also manufactured the packaging, which was known for its lavish colour and embellishments. In February 1922 The World newspaper from Hobart reported, 'Today the entire factory covers an area of 20 acres, and has a floor space of 850,000 square feet, and employ[s] over 2000 hands, whose annual wages bill amounts to 350,000 pounds. The great six-storey Old Gold chocolate factory contains one of the finest sets of workrooms in the southern hemisphere, and has an area of 80,000 square feet.'
Freddo Frog quality control
Quality control on the ‘Freddo frog’ production line at Macrobertson’s, Fitzroy, Wolfgang Sievers, gelatin silver photograph, c 1959, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
In 1930, perhaps inspired by the popularity of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Macpherson Robertson toyed with the idea of introducing a moulded chocolate mouse. Harry Melbourne, an 18-year-old employee in the chocolate moulding department, convinced Robertson to make chocolate frogs instead because, he claimed, women and children were afraid of mice. Robertson liked Melbourne’s idea and he named the new product after Fred McLean, the packing department foreman. The Freddo Frog became one of MacRobertson’s most popular lines and is still in production today.
The Dutch plane, Uiver, gelatin silver photograph, The Argus, Melbourne, 1934, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
One of the most dramatic stories of the Victorian Centenary Air Race was that of Dutch KLM airline’s DC2, Uiver, which became lost in bad weather near Albury in New South Wales. The Mayor of Albury ordered that the lights on the war memorial spell out ‘Albury’ in morse code, and the local radio station appealed to motorists to illuminate the racetrack with their headlights. The plane made a successful landing in heavy rain, but became bogged in mud – more than 300 people helped to pull it free with ropes. The extraordinary efforts made by the people of Albury to facilitate the emergency landing of the Uiver did not go unnoticed in the Netherlands. In gratitude, the Consul-General for the Netherlands knighted the Mayor of Albury and a commemorative plaque was installed in the town.
Pilot Jean Batten in Singapore, photographer unknown, gelatin silver photograph, 1934, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
In May 1934 New Zealand pilot Jean Batten flew solo from London to Darwin in 14 days, 22 hours and 30 minutes, taking six days off the record set by Englishwoman Amy Johnson in 1930. Johnson and her husband, Jim Mollison, competed in the Victorian Centenary Air Race from London to Melbourne but were forced to withdraw when non-aviation fuel damaged their plane’s engines. Batten did not compete in the Victorian Centenary Air Race but flew to Melbourne to greet the winners on their arrival. This was an era in which women often competed in long distance air races, yet one headline still read, ‘Excitement at Baghdad: Mrs Mollison demands hot bath’.
Electrical power, Princes Bridge
'Princes Bridge at night, Melbourne Centenary Celebrations', photographer unknown, gelatin silver photograph, 1934, Lily Butler photographic album, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
The Pageant of Nations was held in 1934 and 1935 as part of the celebrations of the centenary of European settlement of Victoria. The celebrations promoted a vision of a modern Victoria, and the streets of Melbourne were lit up with special displays of electric lights for the occasion.
Burnie Briquette costume made by Ted Hopkins of papier-mâché, photographer unknown, gelatin silver photograph, 1982. On loan from Ted Hopkins, Melbourne.
Ted Hopkins, then a resident of the Latrobe Valley town of Moe, was active in protests in the late-'70s against the destruction of the town of Yallourn. He designed costumes for performances that he put on for the Save Yallourn Campaign. One of his costumes was a giant papier-mâché ‘Burnie Briquette’, which he based on a character featured in State Electricity Commission of Victoria promotional materials.
Bail letter opener
Ashes bail letter opener, c1883. Collection of Ian, Rosemary and Katrina Metherall.
This ivory letter opener was presented to Janet Lady Clarke in 1883 by Ivo Bligh, captain of the English cricket team, who toured Australia in 1882–83. The handle is fashioned from one of the bails from the third test match played in Sydney on 26 January 1883, which England won. The letter opener is inscribed with Janet Clarke’s initials and a statement that the bail ‘was knocked off by the last ball bowled in the match’.
Scale model of the Hamilton family home at Yallourn from 1926 to 1958, made by James Ernest Frost from wood and cardboard, c1988. On loan from the Yallourn North and District Historical Society, donated by the family of James and Valma Frost.
This scale model was built by Latrobe Valley resident Jim Frost, whose wife Valma (nee Hamilton) had grown up in the Yallourn house on which the model is based. Jim and Valma also lived there as newlyweds. The original house was built from a plan (specifically, a plan for Yallourn House Type number 33). In an interview with historian Meredith Fletcher, Jim explained that he built the model house to evoke Valma’s childhood. The model is a link to both the lost town of Yallourn and to Valma's father, a briquette factory worker who had died when she was a young girl.
Briquette conveyor belt
'Morwell briquette factory workers watch thousands of briquettes move along the conveyor belts from production to the yards', Simon O'Dwyer, gelatin silver photograph, toned, 1996, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
Simon O’Dwyer’s photographs show the Latrobe Valley’s Morwell briquette factory in 1996 (the factory closed in 2014). Despite its listing on the Victorian Heritage Register, and concerted local efforts to preserve the building as an example of the region’s industrial heritage, demolition began at the site in January 2019. In 2019 Simon recounted his experience making this work: 'I arrived in Morwell around 8pm, and as the moon rose in the night sky I scouted locations for photographing the factory. I captured the many workers, from the one who sat on the piles of hundreds of thousands of cooling briquettes watching for signs of spontaneous combustion, to the conveyor pit workers whose faces were black and dripping with sweat, to those covered head to toe in protective gear, cleaning out coal bunkers. It was an alien world masked by dense fog and lit by hundreds of lights, eerie but beautiful, and I photographed until almost sunrise.'
Mykhailo Andrijczak, photographed by Janina Green for a series documenting members of the Ukrainian community at their homes in Victoria's Latrobe Valley, 2009, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
Ukrainians were among the large number of people who came to Australia under new immigration policies announced in 1945 by Australia’s first minister for immigration, Arthur Calwell. The government began to look beyond its traditional British base to refugee camps across Europe, and between 1947 and 1953 more than 170,000 displaced persons arrived in Australia. Many came from Poland, Russia, Malta, Yugoslavia, Estonia and Ukraine, and the press dubbed them ‘Calwell’s beautiful Balts’. Male migrants were required to work for two years on government contracts once they arrived in Victoria and many found themselves at the Latrobe Valley’s open-cut mines and power stations, including Yallourn. Attracted by the security of work in the area, many chose to settle there when their initial two-year contracts ended.
Paraskevia Policha, photographed by Janina Green as part of a series of photographs documenting members of the Ukrainian community at their homes in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, 2009, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell’s postwar immigration policies were designed to address labour shortages and increase the population. Calwell's policies attracted workers to the Latrobe Valley, where many worked in the coal-fired electricity generation industry. The Ukrainian community that settled there was considerable enough to maintain its own cultural identity. The community ran a Saturday school for their children to learn Ukrainian language and culture, held concerts, religious festivals, folk dances, weddings and regular meetings in the community hall, and they invited their neighbours to share in their culture.
Ned Kelly's armour
Armour worn by Ned Kelly at the siege of Glenrowan on 28 June 1880, made of steel from plough shares, leather, iron bolts. State Library Victoria. Left shoulder plate courtesy of Museums Victoria.
In 1879 – the year before the Glenrowan siege and Ned Kelly's ultimate capture – the Kelly gang began constructing suits of armour from plough parts. Some of these parts were bought, others were offered by sympathetic farmers and a few were stolen. The suits allowed the gang to walk away unharmed from close-range shooting, but they also made the gang members seem larger, more intimidating – even ghostly. After Ned Kelly was captured and the other gang members were killed, the police officers involved in the capture wanted to keep parts of the suits as souvenirs. Pieces of the suits became seperated, some making their way into private ownership. After years of research to determine which pieces belonged to which gang member, Ned Kelly's complete armour is now in the Library's collection.
Invitation to a celebration of the opening of Parliament
'Invitation for Janet Lady Clarke to an evening reception in celebration of the opening of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia', by artists Julian and Howard Ashton, colour lithograph mounted on board, 1901. On loan from the Clarke family.
The first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia was opened at noon on 9 May 1901 by the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V). The enthusiasm with which Melburnians greeted federation was marked by two weeks of celebrations, beginning with a lavish evening reception at Melbourne's Exhibition Building on 9 May which more than 12,000 guests attended, including Janet Lady Clarke.
MacRobertson’s Old Gold chocolate box, c1950, State Library Victoria.
'The exhibition of MacRobertson’s Old Gold chocolates, bon-bons and other dainty confections at Ball and Welch’s in Flinders-street […] is an education in Australian taste and workmanship, especially appropriate at this season, and a display which should not be missed during the round of sight-seeing, and we would recommend our readers to view it.' Table Talk, Melbourne, 22 December 1921.
MacRobertson's sweets jar
MacRobertson’s sweets jar, A young man and a nail can: an industrial romance, MacRobertson, Melbourne, 1924.
'There was a distinct prejudice against the locally-made article, and in the early years of Federation, the writer well remembers Mr Robertson appearing before the Tariff Commission […] and protesting against the allegation that his sweets were mainly composed of inferior glucose. He gave each member of the Commission a box of beautiful sweets which they admitted were equal to the imported article.' The Brisbane Courier, 31 January 1930.
Mock death notice
Mock death notice for English cricket, published in The Sporting Times, London, 2 September 1882. Image courtesy State Library of New South Wales.
The Australian cricket team unexpectedly demolished the English team in the 1882 cricket season in London. It was the English team’s first defeat by the Australians in England and the English team were savaged by the press. London’s Sporting Times went so far as to publish a mock notice announcing the death of English cricket.
The Ashes Urn
This glazed pottery urn, sealed with a cork and probably containing the ashes of a bail, was created by Janet Lady Clarke. It was presented by Janet Clarke to England cricket captain Honourable Ivo Bligh (afterwards Lord Darnley) as a gift during the English team’s tour of Australia in 1882–83. It was an impromptu gift and the origin of the urn itself is uncertain. It may have been a trinket, possibly a perfume bottle, picked up by the Clarke family in their travels. Attached is a hand-written label, ‘The Ashes’, and below it a poem cut from Melbourne Punch dated 1 February 1883. Around 1945 the urn was mounted onto an ash wood base by Lord’s groundsman ‘Bosser’ Martin.
Ned Kelly's armour & rifle, 1880
Ned Kelly’s armour and rifle, Oswald Thomas Madeley, albumen silver photograph, 5 July 1880, Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection, State Library Victoria Pictures Collection.
Superintendent Francis Hare was injured in the siege of Glenrowan and his niece, philanthropist and activist Janet Clarke, invited him to recuperate at the Clarkes’ Sunbury mansion, Rupertswood. In appreciation Hare gave the Clarkes one of the suits of armour worn by the Kelly gang at the siege. They believed the armour to be Ned Kelly’s and displayed it at Rupertswood and later at Cliveden, their Melbourne home. In 2001 curator and conservator, Allison Holland, discovered that Hare's inventory at the time had indicated the armour was worn by Kelly gang member Steve Hart, not Ned. In fact, as a result of further research, Holland identified the armour given to the Clarkes as belonging to neither Steve nor Ned, but rather to Kelly gang member Joe Byrne.