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Velvet, Iron, Ashes

About the exhibition

Discover surprising connections between extraordinary people, events and icons from Victoria’s history in Velvet, Iron, Ashes.

Find out how the armour of infamous bushranger Ned Kelly is connected to cricket’s celebrated Ashes Urn, how fairy floss is connected to Victoria’s Latrobe Valley electricity industry, and why the granddaughter of one of our prime ministers once wore a glittering velvet cloak symbolising the Murray–Darling irrigation scheme.

Spend time with our retro-style Map-o-matic – custom-made for Velvet, Iron, Ashes – to create and print your very own personalised tour map of the exhibition.

Showcasing treasures from the Library’s collection and from other major institutions and private collections, this captivating exhibition will inspire you to follow your own path of discovery on a trail of unexpected, intertwined stories.

Velvet, Iron, Ashes was the inaugural exhibition in the new Victoria Gallery endowed by the John and Myriam Wylie Foundation and established as part of the Library’s transformative $88.1 million Vision 2020 redevelopment. The exhibition ran from 24 October 2019 until 15 July 2020.

This is Velvet, Iron, Ashes

Velvet, Iron, Ashes

Come on a behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibition in this short video with curator Carolyn Fraser. 

About the curator

Carolyn Fraser lead curator of Velvet, Iron, Ashes exhibition

Photo of Carolyn Fraser by Patrick Rodriguez

Carolyn Fraser is Lead Curator at State Library Victoria. She has published widely on social history topics, with a particular focus on the history of craft practices. Carolyn has a BA (Hons) from the University of Melbourne and an MA and MPhil from Columbia University, New York. 

Power dressing: The story behind Jessie Brookes' 1934 outfit

A mannequin on display wears a majestic cloak and a striking headdress

Senior curator Carolyn Fraser tells the story behind this remarkable costume (made for Melbourne's 1934 centenary celebrations) which symbolised modern Victoria – and linked together enduring themes of industrialisation, community, the built environment and the natural world.

Freddo Frogs, Cherry Ripes & an averted plane disaster

Women sort Freddo Frog chocolates on an assembly line

Quality control on the ‘Freddo frog’ production line at Macrobertson’s, Fitzroy, Wolfgang Sievers, gelatin silver photograph, c 1959, Pictures Collection

Wolfgang Seivers

Watch a short film of senior curator Carolyn Fraser telling the story of how Melbourne confectionery king Macpherson Robertson – creator of the Freddo Frog and Cherry Ripe – is connected to a lost Dutch plane over Albury in 1934.

The critical connection between Ned Kelly, The Ashes & Janet Lady Clarke

Photo of Ned Kelly's armour by Patrick Rodriguez

Watch Senior curator Carolyn Fraser reveal why significant 19th-century Melburnian Janet Lady Clarke is the connection between Ned Kelly's armour and The Ashes.

The Ashes Urn was here

A small ceramic urn and velvet bag in an exhibition display case

For a limited period between December 2019 and February 2020, the celebrated Ashes Urn was on display at the Library. The Ashes may have left the building but you can continue to explore our Ashes-related content from this page.

Jessie Clarke’s Pageant of Nations costume

A woman in a vibrant hat and green cape
  • Watch the video of curator Carolyn Fraser and costume designer Annette Soumilas talking about this extraordinary costume and how it was made.
  • Read the story in La Trobe Journal of Jessie Clarke's original 'Victoria' costume, designed by Thelma Thomas and worn during Victoria’s centenary celebrations of 1934 and 1935. 


Illustration of a red box whose name is map-o-matic

Visit Velvet, Iron, Ashes in person and print your personalised exhibition map with our retro-flavoured Map-o-matic machine!

Ned Kelly's armour

Ned Kelly's suit of armour made from thick sheets of iron

Patrick Rodriguez

Ned Kelly's iconic suit of armour – worn during the notorious Glenrowan siege and Kelly's subsequent capture – is on display at Velvet, Iron, Ashes.

Online gallery

View a selection of images from the exhibition – from Ned Kelly's armour to the famous Ashes Urn and a historic fancy-dress costume – and follow your own path of exploration through some of Victoria's greatest stories.

Research guide

A woman smiles as she places a chocolate in her mouth

Woman advertising Old Gold chocolates, c 1910 – 1940, gift of Marie Linten, 2003, from the MacRobertson Chocolate Factory collection of glass negatives.

Browse our research guide to gain a deeper insight into the themes and personalities of Velvet, Iron, Ashes, including the Kelly armour, The Ashes, the Pageant of Nations, Yallourn and Macpherson Robertson.

The women who invented The Ashes Urn

Gideon Haigh shares the little-known story of two women's pivotal contribution to a gentleman's game.

About the Victoria Gallery

An exhibition in an elegant heritage space

Patrick Rodriguez

Victoria Gallery, endowed by the John and Myriam Wylie Foundation, is the Library's newest exhibition space.

Grandly proportioned and dramatically lit, the heritage gallery showcases treasures from the Library's collection, as well as from other institutions and private collections, to tell the stories of our state.

Velvet, Iron, Ashes is Victoria Gallery's inaugural exhibition. 

One object, many stories: The Ashes

A woman spins a cricket ball against a pink backdrop

Listen to a fascinating and wide-ranging panel on 'the sacred soot' moderated by journalist Gideon Haigh with speakers Jed Smith, Melbourne Cricket Club; Alice Clarke, journalist; Stuart MacGill, former Australian Test cricketer and Tayla Vlaeminck, Australian cricketer.