National Heritage Places - Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, Melbourne
Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens are important as a rare surviving example of venues constructed as part of the late 19th-century world exhibition movement. This was the reason for their addition to the World Heritage List in July 2004. They were also the venue for the opening of the first Australian Federal Parliament. Wander through the leafy grounds of the Carlton Gardens, attend an exhibition or join a guided tour to see the Exhibition Building located on the edge of the Melbourne CBD.
The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens were included in the National Heritage List on 20 July 2004 and inscribed on the World Heritage List at the same time.
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Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building is one of a group of grand monuments and buildings constructed as part of the world exhibition movement of the 1800s. Other such constructions include the Eiffel Tower and London's Crystal Palace.
The 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition
The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens were designed and built to host an international exhibition in 1880. In the decades before this event, Victoria had been experiencing a period of marked economic growth resulting from the discovery of vast goldfields in the colony. Wealth from this booming economy was being directed to grand and symbolic projects intended to reflect the status and position of Victoria, and the Australian colonies, on the world stage. Hosting the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition was an expression of this prosperity.
In Australia, as in other countries, the international exhibitions were always matters of pride and an important mechanism for introducing the world to the wealth, capacity and culture of the city and country. Exhibitions were particularly important to countries trying to establish a global profile, to open the door to trade and closer international relations with others, and were often a symbol of the host's aspirations for nationhood.
Design for an international exhibition building
Most exhibitions had a Palace of Industry or Great Hall. The Exhibition Building, as we now know it, was the Great Hall for the 1880 and 1888 international exhibitions.
The design of the Great Hall included many features reminiscent of churches and basilicas at the time, such as naves, aisles, a dome and a cruciform floor plan. It was, in effect, designed to be a 'temple' to industry.
The Carlton Gardens were designed as a 'pleasure garden' setting for the building, and also to reflect the scientific interest in gardens at the time.
Opening the first Australian Federal Parliament
Three decades later, soon-to-be Prime Minister Edmund Barton expressed a desire to have as many Australians as possible attend the opening of Australia's first Federal Parliament. The nation's largest and arguably grandest building – the Royal Exhibition Building – was selected to host this important historic occasion.
On 9 May 1901 more than 12,000 people listened to speeches, sang a hymn and the national anthem, and watched as politicians were sworn in and a nation was born.
The national flag was flown at the Exhibition Building four months later, on 3 September 1901, following a flag designing competition that attracted over 32,000 entries.
Using the Royal Exhibition Building
Since then The Royal Exhibition Building has served as a venue for:
- housing Australian War Memorial war memorabilia
- a migrant reception centre
- weight-lifting and basketball events during the Melbourne Olympic Games
- trade fairs, exhibitions, events, displays and exhibitions.
Management of the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens is shared by the Museums Board of Victoria and the City of Melbourne. The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens had its role in the world exhibition movement of the 1800s recognised in 2004 when it was inscribed on the World Heritage List.