Collection Spotlight: Periodicals: The Spirit of Progress

Collection Spotlight: Periodicals: The Spirit of Progress


spirit of progress photo


As part of a new initiative to more closely highlight the incredibly diverse collection the PMI holds, we are going to be discussing an individual collection item each month.

We are kicking off with the always very visually appealing Art Deco and Modernism Society journal Spirit of Progress. It’s an excellent example of the many national periodicals which feature in the PMI’s collection.

The journal covers all things relating to Art Deco and Modernism: updates on planning for Art Deco and Modernist buildings all around Australia, the history of said buildings, the Art Deco and Modernism movements more generally and much more. It is truly amazing the immense influence that the movement had.

It can also show you exactly what Art Deco and Modernism is and what falls under its umbrella. You might be very surprised to discover how much Art Deco and Modernism surrounds you in your city or town.

Spirit of Progress is a must for anyone interested in design, art or architecture. It can also be useful for other less immediately related areas of research. For example, you might want to add accurate historical colour to your historical fiction or discover the history behind a building your ancestors might have lived in.

As well as being informative, Spirit of Progress is always lovely to look at and really interesting.

For example, did you know that:

In 1934 there was a dance held at the Palais de Dance (on the site of what is now the Palais Theatre) to celebrate the end of the Centenary Air Race from London to Melbourne. The dance hall was decorated as an airport with hangars, a revolving aeroplane suspended from the ceiling and searchlights lighting model aeroplanes.

In the 1920s it wasn’t the ‘done thing’ to have too much of your dress shirt exposed under a suit, so three-piece suits with a jacket, trousers and waistcoat were a must. Trousers were held up with a belt or suspenders and were high waisted and short – often exposing a man’s socks.

Bricks, in a variety of patterns and colours, are a feature of a number of Art Deco designs and can be seen across Melbourne. This was helped by the brick yards in South Yarra and Richmond, and later Hawthorn and Camberwell, making use of Melbourne’s extensive clay pits. The most common brick in Australia was the ‘ordinary red’ and came in a variety of colours such as sun-dried and unburned.

The Wesley College Chapel on Punt Road was opened on the 3rd of March 1936 and designed by Harry Norris, who also designed the Nicholas Building in Swanston Street. The money for the chapel was given to the school by the Nicholas family who built their fortune by producing Aspro, which was a version of Aspirin they developed after the German made Aspirin was banned in Australia during WWI.

Spirit of Progress only represents a fraction of our journal collection and a fraction of the works that we hold on art, design and architecture. So, come into the library and explore, you’re sure to find something fascinating.

You can find all of Spirit of Progress from 2000 to the present in the library and indexed on our catalogue. 


Placement at the PMI: With Melanie

Placement at the PMI: With Melanie


Greetings! I’m sure you’ve seen me around the library, but if not, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Melanie and I am a first-year library studies student studying at Box Hill Institute. I am currently studying to become a library technician and have been very fortunate to be completing my placement here at the Prahran Mechanics Institute for 15 days from July to October.


It has been astonishing to see many different events hosted at the library. Before my placement I didn’t even know the library existed, let alone that it is the second oldest library in Victoria! There have been so many events, from Historical Society Month (just completed in August), to a Scout Heritage Victoria event. I have also met members from different societies including the Cinema and Theatre Historical Society of Australia (CATHS) and the Australian Railway Historical Society.

Tasks I’ve Been Competing

Without a doubt, this has been an interesting placement. My classes have taught me how to complete tasks in theory, but it is great to do them in practice and physically learn them. During my time here, I have been ordering new books and cataloguing them for the library. I’ve been busy completing new social media posts, which you may have seen, including posts about the Royal Flying Doctors Service and different types of carriages in the 1800’s. I have a few more coming up in the next few weeks. I’ve been busy learning how to cover new books, which has been most fun. I was amazed that the Prahran Mechanics Institute was one of few libraries that still processes their books themselves and does not outsource this. Book covering was a highlight of my first week here. I’ve also been learning how to better help you, the patrons, with questions. Some other tasks have been shelving and indexing books and periodicals.

Whilst I have been at the front desk it has been interesting, and a little nervous to say the least, to help patrons with their queries. Because the library is specialised but diverse in its contents, each query has been different and exciting to help with. Some of these have been about railways, family history and indigenous culture in Victoria. It has been interesting to see where these searches lead me and why patrons would want this information.

I have been completing my placement one day a week until October, and since it is only August I still have over a third to go. I am excited to see what more I could learn, especially in cataloguing and indexing. I’d love to explore more and learn more about the diverse collection that the library holds.

I’d love to thank the staff at the Library for taking me on, even though I knew close to nothing on how a library works in practice at the start of my placement They have been extremely patient and welcoming which has made me enjoy my time here even more. I have learnt a lot over my time and hope to continue doing so as my placement continues.

Placement at the PMI: With Renee Whitehead

Placement at the PMI: With Renee Whitehead

We’ve had the delight of having Renee Whitehead, a Masters Student from Charles Sturt University on placement for the last two weeks and in April.

As the final part of her placement we’ve asked her to write a blog post about her experiences in the library. It gives a lovely insight into the inner workings of the PMI.


I have had the pleasure of having my three weeks of industry placement at the Prahran Mechanics’ Institute Library (PMI). Working alongside Ellen Coates (Collections Librarian), Steven Haby (Secretary Librarian) and Chris Moysey-Barker (Marketing and Communications Officer) and the many lovely dedicated volunteers and casual workers, I have learned a large amount. The passionate and dedicated workers of the PMI impressed me every single day I was on placement. There is so much work from every one of these people that goes into keeping the PMI running. I was extremely lucky that the staff wanted to show how the library runs while keeping up a hectic schedule.

I started with Steven learning how the database software works and how enrolment of new members is implemented. Then we looked at shelving and how the inner workings of the main library. I also had the pleasure of working alongside Chris helping with some marketing administration. Social media is a new aspect that I embraced, putting up some Facebook posts. It was very different approaching from a professional aspect, rather than a personal user. I found all of this to be really illuminating about how an organisation like PMI works. There are many cogs in the wheel! I also learned how to source books online and buy in store (so much fun!), cataloguing various parts of the collection and indexing new additions.

We (Ellen and myself) also attended an event for Heritage week in Sunbury to the Wurundjeri Ceremonial Rings which was extremely enjoyable. The PMI also hosts many events in the William Moss room and I assisted with the Shared Dreams and Destinies: Botanic Gardens of Melbourne and Sydney with Tim Entwistle. Ellen, Steven and Chris showed me that running a library doesn’t stop at marketing, cataloguing and book buying. It also involves event managing, public speaking and other PR skills to increase the library’s platform and managing events held at the PMI. I enjoyed the strong community focus that the library practices.

The amount I have learned at the PMI while on placement is astronomical. I have learned just how intrinsic the processes are for cataloguing, accessioning and indexing. There are so many things happening at this library every day.  The phrase ‘it takes a village’ is very pertinent when discussing this Institute. Professionally I have learned so much and I have also had the fortune to have had cultural experiences that have enriched myself on a personal level as well. I deeply thank the PMI for all the time and care they took in making sure I had a well-rounded and fulfilling placement.


Using the collection for photographic investigations by Steven Haby

Using the collection for photographic investigations by Steven Haby


A recent visitor to the PMI to discuss an upcoming publication on the history of Melbourne’s horse buses and trams shared with me a scanned slide of a Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board bus taken sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

By way of background the slide was one of several thousand taken by legendary tram and bus enthusiast Keith Kings who donated his collection recently to the State Library of Victoria. The slide has been scanned by the State Library as part of making Keith’s works available to the enthusiast and general public alike.

As some of you may be aware your Secretary Librarian is a keen railway, bus and tramway enthusiast and I showed this image to fellow enthusiast and Footscray Mechanics Institute Library Manager Luke Mitchell and both of us settled down to identify the location of and approximate date the photograph was taken. This was in response to the fact that the State Library of Victoria had not yet completed the indexing of Keith’s collection (Keith took meticulous notes).

So firstly Luke and I looked for clues contained in the slide which include:

  • The bus is parked on a road with tram tracks.
  • Preston OK Motors car yard
  • The phone number of the mechanics (J. McIntyre) XA1906
  • The cars in the yard and the yellow panel van on the right
  • The unusual shape of the building with the Penfolds Sherry sign

A search was then undertaken on the National Library of Australia’s Trove digitised newspaper collection for any reference to either “J. McIntyre” or “Preston Motors” which hopefully an address. Not surprisingly there were numerous references to both in the classified sections of The Age, The Argus and other newspapers but no specific addresses. Furthermore Preston Motors had more than one location across Melbourne (most of which were on tram routes).

Next we got down to specifics and turned to the Sands & McDougall directory of Melbourne and Victoria of which PMI has editions in book, electronic and microfiche formats. The ‘Sands’ is an excellent resource to track down details of what or who was at specific addresses as it is indexed by name, street and business type. Both “J. McIntyre” and “Preston Motors” were found and cross referenced to the specific street – in this case Chapel Street at the corner of Brighton Road and Grosvenor Street. This was further confirmed by referring to some old Morgan’s street directories of Melbourne which PMI has several.

Finally the date was hopefully further narrowed by searching for details about the cars and bus in the picture. Two of the cars in the yard were Holden “FE” models which were built around 1955-56 period. Details of the bus was found on a bus enthusiasts website which noted sparse details save for the fact that it was a Leyland RTS8c Tiger with bodywork by Cheetham & Borwick of Carlton.

The mystery was solved.


Image © and permission has been given by the copyright holder for the use of this image

Source: Keith Kings Public Transport Collection, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria



The PMI Goes to Clunes

The PMI Goes to Clunes


For the first time the PMI attended the Clunes Booktown Festival (5-6 May), both to buy books for the library and to sell them. All four staff (Ellen Coates, Steven Haby, Chris Moysey-Barker,  and Ursula Zamecnik) and four members of the Friends of the PMI (Greta Bain, Wendy Eldridge, Wendy Goodwin and Robyn Jones) attended. The Friends of the PMI put in a massive effort in getting ready for the sale: sorting and pricing more than 1000 books.

IMG_9106-1Head of the Friends of the PMI Wendy Eldridge sorting books in Clunes

On Friday we loaded up the van we hired (driven by Ursula) with the books, tables and marketing materials (including some truly excellent bookmarks) and we headed off for Ballarat, where we would be based for the four days.

Our spot in Clunes was the old Bluestone Church. It is owned by Wesley School and has been lovingly renovated and possibly most importantly, from our perspective, it has heating.


We shared the church with Gnosis Books, Tellurian Research Press, The Victorian Bookbinders Guild and the State Library of Victoria. We quickly made friends and contacts, including buying books from the other sellers. We unpacked and set up on Friday afternoon/evening, then on Saturday and Sunday got down to business. The days began at 8:00am and finished around 4:00pm. We worked in rostered shifts throughout the day with breaks and time for staff to go promoting and book buying.


On Sunday afternoon we made everything half price and were swamped, which was wonderful.


We finally packed up and went to a celebratory dinner at the Grapes Hotel, triumphant but very tired. Everyone worked incredibly hard and we sold the majority of the books we brought with us, collected 21 new books for the library and made so many fantastic new connections.  A special thanks to Wendy Eldridge for so ably leading the troops and organising everything beforehand.

Ellen Coates (Collections Librarian)

IMG_7924-1Ellen Coates (Collections Librarian) and Steven Haby (Secretary Librarian)

32089669_1729958067050382_451613358748073984_n31959553_1729032080476314_4517799600999890944_nThe books we bought in Clunes



Plotting History: Steven Haby: How I use the PMI Victorian History Library collection

Plotting History: Steven Haby: How I use the PMI Victorian History Library collection


As readers may not be aware your Secretary Librarian is a keen student on bus, railway, shipping and tramway history and I’ve been a regular contributor to a number of journals. In preparing an article on, for example, bus services in Box Hill during the 1950s to 1970s I would often refer to the collection. I’d use it to source information regarding the development of the suburb that supported or influenced the growth of bus services in the area. Sources include established histories of Box Hill and surrounding suburbs and articles published in historical society journals

We also have a vertical file of ephemeral material such as brochures, maps or guides that, for example, would be too small to easily house within the collection. This collection provides another source of invaluable information about a specific area that may not have been included in a book or article. Images are also very important in helping create an impression of what a suburb or town would have been like during a particular time. The PMI Victorian History Library is developing a small but significant collection of images gathered from various sources. For example, the image above is taken from the Bus & Coach Society of Victoria’s CD collection of Victorian bus body builders from the 1920s to the 1980s. Here we see a GFM-071 a Ford with A. E. Grummet & Son bodywork from the early 1950s at Wattle Park. The bus belonged to F. H. Rennie & Son which operated a tram feeder service from Burwood tram to Box Hill station via Wattle Park tram. Note the wonderful detail of the shopping centre in the background including signage for the State Savings Bank of Victoria and Street’s Ice Cream, and the arrangement of the tramway wiring including the green lighting housing powered from the tram wires. Furthermore apart from the bus there is only one other car in the picture.

These sorts of street scenes provide much needed and rich sources of information to the historian when writing about a locality.

To avoid the misappropriation that local histories can appear to be dry and uninteresting, the use of ephemeral material and images where possible will dramatically improve the appeal of the definitive history of whatever town/area is being written about.

Steven Haby

Secretary Librarian

Book Review: Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman

Book Review: Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman


Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman is one of the Stella Prize shortlist for 2018 and a remarkable novel.

It is hard to classify and to explain because there is a risk of ruining the premise of the  novel, so forgive me if this review is a little light on the detail.

Through a less than typical lens Terra Nullius throws a spotlight on the history of Australia in a way that is often very uncomfortable to read, but this makes it all the more necessary.

The key to this novel is its ability to pull the reader in and to turn them on their heads. The conflict of Australia’s past frontier violence is drawn out and examined from all aspects, at the same time as situating the reader at the heart of the conflict from a myriad of different perspectives. Through its unusual positioning, the reader (regardless of their views or background) becomes one of the oppressed. Even though this is not history as it happened in Australia it is achingly familiar both as a reflection of our own past and our still fractured present.

The story is told from a number of characters and perspectives, but ties together as a whole that illuminates the many facets of the society that Coleman has created. The landscape of Australia is also evocatively imagined and a key component throughout the whole novel.

This is a novel that should be read by all Australians in the hope that its perspective might enable a discussion or at least an acknowledgement that there is still a long way to go.

Terra Nullius is available for loan from the library.

Ellen Coates: Collections Librarian.