As a recent acquisition by the Library, These Walls Speak Volumes by Ken James and Pam Baragwanath, is the definitive reference on the various Mechanics Halls and Institutes dotted around Victoria. More than 1,000 buildings were established in Melbourne, its suburbs and country towns from the early part of the 19th century. This reference book is particularly interesting thanks to the meticulous research by the two authors, a page devoted to each building (usually one per country town or suburb). Each page carries at least one photograph or sketch of the original building vis-à-vis the current building (if it still exists) and narrative of the founders, early classes and subjects taught plus notable lecturers and students.
The SMSA itself has a venerable history of providing instruction to returned soldiers from the two World Wars. Likewise, each Victorian township’s mechanics hall or institute provided meaningful, dedicated re-education to the local residents. This reader particularly enjoyed looking at the present day photographs of many of the buildings – many now housing local council chambers, libraries, even real estate agencies. And being a former Victorian, this reader had not realised how many adjacent suburbs each hosted its own mechanics hall. It is a pleasure to see so many of the sturdily-built brick or stone halls still in use decades later (albeit no longer operating as a Mechanics Institute).
The reader is gently warned that this beautiful tome is large and heavy, weighing 2.6kg. Be prepared to carry it home in a sturdy library bag, or flip through it at a table in the SMSA Library.
SMSA Mystery and Crime Reading Group Member