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Video clip synopsis – During the 19th century, Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building was an architectural masterpiece which showcased Australia’s arrival on the world stage as an economic powerhouse.
Year of production - 2009
Duration - 5min 5sec
Tags - Australian cities, Australia's Heritage, colonialism, heritage, technological change, technology and society, see all tags


Royal Exhibition Building

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About the Video Clip


Royal Exhibition Building is an episode from the series Australia’s Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, produced in 2009.

Series Synopsis
Take a voyage of discovery with Chris Taylor as he reveals the secrets behind a fascinating mix of treasures from Australia’s National Heritage List. In the third season of five-minute documentaries in the National Treasures series, Taylor travels around Australia delivering historical snapshots of objects and places from the National Heritage List. He talks with experts and enthusiasts, revealing fascinating insights into our famous and not-so-famous past.

Australia’s Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor is a Screen Australia National Documentary Program produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and made with the assistance of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

Curriculum Focus


Teachers and students should consult their state or territory’s curriculum and learning programs.

For information on state and territory curricula
Go to: State and territory curriculum – Curriculum Corporation

Background Information


The Royal Exhibition Building was constructed in Melbourne during 1879 and 1880 following huge commercial growth and manufacturing in Victoria as a result of the 1850s gold rushes. It is a monument to the international exhibition movement, which began in the mid 19th century.

The international exhibition phenomenon was a product of the Industrial Revolution. It reflected a dynamic and transitional phase in modern history, which saw the growth and spread of the benefits of industrialisation in the form of technological advancements and social progress, the transmission of ideas and cultural values around the world, and the rapid development of an extensive international economy.

The exhibitions themselves brought people and ideas together on a grand scale, in diverse locations around the world, and greatly enhanced international social and economic links. They provided a mechanism for the world-wide exchange of goods, technology, ideas, culture and values, and heralded a new era of trading networks and the modern international economy. The exhibitions were a spectacular shopfront for the industrial revolution, which shaped some of the greatest global social and economic transformations.
The Royal Exhibition Building was purpose-designed to be the Great Hall of the ‘Palace of Industry’, the focal point of international exhibitions. It was intended by the Exhibition Commissioners to reflect Melbourne’s ‘wealth and civilisation’, and ‘the rapid progress of Australasia’ in the industrialised world. On the opening day of the 1880 Exhibition 20,000 people were in the streets watching a great procession led by two brass bands.

The Royal Exhibition Building is the only surviving example in the world of a Great Hall from a major international exhibition. Furthermore, it has retained authenticity of function, continuing to be used for its original purpose of exhibitions and displays even today.

Classroom Activities

  1. After viewing the program on Royal Exhibition Building, discuss in class then write responses to the following:
    1. Describe the major event in Victoria that triggered the construction of Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building. Explain the general purpose of the Building.
    2. List five new inventions from overseas that were displayed for the first time in Australia at the Royal Exhibition Building, either in the first exhibition in 1880, or the Centennial exhibition of 1888.
    3. Explain the major point of difference between Melbourne’s Exhibition Building and other, similar exhibition venues constructed around the world, that has lasted to the modern day.
  2. Carry out relevant research, and in pairs design and create your own, original, large promotional poster, aimed at the local Victorian public, for either the 1880 or 1888 exhibitions. Your poster should emulate the style of text, illustration and lettering of the late 19th century.
  3. The program informs us that during the 20th century the Royal Exhibition Building was used for many purposes other than to display new technologies. Carry out research then write a selection of related items about these wider purposes. Design them as a double-page spread for a popular history magazine. Format using desktop publishing software, and include illustrations and photographs as required.

Further Resources


Graeme Davison, The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic, 2004

David Dunstan et al, Victorian Icon: The Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Exhibition Trustees in association with Australian Scholarly Publishing, Kew, Vic, 1996

Peter H. Hoffenberg, An Empire on Display: English, Indian and Australian Exhibitions from the Crystal Palace to the Great War, University of California Press, Berkely, 2001

Robert Wilson, Great Exhibitions: The World Fairs 1851–1937, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007

Go to: National Heritage: Royal Exhibition Building
Go to: Royal Exhibition Building – Wikipedia
Go to: The Great Exhibition of 1851, the Crystal Palace, London
Go to: Marvellous Melbourne