Open House Melbourne

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By Carolyn Morrisby

The annual Open House Melbourne was held the last month. For those of you who might not be aware of what that is: it’s a free annual event which provides access to over 100 of Melbourne’s most significant buildings. On offer is a diverse range of building types, styles and periods, it is a wonderful opportunity to see what makes this city so special.

The majority of buildings are open access, with a small number being pre-allocated by a ballot. A large range of tours are available and there are plenty of children’s activities to keep them entertained.

Like so many of us, I welcome the opportunity to participate in free events, so I invited my bestie and we made a day of it. We had already made our choices of interest prior to meeting up and I utilised the Open House Melbourne Suggested Itineraries link to make up our own personal itinerary for the day.

We started our day at the Open House Info Hub outside Melbourne Town Hall, where we purchased a guide book – the event is able to be provided free to the public thanks to the sales of guide books and donations, along with the financial and in-kind contributions of sponsors and event partners.

Our self-guided tour began at the Melbourne Town Hall where plenty of people were milling about already, to the point that they had staff acting as ‘traffic wardens’ to minimise corridor congestion.

The highlight for me was the Council Chambers; where we were able to sit in the actual chamber seats and listen to an oral presentation on the history of the chambers. I enjoyed absorbing our surroundings, particularly the ornate ceilings, stained glass windows and intricately carved woodwork, before we hurried on to avoid the next crowd that had already gathered.

Our next stop was to be Parliament House, but we took one look at the huge line and decided the wait would be too long so we moved on to our next planned location; the Old Treasury Building, which had also attracted a large (albeit more manageable) crowd.

Here we wandered into the depths of the original gold vaults and saw how the original caretaker and his somewhat large family had lived. What struck us was how dark and dreary the lower floors were due to a lack of windows, we surmised, though, that this would have been a security aspect (windows do not make for a secure vault area). All the rooms had very informative displays, including a whole room dedicated to the life and times of Ned Kelly. A highlight for me was seeing a replica of the largest gold nugget discovered in Australia in the gold rush exhibition, and the genuine gold bullion secured behind glass in one of the vaults

On our way to lunch we happened to walk past the Melbourne Athenaeum Theatre and decided to go in, since we’d missed out on Parliament House and had time up our sleeves. It was very interesting to learn that there is a large private library on the first floor – we had no idea as we were only aware of the theatre’s existence.

Entering the library was like stepping in to the past, and also very quiet and peaceful for those who want respite from the hustle and bustle on the streets below. There was some lovely artwork on display by artist in residence Kyoko Imazu; I thought her artist books were gorgeously detailed. We then moved on to The Balcony, where we were able to enjoy music being played on the huge organ by a number of musicians throughout the day, while admiring the lovely architecture and acoustics of the room.

We were starving and quite parched by this stage, so we stopped for a cuppa and late lunch. Once recharged though, we were keen for more and headed towards the Supreme Court of Victoria. We passed by The Argus Building and contemplated joining the expansive queue, however, upon discovering there were only guided tours and surmising we’d be waiting the rest of the afternoon to get in (if we were lucky) we decided not to waste our time and added it to our list for next year.

We continued on to peruse the Supreme Court… or so we’d planned, but again, upon arrival we could see a queue stretching to the end of the block and didn’t like our chances. Knowing that it was closing at 4pm and observing that the queue wasn’t even moving, we decided to cut our losses and head back up to the centre of the city for a bit of window shopping and another cuppa.

Open House Melbourne was founded in 2008, and is part of the Open Houses Worldwide Family. I would love to see Open House London (founded 1992), Open House New York (founded 2002) and Open House Rome (founded 2011), among others, one day!

For now I will plan for next year’s event, which will be held the weekend of 25-26 July 2015, in the hope that I’ll get to see inside the buildings I missed out on this year (as well as a few more that caught my eye while perusing the long list on offer this year). The main thing I took away from this experience, apart from the interesting and informative time we had, is how important it is to plan around the viewing times and guided tours for the most popular buildings so you don’t get caught up in the humungous queues – it’s a very popular event that’s not to be missed!

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