State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 56 Spring 1995


Country Victoria on Display

Country exhibitions offered a small-scale model of the larger, more opulent displays held in Melbourne. They provided opportunities to gauge the requirements of the colonial market and the potential overseas trade, and to admire the local ingenuity on display. As one account noted, such an exhibition would encourage “a spirit of emulation among the youth of both sexes, in the way of home industries and the various means of improving the leisure hours, and also of obtaining exhibits indicative of the variety of industries of Victoria.”1
Prior to the 1854 Melbourne Exhibition, a small exhibition had been held in Bendigo. This event provided many of the 428 exhibits which graced the Melbourne collection.2 Thus the Commissioners of the 1866 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition looked to the broader colony to ensure sufficient representation. Combined with increasing local interest, the result was a number of preparatory exhibitions held in country areas such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine.3 Local and Melbourne newspapers provided enthusiastic and often finely detailed coverage of events. The success of these displays, coupled with the popularity of overseas exhibitions, proved encouraging and further country exhibitions were held as a result.
The Australian Juvenile Industrial Exhibition held in Ballarat in 1878 (another was held in 1895–96) and the Geelong Jubilee Juvenile and Industrial Exhibition of 1887–88 both made a considerable impact upon the local communities who benefited from the influx of visitors. Young people (including school groups) were particularly encouraged to attend and the exhibitions also proved popular destinations for pleasure excursions. Patrons had to be provided with accommodation, refreshments and supplementary entertainment. Opening ceremonies were usually celebrated by a holiday in the town, with local schools participating. Oddly, both communities initially showed little support for the projects and raising money to fund them proved a difficult task. In Ballarat, for example, numerous rebuffs were experienced before some £230 was raised by private citizens. A further sum of £300, raised with the aid of members of Parliament, relieved anxiety regarding preparations.4

Geelong Exhibition Building, from Geelong Exhibition journal and Australian Natives' Association gazette 25 November 1887, p. 1

Ballarat 1878

The 1878 Ballarat Exhibition was conducted primarily to encourage the talents of men and women under the age of 21. Held in the Alfred Hall, it spilled over into the market sheds and grounds. The local paper viewed it as an occasion “for all politics to be laid aside
… The event is one of no small importance to this town, and it should be characterised by all the unanimity that it is possible to arouse for the occasion.”5
The exhibition was intended to be intercolonial, but only New Zealand, with 89 entries, participated to a significant degree. There were few entries from other Australian colonies and only one from Great Britain. However, the exhibition boasted an impressive number of classes (24) and a total of 5,105 exhibits. No less a personage than the Governor, Sir George Bowen, opened proceedings:
“… it is a chief function of education to, as it were, bring to the surface that great quartz reef of industrial skill and of sound learning.”6
So successful did the exhibition prove that it remained open for 92 days, 14 more than anticipated. Approximately 160,000 visitors passed through the gates, many brought by extra trains running especially for the exhibition. A profit of nearly £5,000 was realised.7

Geelong 1887–88

Encouraged by the success of a small exhibition in Geelong in 1879, the Corio branch of the Australian Natives' Association initiated another exhibition on a much larger scale. The Geelong Exhibition Buildings were pressed into service and the initial funding of £300 was procured from the townspeople.8
During the course of the 1887–88 exhibition, The Geelong Exhibition journal and Australian Natives' Association gazette was produced on a weekly basis. It afforded ample opportunity to detail the many items on display as well as reporting upon the extraneous activities Geelong provided. In his opening address, Sir Henry Loch commented upon the
“enterprise and energy” engaged.9 Oil paintings, biscuits, clothing, confectionery, beer, saddlery, soap, fancy-work and geological specimens formed just part of the display. Gold and silver medals and certificates were awarded. Attendance was solid, the takings at the door on the first day amounting to over £100. Nearly £800 worth of seasons' tickets sold in the first few days.10
Such exhibitions were partly seen as a means of assisting young people “of every age and station”11” to fulfill their potential and become worthy citizens. However, it became clear that the advantages of country exhibitions stretched beyond their initial aims. The success of the Melbourne exhibitions owed much to the groundwork laid by the city's regional counterparts.
Sandra Burt
Librarian in the Australian Manuscripts Collection of
the La Trobe Library


Supplement to The Geelong advertiser 23 November 1887, title page.


Melbourne International Exhibition, 1880–1881: official record. Melbourne, Mason, Firth & M'Cutcheon, 1882, p. xxxviii.


Ibid. p. xli.


Charles J. Richardson, Australian Juvenile Industrial Exhibition, Ballarat, 1878: official record. Ballarat, The Executive Committee, 1878, p. 8.


Bullarat courier 15 February 1878, p.2.


Australian Juvenile Industrial Exhibition, Ballarat, 1878: official record, op.cit. p. 23.


Ibid. p.36.


The Geelong Exhibition journal and Australian Natives' Association gazette 25 November 1887, p.6.




Geelong advertiser 23 November 1887, p.3.


Australian Juvenile Industrial Exhibition, Ballarat, 1878: official record. op.cit. p. 7.