<<<Back to Mechanics' Institutes Australia 2018

 

Celebration and Survival: Mechanics' Institutes Australia 2018

Proceedings of the 3rd National Conference convened by the Mechanics' Institutes of Victoria Inc.

 

Foreword

by Dr Frank Hurley

 

Papers

 

Jump to Abstract by Author:

Allen | Baragwanath | Birman | Coates/Baker | Creagh | Dent | FreyHaby | Hancock | Huddle/Curcio/Fabbri | James | Jones | Kellermeier | Kerrigan | Lowden/Lowden | Marsden | McCausland | Monro | Morris | Roberts | Walker | Webster | Weiss | Westwood/Haby/Mitchell | Williams (Richard) | Williams (Sian) | Windle | Windle | Wolfenden | Woodhead

 

WINSOME ALLEN | PRESIDENT, SYDNEY MECHANICS’ SCHOOL OF ARTS, AUSTRALIA

‘THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK’ OR ‘WHAT IT IS WE SHOULD BE DOING NOW?’

 

Lewis Carroll in the latter part of the 19th Century penned his (almost) famous allegorical work ‘The Hunting of the Snark’.  It both confounded and delighted readers.  What was its true meaning or was it just a bit of nonsense?  There may be some parallels in trying to describe or comprehend the purpose of mechanics’ institutes and schools of arts in modern Australia.

This paper will explore the journey of one such entity towards devising its future.  Among the issues to be explored will be:

•         Does its rich history impede or facilitate the pursuit contemporary relevance?

•         What was the importance of personality amongst the early leaders?

•         Is good fortune or luck an essential ingredient?

•         Should members determine the future or be ‘led’ to ‘the sunlit uplands’?

•         The strategic planning challenge

•         Should the focus be on property (assets) or purpose?

 The presenter will offer a critical observation that links Carroll’s work and the mechanics’ institutes movement and offer encouragement to other similar organisations.  Ultimately, the presentation will propose that the focus should be on both respecting the past, but pursuing a strong and robust future.

 

PAM BARAGWANATH |MECHANICS’ INSTITUTES RESEARCHER, AUSTRALIA

UBIQUITOUS AND NECESSARY: MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE LIBRARIES IN VICTORIA

 

On the occasion of the 20th Birthday of the Mechanics’ Institutes of Victoria Inc. (MIV) it is timely to celebrate the survival, the tangible evidence of the surviving Mechanics’ Institute library buildings in traditional usage in Victoria. From their tentative, courageous nascency and ultimate flowering, ‘like a carpet of wildflowers they spread to the remotest and most distant corners’  nearly 1,000 Institutes and their libraries were established in Victoria over a century from 1839 to the 1930’s with conscientious acquisition policies providing essential reading material, reference collections, journals and daily newspapers. In the peak growth periods of the burgeoning European settlement in Victoria, an Institute a month was being established by local communities. Viewed as essential infrastructure, local communities were encouraged by the official sanction of annual Parliamentary Grants and in most cases, a Crown Land Reserve for the site. It is heartening to see 500, approximately half of these valuable sites and buildings remain in traditional usage rather than being sold off by councils for private use. Even more inspiring are the Mechanics’ Institute libraries that remain in their original buildings, with their original function and on their original sites, many with their original library collections lovingly preserved. They are our heritage gems.

The Mechanics’ Institute movement was influential not only in its early development but in its continuing function and enduring contribution to education, library and community services in Victoria. They are at present under-represented in the Victorian Heritage Register and certainly not represented at all in the National Heritage List. As Melbourne, Ballaarat and Bendigo Mechanics’ Institutes are on the State Register they would be eligible and are excellent examples, there may be others.

In order to raise national awareness of the Schools of Arts and Mechanics’ Institutes movement in Australia and properly assess their contribution, the possibility of an Australia wide body may be appropriate to consider also.

 

WENDY BIRMAN

PERTH LITERARY INSTITUTE: CULTURAL OASIS

 

(NO ABSTRACT)

 

ELLEN COATES |COLLECTIONS LIBRARIAN, PRAHRAN MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE VICTORIAN HISTORY LIBRARY, AUSTRALIA

JAMES BAKER | CATALOGUING LIBRARIAN, MELBOURNE ATHENAEUM LIBRARY, AUSTRALIA

INNOVATIVE INSTITUTES: THE UNIQUE OPPORTUNITIES FOR STAFF AND PATRONS IN MECHANICS’ INSTITUTES

 

Mechanics’ Institutes are often seen as an anachronism in today’s world, at best an interesting relic. This is far from true, as our experiences show they are exciting places that allow new opportunities for staff and patrons. New ideas have kept both the Prahran Mechanics’ Institute Victorian History Library (PMI) and the Melbourne Athenaeum Library relevant to our members – and able to attract new members – in the 21st century.

This paper will explore how being part of the small teams at the Athenaeum and PMI has allowed us opportunities that would be impossible in larger, more structured libraries. While this model creates challenges, it puts Mechanics’ Institute staff in the unique position to exercise autonomy and embrace new ideas (both our own and others). This ensures that Mechanics’ Institutes can remain relevant while still holding to their original ideals and build a vibrant and exciting work environment, which is crucial to their future.

We hope to look at this topic from both the personal – what we as individuals have got out of this and how it will help us in our careers, and the institutional – what Mechanics’ Institutes gain from having new staff with fresh ideas join their team.

 

HELEN CREAGH | MEMBER, ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIAN DECORATIVE AND FINE ARTS SOCIETIES (MOLONGO PLAINS), AUSTRALIA

LEARNING FROM THE PAST: BUILDING THE SCHOOL OF ARTS MOVEMENT IN AUSTRALIA - AN ‘ADFAS IN THE COMMUNITY’ PROJECT

 

What is all this? What is the Association of Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (ADFAS) and why is it working on this project? The paper will answer these questions as well as setting out how the project has been designed and how it is managed. It will discuss the results of the work and what we have learnt in the process. The buildings themselves are the catalyst but there is much more to tell than an account of land acquisition and construction and maintenance of a building. The discussion will cover some of the patterns of development of the buildings, especially in relation to their community, and some of the stories that have emerged from this research. It will also cover instances where there has been a focus on a particular area, with research by an individual on several buildings in close proximity - what this tells us about the broader communities. The text will be amplified by a Powerpoint presentation.

 

JOHN DENT OAM | MEMBER OF THE FRIENDS OF THE LAUNCESTON MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE INC, AUSTRALIA

MECHANICS’ INSTITUTES IN TASMANIA

 

This paper identifies the Mechanics’ Institutes (MI) that existed in Tasmania. The Mechanics’ Institutes were spread widely throughout Tasmania in many country towns and in suburbs of the two major cities, Hobart and Launceston. The MI was usually the third public building erected in a developing town after the Church, then a school and then either a Mechanics’ Institute, a cricket club or a Masonic Lodge. The MI usually served a number of purposes including a public meeting place, a place to have dances and a place to have lectures.

This paper attempts to identify those towns and suburbs that had a Mechanics’ Institute and provides details of the earliest and latest record of a MI in the various locations. It also records some of the notable people who formed each MI and some of the people who served as voluntary office bearers to make the MIs function as well as whether or not they had a purpose built building for the MI. Some were not actually called Mechanics’ Institutes with other names being just Institute, Library, Reading Club or Room and Literary Society. These other institutions that had similar attributes to a MI are also listed.

Many of these Institutes just fade away and are absorbed into the local municipal Councils as the library or in some cases a town hall and it is often difficult to determine exactly when they ended but the last record of their existence has been recorded but they may have gone on after the end date but were just not reported.

 

MICHELE FREY |PRINCIPAL ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANT, XYST LTD, NEW ZEALAND

ON A SATURDAY NIGHT: COMMUNITY HALLS OF SMALL TOWN NEW ZEALAND

 

On a Saturday Night - Community Halls of Small Town New Zealand was a result of passion and several years of commitment to really understand and capture the essence of these places. Through Michele Frey’s work she could see that these places in some contexts are alive and kicking, incredible parts of society. In others they are on the cusp of being replaced with something far ‘flashier', or simply demolished. So what makes them go one way or the other? Based on this research, Michele will share her view on the key mechanisms for their long term prosperity.

 

STEVEN HABY | SECRETARY LIBRARIAN, PRAHRAN MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE VICTORIAN HISTORY LIBRARY, AUSTRALIA

COLLABORATION, CHEQUEBOOKS AND COFFEE: REFLECTIONS ON MY FIRST 18 MONTHS AS SECRETARY LIBRARIAN, PRAHRAN MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE VICTORIAN HISTORY LIBRARY

 

Starting with much excitement as Secretary Librarian at the iconic Prahran Mechanics’ Institute  Steven reflects on the 18 months or so that he has been at the helm of this august institution. One does not have the luxury of a finance, human resources or IT department to sort out the myriad of day to day issues of running a library. Not to mention the time needed to undertake planning, execution and evaluation of various programs throughout the year. On talking with colleagues from other Institutes Steven quickly draws conclusions that running a Mechanics’ Institute is literally running a small business. Steven concludes his presentation by providing a strategy that leads to success for the organisation, the staff, members, the Board or Committee and most importantly one’s sanity.

 

JOELIE HANCOCK | RETIRED SR LECTURER IN LITERACY EDUCATION FROM FLINDERS UNIVERSITY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA, AUSTRALIA

INSTITUTES IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA: TOWARDS A COMPLETE RECORD

 

Inspired by the wonderful compilation on Victorian Institutes, These Walls Speak Volumes, I have felt some urgency in making an historical record of the Mechanics’ Institutes in South Australia, including as many photos as I can locate. This paper will cover the steps I have taken to gather the information and photos - the thrills and the difficulties - in the hope that I can gain from the experience and expertise of others researching our Institutes.

 

LORRAINE HUDDLE  |DIRECTOR, HERITAGE INTELLIGENCE PTY LTD, AUSTRALIA

GREG CURCIO| CO-FOUNDER, ROAMNI, AUSTRALIA

JASON FABBRI | CO-FOUNDER, ROAMNI, AUSTRALIA

DIGITAL SELF-GUIDED TOURS TO MECHANICS’ INSTITUTES AROUND THE WORLD

 

The online presentation shows how you can create self-guided tours of your Mechanics’ Institute and it’s relationship with the history of your area/town, using Google Maps together with the Roamni App, and viewed with your mobile phone or tablet. The process includes uploading photos and text on Google Maps, and oral story telling about the history and function of the place uploaded on the Roamni App.

Case studies include a self-guided tour by car, to several Mechanics’ Institutes in rural Victoria, and a self guided walking tour of the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute and its surrounds.

 

KEN JAMES | HISTORICAL RESEARCHER, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA

RESEARCHING THE MECHANICS’: SOME CASE STUDIES

 

In his presentation Ken will talk about four matters. Firstly, his grandmother, May James, librarian at the Eaglehawk Mechanics’ Institute from 1958 to 1991 and the fate of the library after she was forced to retire due to ill health at the age of 94. Secondly, the Viaduct Mechanics’ Institute which existed between the years 1858-1862 in the temporary railway township of Viaduct while the viaduct over the Moorabool River was being constructed as part of the Geelong-Ballarat railway. Thirdly, a popular use of Mechanics’ Halls in the early 1900s – roller skating, and finally, information about Mechanics’ Institute Libraries to be found in the Statistical Register of Victoria to 1894.

 

PETER JONES | LIBRARIAN, LITTLE RIVER MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE, AUSTRALIA

FUTURE-PROOFED ROMANCE?

 

For the Little River Mechanics’ Hall Free Library it was love at first tryst. From the 1950’s to 1970’s readers revered the romance novel, especially Australian outback novels by Lucy Walker (1907-1987), born in the Kalgoolie dessert, braver of bushfires and a worker of sheep stations. A bubble waiting to burst it did. Post 1970 with ‘The Female Eunuch’ published, feminists and others scoffed. The characters playing eligible couples were passé and prey to a formula as crumpled and creased as a Christmas cracker riddle.

Did Germaine Greer’s quote from Walker’s novel ‘The Loving Heart’ say it all? The well-tried paraphernalia of romance was there. At the climax of the titillation were the words, ‘He bent his head and his lips met her lips. For a long moment Elizabeth had the taste of heaven in her mouth’.

In 2018 there are new mouths. Nostalgia seekers and history buffs yearn to relearn the culture from whom London’s Daily Mirror described, ‘Australia’s Queen of outback romance,’ and trust Walker’s eye for mores. Today’s Little River librarians wonder whether a past infrequency of collection culls should allow Walker novels to live on under the, ’Over 50 years old and they are heritage,’ principle?

 

STEVE KELLERMEIER |  STEVE KELLERMEIER ARCHITECT PTY LTD, BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA

MY THESIS: A TALE OF SURVIVAL OF THE SCHOOL OF ARTS AND OF THE WRITTEN WORD

 

When was the last time you “googled” something? A few minutes ago? Certainly in the last 24 hours!

Writing a thesis in 1980 without the aid of the World Wide Web, Google, computers and graphics interfaces in high quality desktop printers was problematic.

Why would an Architecture student undertake a study of Schools of Arts in Queensland (Mechanics Institutes in other jurisdictions?).

The author discusses his early years and later schooling which brought about his association with the hall.

He discusses 1980, “The year of the Thesis”. He expands on information gathering without the aid of Google and the web and the creation of maps, plans and photographs without computers and printers.

Fast forward 35 years and the Thesis is unearthed from what was thought to be its final resting place. The address is not just about the survival of the hall but also of the written word.

 

CATHERINE E KERRIGAN |  PHD CANDIDATE, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA, AUSTRALIA

GAP, STORY, PLACE: THE ROLE OF THE INDEPENDENT LIBRARY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

 

This paper reports the findings of doctoral research into the role of the independent library in the 21st Century. Document and content analysis was conducted into 461 independent libraries around the world and three roles were identified: one specific to independent libraries and two shared with other libraries. These roles are filling in the gap, creating social and community identity through stories and connections made between stories over time, and acting as the place for our creative and intellectual lives. The research also reveals that these are roles that independent libraries have always fulfilled, with some changes, and should enable independent libraries to market themselves more effectively.

 

JIM LOWDEN

BRONWYN LOWDEN

SURVIVENTION – STRATEGIES FOR SURVIVAL TO CENTURY 22

 

The thought of looking a century ahead in this rapidly changing world of work practices and technology is daunting, but each Institute must individually and proactively address its own survival, towards the 22nd century.

Despite the implementation of digitisation, there will still be historic collections of books and artifacts requiring conservation currently housed in aging buildings. Costs for the maintenance of both collections and buildings will become increasingly onerous and will need more than memberships, but support from endowments and fundraising.

Institutes will also need to refocus, catering for increasing numbers of ‘baby boomer’ membership, who will require a healthier lifestyle and long retirement. Institutes could then promote preventative medicine, good diet, along with more offsite physical activities such as sport, special interest, walking and touring.

This also highlights the need to network our organisations into a global community to facilitate visits, information and staff exchange.

Finally the future requires youth involvement, luring them from their often sedentary computer-based activities to become connected and involved in their communities and our organisations. We all have a key role to play in this by extending free or discounted membership and generating activities within and beyond the building. Hopefully each organisation will allocate two places on the Board to mentor teenagers and ensure organisational survival towards the 22nd century.

 

ANNE MARSDEN| VOLUNTEER RESEARCHER, MELBOURNE ATHENAEUM LIBRARY, AUSTRALIA

PIONEERING WOMEN: THE FAMILIES OF THE FOUNDERS OF THE 1839 MELBOURNE MECHANICS’ INSTITUTION

 

A study of the lives of women associated with the founders of the 1839 Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution reveals the invaluable role women played in the early settlement.

They provided the stability of family and community networks, enabling the men to focus on their pioneering efforts. Without this support it is unlikely that the early settlers would have been able to establish Victoria’s first Mechanics’ Institute a mere four years after John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner set up camp on the banks of the Yarra River.

Seeking out the lives of these women is often a considerable challenge when documentation is so focussed on the men. But the search is rewarding, shining a fresh light on the fledgling Melbourne settlement. The administrative, environmental and social aspects of the first few years of Melbourne are explored as this group of women grappled with mere survival of their families in a harsh and alien environment.

 

MIKE McCAUSLAND | FRIENDS OF THE LAUNCESTON MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE, AUSTRALIA

A TWIST TO THE TALE: HOW THE LAUNCESTON MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE KEPT ITS COLLECTIONS AND LOST ITS BUILDING

 

In 1842 a group of prominent men in Launceston formed the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute (LMI) with the support of many of the town’s free citizens. They set about organising a lecture program, forming a library and seeking funds to construct a suitably prestigious public building as their permanent home. This eventually happened in 1860, by which time they had accumulated books, periodicals, museum objects and a reputation for serving the well-to-do in the community rather than ‘mechanics’.

Over the next 50 years the well-loved LMI became the centre of the district’s cultural life, a focus for debating, acting and choral societies, and a venue for public lectures and entertainments. In the 1890s, however, there were major changes, including transferring its artefacts to a handsome local museum and renaming its building as the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute and Public Library.

A little over 100 years after its formation, in 1945, the Institute ceased as a body run by its Board of Management. It transferred its assets to the Launceston City Corporation, and turned the running of its substantial library over to the State Library of Tasmania. It made a proviso: that its books and other holdings remain in Launceston.

What has happened since then tells us a great deal about shifts in the Launceston community’s attitude to its heritage. In 1971 local and state government agencies agreed, against the wishes of many in the community, to demolish the grand but dilapidated building. The books and periodicals of its library, however, were protected by legal caveat. The story of their survival, and now acknowledgment as of National Significance, is the subject of this talk. The narrative runs counter to the fate of most Mechanics’ Institutes in Australia, but may resonate with those of us who cherish the legacy of our forebears who so adventurously – and wisely – created the cultural artefacts we inherit.

 

HELEN MONRO | UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND, AUSTRALIA

SEEKING CULTURE AND IDENTITY IN COUNTRY TOWNS: MECHANICS’ INSTITUTES IN COLONIAL VICTORIA

 

Inspired by the British Institutes on which they were modelled, the Mechanics’ Institutes (MIs) established in Victoria from 1839 in even the smallest Victorian country towns pursued the objective of ‘diffusion of useful knowledge’. In practice, their activities were usually dominated by the intellectual interests of their founding Committees rather than the interests of working men. The opening of the Melbourne Public Library in 1856, with free access for all metropolitan citizens, further inspired residents of country districts to seek the same access to books, newspapers and journals for education and rational recreation. This paper will explore the key role of MIs as the cultural agents providing this access, as well as the parallel influences of a government policy favouring public libraries open to all and the MIs’ continuing dependence on government grants to augment subscriber funding. Although the Institutes’ failure to achieve the level of local support they sought suggests that their cause — or perhaps the way they pursued it — had only partial community endorsement, the paper will argue that MIs fostered development of a cultural and civic identity in their towns, including concepts of progress through education and good citizenship.

 

ROGER K MORRIS AM | ASSOCIATION OF MECHANICS’ INSTITUTES AND SCHOOLS OF ARTS - NSW, AUSTRALIA

ROBERT J PARKINSON  | ASSOCIATION OF MECHANICS’ INSTITUTES AND SCHOOLS OF ARTS - NSW, AUSTRALIA

MUCH MORE THAN A HUMBLE HALL: WORLD WAR ONE MEMORIALS IN NSW SCHOOLS OF ARTS & MECHANICS’ INSTITUTES

 

By the time of World War I, Australia’s “landmark” adult education institution, the Schools and Institutes movement was at its peak both in terms of number of Schools and Institutes and their level of activity. These Schools and Institutes, provided in the then new suburbs and towns, a local home for reading, learning, culture, civic action, recreation, and entertainment.

In many localities, the School or Institute was the only public building beside the local public school. Therefore, many of the local War Memorials erected at the end of the War, were located in or near the School or Institute. Moreover, some Schools/Institutes were renamed as Soldiers’ Halls and a few new Schools were built as Soldiers’ Memorial Schools of Arts.

The paper will outline the role that Schools of Arts and Institutes played in the story of Australian adult education in the service of their communities. In so doing it will highlight their role in honouring those members of their community, who had fallen and in acknowledging those who had served in the war.

However, the presentation will focus on pictures and stories of some of the more interesting/unique ways in which local Schools/Institutes marked the First World War.

 

PHIL ROBERTS OAM | PAST-PRESIDENT, BALLAARAT MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE, AUSTRALIA

EXPLORING THE BALLAARAT MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

 

This paper will discuss the evolution of the BMI from its commencement in 1859 until 2018 and into the future. It has always remained an independent and proud institution. In its early days it held one of colonial Victoria’s best library collections at a time when Council sponsored libraries didn’t exist. In the 20th century it stagnated and just “held on” until the late 1990s when a reawakening led to a long period of refurbishment of its buildings. A series of government and philanthropic grants enabled the Institute by 2015 to be restored to its 19th century glory. Although in the ‘early days’ it had more than 1000 members, in the 21st century membership has remained at about 600 members. Recently through some support from the City of Ballarat, the Institute has appointed a part-time Executive Manager for a three-year term with a brief to plan towards the long-term viability of the BMI. For the members of the Institute, the future is a challenge to remain a cultural institution that is viable, independent and relevant to the community.

 

MARTYN WALKER | PRINCIPAL RESEARCH FELLOW, UNIVERSITY OF HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND

THANK GOODNESS FOR STUDENT CHOICE AND THE FREE MARKET: THE MECHANICS’ UNIVERSITIES, THEIR ORIGINS AND PLACE IN TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY BRITAIN

 

Previously funded by the tax payer, student fees were first introduced across the entire United Kingdom in September 1998 as a means of funding university tuition. Since then there have been further changes affecting England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This has resulted in marketization of higher education, as governments want universities to be competitive with each other for student numbers. The older universities, with their traditions and reputations, such as Oxford (1096) and Cambridge (1209), have not been impacted to the same extent by the introduction of tuition fees. However, later foundations, particularly polytechnics which only received university status from 1992, have had to respond to market forces in several ways. This has included been assessed on their quality of teaching and learning, research and accommodation. While quality audits reassure that qualifications gained are similar to other institutions, history of institutions have a powerful message on home, as well as overseas, student choice of university. With the growth in the number of universities and polytechnics during the twentieth century and marketization in the twenty-first century, this paper identifies how several, some new some not, have traced their history back to the nineteenth-century mechanics’ institute movement as part of their publicity.

 

LIBBY WEBSTER | TALLAROOK MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE, AUSTRALIA

TALLAROOK: A HALLISH STORY

 

As the self appointed Queen of Tallarook, I have been passionate supporter of culture and the arts in our small town, as well as, the Mechanics Institute movement.

Our Tallarook Mechanics’ Institute was built in 1891 by the generous donations of the local community and has served as the centre of community, learning and cultural happenings for 127 years.  The Tallarook Mechanics institute has always ‘punched above its weight’ in being a place for the community to gather and experience things that hold a small rural community together.

Over the recent 20 years we have had a continual program of improvement to sustain and maintain the community asset for future generations, funded by Government, Philanthropic, private donations and community fundraising through events.

There has always been art, food, handicrafts, dancing, acrobatics, weight lifting, tiny tots, family celebrations, markets, theatre, singing, school performances, iconic songs, memorable experiences, life long partnerships formed and love…. the love of a community radiated out of the very fabric of the building….

Until May 5th 2018 when the hall burnt to the ground and broke a communities heart.

 

DR LAUREN WEISS | RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, UNIVERSITY OF STRATHCLYDE, SCOTLAND

UNCELEBRATED SOCIETIES AND THEIR ARCHIVAL SURVIVAL: A CALL FOR THE REDISCOVERY OF MUTUAL IMPROVEMENT GROUPS AND REVITALISATION OF THEIR STUDY

 

This conference celebrates the start of the Mechanics’ Movement with George Birkbeck’s extension of lectures to Glasgow’s working classes. Contemporaneously, another related yet separate development began: the ‘mutual improvement movement’, which would significantly expand in the nineteenth century and was international in scope.

Today, these artisan ‘improving’ groups are understudied as the consensus is that their records are scarce. Through extensive archival research, I uncovered 200 groups in Glasgow alone. Ken James discovered over 400 mutual improvement societies just in Victoria, and I have already uncovered 90 Australian and New Zealand groups that founded their own periodicals.

Using Glasgow as a case study, I will give an overview of literary and mutual improvement groups from 1800 to 1914. I will argue that while related to the literary, philosophical and scientific societies of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and their histories connected with Chartism, Mechanics’ Institutes and radicalism, their development and growth was often separate.

I will argue that the status of these groups should be elevated, indeed celebrated, as the evidence for them accumulates. Further, their histories should be re-examined and re-evaluated, and their place re-established as important socio-cultural and political forces within their communities.

 

SUE WESTWOOD | MANAGER, MELBOURNE ATHENAEUM, AUSTRALIA

STEVEN HABY | SECRETARY LIBRARIAN, PRAHRAN MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE VICTORIAN HISTORY LIBRARY, AUSTRALIA

LUKE MITCHELL | MANAGER/LIBRARIAN, FOOTSCRAY MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE, AUSTRALIA

 

ANALOGUE OR DIGITAL? WHAT MATTERS IS CONNECTION AND AUTHENTICITY:

SURVIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE

 

The Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution was the model for Institutes in settler towns across 19th Century Victoria and opened its doors in Collins Street in 1842. Prahran Mechanics’ Institution was formed in 1854, while Footscray Mechanics’ opened its doors in 1856.

The Secretaries/Librarians of these three institutions are keen to demonstrate ways they have tapped into contemporary communication to support and grow their organisations.

CELEBRATION AND SURVIVAL:

Each word means something a little different to Mechanics’ Institutes in towns across the country.  Each will have experienced both in varying degrees of joy and desperation. In the case of the three featured institutes in this panel discussion, Footscray, Melbourne Athenaeum and Prahran MI, each has adopted different organisational, operational and marketing structures to survive since their 19th Century beginnings. Is this in itself cause for celebration?

In this increasingly complex and specialised digital age, the Mechanics’ Institute movement seems a strange and analogue construct – best left in the past. Join Luke Mitchell (Footscray MI), Steven Haby (Prahran MI) and Sue Westwood (The Melbourne Athenaeum) as they discuss how the analogue and the digital age collide within the walls of their institutions (and it’s not just about Twitter)! Each will share how their Institutes continue to be part of their community’s essential services.

 

 

Professor Richard A Williams OBE | Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland

 

‘The Purest of Institutes?’ Reflections celebrating the formation of the first Institute of Mechanics in 1821 that became Heriot-Watt University

 

The year 2021 marks the bicentennial landmark of the establishment of the first Institute of Mechanics, first known as Edinburgh School of Arts. This pioneering educational movement truly transformed the world in a way that is barely perceived today. Whilst much has been written on the political, psychological, religious and economic drivers for the establishment of education in the nineteenth century, my assessment is that a range of intensely local circumstances gave rise to a plethora of initiatives - rather than an orchestrated controlled ‘movement’ of education. This essay explores and celebrates aspects around the origin of the first Institute caused by the meeting of a Leonard Horner with Robert Bryson, a clockmaker in Edinburgh, that subsequently led to the formation of Heriot-Watt University. Around the world the explosion of thousands of Institutes of Mechanics was a remarkable global phenomena. This has a legacy in the talent of people of several generations and in the economies and communities they served. The legacy also lies in the creation of many other universities from such Institutes. For Heriot-Watt University, the pioneering global reach of the first Institute of Mechanics and its focus on widening access to education to those in work remain embedded values. As we approach the 200th Anniversary we specialise in reaching over 170 countries with significant physical campus bases in three continents. Heriot-Watt’s remarkable development as an integrated global university won the accolade as International University of the Year in 2018 from the Sunday Times and The Times newspapers. The University has a focus on enabling entry from leaners from unconventional backgrounds as full time students or for work-based learning whilst employed. This was the simple vision of the first Institute of Mechanics in Edinburgh which was referred to as being ‘the purest Institute’, based on its straightforward focus on technological education to serve society.

 

 

SIAN WILLIAMS |HEAD OF RESEARCH COLLECTIONS, SWANSEA UNIVERSITY AND LIBRARIAN, SOUTH WALES MINERS’ LIBRARY AND RICHARD BURTON ARCHIVES

SOUTH WALES MINERS' LIBRARY: SAVING THE MEMORY

 

The South Wales Miners’ Library opened in October 1973 to house materials collected during the operation of the South Wales Coalfield History Project. This work was funded by Social Science Research Council with the aim of gathering oral, visual and written evidence of the coal miners and coal mines which was then in danger of being lost. It came at an opportune time when some one hundred Miners’ Institutes and Welfare Halls were mostly being closed and their libraries dispersed. Fortunately some sixty remnant collections were saved and are now separately shelved to see what each library once held.

In addition to the book collections, there are also banner, poster and maps collections and holdings of the records of individual Institute, along with handwritten material and audio and visual recordings.

 

Today the South Wales Miners’ Library operates much as an individual would have operated and supports Adult Education, part-time learners and students from South West Wales. In addition the world-class collection is accessible to the public and the media, to provide an ‘indispensable insight into the social, economic and cultural history of South Wales during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

 

The South Wales Miners’ Library also operates a branch library in the Dove Workshop at Banwen in the Dulais Valley, about twenty-five miles from Swansea.

 

CHRISTINE WINDLE |SECRETARY, INVERLEIGH MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE, AUSTRALIA

HANDING ON THE BATON – INVERLEIGH MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE THEN AND NOW

 

The Inverleigh Mechanics’ Institute celebrated 150 years of service to the district in 2016. The celebrations led the present Committee of Management to reflect on its role in community life in modern times. This paper looks at the local conditions and aims of the first fifty years and compares them to 2018. It examines the relevance of the original aims for the local community today, and what factors have led to the Mechanics’ Institute’s continuing success as a community venue.

 

 

CHRISTINE WINDLE | SECRETARY, INVERLEIGH MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE, AUSTRALIA

‘I REMEMBER’ - RECOLLECTIONS OF INVERLEIGH HALL

 

Inverleigh Mechanics’ Institute celebrated its 150th year in 2016. Part of the celebration was the launch of a project called ‘150 years, 150 voices’. People were asked to send in reminiscences of activities and experiences at the Hall. Their responses provided a very personal take on the importance of our Mechanics’ Institute in people’s lives. People remembered good times, funny and noteworthy moments, helping as volunteers, and the various uses of the Hall at times of stress.

This paper tells a little of the story of our Hall ‘from the horse’s mouth’, since it brings together extracts from different respondents under some of the topics covered. It is a celebration of real life at our Hall, revealing detail and a strong sense of personal involvement at different eras from 1940 to the present.

 

PETER WOLFENDEN | CINEMA AND THEATRE HISTORIAN, AUSTRALIA

THE VISITORS: ENTER THE TRAVELLING PICTURE SHOWMAN

 

Mechanics’ Institutes usually had two main facilities, a Library and a Hall.  The early legacies of Institute Libraries can often be found in the form of plated or stamped library books.  But what of the Halls and the entertainment which took place within them?

Occasionally early brochures still appear promoting a visiting theatrical or musical performance; but largely, these events were ephemeral, and only held within an individual’s memory - now long since lost.

This presentation however, attempts to provide an understanding of some early entertainment by making use of extant material, with specific reference to: the Lanternist, Talking Machines and a regular income provider for many Institutes, Motion Pictures.

More specifically this presentation will involve:

* The Lanternist - including various types of original hand coloured glass slides, some made prior to 1863 and other typical Salvation Army and lecturer slides.

*Mr. Edison’s Talking Machine. - A short demonstration of an early cylinder Phonograph as often used to enhance an early film exhibition.

*A Recollection of the Travelling Picture-Showman.  Including a number of short films screened at Mechanics’ Institute Halls from about 1900 to the end of WWI.

The presentation will provide a linking commentary about specific people involved in bringing these types of entertainment to Institutes.

Many Mechanics’ Institute Halls became highly sought venues and played important roles in the development of projected moving pictures, right across Australia.

 

JONATHAN WOODHEAD | POLICY ADVISER, BIRKBECK, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON, ENGLAND

SURVIVING AND STRIVING INTO THE FUTURE: HOW BIRKBECK EMERGED FROM THE LONDON MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE TO BECOME LONDON’S EVENING UNIVERSITY

 

In my paper at MIA 2018 I will take theme of ‘Survival’ and highlight how Birkbeck, now part of the University of London emerged from the London Mechanics Institute founded by Dr George Birkbeck in 1823 in the Crown and Anchor Tavern. Dr Birkbeck’s founding of the Institution was to create a place with the express aim of educating working people in the evenings. It then became one of the first institutions to admit women students. Birkbeck College as it later became known has now expanded into undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral study but still keep its roots within the London community. I will highlight these traditions and how it sits within the modern higher education environment in the UK.

 

 

MECHANICS' INSTITUTES OF VICTORIA INC.

PO BOX 1080, WINDSOR, VICTORIA 3181 AUSTRALIA

Reg No. A0038156G      ABN 60 337 355 989

(c) 1998-2018, Mechanics Institutes of Victoria Inc. All rights reserved.