The Wesson Lecture Series


At a 2015 Committee meeting of the Mechanics’ Institute of Victoria it was resolved to establish an annual lecture in conjunction with the Association’s Annual General Meeting. The name of Alf Wesson was advanced as a person who did much early valuable work to document and photograph Institutes during his decade with the Council of Adult Education from 1962-72. This idea was submitted to the Wesson family and we are delighted in their agreement to have the lecture so named.


MIV is now into its second decade and we are reminded of the sentiments of Professor John Bishop of the University of Adelaide’s, Department of Music in words he wrote at the conclusion of the first the Adelaide Festival in 1960.


“Something has been born that will live… this thing will go on…

But it is important to keep up the standards. It is important too, to stir people up.’


Professor Bishop was the inaugural Festival Artistic Director. He was no wilting violet and neither was Alf Wesson. Neckties were not his forte and he spoke freely on issues connected with non-formal adult education. He also categorised Mechanics’ Institutes into three categories: Chapel Cheapies, Goldfields Glorious or Bush Classics. Alf was a polymath and the sort of person who would frequent an Institute.



The 5th Annual Wesson Lecture


The Case for Space

Alan Duffy


The 5th Annual Wesson Lecture will take place on Saturday 21 September 2019, 11am, following MIV's AGM at Prahran Mechanics' Institute, 39 St Edmonds Road, Prahran.


English-born Professor Duffy was born at Peterborough, England, grew up in Ireland, was educated at Ballyclare High School and the University of Manchester, with stints at Leiden, Amsterdam and Jodrell Bank Observatory. Using supercomputers his 2009 PhD thesis was titled ‘Investigation of large scale structure in the Universe’.


At the time the ambitious worldwide Square Kilometer Array was being rolled out and the Australian unit was in planning. Dr Duffy moved to Perth in 2009 to take up a position at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.  This centre was implementing the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). Three years later he moved to the University of Melbourne to take up a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, during which time he investigated the first galaxies in the early universe.


In 2014 he joined Swinburne University’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing as Research Fellow and Associate Professor. In 2017 Professor Duffy was appointed Lead Scientist to the Royal Institution of Australia.


Professor Duffy unashamedly acknowledges that he grew up on an intellectual diet of the literature and film of science fiction. The futuristic books of Isaac Asimov (1920-92) and Arthur C Clarke (1917-2008) excited his mind to future science and Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) progressed this to the physics of the Universe. He is reported as saying ‘How could you not want to study physics?’


In Professor Duffy’s lifetime the science of space has rocketed to new levels with challenges for technology and knowledge delivery and increased demands on science education to grow and support those technology and knowledge systems.


The promotion of science to youth as a future career path is an imperative that must be embraced. Professor Duffy is an exemplar of science communication appearing on radio, television and at major science forums in Australia and around the world. In addition in 2017 during National Science Week he and Katie Mack launched a virtual reality tour of the Universe, using custom-made headsets and a free app, SciVR.


Please put Saturday, 21 September in your diary to hear Professor Duffy, truly an inspiration to challenge the national delivery of science in education and to our daily lives. Much of the latter has been historically developed in an ongoing ‘Case for Space’. Australia was a pioneer at Woomera from 1947 and the Australian Space Agency placed space back on the curriculum in 2018.



The 4th Annual Wesson Lecture


Libraries in Victoria over the Past Sixty Years with a World Sampling

Christine Mackenzie


The 4th Annual Wesson Lecture took place on Saturday 22 September 2018, 11am, following MIV's AGM at Prahran Mechanics' Institute, 39 St Edmonds Road, Prahran.


Victorian-born, Maffra-raised, Christine Mackenzie, graduated BA from Monash University in 1973, and since then has been a career librarian. Christine’s management appointments have been: Manager, Mornington Peninsula Library Service; Manager, Brisbane City Council Library Service; and CEO, Yarra Plenty Regional Library Service, from which she retired in 2016. More recently Christine has been Executive Officer of the Public Libraries Victoria Network and has been a Board Member and is currently President-elect of the International Federation of Library Associations and her chosen slogan is ‘Let’s All Work Together’. In recent times Christine has travelled widely across the globe to promote the Association’s vision and goals.


It’s been over eighty-years since Ralph Munn and Ernest Pitt deliberated on the delivery of a library service by way of Mechanics’ Institutes across the State of Victoria and elsewhere in Australia. The result was the Munn-Pitt Report: Australian Libraries: A Survey of Conditions and Suggestions for Their Improvement published in 1935.


Over the past sixty years community libraries have become the domain of Local Government and only a handful remain in the traditional Mechanics’ Institute. It has been a period of remarkable transition by way of service and delivery.


Indeed we even see community libararies working on the honour system where members enter a building with their swipe cards, peruse the shelves, and return or borrow their books by way of barcoding. Then we see libraries in hall foyers, old phone booths, etc.




The 3nd Annual Wesson Lecture


Vision 2020: Transitioning Victoria's State Library into century 21 and beyond

Kate Torney


The 3rd Annual Wesson Lecture took place on Saturday 23 September 2017. The speaker was Kate Torney, CEO, State Library Victoria.


Ballarat-born Kate Torney has been State Library Victoria’s Chief Executive Officer since November 2015. Kate comes from a long media and journalism career having previously been Director of News at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It is her administrative role to oversee Vision 2020 to reality.


Victoria’s iconic State Library was established in 1854 by Sir Redmond Barry and other visionaries of the time, and opened in 1856 as the Melbourne Public Library. The Swanston Street site grew to include the Art Gallery and Museum before the National Gallery of Victoria opened its new premises on St Kilda Road in 1968 and the Melbourne Museum moved to Carlton Gardens in 2000. The Library now occupies the entire city block, comprising around 22 buildings built at different times over the past 161 years. Over the past year the Library received more than 2 million visitors onsite and more than 4 million visits online, making it one of the busiest public libraries in the world.


As part of the continuing evolution of the Library’s spaces and services, the State Library has embarked on a transformative redevelopment project – Vision 2020. This ambitious project will transform the Library by creating 40 per cent more public space through the opening of three new reading rooms, a heritage event hall and a new world-class exhibition gallery; installing state-of-the-art digital technology; building dedicated areas for children and families, researchers, students and entrepreneurs; developing a new entrance and retail space at the Russell Street end of the site; and offering new programs and services to help all Victorians dream big and inspire endless possibilities.

This $88.1 million project is being funded through a combination of $60.4 million government funding and $27.7 million philanthropic support. Major gifts and public donations are critical to the success of Vision 2020, and increasingly important to the Library’s broader work in building the collection and providing a 21st-century State Library for the people of Victoria.



The 2nd Annual Wesson Lecture


In Search of the Mechanics'

Gideon Haigh


Gideon Haigh has had a long and varied career as a journalist, author and commentator on public and business affairs, albeit with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things cricket. He is the author of over thirty books.


On a visit to Carlton’s most notable bookshop early this year, Gideon saw a copy of Pam Baragwanath and Ken James’ These Walls Speak Volumes: A History of Mechanics’ Institutes in Victoria. A cursory thumb through the massive tome saw him wanting to learn more of this Victorian phenomenon. And so started Gideon Haigh’s Search for the Mechanics’ by way of visit to see the extant buildings and to interview the modern Mechanics’ who have inherited and nurture the huge legacy which the pioneers have left the Victorian community.


In Search of the Mechanics’ is Gideon Haigh’s adventure which led up to the story which appeared in the Australian Review Supplement on 30 July 2016.


The Inaugural Wesson Lecture


How We Achieved Victorian Grass Roots Culture

Professor Weston Bate OAM


We were honoured to have Professor Weston Bate OAM deliver the inaugural Wesson Lecture following MIV's Annual General Meeting on 14 November 2015.


Professor Bate has given long public service to the State of Victoria firstly by wartime service with the Royal Air Force as a Lancaster pilot in Britain, then in education and since ‘retirement’ has worked tirelessly to lift the profile local history in the Victorian community and also to Government. Professor Bate authored the local history ‘model’ History of Brighton in 1963, the two volume Ballarat history Lucky City and Life after Gold. Known widely for his research craft he also wrote the highly entertaining Essential but Unplanned: the story of Melbourne’s lanes (1994).  A summary of the talk was written up in UK39.





State Library Victoria CEO, Kate Torney, with MIV President, Robert Kingston

Professor Weston Bate OAM and his wife Janice

Gideon Haigh



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