Geelong Heritage Centre – in the beginning …

1961 proposed Sound Shell in NewtownSometimes we’re not very good at recording the history of our societies / organisations.  Consequently, I thought it was about time that I gathered various published references to the beginning of the Geelong Heritage Centre which of course wasn’t called that when it began!

Back on 30 May 1961, the Geelong Advertiser reported on the status of the Geelong Sound Shell – it reappeared in Peter Begg’s ‘Geelong – the first 150 years’ with this image of Newtown Council’s sound shell concept in the Windmill Quarry.

Sound Shell?  What does the Geelong Heritage Centre have to do with a Sound Shell?

We actually need to go back even further … between 1952 and 1954 a fund of £13,606 was raised for the mayor of Geelong’s appeal.  The object of the appeal was “the erection of a permanent feature to mark the centenary of separation [1 July 1851] and the jubilee of Federation [1 January 1901].”

In 1955 the Age reported under the heading ‘Geelong Sound Shell: Ex-Mayor Refuses to Hand Over Fund Papers’, that “Councillor B E Purnell, a former Mayor of Geelong, who is chairman of the Centenary Jubilee Commemoration Fund has refused to vacate the office of chairman and hand over the minutes. “  The committee had been appointed in 1951.

Solicitors Crawcour and Hollyhoke agreed with Cr Purnell and his co-trustees that he, Cr Purnell, was chairman of the of the fund and it was not the Mayor of the Geelong Council who was chairman of the fund.  This article also stated that “the trust funds [were for] the express purpose of providing a sound shell”.  It went on to state that “The only authority was the Attorney-General, with the Crown Law office behind him” and certainly not the local council.

The type of structure was the next item to be questioned – a sound shell seems have emerged as part of the original agreement, however in 1960 the Attorney-General and then Mr Justice Dean of the Supreme Court became involved.  The outcome was the appointment of new trustees.  The new trustees were Cr Bervin Ellis Purnell [former mayor], of Meakin Street, Geelong; Mr John Mackie Kenning, of Church Street, Rosevale via Geelong; Mr Douglas Gordon Munro, of High Street, Belmont; Cr Leonard Myer Jacobs, Prospect Road, Newtown, and Captain William George Harrison, of the Fire Brigade Station, Geelong.

Mr Justice Dean ordered that “the £13,606 in the fund should be held in trust until the citizens of Geelong had decided what form of permanent feature should be erected”.  Consequently, the Town Clerk invited members of the original 1851 Committee, “successors in office, and others including Cr Purnell to a meeting”.  Five of the seven municipalities supported erection of a sound shell and the other two said they would not object.

Of course there was no consensus: The Geelong City Council proposed a site in Eastern Park, above Hearne Parade.  “An agreement between the council and the sound shell trustees, who were holding the money in trust, was finally drawn up in 1965.”

“But when the trustees rejected one of the conditions of the agreement, the Geelong City Council withdrew its offer of the Eastern Park site.”

The Shire of Corio proposed a site at Rippleside Park and the City of Newtown proposed the one at the Windmill quarry.  A new committee was formed and called to vote on three different proposals:

  • A sound shell
  • An historic records centre
  • A new wing at Grace McKellar House

2007 Geelong Historic Records CentreThe Geelong Advertiser said that “the committee which consisted of representatives of the local chamber of commerce, trades hall council, the hospital committee of management, RSL, law association, architects’ institute, and the historical society, as well as the local councils, voted in favour of the historic record centre.”

This however wasn’t the end of it as the Investigator quoting the speech made by Sir Roy Fidge in 1979, at the opening of the Geelong Historical Records Centre, stated that “Eventually the matter was referred to the Supreme Court by the Attorney General and, after two litigation hearings, Mr Justice Lush in September, 1970 ordered that the Jubilee Funds be applied towards the construction of an Historical Records Centre in the form of a first floor addition to the Geelong Regional Library.”

2007 Geelong Historic Records CentreBy this stage the fund had grown to $55,000 which was insufficient for the centre.  Appeals to the State Government resulted in a total of $195,000 with contributions of $120.000 from the government and $20,000 from the City of Geelong.  This wasn’t enough to provide all that was desired however the architect Geoff Drinnan provided a design to match the funds, and the building was constructed by E J Lyons & Sons.

Harry Nunn, Keeper of Public Records was keen for the Public Record Office to be involved in the management and operations of the Centre which would require an amendment of the Supreme Court Order.  Norman Houghton, archivist, was appointed before the official opening and is probably in the best position to document the details and behind the scenes activities.  Joanne McKenzie was the other staff member of the centre – called the Geelong Historical Records Centre.

The Centre began with donations of items from various commercial and private organisations as well as a “substantial set of back issues of the Geelong Advertiser from the Geelong City Council and the Regional Library”.  There were also a number of items included in the archives which came from the Geelong Historical Society or were collected by them for the Centre.  No records centre or archive can function without historical items, and the large contribution by the Geelong Historical Society obviously encouraged other organisations and individuals to contribute to this amazing institution.

In addition to records for the Geelong Archives, the Historical Society donated many reference books for the Reading Room / Library and the Geelong Family History Group also contributed to the library shelves [see below].  I was going to add a few examples of the records provided by the Geelong Historical Society, then I was going to add a few more, then I added a lot!

Some of the records attributed to the Geelong Historical Society include:

  • Band of Hope Union: minutes, accounts, attendance book etc. [1905-2002]
  • Ernest Barnes: manuscript and Novel ‘Tuftowool’ on sheep raising & wool growing. [undated]
  • Barwon Grange residence: correspondence, plans & drawings and miscellaneous records. [1969-1971]
  • Barwon Jaycees: miscellaneous and copious records. [1925-1987]
  • Belcher & Co, Estate Agency: commission sales books, Alfred Belcher cuttings, insurance agents’ premiums books. [1907-1947]
  • Eunice McLeod: manuscripts – life on the Bellarine Peninsula. [1850-1950]
  • Berry Bank Pty Ltd: accounts, correspondence, wages, cash books, estate of HE & J Mack, minutes, diaries etc. [1862-1979]
  • Berry Bank Station: Joseph Mack’s diaries. [1862-1926]
  • W Berthon: Weatherboard Station journals. [1864-1875]
  • Roy & Muriel Birdsey: Gilbert & Sullivan Society scrapbooks, photos, calendars etc. [1830-1981]
  • Herbert A Boardman: personal papers. [1865-1988]
  • S R Boardman, fuel merchant: trading and P&L accounts. [1950-1955]
  • Bow Truss Building: articles, correspondence and reports. [1980-1990s]
  • Richard Bowman: diary of a sea voyage on Shalimar from England. [1854-1855]
  • Bright & Hitchcock: photographic archive and news clippings. [1875-1970]
  • British ex-service Legion of Australia: council minutes & membership items. [1965-1996]
  • J C Brown, engineer: ledgers, photo etc. [1907-1938]
  • Buckland’s Paddock Estate: sale notices book [1888- ]
  • Chilwell Library: Accession Register [1945-1969]
  • Clyde Company Wool Scour: accounts, journals, brand book, greasy wool books, shares, tannery plans, trading and auction books, shipping books, wages books etc. [1882-1970]
  • Cobb & Co agency Meredith & Steiglitz: general ledger [1898-1918]
  • Commercial Bank, Geelong: letters to head office [1905-1909]
  • Allan Cooke collection: correspondence, manuscripts local history [1962-1968]
  • Cooperative Housing Society: annual reports, journals etc. [1944-1971]
  • Corangamite Weights & Measures Union: minute books [1948-1976]
  • Dennys, Lascelles Ltd: accounts, annual wool report, construction of wool store Portland, minutes etc. [1912-1983]
  • Norman Endacott: Maps, reports etc. [1899-2001]
  • Miss D Francis: Belgian Costume
  • Geelong & District Soldiers’ Welfare Committee: miscellaneous records [1940-1945]
  • Geelong & District United Friendly Societies: minutes [1936-1975]
  • Geelong & Western District Ladies Benevolent Association: accounts, annual reports, correspondence, registers, valuations, minutes [1860-1992]
  • Geelong Archaeological Society: minutes, correspondence, membership etc. [1968-1977]
  • Geelong Automatic Telephone Exchange: mementos, books, artefacts and photographs [1912-1914]
  • Geelong Bar Committee: minutes re removal of sand bar – Corio Bay entry [1853-1860]
  • Geelong Bell Ringers’ Club: sundry records [1876-1885]
  • Geelong Bike Plan: records [1977-1981]
  • Geelong Decorating Co: ledgers [1875-1928]
  • Geelong Diary: 1850s auctioneer’s assistant [1856-1857]
  • Geelong Freeway Opposition Group: records, posters, newspaper cuttings [1973- ]
  • Geelong Garden Club: newsletters [1983-1994]
  • Geelong Girls’ Unity Club: minutes, constitution – formerly Geelong Blue Triangle Assoc. [1924-1965]
  • Geelong Historical Society: minutes & financial records [1920-1994]
  • Geelong Housewives’ Social Club: minutes, accounts etc. [1974-1994]
  • Geelong Master Printers’ Association: minutes [1912-1926]
  • Geelong Musical Society: scores, records, correspondence, accounts etc. [1846-1921]
  • Geelong Rowing Association: minutes, accounts, records etc. [1876-1967]
  • Geelong Sacred Harmonic Society: minutes and accounts [1854-1899]
  • Geelong Sea Bathing Company Ltd: capital structure records [1871-1934]
  • Geelong Shakespeare Society: minutes [1905-1908]
  • Geelong Shipping Agents’ Association: minutes [1928-1941]
  • Geelong Transportation Study: scrapbook compiled by P F B Alsop [1970-1973]
  • Geelong Volunteer Rifle Regiment: civil staff minutes [1861-1908]
  • Grovedale Progress Association: minute book [1965-1984]
  • William Harris: papers relating to Standard Oil Co [1922-1960]
  • James Harrison: biographical source notes [1816-1982]
  • Hawkes Brothers Pty Ltd: minutes, journal, ledger, photos, correspondence etc. [1853-1977]
  • W & W Higgins, solicitors: case files – crime, debt, land transactions, will, correspondence etc. [1845-1900]
  • Hirst Family Album [1935-1966]
  • Howard Hitchcock: mayoral newspaper cuttings [1917-1926]
  • Roy Holden collection – newspaper cuttings [1830-1970]
  • A P Hornsey: cutting book [1928-1932]
  • Huddart & Parker: letters, accounts etc. [1850-1880]
  • Institute of Municipal Management: members, constitution, miscellaneous documents etc. [1959-1996]
  • Inverleigh Bridge: flood reports etc. [1962-1980]
  • Joseph Scammel, ship: memorabilia.
  • W G Kendall: shipping books. [1913-1925]
  • Lucy Kerley: railway collection. [1964-1983]
  • Leopold Free Library: minutes, cash, visitors. [1882-1989]
  • Lodge – Manchester Unity IOOF: minutes, rules, membership etc. [1861-1979]
  • Lodge – Phoenix Lodge No 63 IOOF: membership records, minute books, night book, correspondence etc. [1868-1959]
  • Lodge – United Ancient Order of Druids Lodge 208: Corio Lodge minutes, records etc. [1900-1969]
  • Martin Collection: personal artifacts, books etc. [1878-1960]
  • Martin Family mementos: photos, medals, papers. [undated]
  • Peter Martin, architect: drawings and personal items [1946-1960]
  • Stewart McAdam Collection: football records, historical notes – Barrabool Hills etc. [c1840-1996]
  • Robert Norm McDonald Collection: cuttings book, Geelong Cycling Club etc. [1916-1919]
  • Geelong Mechanics’ Institute: Annual Reports, financial statements, correspondence, minutes, reports etc. [1846-1962]
  • Memorials to Geelong citizens: photograph album. [1924- ]
  • Returned Soldiers’ Woollen & Worsted Co-op: various records, members etc. [1932-1974]
  • Murphy, Ashby draper & tailor: accounting papers. [1877-1884]
  • Rhind Family: china (cups, saucers etc.). [c1790+ ]
  • Rix Family collection: books, mementos etc. [undated]
  • Roadknight & Co Estate Agency: Alfred, Frank and Gladys Roadknight private papers, ledgers, journals, Puebla Estate Co records, sales contracts, sales reports, etc. [1853-1970]
  • Sasse Papers; outward letters, photos, biographies etc. [1858-1970]
  • Silver Star Monthly: schoolboy paper. [1935-1936]
  • H L Spendlove: military training notebook. [1916- ]
  • Television introduction: cuttings etc. [1956- ]
  • Gail Thomas collection: plans, receipts etc. [undated]
  • Trait Family, soft drink and cordial makers: mementos. [1885-1963]
  • Try Boys Brigade: annual reports. [1926-1972]
  • Victorian Forage Pressing Co: wages book. [1908-1909]

This list is just some of the records / archives provided by the Geelong Historical Society to begin filling the shelves and archives of the Geelong Historical Records Centre.  They also supplied a huge number of photographs to the new collection.

The Geelong Family History Group also contributed in a very significant way – their volunteers set about indexing many of the items in the collection.  This was in the days of typewriters and carbon paper with copies being put on the shelves of the Geelong Historical Records Centre as well as the Family History Group’s library.  Fortunately the committee of the Geelong Family History Group gave permission for their indexed lists from their own library to be transcribed and added to the Geelong & District Database – an ongoing process with literally hundreds of indexes produced by their members.


In 2003 the name of the centre was changed from the Geelong Historical Records Centre to the Geelong Heritage Centre.  The Centre remained in that location until 2013 when their temporary home was on the top floor of the National Wool Museum while the old library and centre was being demolished.  Late in 2015 the magnificent new centre was opened.


2013 – demolition


2013-2015 – Temporary home – National Wool Museum

Geelong Library and Heritage Centre Building

November 2015 – Geelong Library & Heritage Centre opened

Sources used for this article:

  • Age, 27 April 1955
  • Age, 16 November 1960
  • Geelong Advertiser, 30 May 1961
  • Peter Begg, Geelong – the first 150 years, Geelong Advertiser, 1990
  • ‘Historic Opening November 16, 1979’, Investigator, journal of the Geelong Historical Society, Vol. 15, No. 1, Issue 58, March 1980
  • GRS Archives Catalogue, Geelong Heritage Centre, April 2014 [PDF files for download]
  • ‘History of the Geelong Heritage Centre’ web site.

Download the full Geelong Series Catalogue [as at April 2014]:

Where is Geelong and District?

It is in Victoria, Australia.

The boundaries are not rigid but basically cover an arc from the Otways up to a little south of Ballarat, across to Werribee and all points to the south east of that area.

Map showing approximate area known as "Geelong and District"

The region is rich in history and played a major part in the early history of Victoria.
There are numerous local and family history societies and museums that are a wonderful resource for anyone researching in our region.
The Geelong & District web site will help you with that research.