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Archival resources for 'Melbourne culture: performance, visual arts, literature'


The University of Melbourne, its students and staff, have been central to the development of film, visual arts, literature, performance and print journalism in Australia.

The exhibition, Melbourne Culture: Performance, Visual Arts and Literature, will unearth the University of Melbourne’s role in shaping Australian cultural life by drawing on material from the University’s Cultural Collections, especially the University of Melbourne Archives. This project will reveal the wealth of cultural output created by those associated with the University by, for example, exploring how student societies such as the Melbourne University Film Society (established 1947) led to the development of the Melbourne International Film Festival, in 1952.

Other examples of the contribution University staff and students have made to Melbourne’s cultural scene include the 1955 debut at the Union Theatre of Barry Humphries’ Dame Edna Everage and in the same year, the first performance of  Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. In 1968 the student drama club, Tin Alley Players, presented David Williamson’s first play. The Farrago student newspaper has trained many of Australia’s leading journalists and writers and the influential literary magazine Meanjin has been housed by the University since 1945.

The exhibition will showcase how the University was at the forefront in establishing Australia’s first fine arts department, Australia’s first music degree and is associated with two of Australia’s best-regarded artistic institutions; the National Gallery Art School (which became the Victorian College of the Arts in 1968) and the George Paton Gallery in Union House which was at the forefront of experimental, contemporary and feminist art in Australia.

An invitation to research students

Students at honours and masters levels are invited to undertake research for theses using primary source material in the fields of visual arts, literature, film & performance. Original research using the archives and cultural collections of the University is expected to uncover little-known stories and treasures about some of Australia’s most important cultural iconsThis chance to engage with collections may lead to opportunities to publish or contribute to an exhibition that will showcase the impact of the University on the cultural life of Melbourne and beyond.

Students worked with Archives staff in 2013-2013 to create the Protest! exhibition, which explored protest events and personalities at the University and in a wider landscape of protest.  Read an essay from this exhibition here  and see an installation of some protest posters and badges from the exhibition in one of the study areas on level 2 of Arts West.


The University of Melbourne has inspired, accommodated and supported many artists and artistic endeavours. Research will draw on historical material from the University’s Cultural Collections, especially the University of Melbourne Archives, to reveal the wealth of cultural output created by those associated with the University.

Students' learning experiences are enriched by engagement with the University’s rich and unique cultural collections. It is proposed that Honours and Masters Students in the Art curatorship, Arts & Cultural Management and the Publishing and Editing programmes will investigate collections and questions related to culture and communication in their theses.

It is anticipated that there will be a number of research outcomes including publications and performances. An exhibition will highlight and develop recognition of the University’s nationally significant cultural collections and will explore the contributions made by the University and its people to intellectual, cultural and social life in Melbourne and beyond.

Resources in this guide

This Guide includes selections from the catalogue records in the database of the University of Melbourne Archives, indicating the kinds of records that can be accessed for research concerning Visual Art, Literature, Film & Performance. Background reading in preparation for research may suggest search terms that will identify additional material for investigation.

Further primary source material may be held by other University of Melbourne collections - students are encouraged to widen their search to include the Ian Potter Museum of Art and the Prints collection in the Baillieu Library, in particular.

General information about the University of Melbourne Archives, using archives in research and a glossary are also provided in this guide.

Need more help?

Research consultations
University of Melbourne academic staff and postgraduate students can book an individual research consultation

University of Melbourne Archives reference service
Telephone +61 3 8344 6848