Past Exhibitions

Check our exhibitions page to find out about our current and forthcoming exhibitions.

‘Cabinets of wonder : Extraordinary Collections of Ephemera’
12 July – 24 August 2016

In this exhibition curated by the Ephemera Society of Australia, private collectors unlocked their cabinets and cupboards to share extraordinary curios and treasures from their personal collections in an exhibition of Australiana. Featuring never before exhibited material, this fascinating exhibition offered an evocative and beautiful snapshot of history, design and culture from 1875 to the present day. More than 40 discrete displays contained collections of historic chocolate bars, dance cards, bubble gum tattoos, scrapbooks, badges, blotters, biscuit tins, menus and sport memorabilia


‘Judging for the People : 175 Years of the Supreme Court of Victoria’
11 April – 3 June 2016
Open to the public from Monday 11 April, the exhibition brought to life stories of judges, vexed relations and the movable feast of buildings that the court has called home over the years. The media’s relationship with the court, the system of sentencing and the evolution of how divorce has been  handled was also in the spotlight.

‘Nail Can to Knighthood: The Life of Sir Macpherson Robertson KBE’
14 July – 18 December 2015
The RHSV is fortunate in having acquired over the years a considerable amount of material relating to Macpherson Robertson. This includes photographs, confectionery packaging, recipe books, company documents, scrapbooks and other ephemera, donated by the Robertson family and by former MacRobertson’s staff. This exhibition gave an account of the life and achievements of this remarkable man, about whom the public knows too little.
RHSV-Lady with MacRobertson Hat

‘Portraits of a Tea Cosy’
7 April – 14 May 2015
Stories of family, tradition and the immeasurable consequence of making and passing on hand made objects were all brought to life in the exhibition Portraits of a Tea Cosy. Created by yarn artist Loani Prior and photographer Mark Crocker, Portraits of a Tea Cosy was a celebration of family, history and cultures. An ode to the taking of tea, the making of friends and the keeping of memories.


‘Postcards: Stories from the Mornington Peninsula’
Monday 2 February – Friday 6 March 2015
The exhibition showcased aspects this region’s unique history through eight postcards from the collections of local history organisations. Each is the vehicle for a local history story. Flinders told of its renowned guesthouses; Sorrento, its ‘back beach tram’; Mornington, its early train transport; Rye, its ‘activities on the foreshore’; Somerville, its apple orchards and industry; Hastings, its fishing industry; Balnarring, its Harley Davidson Club; Dromana, the Arthurs Seat lookout.

The Australian Red Cross in The Great War : An exhibition by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.
8 August 2014 – 16 January 2015

Face2Face: RHSV Collection into the 1940s
19 March to July 2014
Face2Face concentrated on portraiture in its many forms as revealed in the RHSV’s collection. ‘Full length, knee length, side face, bust, studio, plain air, head and shoulders, “happy snap”; we have aimed to include all styles of presenting the human form – but all our subjects are clothed. The RHSV has collected portraits since its foundation in 1909. The subjects of the earliest accessions were clergymen, physicians, lawyers, merchants and industrialists. Since that time the extent and range of portraiture in the collection has broadened, indicative of a collection based on donations. Five broad themes emerge : traditional ownership, power, social contribution, celebrity and family life. Together these portraits provide glimpses of past life in Victoria over nearly a hundred years.  Exhibitions give the RHSV a chance to show some of our special treasures to members and to the public.



VicRoads Centenary : Spraying the Bitumen
November 2013 – January 2014

Spray bituminous road surfacing – a method of sealing gravel or dirt roads – had a major impact on the history and development of Victoria. The technique was adopted in the 1930s. Spray sealing was particularly important to rural communities, but it was also hugely significant in linking the city with the country through a reliable and safe, sealed network of roads. As a result of the efforts of the Victorian Country Roads Board, Australia became a world leader in the development and practice of bituminous road surfacing. In 2009 VicRoads commissioned an oral history project to record, preserve and document the stories and experiences of former and current staff of the Country Roads Board/VicRoads involved in sprayed surfacing. The project also involved the production of a series of themed ‘podcasts’ or audio documentaries that brought the process and technique of spray sealing to life and gave a sense of what life was like on the road in a spray surfacing ‘gang’.


Archie Cowan – A local history in drawing
October – November 2013
Archie Cowan (1938-2011) was born in Scotland. Much of his work consisted of finely detailed pen and ink drawings although he also worked in other media including oils, acrylics, water colour, pastel, pencil and charcoal. His work now hangs in 30 countries. Mr Cowan was for several years a resident of Yarraville, for which he maintained a great affection. He also assisted in the cultural development of surrounding suburbs and country areas throughout Victoria. He gave private tuition on the basic fundamentals of structure and colour. In September 2012 the estate of the Late Archie Cowan donated to the RHSV many drawings of houses, streetscapes and hotels, beautifully sketched by Archie Cowan. Collectively they create a loving and personal local history of the Yarraville and Moonee Ponds areas. A local history in drawings – this exhibition captures the architecture, street life and mood of these areas by an artist who himself became part of the local character. This exhibition displays a number of the donated drawings which provide a valuable record of many distinctive buildings in Melbourne and Victoria.


The Right Royal exhibition
April – October 2013

The Right Royal exhibition explored the pervasive nature of royal symbolism in the continuing identity of Melbourne and Victoria. From Queen Street and King Street, Duke of Edinburgh Gardens and Alexandra Avenue, to indirect references such as the Melbourne suburbs of Coburg, Brunswick, Windsor and Hampton, royal references abound. So many of our most loved institutions in Victoria, such as the Royal Children’s Hospital, Royal Automobile Club of Victoria and our own RHSV, sought to acquire the royal imprimatur, and still proudly wear the title, wherever the tides of republican sentiment might wash. European settlement of Australia began under the rule of the British Empire and during most of the twentieth century the concept of Empire and loyalty to the monarchy continued to dominate Australian cultural identity. While contested by many, the symbolism of British monarchy remains part of our cultural identity. Apart from the name of Victoria, the name of the long serving monarch, and the capital city Melbourne named after the Queen’s serving Prime Minister in the late 1830s many local institutions, buildings and roads carried the royal image. As talk of a Republic surfaces in public debates it remains important to recognize the influence of Empire on the construction of its cultural framework this exhibition aims to tell the story of the imprint of Empire on the state of Victoria and the part it once played. While it is difficult to understand today for generations of previous Victorians the Empire and monarchy had profound significance, and we are still surrounded by this cultural phenomenon. This exhibition provided insight to the impact of royalty on the society and culture of Melbourne, and our identity.

Fear God and Honour the King: HMAS Melbourne (1) 1913 – 1928
February – April 2013

Presented by the  Military History and Heritage Victoria (MHHV), this major exhibition commemorated the centenary of the arrival of Australia’s first light cruiser, HMAS Melbourne, in Port Phillip Bay on 26 March 1913. The ship took the name and crest of the City of Melbourne and its credo ‘Gather Strength as She Goes’. The Melbourne, a 5,600 ton ship with eight 6-inch guns, served the Royal Australian Navy from its commissioning in England in 1912 until its decommissioning, also in England in 1928. She saw war service in the operations against the German colonies in the SW Pacific in 1914, escorted the 1st AIF fleet from Albany, WA; saw service with the West Indies Squadron in 1915-1916; then served with the North Sea Fleet from 1916-1918. In 1922 the Melbourne was involved in a dramatic rescue of the crew of an American schooner in the Tasman Sea, at the height of a hurricane. The exhibition, which took its name from the scroll donated to the ship by the City of Melbourne in 1913, featured the ship’s original crest, memorabilia, photographs and documents kindly lent by the Australian War Memorial, the Australian National Maritime Museum, Museum Victoria, Monash University, the Museum of HMAS Cerberus, State Library of South Australia and from individual donations. The exhibition examined the ship’s war service as well as the crew who served her. Sponsors of the exhibition included the Port of Melbourne Corporation, Navy Health, the Melbourne Naval Centre and Cooee History and Heritage.


Growing History’s Grass Roots – 1960s in Victoria
November/December 2012
Set within the context of one Victoria’s most significant local histories A History of Brighton; the exhibition charts key moments in the evolution of this discipline from the appointment of Manning Clark at the University of Melbourne, 1946, to teach the nation’s first full year course in Australian history; to the significant conferences held in the 1960s, and the great push to establish frameworks for the growth of sharing knowledge and experience. The 1960s is described as A Creative Decade – a period of prodigious talent and publishing – it was also a period when universities were keen supporters of local history. The exhibition examined the technique of researching and writing A History of Brighton – the move away from “scissors and paste” history – where primary material was quoted without theme or structure – to what Bate describes an “building an iceberg” – identifying sources, asking questions and testing hypotheses. As an exemplar of a local history the exhibition beautifully portrayed the history of Brighton: the RHSV thanks Brighton Historical Society for lending so many of its wonderful exhibits.

Check our exhibitions page to find out about our current and forthcoming exhibitions.