F2F_Images_April_400px-5Most of the capital city venues that we work in are modern purpose-built concrete, steel and glass exhibition halls, but in Melbourne there is a completely different option; the magnificent Royal Exhibition Building.

 

The building, which is the only surviving Great Hall in the world that is still used for its original purpose, was inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage Register in 2004. It is the first building in Australia to receive such an accolade.

 

During the course of its history the REB has had many significant events.

 

1880: Construction of the building was completed to house the Melbourne International Exhibition which ran from October 1, 1880 to April 30, 1881.
More than 1.3 million people visited the exhibition; an impressive figure given the population of Melbourne at that time was just over 280,000.

 

1901: Perhaps the most significant event was the opening of the first Parliament of Australia on May 9, 1901. In September of that year, after a competition to design the Australian flag, it was first flown from the dome.

 

1919: the Great Hall was used as a hospital to cope with the demand due to the Spanish flu pandemic.

 

During the course of the 20th century the building has hosted all kinds of events from dog shows to concerts, examinations, balls, motor shows and home shows, plus it housed an aquarium and a museum. Post World War II a migrant centre was set up in the grounds.

 

In the 1940s it became quite run-down and it was not until the 1980s with some growing appreciation of the building’s historical significance that restoration was organised.

 

During the renovations, restoring the interior paint scheme was a major consideration. Many layers of paint were removed from the lower level walls and it was decided to restore the design of 1901. Completed in 1994, this is the design that now appears on the interior of the building.

 

Visitors to the building look up to a central sky-painted dome, surrounded by four Latin mottos, no doubt selected for a new nation in the making:
Dei gracia – by the grace of God
Carpe diem – seize the day
Aude sapere – dare to be wise
Benigno numine – with benign power

 

Around the upper levels, ceilings and walls the friezes, stencils and murals have been repainted faithfully. For an explanation of the symbolism, it’s well worth a visit to the gallery level to read the information panels which have been set up for visitors.

 

Some areas of the original paintwork are covered in a Perspex panel in the building so the original paint can be seen through careful removal of the many layers.

 

All in all, the venue which lacks some of the modern technology of new centres is loaded with charm, atmosphere and history.