Marvellous Melbourne: Melbourne buildings

Marvellous Melbourne: Melbourne buildings
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Title cards are intercut with static shots of well-known Melbourne public buildings and streets including the Treasury Building, Little Collins Street, Federal Parliament House, the General Post Office, Elizabeth Street, the Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens and the Law Courts. Summary by Poppy De Souza

Marvellous Melbourne is a compilation of a series of films that Higgins and Spencer made about aspects of everyday life in the city and premiered at Wirth’s Olympia in Melbourne on 22 November 1910. The footage, with its camera angles, static shots, dollies and steady pans across the city, illustrates the beauty and many attractions of the city of Melbourne and is an important visual record of Melbourne’s history.

According to the National Film and Sound Archive database, this is the ‘oldest surviving complete documentary film on Melbourne’. Cozens Spencer, a Londoner, moved to Australia in 1905 and successfully exhibited films throughout the country. In 1908, Spencer formed a production unit (Spencers Pictures) with the cameraman Ernest Higgins, and made a number of short actuality films, this being one example. Spencer later went on to produce feature films, some with director Raymond Longford.


Marvellous Melbourne synopsis

This silent documentary with intertitles was compiled by producer Charles Cozens Spencer and cinematographer Ernest Higgins. It documents architecture, transport, and recreation in Melbourne in the early part of last century.

Notes by Poppy De Souza


Education notes

This clip shows silent black-and-white footage of streets and buildings in the centre of Melbourne, Victoria, in 1910. A scene of the Treasury Building in Spring Street is followed by views of Little Collins and Bourke streets. The scene switches to the Spring Street building housing the Federal Parliament, then to the General Post Office on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth streets before showing a view down Elizabeth Street. The focus is next placed on the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens and finally on the Law Courts in William Street. The clip includes intertitles.


Educational value points

  • This clip is from the oldest complete documentary about Melbourne still in existence. According to the National Film and Sound Archive, this important historical documentary is a compilation of footage from a series of earlier documentaries about everyday life in Melbourne that were produced by Cozens Spencer and shot by Ernest Higgins. Short actuality films recording daily life in Australian cities had been made and screened as early as 1896 but few have survived.
  • Cozens Spencer is one of the most important figures in the history of film in Australia. He was convinced of the need for Australian film to be screened in Australian cinemas, believing that cinema patrons wanted to see something of their own people and their own country. Accordingly, Marvellous Melbourne: Queen City of the South was compiled for Melbourne’s cinema-goers and first screened on 22 November 1910 in Spencer’s cinema in Melbourne.
  • The clip shows some of Melbourne’s historic buildings, built between the 1850s and 1880s, the rich legacy of decades of gold mining. The (Old) Treasury Building was built between 1858 and 1862. The General Post Office was constructed between 1859 and 1867, with a third level and clock tower being added in 1887. The Royal Exhibition Building was built in 1880 and the Law Courts in 1884. Parliament House, unfinished in 1910, was begun in 1856.
  • Some of the buildings are part of Melbourne’s history as the temporary capital of Australia in the early 20th century. The Federal Parliament met in the Victorian Parliament House (accordingly named 'Federal Parliament House’ in the clip) from 1901 until 1927. The State Parliament moved to the Royal Exhibition Building for the period. The first sitting of the High Court of Australia took place on 6 October 1903 in the Melbourne Law Courts building shown in the clip.
  • The extent of Melbourne’s cable tram network is revealed in the clip, where at least 10 cable trams are seen in operation in various streets. In fact, the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company, which held the tram monopoly, operated 1200 cars and trailers on 75 km of double track on 17 routes from the centre of the city to neighbouring suburbs. By 1910 the network had been in full operation for only 19 years but it was the fourth largest cable system in the world.
  • Although some cars and bicycles can be seen in the clip, the most common forms of transport were horse-drawn. In 1902, about eight years before this footage was filmed, there were an estimated 1.8 million horses in Australia, most of them in urban areas. Horse manure covered the roads and built up in the gutters, necessitating the employment of street sweepers, one of whom can be glimpsed at work outside the General Post Office.
  • Melbourne was a technologically advanced city and telephones were in widespread use. According to Museum Victoria, the first telephone exchange opened in 1880 and by 1887, 8000 calls were being made each day, mostly during business hours. The telephone lines were not underground but as shown in the clip, up to 24 wires were attached to a dozen horizontal beams bolted to wooden telephone poles located along the edge of the footpath.
  • The footage shown is typical of the period. The size and weight of the cameras, and the time they required to set up, meant that almost all the scenes in the clip were filmed in long static takes from various fixed locations, usually elevated to present as wide a view as possible. Whatever passed into the range of the camera was filmed, including curious pedestrians. The clip contains one panoramic shot. The 'pan’ was a fairly new technique, used for the first time in 1903.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
Spencers Pictures
Charles Cozens Spencer

This clip starts approximately 6 minutes into the documentary.

This is a silent film. We see old footage of the Treasury Building. A tram has stopped to pick up passengers, there are some horse-and-carts passing by and two women in white dresses. We see Little Collins Street, in which a young boy looks at the camera, there is a man on a bicycle and men in hats and suits cross the road. We see footage of Bourke Street. Two trams meet at a busy intersection. Two young boys look curiously at the camera. We see footage of Federal Parliament House. A carriage pulled by a horse crosses the screen. We see the General Post Office. The street in front in bustling with trams, horses, bicycles and many pedestrians crossing the road. We see footage looking down a busy Elizabeth Street. The camera pans across the Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens. We see footage of the Law Courts in 1910.