“The finest public building exterior in Australia”
– Miles Lewis, Architectural Historian.
The construction of the iconic Old Treasury Building was completed in 1862, opening its doors to government officials and the keepers of the gold bullions from the nation’s gold rush. Throughout the 19th century, it was used as the central hub of all government affairs – creating an administrative meeting place in the heart of East Melbourne.
Located on Spring Street in East Melbourne, the Old Treasury Building has become a national treasure and a popular tourist attraction, especially for those interested in architecture and design. It is one of the many buildings across Melbourne’s CBD crafted in renaissance revival architecture. Other known buildings in this Victorian-influenced architecture include the Royal Exhibition Building, the Rialto, and Parliament House.
While the building was intended to house the wealth from the gold rush in underground vaults, by the time it had finished construction, the gold rush had come and gone. These specialised vaults instead were used to house the highly confidential documents from the emerging government.
Architectural Influences and Design
The initial building was designed by John James ‘JJ’ Clark, a 19-year-old architect who created a blend of the three classical architectural orders; Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles. This was the first of many iconic buildings JJ designed across Melbourne. You may recognise his other works – the Royal Mint, The City Baths and the Queen Victoria Women’s Hospital.
As you wander the halls of this historical museum, some of the early drafts and designs of the building from JJ himself are on display. Each iteration showcases the renaissance and ancient Greek influence JJ drew from the sandstone exterior and archways to the collection of columns.
The exterior consisted of brick walls and bluestone foundations and was finished with sandstone from the Bacchus Marsh region. However, because of limited resources, the building was only completed in 1862. Even then, it still had temporary external features, the front stairs being the most prominent.
The Old Treasury Building Museum
The once government building now stands as a museum, which opened its doors to the public in the early 1990s. It hosts many exhibits showcasing the gold rush’s history and impact on Melbourne. The gold vaults, in particular, showcase a milestone in Australian history.
There are free and paid tours available for visitors to partake in. General tours are the free options, where visitors can tour the building seeing historical rooms such as the Executive Council Chamber, where government officials met to discuss and pass legislation for over 150 years.
There is an extensive range of permanent and temporary exhibits for visitors to wander through. Some more popular exhibitions include; Lost Jobs: The Changing World of Work, Protest Melbourne, Women Work for Victory in WWII, Melbourne: Foundations of a City, and more.
More exclusive exhibits are available during paid tours, such as the Paintings of Early Melbourne – a collection of paintings that showcase the life of early settlers inside Melbourne from the 1840s until the 70s.
The Old Treasury Building Now: 159 Years Later
The Old Treasury Building still stands the test of time in the heart of East Melbourne. Overlooking the Treasury Gardens, the site is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
The heritage-listed building is located at 20 Spring Street in East Melbourne, on the corner of Spring and Collins Streets. After a short 4-minute walk from Flinders Street Station and a short tram ride down Collins Street, visitors can easily access this historical landmark and experience the intel it provides.