Swanston Street 1908

THEN: 1908


This picture shows Swanston Street, Melbourne, outside Storey Hall, looking towards the corner of La Trobe Street, with the Victorian State Library just visible in the background.

Storey Hall started life as Hibernian Hall, built by the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society in 1887.It became an important symbol of social and political protest and was the venue for suffrage rallies, St Patrick’s Day marches, classical and rock concerts and – legend has it – a performance by Dame Nellie Melba.

During World War I the building was leased to a feminist pacifist organisation, the Women’s Political Association, and was the venue for many of Melbourne’s largest anti-conscription public meetings and rallies. The organisation’s purple, white and green flag was hoisted on the roof of the building as a symbol of the sisterhood of women.

The building was bought for the Melbourne Technical College (as RMIT was then called) by the Victorian Education Department in 1957.

 The hall was renamed in 1959 in honour of Sir John Storey, an industrialist and member of the RMIT Council for 15 years, and his son John junior who, on his death at the age of 21, was an engineering student at RMIT. Sir John donated a bequest to RMIT, a scholarship in honour of his son.

This scholarship continues today to enable students to study overseas.

Swanston Street 2014

NOW: 2014


The annex of Storey Hall (the green facade in the photo) was renovated and redesigned in the mid-1990s by architects Ashton Raggatt McDougall (alumni of RMIT) in a de-constructivist style. It was one of the first buildings in Melbourne to incorporate computer modelling and digital fabrication.

The renovated section is adorned with Penrose tiles arranged into pentagons, a tiling pattern based on the work of mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose. The arrangements and green and purple colours of the tiles recall the hall’s earlier life as a place for feminist debate and Catholic activism.

In the mid-2000s Ashton Raggatt McDougall also redesigned Building 22 (Info Corner, the red brick building at far right), which was originally the Singer sewing machine building, built in 1922. The architects continued the Penrose tiles in a three-dimensional form, which gave rise to the building’s famous “green brain”, just visible above Storey Hall in this photo.

Now Storey Hall is a place to sit exams and attend conferences, seminars or scholarship award ceremonies. The old Hibernian Hall section of the building is now the site of the RMIT Gallery, which recently hosted the Music, Melbourne and Me: 40 years of Mushroom and Melbourne’s Popular Music Culture exhibition.

This photo is by alumnus and award-winning photographer Janelle Low (graduated in 2010).