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Story Box by Amy T: The History of Sturt St

With the BMI’s brand new website and newsletter I will be bringing you Story Box, featuring stories about the institute’s collection, history, people and events! A bit about my involvement to kick things off:

As an artist, researcher and proud member and volunteer at the BMI, I love its rich association with local history, art and culture. Over recent years here I have been involved in theatre shows, film shoots, dance, music and visual art performances and enjoyed talks, tours, shows and festivals, as well as access to the amazing archives.

This year it was very exciting to win a City of Ballarat Heritage Innovation Award for a project I co-produced with the Federation Univeristy Arts Academy for Ballarat Heritage Weekend 2014. Living Heritage: Trades & Traditions took audiences on a performance trail down sites along Lydiard and Sturt St, including the beautiful BMI. Upstairs in the Humffray Room, students poetically bought to life the story of Ballarat inventor Henry Sutton, who is said to have read all the books in the BMI library by age 14, and who went on to invent groundbreaking telecommunication technologies.

In recent research for the digital history tour Ballarat Revealed I spoke to the BMI team about intriguing myths of Ballarat’s underground, including that Sturt St used to be a level lower evidenced by the remains of shops in the BMI basement. It was explained to me that there in fact used to be a grate on the footpath above that would let light down into the shop windows beneath, but they were always part of the building’s basement level.

It is still fascinating to imagine the restaurant and lolly store that possibly operated from below. If you haven’t been on a tour of the historic Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute yet, do some exploring there on a Thursday afternoon at 2pm. It’s just a gold coin donation away to finding out more about the  history of what used to lie within the walls of the Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute.

Happy exploring!

Amy T

Angela Campbell of Fed Uni Amy Tsilemanis 2015 Heritage Awards (Image by Belinda Coates)