Melbourne is famous for its cafes, laneways and of course, its street art. CBD sites like Hosier Lane and Duckboard Place boast bright murals that people from all around the world now travel to see and to take that quintessential selfie in a painted laneway. There are specially curated walking tours of Melbourne’s many murals. We truly own our title as the street art capital of Australia!

What began as underground and backyard graffiti has now evolved into a major tourist attraction. In Melbourne today, street art can be both colourful and political. It is also ephemeral 1. Murals sometimes last only days before they are tagged or painted over 2.

A photograph of a backyard wooden fence with "KEEP OFF" painted in white
Graffiti. Photograph by Mark Strizic, 1969; H2009.81/3385. This photograph is in copyright.

Because of the temporary nature of street art it is an issue for collecting institutions like State Library Victoria to know how best to archive it. We have had to think about how to preserve the history of Melbourne’s street art scene as once vibrant murals start to disappear with age or be painted over.

A mural on a brick wall of two female faces behind turquoise and yellow bars
Street art in Duckboard Place. Photograph by Anne Reddacliff, 2022
A black wall covered in stickers and a mural of half a tiger's face peering out
Street art in Hosier Lane. Photograph by Anne Reddacliff, 2022

A recent acquisition Behind the Paint by photographer Shannyn Higgins is one example of how we are working to document the history of street art in Melbourne. Street artists are the “heart” of our street art culture and Shannyn created a series of photographs depicting Melbourne murals alongside the street artists who made them 3. We purchased Behind the Paint because it was a brilliant way to obtain a snapshot of Melbourne’s street art history.

A blonde woman standing in front of a pink and red mural of a woman in a yellow dress
Lucy Lucy. Photograph by Shannyn Higgins, 2020; H2021.6/1-14. This work is in copyright.

We also have several books in our collections that preserve the memory of Melbourne murals past. Some of these include: Burn City: Melbourne’s Painted Streets, Melbourne Street Art Guide, Street Art: Melbourne and Dean Sunshine’s Land of Sun-shine: A Snapshot of Melbourne Street Art 2010-2012.

Of course, there’s a role for you to play too. Like to spend your weekend taking photos of Melbourne’s street art? Tag State Library Victoria on Instagram and use the hashtag #SLVStreetArt for murals you would like to share with us!

A mural on a black wall of woman with blonde hair shown from behind approaching a skyline of Melbourne buildings
Street art in Hosier Lane. Photograph by Anne Reddacliff, 2022
  1. Chamberlin, L, 2013, Street art: Melbourne, Explore Australia Publishing, Richmond, Victoria
  2. Hurlston cited in Chamberlin, L, 2017, Burn City: Melbourne’s Painted Streets, Hardie Grant Travel, Richmond, Victoria
  3. Sunshine, D, 2012, Dean Sunshine’s Land of Sun-shine, Brunswick, Victoria, DS Tech

This article has 2 comments

  1. Beautiful work, thank you Anne

  2. Very knowledgeable article.

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