It’s not every day that you see an aeroplane parked outside the Library, but this was the sight that greeted Victorians when they came to visit in 1953.

Black and white photo of Sea Fury military aircraft on steps outside the library
The Sea Fury aircraft on the steps of the Library, 1953. Courtesy of Museums Victoria.

The Sea Fury aircraft was mounted on the Library’s steps by personnel from the Royal Australian Navy, after they’d hauled it through the streets of Melbourne from their headquarters in St Kilda Road. (The Herald)

The aeroplane was on display as part of a wider exhibition called the ‘Jubilee of Flight,’ which was being held at the science museum to celebrate 50 years of aviation (The Age).

Black and white photo of model aeroplanes in glass cases with banner overhead reading 'Jubilee of Flight'.
Jubilee of Flight exhibition at Museum of Applied Science. Courtesy of Museums Victoria.

The science museum had been co-located with the Library since its inception in 1870.

Black and white photo of rows of glass cases in science museum
Institute of Applied Science, 1872; H96.160/1785

The National Museum also shared the building, and its displays of taxidermied animals in McCoy Hall (now the Redmond Barry Reading Room) were very popular.

Black and white photo of stuffed animals and skeletons on display in McCoy Hall at the Library
Display of animals and fossils in McCoy Hall, National Museum, Melbourne, 1910; H12937

Whilst the National Museum chose to focus on the natural world, the science museum focused on human ingenuity, and how humankind turned the natural world to its advantage. An exhibition celebrating the miracle of flight was the perfect subject matter.

Black and white photo showing glass cabinets and rows of glass cases in science museum. Attendant sits in middle of room
Institute of Applied Science, 1872; H96.160/1783

The ‘Jubilee of Flight’ exhibition ran for two months, from 10 December 1953 to 4 February 1954. It showcased the 50 years of aviation that had passed since the Wright brothers took their first famous flight in a powered aircraft in 1903.

Black and white photo of exhibition display case featuring American flag and picture of the Wright brothers
Display case featuring the Wright brothers in ‘Jubilee of Flight’ exhibition. Courtesy of Museums Victoria

It was a remarkable achievement for two brothers who ran a bicycle repair shop, for not only did they fly the aircraft that day, they’d also invented and designed it themselves.

Black and white photo close up of Sea Fury aircraft on Library steps
Sea Fury military bomber on the Library steps. Courtesy of Museums Victoria.

By the time the exhibition closed in 1954, over 40,000 people had come to the Library to see the Sea Fury on its steps. (The Argus)

Black and white photo of Sea Fury outside Library, hotels and shopfronts of Swanston Street in background
Sea Fury aircraft outside the Library. Photograph courtesy of Museums Victoria.

The plane was an incongruous sight – the likes of which we will not see again – for the museum we now know as Scienceworks moved to Spotswood in 1992.

You can find out more about the Sea Fury’s visit to the Library in our video at Ask a Librarian

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