Wondering what the cab fare rate was in Melbourne in 1973? Or the opening hours of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1911? Or where must imported explosives be unloaded in 1925?  Melbourne’s old guide books hold the answers; they combine miscellaneous facts with practical information for the visitor to the ‘seventh largest city of the British Empire.’ (The Melbourne guide book, p. 1)

In 1911, The Melbourne guide book… describes what a visitor will see on a trip to the Fire Brigade Station…’it is most interesting to see the various types of fire engines standing in readiness…the horses standing always ready and trained at the signal to step out and instantly take their places beneath the harness, always suspended so that the instant they are placed electric communication causes it to drop on their backs…’


[Burnley, Inkerman Street and Hoddle Street Fire Brigades], H7651

According to Melbourne: a concise guide (1961?), Chadstone has all the ‘facilities required by the modern car driving housewife.’ (p.64) It also has advice on ‘What to do on Sunday’ as ‘no papers are published…hotels are not open to serve drink except to residential guests. There are no picture theatres open and rarely a live theatre.’ Sunday, though, is ideal for ‘enjoying…such sports as soccer and squash.’

A page from the booklet 'Visitors guide to Melbourne.'
Visitors guide to Melbourne

A guide to Melbourne for the visitor…(1913) is so comprehensive it even offers a description of Melbourne’s pavements…’Road ways are well paved, some with tarred wood blocks, and others with tarred macadam, while the footpaths are laid with paving stone or asphalt.’ (p. 3)

A footpath, fence and bushes from 1910.
[Unidentified footpath, fence and bushes either side, houses in background], H30134/10

 A guide to Melbourne for the visitor also lists cab fares (1 shilling per mile), locations of a safety deposit box and postage rates (one penny for every half ounce). It advises that when posting books, regulations require that ‘one end of the parcel must be left open.’ (p. 68)

The 1925 edition of the The Melbourne guide book.., advises that ‘overseas vessels loaded with powder or explosives of any description must unload at Altona Bay.’ And if the visitor decides upon a visit to Pentridge, ‘he will spend an afternoon full of interest, though somewhat marred to reminiscence by the haunting memories of human wretchedness he has seen.’

The guide also illustrates how little some things can change. It encourages the tourist to visit the Public Library [now the State Library], where he is ‘at liberty to go into any one of the bays in which the Library is arranged, take down from the shelf the book he wishes to examine, and seated on a comfortable chair, at a convenient table, read for as long as he pleases while the Library is open.’ (p. 10) And judging by the photo below, the little girl on the left did just as advised.

A 1950 photograph showing hows library users seated at desks.
Domed Reading Room, Public Library of Victoria, H40309

The Library has many other guidebooks which you can read online.

Written by Paul Dee, Librarian Australian History and Literature


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