Wesley College Melbourne Australia
Wesley College Melbourne

Our past, our future: the Wesley College Archives


In 2016, Wesley College will mark its sesquicentenary or 150th birthday. It will be a fantastic opportunity to reflect on our past as we look forward to the future. The lead up to a year of celebrations will be exciting as we remember the story of Wesley College. To help prepare for this, the Wesley’s Archives will perform a pivotal role in telling this story. The Archives is charged with the responsibility of managing the College’s extensive and widely dispersed historical and art collections. We have records and objects dating back to well before the foundation of the College. In short, our function is to collect, preserve and make accessible records and objects that tell the story of Wesley College. It is worth noting that the College has produced four histories and similar publications in its nearly 150 years and this would not have been possible without our archive. 

Paintings from the Wesley Art Collection on display at the Bayside Gallery Brighton
Paintings from the Wesley Art Collection on display at the Bayside Gallery Brighton

Fortunately, there is a constant flow of records, photographs and objects being sent to us from local and international donors. These new donations enrich the collection and help us to better tell our story and remember the thousands of students who have attended the College. All these items have to be catalogued and stored and this is a truly daunting aspect of our work, as the task of trying to maintain order in the collection in multiple places is challenging. To make that task even more difficult the legacy of the 1989 fire still lingers in that a huge part of our original records, along with many priceless objects were destroyed. Nonetheless, after years of practiced searching we are still able to answer many of historical information requests. Indeed, one of our most frequent requests comes from family historians seeking information on forebears. Sometimes the requests are simple and at other times they require extensive and laborious research. The Australian Dictionary of Biography, widely considered to be the leading source of biographical essays on Australians who have made memorable contributions to the shaping our nation, is a frequent user of the collection. In answering these requests, we pay careful attention to issues of privacy. 

Creswick Town Hall the site of a recent exhibition of works by the Lindsay family
Creswick Town Hall the site of a recent exhibition of works by the Lindsay family

There is a constant demand for information from within the College from students to the Principal’s office. Information is always being sought for speeches, reports and presentations, and objects are frequently required for display or special assemblies. The Archives is also responsible for a steady flow of articles for College publications - the Lion, weekly newsletters, etc. The Archives are located within Wesley Global which allows us to support the work of Admissions, Marketing, OWCA and, of course, the Wesley College Foundation. One of the College’s great treasures is the art collection which has developed through the benefaction of Old Collegians and others, like the Estate of Norma Bull. At the heart of the art collection is the remarkable gift of over 100 paintings from Alec Cato and his wife Maria Christina. It features some wonderful examples of art from celebrated Australian and international artists such as Hans Heysen, Arthur Streeton, Theodore Penleigh Boyd, Norman Lindsay, John Ashton, WB McInnes, Harold Brocklebank Herbert and many more. 

Kenneth Park delivers a floor talk at the Two Hemispheres exhibition
Kenneth Park delivers a floor talk at the Two Hemispheres exhibition


The College has also developed a small modern art collection made possible through the generous support of members of our community and the Wesley College Society for the Arts (which also supports the annual student Acquisitive Art Prize). One of the great challenges is to find ways to display the works, with many subject to careful insurance and security requirements.  Teachers have on many occasions used the works for teaching purposes. Fortunately, the quality of the works in the collection is such that museums are keen to borrow them for exhibitions. We have recently provided several works by members of the Lindsay family to the Creswick Museum, as well as a selection of some of our finest landscapes to the Bayside Gallery in Brighton. This last exhibition involved the Curator of Collections speaking at a Family Day, which also showcased the musical talents of students, and offering a series of floor talks including a special talk for members and guests of The Sapere Aude Bequest Society. These exhibitions highlight the College’s commitment to public outreach and education.

Our thinking for the future is very much focused on conservation and preparations for the sesquicentenary in 2016. In the next couple of years we will also prepare for centenaries of several key events from World War I. Already we are being flooded by researchers and relatives seeking information on their forebears who came to Wesley College, and then served in World War l and, many of them sadly making the ultimate sacrifice. In an ambitious project supported by alumni, we have implemented a program that involves digitising the Chronicles, Lions, Song Books, Gift Books, College Histories and Elsternwick magazines. This project has involved the significant contribution of time and expertise by members of staff from the library. The database is being refined in order to improve searchability, and will be ultimately accessible to the wider Wesley community. 


The wartime exploits of William Willis (OW1893) and other OWs are acknowledged annually at ANZAC Day services
The wartime exploits of William Willis (OW1893) and other OWs are acknowledged annually at ANZAC Day services

It has already been a great boon to the OWCA as they prepare for their events. Associated with this project is the gradual digitising of over 3,800 images from the collection. Work is also proceeding to improve displays of historical objects, including interactive exhibits at our various sites; the new Music School at St Kilda Road campus will feature an exhibition space which combines paintings and objects from the collection. As a reader of the Lion magazine you are not only a member of an extended community, but an important part of our story. Your inquiries are most welcome.

The Archives and Art Collection are managed by the Curator of Collections, Kenneth Park, and Associate Curator, Margot Vaughan. Between them they bring well over 30 years of experience of working with the heritage of Wesley College. They both work part-time, but can be contacted by telephone on 03 8102 6290 or via email kenneth.park@wesleycollege.net or margot.vaughan@wesleycollege.net.