A building built on gold
The year is 1858, and Melbourne is on its way to becoming the most affluent city on the planet, as the rush for gold gripped Victoria, and the world.
Gold was pouring into Melbourne from the Victorian gold fields and being stored in the Treasury on Williams St (now demolished), which was proving increasingly inadequate.
The question then stood, where does one store hauls of gold bullion from Ballarat, Bendigo and beyond?
That question was answered with the construction of the Old Treasury Building (OTB) on Spring St.
The job for the design of the OTB was given to young architect, John James “JJ” Clark.
He was 19 when he began the design, but he was an old hand in the department having joined the then Colonial Architect’s Office at 14 when his family emigrated to Melbourne from Liverpool.
With Mr Clark’s design came 12 bluestone vaults, two feet thick, destined to house and protect the most precious commodity in the world at that time, gold.
Those vaults still sit under Victoria’s infamous political street and can be toured with the help of the friendly staff at the OTB.
“It is unknown just how much gold was stored in the building, whether unknown by design or lost to time, we will never know,” OTB education officer, Katie Dunning said.
“We do know that the Government Escort started bringing gold directly here from 1865. Research into this time of the OTB’s life will form the basis of a new exhibition we plan on opening in 2024,” she said.
The vaults were also used as government record storage as most departments’ records were kept in less-than-ideal conditions. Parliamentary records show that some were stored directly next to timber yards, so fire was a constant concern.
According to Ms Dunning, the vaults had other uses, including accommodation for guards and soldiers, which was eventually featured in the exhibition Growing up in the Old Treasury.
While the contents of the vaults and their value may not drop the jaw as they used to, they still provide a unique and somewhat mysterious insight to a time when Melbourne sat atop the world.
“The Old Treasury Building is a wonderful undiscovered gem, which surprises and delights all,” Ms Dunning said. •
For more information: oldtreasurybuilding.org.au