The Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute is currently shrouded in sheeting and scaffold, but the institution’s life continues inside as it has for 160 years, says Max Harris Collection curator Amy Tsilemanis.
The Institute’s facade is being restored at present, the end result of a two-year process that is seeing the restoration of the rendered surfaces, metalwork and timber windows and doors. Melbourne architectural firm Quadratum have been engaged to lead the process, having previously been involved in restoration of the Arch of Victory, Art Gallery of Ballarat, and the Ballarat and Maldon railway stations.
Ballarat’s Nicholson Construction is undertaking the restoration work, which is also aimed at preventing water intrusion into the building. Their workers can currently be seen cleaning up the façade, and the restoration is projected to be completed by the end of June. Funding to the amount of $300,000 has been provided by the Victorian Heritage Restoration Fund and the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.
Inside the building the life of the BMI continues as ever, as a small number of staff and large team of devoted volunteers run the library and research services that have served Ballarat since 1859. Ms Tsilemanis says the philanthropy with which the Institute was established continues today as she works to catalogue and make accessible to the public the thousands of heritage images in the Max Harris Photography Collection, donated by the Haymes family earlier this year in a remarkable display of public generosity.
The collection, which is an invaluable record of the development of Ballarat from its inception to the present day, will be launched as part of an Open Day happening at the Institute on Saturday September 3rd, featuring exhibitions, performances, demonstrations and talks.
The Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute will also be open over Ballarat Heritage Weekend the weekend of May 7-8,, The Heritage Book collection will be featured, with various curious titles, authors, and images that reflect the more obscure parts of life from the past, and the wide variety of resources the BMI possesses. There will be 1970s newspapers for sale, and talks about the fascinating history of the institute and plans for the future.
The Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute is currently offering three months free membership, says Ms Tsilemanis.