Sue Fairbanks

A reflection by Sue Fairbanks, Deputy Archivist with University of Melbourne Archives

Sue Fairbanks

In the long loop of the Yarra River where Riversdale Road continues as Swan Street, with the noise of the Monash Freeway as a constant backdrop, lies one of Melbourne’s peaceful and beautiful gems. The Burnley Gardens, part of the Burnley Campus of the University of Melbourne’s School of Ecosystem & Forest Sciences, is an oasis known to generations of Melbourne’s garden enthusiasts both amateur and professional. Indeed it is where horticulturalists and garden designers have been educated since the inception of the Burnley School of Horticulture by the Victorian Department of Agriculture 125 years ago.

Teaching of horticulture commenced in 1891, but the site itself was established long before. Here in 1836 a Richmond Survey paddock was reserved to graze Survey Department animals, and in August 1862 most of the area was reserved as public parkland known as Richmond Park. In late 1860 the Minister of Lands granted the (later Royal) Horticultural Society 25 acres of the eventual Park for the purpose of testing and acclimatising introduced fruit trees, vegetables and exotic garden plants for producing crops in Victorian conditions. The Gardens themselves were opened in January 1863 and the Horticultural Society continued their development until in late 1890 it handed back the grounds to the Victorian Government and its Department of Agriculture in return for cancellation of its debts.  When the Burnley School of Horticulture was opened in May 1891 it was the first Horticultural College in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the first in the world.

This year the School of Ecosystem & Forest Science is celebrating the 125th Anniversary of continuous horticultural education at Burnley with a program of gardening events. But there is another, smaller, anniversary which deserves to be remembered this year: the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the Burnley Archives (BA), repository of photographs and documents which help us remember and celebrate the last 125 years.

Volunteers catalogued the approximately fifteen metres of archival records using a standard designed by the first archivist and this system was used consistently since the inception. The Archives contain a mixture of official records (principals' administrative records and student registers), photographs, deposits from former students including student clubs, and 'artefacts' such as ploughs, jodhpurs and a leadlight window.

In 2011 Jane Wilson and supporters of the Archives at Burnley contacted the University of Melbourne Archives (UMA) for advice. The BA needed support for preservation materials and electronic cataloguing of the many volumes of handwritten entries that formed the main finding aid. UMA agreed to supply preservation storage materials, and also to analyse and advise on producing a machine readable catalogue.

Supporters of the Burnley Archive made it clear that they wanted the material retained at Burnley and not whisked off to the UMA store in Brunswick. Thus was born a cooperative project to hold the archival material at Burnley, but to catalogue it in the database of the UMA and make it discoverable through their online interface. In the language of the day, it became part of the ‘distributed archive’ of the University.

Jane Wilson and her volunteers began typing the handwritten catalogues into spreadsheets for upload into the UMA database. So far six collections from the Burnley Archive are described in it; all except the photographs are described in detail.

The most interesting of these are undoubtedly the photographs, but the Registers and Books are fascinating. This series contains the earliest record of the fruit planted at Burnley initially by the Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria and later by the Burnley School of Horticulture. The registers are in the main handwritten and detail the planting and harvesting of currants, almonds, figs, nectarines, peaches, apricots, cherries, plums, apples, pears in the garden often with their original locations. Later registers cover eggs, milk and livestock. Plant records are also found in the Student Registers where both plants and students have been recorded in the same volumes. The books also described in this series are generally gardening or botany books used by the early staff and give an insight into gardening trends through the century.

To see the catalogue entries and lists of material held and accessible in the BA, go to the University of Melbourne website and search on Burnley Archives in the Catalogue. Note that access to the Archives at Burnley is by appointment on a Tuesday. It is well worth a visit not only to meet Jane and research the Archives but also to sit in the Summer House and contemplate the Lilly Ponds. You will feel amazingly refreshed.

Artefacts Of Burnley School Of Horticulture  -  UMA Reference Number 2015.0058

Photographs Of Burnley School Of Horticulture And Subsequent Entities -  UMA Reference Number 2011.0023

Maps And Plans Of Burnley Gardens And Campus - UMA Reference Number 2015.0068

Horticultural And Livestock Registers And Books - UMA Reference Number 2015.0059

Registers Of Student Enrolment And Results - UMA Reference Number 2015.0060

Certificates And Report Cards - UMA Reference Number 2015.0065