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History of the Museum

History of the Museum

Australia’s first ecomuseum, Melboune’s Living Museum of the West is a community museum, operating in the western region of Melbourne in the state of Victoria, Australia.

(An ecomuseum is a museum focused on the identity of a place, largely based on local participation and aiming to enhance the welfare and development of local communities.There are presently about 300 operating ecomuseums in the world; about 200 are in Europe – source: wikipedia)

The Living Museum, as it is more commonly known, was set up in 1984 to address what was then seen as a disadvantaged region, geographically flat and rocky, heavily industrialised with a high migrant population.The ecomuseum concept regards the area researched by a museum as part of the museum itself.

The western region covers a large geographical area (see map) west of Melbourne which includes industrial suburbs merging into rural areas. Geologically it sits on an extensive basalt plain with low rainfall. Its population is approximately 500,000 people from approximately 70 different countries.

More than 30 % of the population were born in another country. It has in fact given rise to a cultural dynamic that challenges more conventional forms of interpretation.The Living Museum is best known for its outreach programs and close involvement with the community it serves.

Archived website 1997-2007  »

Original LMW logo 

Community participation can take the form of involvement as a volunteer, as a participant in the Museum’s research and oral history programs or through more informal contact.

For example, many local historical researchers regularly come to share information or talk about their own research. By depositing copies of their research and publications in the Living Museum’s Resource Centre they provide help for other people doing connected research.

The first projects looked at the history of work, the contribution of women in the region’s history and the role of migrants in the culture and heritage of the local region. These first projects focussed on oral history in a bid to involve the local community in the research and presentation of their own history.

The Museum has since explored the built heritage of the region, the environment, the Aboriginal Heritage and experimented with the involvement of artists in the presentation of culture and heritage. A book titled ‘Your History Mate’, describes the first decade of the Living Museum’s program and outcomes.

The Living Museum is currently working to convert its extensive archives into digital form that can be downloaded and accessed by the public. Hundreds of people worked for thirty years researching, photographing and writing about a wide range of topics to do with the unique history and heritage of the western suburbs of Melbourne. They did this largely within the framework of a particular philosophy of collecting local history which will also be explained to some extent on this website. Over this thirty years the people involved with this museum dealt with a thousand specific projects and scores of special programs. The content of this work gives remarkable insights into the nature of this region and the evolution of Melbourne. It will take some time to digitise this work so bear with us while we bring this story to you.

The publications chapter of this website will be regularly updated with new additions of information and downloads.