As RMIT celebrates its 130-year history of design, technology and enterprise, we take a look back at some of the gems found in the RMIT Archives Collection.
The collection holds thousands of items documenting the University’s rich history.
Archivist Michelle Novacco and her team are responsible for the extensive catalogue, which dates back to our establishment as the Working Men’s College on 7 June, 1887.
RMIT News asked Novacco to talk us through her favourite items from the collection.
“Canoe” Tree, Keelbundoora Scar Tree and Heritage Trail
Did you know our oldest records are kept outdoors?
I’m talking about the more than 90 river red gums dotted along the Keelbundoora Scar Tree and Heritage Trail on Bundoora campus.
The trees may be centuries old but the trail, named after a Wurundjeri clan ancestor, was opened in 2008 to preserve the vegetation’s significant cultural and ecological history.
The trees are considered records because they are evidence of the Wurundjeri people who lived in the area, removing bark from the trees to use for shelter, weapons, tools and containers. And that’s likely how the scar on this ‘canoe’ tree came to be.
I love the heritage trail. You can even can go on guided walks of the trail with Wurundjeri elders, who share their knowledge and expertise on the interpretation of its features and traditional Aboriginal practices.
Architecture student Mee How Ah Mouy, 1905
Among the thousands of entries in the student registers held by Archives, there are references to two members of a prominent Chinese-Australian family who studied at the Working Men’s College in the early 1900s.
Louis Ah Mouy arrived in Melbourne in 1851 and quickly became a successful merchant and Chinese community leader. His son, Mee How, and his grandson, Choy Tack, both studied at the Working Men’s College.
Mee How studied architecture with us from 1905 to 1907 and received an award from the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in his final year of studies.
These days, thousands of international students come to Melbourne to study, and it’s nice to have a record that shows RMIT’s long history of welcoming students from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Our first digital computer, 1963
This photo shows a really cool piece of the University’s history – a significant investment in cutting-edge technology.
On 25 March 1963, 350 guests, including then Victorian Premier Henry Bolte, gathered to get a glimpse of the NCR-Elliott 803B - RMIT’s first digital computer.
The total cost of the computer was £105,000 (equivalent to about $15 million today), as it was considered one of the most sophisticated second-generation machines of its time.
The NCR-Elliott 803B was used as a teaching tool, to manage exam results and was also a drawcard for visiting schoolchildren, who used to come on excursions just to get a glimpse of this exotic machine.
Centenary memorabilia brochure, 1987
Thirty years ago, RMIT was in the midst of centenary celebrations and this brochure showing the merchandise available is like a snapshot encapsulating the times – complete with colourful sweatshirts and signature 80s hairstyles.
Clearly we’ve always been at the cutting edge of fashion!
If we ever wanted to recreate this photo, we have the sun visor, tote and BYO bags, stubby holder and the coffee mug in our collection. I just wish we still had the sweatshirts.
War effort contributions, 1918
RMIT has always been deeply engaged with our local communities and soon after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, staff and students rallied behind efforts by the Red Cross to care for the wounded.
Using materials donated by local ironmongers Currie and Richards, they made and donated bedpans, hot water bottles and beds to the Red Cross.
In 1918, 400 returned soldiers took classes at the Working Men’s College as part of the repatriation effort.
Practical classes, including weaving, were also offered to soldier’s widows.
Emily McPherson College chemistry students, 1947
RMIT has been encouraging women in the sciences for decades, as this photo of students in a chemistry laboratory shows.
The image first appeared in the 21st anniversary edition of Palate and Petticoat, the magazine of the Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy.
The College amalgamated with RMIT in 1979 and sciences were historically a key part of its curriculum – the prospectus for 1913 lists chemistry, physics, bacteriology, anatomy and biology as first-year subjects in the diploma course in domestic science.
Robert Elliott Memorial Prize certificate, 1940
This certificate is a particular favourite of mine because it was awarded to my grandfather.
In 1940, 19-year-old Reg Angwin won the Robert Elliott Memorial Prize.
Back then annual prizes were awarded to Printing Department machining and composing students who received the highest total marks over several tests, during their second and third years of studies.
Winning the award meant a lot to my grandfather and he carefully stored his certificate for more than 70 years.
The lovely irony is that my job is to preserve RMIT’s copy, along with the decades’ worth of other certificates.
RMIT News article on Australian-designed spacesuit, 2015
I love this item because it shows how our students and our research have impact around the globe and beyond … literally!
Inspired by Cathy Freeman’s skin-tight running suit, aerospace engineer Dr James Waldie and his team spent 15 years inventing the SkinSuit, which was worn by European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen on board the International Space Station.
The SkinSuit mimics the impact of gravity on the body, to help to reduce the debilitating physical effects space flights have on astronauts’ bodies.
James studied at RMIT, before going onto do his PhD here. It's a great example of how education opens up opportunities and transforms the lives of our students.
I'm sure when he started at RMIT doing his undergraduate degree, he had no idea that one day something he dreamed up would go into space!
In September this year, the University will host #CelebrateRMIT, an event to showcase the passion of thousands of staff, students and alumni who breathe life into the RMIT motto of “a skilled hand and a cultivated mind” – and shine a light on what makes our University amazing.
Register your interest to be part of our celebration and share your favourite RMIT memories and moments with us through social media #CelebrateRMIT.
Story: Aeden Ratcliffe