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Monday
9.30am - 5.00pm
Tuesday
9.30am - 5.00pm
Wednesday
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Thursday
9.30am - 5.00pm
Friday
9.30am - 5.00pm
Saturday
9.30am - 12.30pm
Closed Sundays and all Public Holidays

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The Berwick Mechanics Institute and Free Library is one of onlyold bmi six Mechanics Institutes which still operate as libraries in Victoria today. The others are at Prahran, Ballarat, Maldon, Footscray and the Melbourne Athenaeum.

Mechanics Institutes had their origins in 19th century Britain and were established for the purpose of assisting in the education of "mechanics", as tradespeople were then known. Until 1872, there was no free education in Britain and the skills and crafts were taught to tradespeople at their place of employment. The founders of the Mechanics movement decided that their workers would improve if they understood the nature and properties of the tools that they used.

Following the discovery of gold in the !850s in Victoria, the rapid increase in population led to the establishment of over 1000 Institutes in towns and cities. Berwick was gazetted as a town in 1861, and in 1864 a request was made to the Chief Secretary that a newly formed Institute there be sent a copy of the Government Gazette. In the same year, the Government reserved a block of land at the corner of Peel Street and Irby Road (now Rutland Road) for a Mechanics Institute.


It is probable that the first meetings of the Institute were held at Robert Bain's "Border Hotel" (now the Berwick Inn), as the first mention of a building owned by the Institute was in 1868, when the Government records show that the Berwick Institute had spent 75 pounds sterling on its building. The Berwick Mechanics Institute, like most Institutes in Australia, focussed largely on the provision of further learning through lectures and debates, and contained a range of books and journal material for loan by subscription.

leaseIn 1877, permission was requested from the Ministry of Lands Melbourne Registry for the building to be moved to a site in the main street near the Post Office "to a position which was easy of access". In 1878, Robert Bain, the owner of the Border Hotel from 1857 until 1887, gave the Institute a block of his land, this gift taking the form of a lease for a period of 500 years on condition that the land was used for a Mechanics Institute and Public Library. The rental was set at one shilling a year on demand.

The present Institute still stands on that land. In 1979, a further site of similar size was purchased by the City of Berwick for extensions. This purchase came as a consequence of a donation of $50,000 by Lady Casey to the City Council in 1979 for a new library building. It was agreed that this donation would be matched by the City Council, with an amount to be raised by the Library Committee for furniture, fittings and bookstock. To satisfy local building regulations, the lease from Robert Bain to the Institute was surrendered to the then City of Berwick. A copy of this historic lease document hands on the east wall of the new building, on the site of the original leasehold.

The new building was opened in 1982 by Lady Murray, the wife of the Govenor of Victoria. It retains the features of the old building, including hand-made bricks, baltic pine lining boards and the design of the original facade.

For further information about our history, we recommend: Berwick Mechanics Institute and Free Library: a History, by Richard Myers (1999, ISBN 0646374982). Copies of this book are available for loan or purchase in the Library.


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