Berwick was gazetted a town in 1861, and in 1864 received a Government Grant of £20/1/11 for its Mechanics Institute. The first library building was erected in about 1866 at the intersection of Peel Street and Rutland (formerly Irby) Road, Berwick. Once a week it was open for an entertainment called “Penny Readings”. A chairman was appointed for the evening and any person could read or relate anything useful or amusing. The nearest newspapers were delivered to Dandenong so were rarely seen. Books were read and re-read and it became a habit to exchange books.
In 1878 Mr. Robert Bain, owner of the Border Hotel (now the Berwick Inn) granted a 500 year lease on a block of land adjacent to the hotel. A condition of the lease was that the land be used for a Mechanics Institute and public Library.
The original building was subsequently moved to the High Street site, and the Crown Reserve on Peel Street vacated.
The City of Berwick was proclaimed in 1973, and since that date the Council has allocated funds for the operation of the library. In 1977 a large increase in the funding facilitated the provision of free library membership.
In 1979 an anonymous donation of $50,000 was offered to the City of Berwick for the construction of a new library in Berwick. It was subsequently revealed that the donor was Lady Casey. The offer was accepted, and with the Council purchasing the block of land on the west side of the building, and fund-raising by the Mechanics Institute committee and friends, construction of the new building commenced. The Library building was extended over the double site. The new building retains features of the original building, including the bricks from the chimneys, the baltic pine lining boards, and the original facade. The official opening by Lady Murray, C.St.J., wife of the Governor of Victoria, took place on 27 August 1982.
The original 500 year lease had to be surrendered in order to satisfy Local Government regulations, but the Berwick Mechanics’ Institute & Free Library committee was guaranteed the right to manage the new library. For a comprehensive history of the library, we recommend:
Berwick Mechanics Institute and Free Library: a History, by Richard Myers
(1999, ISBN 0646374982).
Copies of the book are available for loan from the library.