With literary festivals, events and an abundance of bookstores, it’s no wonder that Melbourne was officially recognised as one of seven UNESCO Cities of Literature. For bibliophiles looking to immerse themselves in Melbourne’s literary history, this list of literary landmarks will help you get started.
Melbourne Athenaeum Library
Melbourne Athenaeum Library, Melbourne | Courtsey The Melbourne Athenaeum Library
Founded in 1839, the heritage-listed Melbourne Athenaeum Library is the oldest subscription library in Victoria. Located on Collins Street, the library holds more than 30,000 volumes across genres such as science fiction, history, biography, fantasy, and literary classics, along with journals, magazines and the latest releases. The library has hosted talks by Mark Twain and Sir Redmond Barry, and it continues to hold events, including book clubs and other discussions. The hand-picked collection of titles are available for members to borrow for up to four weeks at a time, and memberships can be purchased on the website.
In 2012, rural gold-mining town Clunes became the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to be awarded ‘International Booktown’ status. Located in Western Victoria, Clunes has a population of just 1,656, which swells to a staggering 18,000 each May during the Clunes Festival. The annual festival hosts 50 book traders from all over Australia and sees the six local bookshops triple their usual profits over one weekend. Specialising in second-hand and antiquarian books, the town’s bookstores are worth a fossick through.
Once upon a time, writers Marcus Clarke, Henry Kendall, George Gordon McCrae and Adam Lindsay Gordon frequented Australia’s first bohemian club, The Yorick Club, to recite poetry and smoke pipes in Collins Street. With a human skull as a mascot, the club encouraged free-thinking men of literature, art or science to come together in a place of self-expression. In 1894, the club amalgamated with the Melbourne Savage Club.
The Wheeler Centre
Located in the southern wing of the State Library of Victoria is Australia’s first Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. Opened on the 12th of February 2010, The Wheeler Centre is a hub for Melbourne writers and is home to literary organisations including the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Express Media, Writers Victoria, Emerging Writers’ Festival and the Small Press Network. Since 2010, The Wheeler Centre has hosted 2,200 speakers in more than 1,616 public conversations and debates. Each year, there are approximately 230 events, 80 percent of which are free. With a mission to share ideas through storytelling, The Wheeler Centre is the crown jewel in Melbourne’s literary scene.
You may be wondering what an Irish pub is doing on this list, but step inside the Peel Street venue, and it will soon make sense. Voted one of the top ten Best Irish Pubs In The World (Outside Ireland) by The Irish Times,The Drunken Poet isn’t overtly themed; instead, portraits of poets from Ireland and around the world adorn the walls. The venue hosts weekly events and live music, plus they serve the best toasted sandwiches in West Melbourne.
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Established in 1965 in Essendon by Les, Kay and Muriel Craddock, this antiquarian bookstore found its permanent home in the Neo-Gothic Assembly Hall Building on Collins Street. Housing second-hand, antiquarian and rare books dating back to the 15th century, Kay Craddock is not your typical bookstore, with some titles worth thousands of dollars, although there are books at every price point. Celebrated as one of the best bookstores in Melbourne, Kay Craddock is a treasure trove in the Paris end of Collins Street.
No Melbourne literary tour would be complete without a stop at the State Library of Victoria. Housing over two million books in addition to significant Australian artefacts including the diaries of Melbourne founders John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner and Ned Kelly’s original armour, the State Library has an impressive collection. Established in 1854, the library is Australia’s oldest public library and one of the world’s first free public libraries. It features seven reading rooms, including the La Trobe Reading Room where many Melbourne authors have chiseled away at their manuscripts, such as Helen Garner who wrote Monkey Grip under the mammoth dome.