The State Library of Victoria has opened its historic collections to a Victoria University researcher.
Dr Stefan Schutt will enjoy full access to the collections as part of a Berry Family Fellowship of $12,500, announced this month by the State Library of Victoria. With the scholarship he can study the history surrounding a pile of documents uncovered at a Footscray demolition site.
Dr Schutt said it all started in February this year when he saw a 60-year-old invoice blowing down Whitehall Street, Footscray, outside his office at Victoria University's Work-based Education Research Centre.
"I picked it up and saw that it was quite old and then started finding more and more scattered all around the street," he said. "The trail eventually led to the demolition site of an old factory at the end of our street where I found a pile a metre high and 2 metres wide of grimy old company records, posters and photographs, mainly from the 1940s and 1950s."
One company – which will now be the focus of Mr Schutt's project – was the Lewis & Skinner signwriting company whose recovered records cover the 1920s to the 1960s.
"The Lewis & Skinner material includes job descriptions, design sketches and photographs for sign writing jobs all around Melbourne: Cadbury's signs at Milk bars, hand painted service station murals and even painting work for the Queen's visit in 1954 and the Melbourne Olympics in 1956," he said.
"Together they cover a fascinating period in Melbourne's history and the aim of this project is to uncover more of the story around them in the library collections."
He said the State Library research would be added to an online archive of the Lewis & Skinner material. The website system is currently being built with funding from the Telematics Trust, and will also allow people to upload photographs and histories of the signwriting sites from their computer or web-enabled phones.
"This project is shining a light on aspects of our city that are very quickly disappearing and posing questions about how we retain a sense of who we are at a time when everything around us is changing so fast," he said. "This project is an example of we can use the internet to hold onto a sense of local place and history that might otherwise be lost."