One of the first things I did when I landed in Oz in early 2017 was visiting an exhibition entirely dedicated to the Aussie music icon, Kylie Minogue. It was staged within Arts Centre Melbourne, on the South Bank of the Yarra River in the Victorian capital. I remembered being impressed by all the Kylie-related items on display.
Little did I know that Arts Centre Melbourne was in a possession of an even greater collection of artefacts linked to Aussie music’s history and legacy in general. And they finally decided to put it to good use by opening the Australian Music Vault in late 2017.
If you haven’t been to this Aussie music fan’s Mecca yet, you should definitely consider a trip to Melbourne. Because the Vault has just re-opened its doors again after the last lockdown.
I once spent 6 hours in Seattle’s MOPOP (Museum of Pop Culture) that has a fairly big space dedicated to Nirvana. Time flies by when you’re having fun, right? And I was definitely in my element going through all the memorabilia, like Kurt’s hand-drawn posters, early interviews with the band or stage passes to their shows.
Taking a trip down music’s memory lane gets me fired up every time. I luuuuuuv visiting historic venues. I get excited like a kid when I see a handwritten note with my fave band’s lyrics on it. And I completely lose it when I’m surrounded by the actual instruments my music heroes used to record their songs.
It was no different with the Australian Music Vault (AMV). I visited that amazing space a few times whilst living Down Under, and each time I found something new and exciting in their collection. The last time I popped in was in April 2019, and I’m sure a lot has changed since. But I guarantee that, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be hooked on it in no time as well.
“It’s a place to explore your love of music, revisit some of the big music moments of your life and discover exciting new stories from today’s Australian music scene”, reads the bio on AMV’s Facebook page. And I couldn’t agree more.
Once you enter the Vault, it’s like being transported to a sensory playground with touchpads, movies and heaps of other visuals that accompany the music and artefacts on display. Even though the room itself is not overwhelmingly big, you can easily stay there for a few hours. It all depends on how crazy an Aussie music fan you are.
As you move between the different parts of the exhibition, you’ll notice various themes. They focus on specific genres, important events or industry innovations. Currently, there are six segments to explore: from recognising recipients of the National Indigenous Music Awards (the NIMAs) Hall of Fame to presenting Aussie music innovators. The past themes included the punk/new wave genre or the local instrument makers, Maton Guitars.
My fave topics are definitely “The Real Thing” and “Agents of Change”.
The first one discusses something that I’ve also been trying to find an answer to on my blog. “The‘Australian sound’ is a bit like the Australian accent: difficult for us to identify but immediately evident to other people. For some it’s the incomparable sound of Indigenous language and rhythm, for others the cranked up volume of guitar-heavy pub rock, or the instantly recognisable cadences of Aussie hip hop.”
This section takes you through the history of Aussie music and the different elements that make the local sound. A big part of it are, obviously, the people: musicians, journalists, event organisers, record labels’ execs etc. Explore this segment if you’re into discovering bands you might have never heard of before (i.e. The Planets) and their contribution to the “Australian sound”.
“Agents of Change”, on the other hand, delves into the relationship between Australian music and social activism. The local muso community is pretty famous for standing up for human rights and shining a light on environmental issues. Countless songs have also been written about the issues faced by First Nations in Australia, “Took the Children Away” by Archie Roach being one of the most prominent examples.
Festivals and gigs to either raise funds for good causes or protest controversial political decisions are a frequent occurrence Down Under as well. You might recall the Fire Fight Australia from February 2020, staged after the horrific bushfires that had ravaged the country for a few weeks. But there have been many more notable instances in the past. Did you know that “the 1985 EAT (East African Tragedy) Concert was the precursor to the international Live Aid concert and similar events”?
Another part of the exhibition I thoroughly enjoyed was The Amplifier. It’s a sound-proof, square-shaped room where short movies are projected onto the surrounding walls. So you can sit in the middle and feel like you’re actually in the middle of the story you’re watching. I always wish I’d attended the Sunbury Festival in 1972. And I got a taste of what it was like in The Amplifier.
Even if you can’t travel to Melbourne or Oz right now, AMV has an awesome online presence as well, offering a wealth of resources for all sorts of audiences. I spent half a day going through their “Learn” section, for sure.
Music teachers will find entire lesson plans ready to go, with task suggestions and materials sourced specifically for the chosen topics, amongst them hip hop or music poster design. You can also accompany them by the “Sound Bites” segment that offers videos on jamming or music production presented by Aussie musos themselves. The art-pop singer Olympia teaches virtual songwriting, for instance.
Choirs can download music sheets for many Aussie anthems, like “Don’t Dream it’s Over” by Crowded House or Missy Higgins’ “Everyone’s Waiting”. And even if the song you’re after is not there, the AMV staff will arrange it for your group and send it through.
I dig people’s stories. So, one evening, I literally fell into the YouTube rabbit hole watching all the vids available on the Vault’s profile. You’ll hear not only musos there but other people that have something to say in the Aussie music industry. And the topics they cover will sound quite familiar, too. Like the “Banding Together” series that discusses the pandemic’s impact on the community.
The ARIA Hall of Fame is incorporated within AMV as well. Apart from the list of those honoured, updated annually, the Vault periodically presents profiles on some inductees. I remember having learned heaps about the country-legend Kasey Chambers during one of the visits in 2018.
A fun souvenir from the Vault is making your own mixtape. The way it works is pretty simple. You purchase a special card upon entry. And whilst you explore the exhibition, you can tap on the songs that spark your interest. When you leave, a personalised playlist is put together for you. You can get it emailed to you with the Spotify link. I still have my first one, and it always brings back good memories.
And since we’re on the topic, AMV has heaps of playlists for all occasions, like Family Jams, Footy Fever, First Nations or Festive vibes. Check out their Spotify profile below:
The Australian Music Vault is “an initiative of the Victorian Government’s Music Works strategy, delivered by Arts Centre Melbourne in partnership with the music industry“.
Address: 100 St Kilda Rd, Southbank VIC 3004, Australia
Opening hours: 10 am – 5 pm daily
COVID-19 protocols are in place (more info on their page)
Website: Australian Music Vault
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