Getting a Library for Mordialloc

Cr Shirley Burke, Mayor of Mordialloc, with Vida Horn, librarian, at the official opening of the Library in the old Lincoln Mills building in Parkers Road, Parkdale. 1963. Courtesy Doreen Bryant.

Before 1959, the City of Moorabbin had a free library and in that year some people in the City of Mordialloc thought it time for them to have a similar facility. While there was some agreement amongst the decision makers of the municipality on this need there was no unanimity amongst them as to where such a facility should be located. This lack of agreement meant that the realisation of the ‘library vision’ was delayed for several years in reaching fruition.

A meeting of teachers and other people held in a private home in Sea Parade, Mentone, in March 1959 decided to approach the Mordialloc Council with a request to establish a public library in the municipality. Teachers said they found a noticeable lack of general knowledge among pupils in a municipality where no free library existed. They stressed students derived great benefit from municipal libraries. [1]

The Free Library Service Board of Victoria, a government instrumentality, provided information for the meeting, and pointed out that subsidies were available for approved libraries. These subsidies went towards annual costs on a £ for £ basis but were only accessible to libraries owned and operated by municipal councils. The Board also pointed out that every library established since the formation of the Board in 1946 had been successful. This they attributed to several factors; the buildings were bright and modern, continuity of income was assured, they were managed by professional librarians, they catered for every kind of person, they provided an information centre for the district and they were free to anyone living or working in the municipality.

On the motion of Cr Shirley Burke the council, unanimously responding to the prompting of the Sea Parade meeting, decided to approach the Free Library Service Board of Victoria for advice on costs and procedures in establishing a free public library. Cr Stan Hawken suggested the council should also find out how other municipalities with free libraries were faring. [2]

A public meeting held in the City Hall, Mentone, attended by representatives from a large number of community groups and schools formed a Library Committee to promote the cause. [3] Prudence Lewty, headmistress of Mentone Girls’ Grammar School, was elected chairperson of the committee with John Anwyl and Joan Bailey as secretaries. John Anwyl told the meeting that the council was now the owner of the former Lincoln Mills property in Parkers Road, Parkdale and he believed it would be a suitable temporary library. [4] The committee resolved to ask the council to establish a library “as soon as possible"

The Council at its meeting refused to commit itself to establishing a library despite the arguments put forward by Cr Shirley Burke. Cr Thomson was supported in his view that the council should wait until the result of the survey conducted by the Library Service Board was known. Cr Burke wanted to give some encouragement to the library committee and pointed out it was possible to appoint two librarians immediately, even before the survey results were known. After all, she reminded her colleagues, this was what was done in the City of Moorabbin. But she failed to convince them. The mayor, Cr Gertrude McKenzie, thought all councillors would support the notion of a library, but ‘It’s a matter of finance," she said. [5]

The library committee then set about generating interest in a library project amongst citizens by providing information in the local paper and inviting guest speakers to public meetings. John Martin of the South Melbourne Municipal Library told his audience that the ‘wit and wisdom of the ages had always been stored in libraries’ and he doubted whether our civilisation would survive without access to the knowledge stored in books. In answer to a question about the impact of television on the borrowing of books he informed his listeners that, “TV affects borrowing for only a short time. People begin to read again within a year or so." [6]

At the beginning of 1960, the Library Service Board of Victoria revealed its recommendations to the Mordialloc Council on the establishment of a free municipal library. It strongly recommended that the first library in the City of Mordialloc should be located in three rooms in the Lincoln Mills building in Parkers Road, Parkdale, a building recently purchased by the council. In the opinion of the Board this former factory was ideal for conversion into a library. In reaching this conclusion the Board said it had two major considerations. One was that the site of the library should be as central as possible for the majority of people in the whole municipality. And the second concern was the availability of a council-owned building which could be converted for use as a library. This second consideration was raised because the Library Board did not subsidize the capital cost of new buildings but was prepared to subside the cost of renovation of an existing building.

Neither Mentone nor Mordialloc were considered central although ultimately, it was noted, they might deserve their own libraries. The board also took into account the location of a library at Cheltenham which was available to those people living in the Mentone area of the municipality. They also saw the possibility of a joint library plan between the cities of Mordialloc and Moorabbin. The aim would be to have a single comprehensive collection accessible to borrowers in both municipalities and thus provide access to more books than they could purchase individually.

The Parkers Road library, it was suggested, should be equipped to shelve 10,000 books at all times with separate sections for adults and children, as well as reference and teenage areas. There should be areas for quiet reading and study. The Board continued their recommendations with the comment that should this part of the Lincoln Mills building not be available the council should find an alternative site at Parkdale close to the shopping centre and the railway station. Any new building would need to be between 20 and 25 squares in size and would cost approximately £10,000. [7]

The recommendations of the Library Board were not universally welcomed. Mr Dowsett of Mentone in a letter to the local paper argued there was no need for a new library. An efficient public library had existed in Mentone for over thirty years, and besides, he claimed, fewer people were using libraries because of the increasing availability of television. [8] The joint secretaries of the library committee responding to Mr Dowsett’s letter disputing the information he gave and pointing out the library they were advocating differed from the Mentone library in that trained librarians would manage it, a range of reading materials including non fiction and children’s sections would be offered as well as an information service. [9]

A further blow to the Parkdale recommendation was when the City of Mordialloc councillors voted to site the first free municipal library on land that was still to be purchased at One McDonald Street Mordialloc. Cr Shirley Burke and Cr Spooner were the two councillors out of a total of eight who disagreed with this decision. Cr Greaves argued the Free Library Service Board made its recommendations without full knowledge of the local situation, and he, together with some of his council colleagues, had in mind that the library at Mordialloc would only be the first in the municipality. He claimed a second library was envisaged for Mentone and this would make a Parkdale operation unnecessary. The belief was that this second library would be built almost simultaneously with the Mordialloc project, at the time when the municipal offices at Mentone were being renovated. [10] Cr Shirley Burke was angry at this suggestion, which she labelled “a deliberate lie". Nobody would believe it, she suggested, as for years council has been saying it was too poor to afford one library and now it has to find money for two! [11]

The technical officer of the Library Service Board, Mr Barrett Reid, advised that the McDonald Street site in Mordialloc would not attract a subsidy from the Board whereas the Lincoln Mills site would. As the Parkdale factory site was much closer to the geographical centre of the municipality and involved a renovation the board would pay a £2,000 subsidy in any one year for alterations [12]

The Parkdale Advancement Association condemned the council’s decision to build the library at 1 McDonald Street and joined in a subsequent public meeting. At the meeting it was revealed that a deposit of £600 had been paid by the council for the Mordialloc land that had formerly been owned by the Methodist Church, but at the time of the meeting was being used as a wood yard. £3000 had been placed on council estimates to complete the purchase. [13]

At its meeting in November 1960, and after an exhausting debate, the decision of the Mordialloc Council was to maintain its stance that the first free municipal library should be built at Mordialloc. Although two new councillors elected in August supported the Parkdale proposal the number of councillors who supported the Mordialloc option still constituted the majority. As a consequence the Council requested the Free Library Service Board to grant it a subsidy to allow it to open a library at Mordialloc at the end of 1961 or early in the following year. [14]

A letter received from the Library Service Board in March was openly discussed at a public council meeting in May. In it the Board reiterated its recommendation of the Parker Road site and its rejection of the council’s advocacy of the McDonald Street location as being flawed. The letter also cautioned against the suggestion that two libraries could be developed within two years. Such a proposal, if implemented, would result in a dearth of books on the shelves, and overworked staff struggling to handle the circulation load and a public demanding an immediate purchase of more book stock, it was claimed. A disappointing note in the letter was that the Board was unable to provide the expected subsidy until the next financial year as their funds had been exhausted because of the number of councils seeking support. Priority had been given to those councils who had already established library services or had commenced to do so. [15]

Councillor Burke aggressively pursued her goal of obtaining a free municipal library in Parkdale. She accused her fellow councillors of acting irresponsibly as they thwarted her achieving her goal. She disagreed with the plan proposed by some councillors that the former Lincoln Mills factory in Parkers Road should be converted into a 500 seat capacity hall for use by the community. It would be a white elephant she claimed. [16] Cr Cliff Sambell’s view was that there was a need for a decent sized hall in Parkdale and he felt that movie pictures would make a comeback, and if so the council would have a theatre ready to go. If there was to be a library in Parkdale he thought it was best placed on the eastern side of Nepean Highway. [17]

Some months later Cr Sambell proposed that the site of the Parkdale Library be in the Parkdale Recreation Reserve facing towards Chandler Street. While some distance from the railway station, the location recommended for the building by the Library Service Board, there was a bus service passing by and it was not far from the shopping centres in Brownfield Street and Mentone Thrift Park. [18]

Despite being repeatedly told that the site at Mordialloc was unsuitable the Council persisted in trying to change the view of the Library Services Board. Plans submitted by Council were rejected as being unsatisfactory and when they asked the Board what alterations were needed to conform to Board requirements they were informed there was not much point in elucidating necessary changes when the Council persisted with the plan to erect the municipality’s first free library on an unsuitable site. [19]

Some people becoming impatient at the lack of progress in establishing the library aired their frustration by writing to the local paper. Mrs Nottle asked whether five of the city’s councillors were stalling so that the library could be linked to the proposed new municipal offices at Mentone in two years time. She wondered whether the heads of the five councillors were as empty as the Parkdale Hall. In her view the old Lincoln Mills building, renamed the Parkdale Hall, would only require internal alternations to make it a suitable venue for a library. Mr Bonser, the secretary of the Mentone ALP, wrote strongly supporting the recommendation of the free Library Service Board that the library be established on the Parkdale site and wanted the council to treat it as a matter of urgency. [20]

In contrast Mrs McAuley of Mordialloc wrote in support of Cr Arthur Burke’s stand that the municipality could not afford a library in the light of the enormous amount of money that was required to fund public works. A library in her view was “an expensive luxury". [21]

The original local library committee formed in 1959 under the chairmanship of Miss Lewty and representing more than 50 local groups called a public meeting where it was concluded that the Parkdale site offered the speediest and cheapest library service to ratepayers and would gain the approval and financial support of the Free Library Service Board. Several councillors and aspirants for council seats attended the meeting and expressed their support for the Parkdale option. Cr Spooner said that council’s actions over the past year had been “positively negative". Nothing had been achieved. He was looking forward to change. [22]

Change came with the election of the new council in September 1961. With the election of a new council the balance of power changed in favour of the pro Parkdale group. The Mayor, Cr Shirley Burke, backed by Crs Beesley, Shaw, Spooner, and Ward called a special meeting of council with the intention of rescinding all previous resolutions relating to the establishment of the first free municipal library at Mordialloc. This was done despite the argument of Cr Denyer that this action was short sighted. He, together with Crs McLean, Arthur Burke and Sambell, voted against the motion. Cr Spooner then moved a motion that all previous resolutions relating to the use of the Parkdale Hall be rescinded. This was followed by a motion moved by Cr Shaw seconded by Cr Beesley, that the first library in the City of Mordialloc be established in the Parkers Road Hall as recommended by the Free Library Service Board. On its acceptance by the majority of councillors other decisions were made. Peter Burns of Kew was appointed as architect for the re-modelling of the Parkdale Hall with the direction to include a library, and a public hall with facilities to accommodate approximately 250 persons. Seventeen thousand and fifty pounds was assigned to finance the enterprise [23]

At a meeting two months later, on the recommendation of the finance and administration committee, council resolved to spend £27,605 on the Parkers Road building. Cr Denyer protested against the recommendation as the original proposal had been to spend £17,500 but the mayor (Cr Shirley Burke) pointed out that the total cost for the entire project would be about £60,000. Cr McLean thought this sum was excessive for an old building. The mayor responded with the comment that a new building, excluding the cost of land would have been £65,000 so the ratepayers and council were getting good value. [24]

Mrs Perlez one of the original ‘instigators’ of the library receives her first book watched by Cr Shirley Burke 1962. Courtesy Leader Collection.

The first free municipal library in the City of Mordialloc was opened in the former Lincoln Mills building in Parkers Road, Parkdale in August 1962. Mrs Perlez one of the original ‘instigators’ for a library was the first borrower. Vida Horn from the Footscray Library was appointed as the Chief Librarian. Almost fourteen years later the building so many people had worked so hard to gain was deemed inadequate. It was too small. On November 5, 1976 the council purchased from K & E Rogers Pty Ltd the menswear factory in Parkers Road, Parkdale, with the intention of moving the operation of the municipal library there

K & E Rogers Pty Ltd, factory in Parkers Road. Courtesy Kingston Collection.

The new building, only a short distance from the existing library, was purchased for $113,000 prior to it being offered for auction. With its purchase the space available to the library was almost doubled. The new factory was about 5400 sq ft in size compared to the ‘old’ building of 2300 sq. ft. Renovations which included lighting, lowered ceilings and improvement to walls and floors, were expected to cost about $50,000. The Australian Government Grants Commission and the council financed the project. [25]

Interior of Roger David’s factory. Courtesy Kingston Collection.

The mayor, Cr Michael Buxton, saw this new development as meeting the council’s desire to provide a suitably sized library with the capacity to act as a modern resource centre. There was the potential for increasing the range of services, he claimed. Audio visual materials could be borrowed, the children’s library expanded and quiet study areas provided. He saw the possibility of the new library becoming an important centre for the local community and more than just a place for a brief visit to borrow books.

Some time prior to the decision to purchase the Roger David factory councillors had viewed the library at Parkdale as inadequate in size and cost estimates had been obtained for establishing a central library in Mentone. The site of Woolworths on the corner of Brindisi Street and Mentone Parade opposite the council offices had been looked upon favourably. But the expenditure for such a project, estimated at between $700,000 and $1,000,000 was accepted as being prohibitive. The Roger David project was a win financially but in addition it meant the freeing up of space at the old library site of Parkers Road, (renamed the Shirley Burke Hall) to other community uses. [26] At the time it was anticipated that the new ‘modern community resource centre’ would open in July 1976 at an expected cost of about $265,000. Funding of $110,000 was gained through the sale of council property and from a grant from the Australian Grants Commission. The balance of the required funds was met by a loan taken up by council. [27]

Cr Pearson said the main problem for the architect planning the renovation was to disguise the fact that the building was once used as a factory. The councillor revealed that a covered walkway along the complete length of one side would be a major feature while inside the building the fluted curved ceiling panels suspended at different levels will help make the building a show piece, he said. Land adjacent to the library was to be maintained as parkland giving the building a rustic feature in its design while providing a passive recreation area. [28]

Municipal Library Parkers Road, Parkdale, 1982. Courtesy Leader Collection.

The covered walkway and the adjacent passive area remain with the Parkers Road building which continues to serve as a major branch in the network of libraries in the enlarged municipality called Kingston. While there are eight libraries in the city that was created in 1994, similar facilities have never been established at Mentone or Mordialloc, the sites in the debates of the sixties.

Interior of Parkdale Library 2004. Courtesy Kingston Collection.


  1. Mordialloc City News, March 12, 1959.
  2. Mordialloc City News, April 2, 1959.
  3. Representatives attended from Mordialloc High School, Mentone Art Group, St Brigid’s School Auxiliary, Mentone Primary School Committee, Mordialloc Apex Club , St Patrick’s School, Mentone Boys’ Grammar School and Mothers’ Club , Mentone Primary School Mothers’ Club, Mordialloc ALP, Parkdale Women’s Club, Parkdale Pre School Centre, Mordialloc Philharmonic Society, Mentone ALP, Mentone Girls’ Grammar School and Mentone Girls’ High School.
  4. Mordialloc City News, May 14, 1959.
  5. Mordialloc City News, May 28, 1959.
  6. Mordialloc City News, Thursday, June 18, 1959.
  7. Mordialloc City News, January 14, 1960.
  8. Mordialloc City News, February 4, 1960.
  9. Mordialloc City News, February 11, 1960.
  10. Mordialloc City News, August 4, 1960.
  11. Mordialloc City News, August 4, 1960.
  12. Mordialloc City News, October 13, 1960.
  13. Mordialloc City News, November 10, 1960.
  14. Mordialloc City News, January 19, 1961.
  15. Mordialloc City News, May 4, 1961.
  16. Mordialloc City News, January 19, 1961 The Parkers Road property was purchased from Lincoln Mills (Australia) Limited on September 2, 1959.
  17. Mordialloc City News, November 17, 1960.
  18. Mordialloc City News, June 29, 1961.
  19. Mordialloc City News, July 13, 1961.
  20. Mordialloc City News, August 3, 1961.
  21. Mordialloc City News, August 24, 1961.
  22. Mordialloc City News, August 24, 1961.
  23. Mordialloc City News, September 14, 1961.
  24. Mordialloc City News, November 9, 1961.
  25. Mordialloc Chelsea News, November 5, 1975.
  26. Mordialloc Chelsea News, November 5, 1975.
  27. Mordialloc Chelsea News, March 3, 1976.
  28. Mordialloc Chelsea News, March 3, 1976.
27 June 2018
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