Jet Set Melbourne

TAA aircraft flying over MelbourneA new exhibition at Melbourne Town Hall’s City Gallery looks at how the Tullamarine Airport opened up Melbourne to the world.

Curated by historian Simon Gregg, Jet Set Melbourne takes us back to the early seventies when the Tullamarine airport allowed the first international jets to land in Melbourne.

In the years leading up to the 1970 opening of Melbourne Airport at Tullamarine, the city evolved radically. The slow unfurling of Melbourne’s wings forced its residents to rethink themselves and their city alike—with sometimes unexpected results. Jet Set Melbourne follows this sometimes difficult transition, reliving the glitz and glamour, but also remembering what was left behind.

The exhibition revisits the era through a range of objects, photographs, moving image and contemporary art. The stories of high life and decadence, of the flurry of building activity, contrast with the human cost of Melbourne’s radical ‘expand at all costs’ program.

The stunning Southern Cross Hotel, billed as the ‘Hotel of New Horizons’, rose from the ruins of Melbourne’s Eastern Market. The monolithic TAA Centre Tower dwarfed the nineteenth century buildings at its feet. The construction of Tullamarine Freeway saw homes bulldozed in the name of progress. Fifty years on Jet Set Melbourne looks back at a time when Melbourne’s past and future overlapped, and the city announced to the world: it had arrived!

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said Melbourne Airport was officially opened in 1970 after being constructed on 5000 acres of farmland which the then Prime Minister Gorton described as ‘nothing but a sea of mud and a rather bleak and repellent cold rural scene.’

“That year, 1970, was a significant one in Australia’s history: we also celebrated 50 years of civil aviation and the 50th birthday of QANTAS,” the Lord Mayor said.

“Melbourne Airport, or Tulla as it’s known to locals, serviced 155,000 international passengers in its first year. Last year that figure ballooned to 30 million and Melbourne to Sydney is the fifth busiest route in the world.

“Thanks to the progressive and imaginative thinking of those who planned Melbourne Airport, it has become a significant addition to the aviation maps of the world.”

Simon Gregg, historian and curator of Jet Set Melbourne, said the Tullamarine airport gave Melbourne a new set of lungs.

“The opening of Tullamarine signifies a time in Melbourne when the past and future overlapped. It permitted the hopes and dreams of Melburnians to take flight, giving them a sense of connectedness to the rest of the world,” said Mr Gregg.

“The Jet Set gave us newfound exposure to international travel and reinvented Melbourne as a sophisticated metropolis.”

Simon Gregg is a multi-faceted curator whose interests are wider and deeper than he cares to mention. Previously the Senior Curator of Melbourne’s City Museum at Old Treasury, Simon is currently Curator at the Gippsland Art Gallery in regional Victoria. He is the author of two books of Australian art history.

Jet Set Melbourne
City Gallery – Melbourne Town Hall, Swanston Street, Melbourne
Exhibition: 20 February – 20 April 2014
Free entry

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Image: TAA Annual Report; 1965-66 front cover image, 1965  – courtesy of State Library of Victoria