Dream Factory celebrates Fishermans Bend heritage

By Steven Nguyen

From Aussie classics to contemporary concept cars, a new exhibition at Melbourne Town Hall’s City Gallery is taking a tour through almost 60 years of design to showcase the world of General Motors Holden (GMH) in Fishermans Bend.

Running until August 31, Dream Factory celebrates one of Australia’s most important industrial design studios, the Technical Centre at Fishermans Bend, with rarely seen drawings, models, photographs, film and memories from key designers.

Opened in 1964 and scarcely known outside the world of GMH, the Technical Centre was a powerhouse of design and one of the most successful industrial design studios in Australia. 

The drawings on display represent the work of nine designers spanning more than 50 years. Accompanied by quotations about style, technique and intent, the exhibition explores the activity of design and Australia’s industrial design history.  

The Fishermans Bend studio is emblematic of the area’s strong history of research, design and technical innovation, determining what came off the production lines in Melbourne and other GMH production centres in Australia.  

It was one of only three GM design centres in the world, the other two located in Detroit, the home of GM and in Rüsselsheim am Main in Germany. 

The launch of the Technical Centre in June 1964 coincided with the opening in Germany.  On launch day, the public was allowed to visit the buildings, to walk freely among its exhibits, then from that day on, the studios were forever closed to the public.

The exhibition’s current day relevance is brought into sharp focus with the state government’s ongoing urban renewal efforts in Fishermans Bend, as it seeks to transform the precinct into a new mixed-use area for 80,000 residents and 80,000 workers by 2050.

Central to those efforts has been the acquisition of the former GMH site, which will sit in the middle of a new employment and innovation precinct and include space for the University of Melbourne and businesses focused on advanced manufacturing and design.

The Technical Centre was an integral part of Australia’s booming post-war manufacturing sector, demanding new plants, specialised facilities and head offices, offering unique insights and lessons for the future of Fishermans Bend.

According to historian Harriet Edquist, Melbourne based architects Stephenson & Turner were commissioned to design the Technical Centre in their “well-tuned idiom of rationalist modernism”. 

Some of GMH’s most significant and recognised cars are represented – the HK and HQ Monaro (Wheels magazine’s Car of the Year in 1968), the LC and LJ Torana, the Statesman, the VN and VT Commodore, the Bathurst TR-X Torana and the eye-catching Hurricane concept car, on display as a scale model (on loan from the GMH).

Dream Factory also features a commissioned work by ceramicist Jia Jia Chen, Dream my Monaro. The scale model is both a homage to those who lovingly embellish their cars, and an envisioning of Jia Jia’s own “dream machine” fabrication. 

Plans for the building and interior artwork are also on display. 

Dream Factory is a free exhibition running until August 31 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm •

For more information: melbourne.vic.gov.au/citygallery

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