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Melbourne's GPO


Melbourne's GPO, Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC, Australia


Exterior – Free to view

Interior – Home to retail businesses, subject to opening hours

Architectural History

The vast scale of this Post Office was unprecedented, even in Britain. This is further enhanced by the architectural grandeur of the building in which a unified system of trabeated orders of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns and pilasters have been placed over the facade of the structure. Originally customers of the post office were served via openings out onto the Elizabeth Street colonnade with its classic arches. The interior of the building was essentially office and mail sorting space. In 1887, a third level was added along with the famous clock tower, which quickly became a city landmark. In one of his first Australian projects, US architect Walter Burley Griffin worked on a redesign of the building. This was finished in 1919, and the sorting hall was opened to the public for the first time. The Building, including the interior, retain a strong sense of the original building despite later remodelling.

Social History

Melbourne’s first GPO was one of the most important buildings in Victoria. It represents the vital role played by postal communications in the early development of the colony by maintaining a vital link between Britain and Europe. It became the focus of a series of postal networks that operated amongst the dispersed population of Victoria. The building has become a landmark which has provided a focus and a rallying point for various meetings and demonstrations over the years. Road distances from Melbourne are measured in kilometres from Melbourne’s GPO, so it is, in essence, the heart of Melbourne.

Prompts & Activities

  • Why do you think the architect used Greek influences in this building? How does it relate to its purpose, and the people who would have occupied it?

  • In comparison, how is it used today, and is this thinking still relevant? Or does the modern use of the building subvert its history?

  • How many of the mentioned Greek architectural elements can you see? Can you count columns or other design features? Which types of columns are used, and why do you think this is?

  • With booming populations causing congestion at the GPO, the Former Mail Exchange was built. Are there any links between the two buildings? What is the same, what is different?

  • What is your favourite element of this building? Does it have interesting ornamentation? What part does this element play in the overall design of the building, and why might it have been included? You might like to draw your favourite components! Observational sketching is a great way to get a deeper understanding of something.

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