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  • Michelle Fincke

From two-room cottage to community hub: how the Footscray Mechanics' Institute blossomed

The Footscray Mechanics' Institute (FMI) is a local, independent, self-funded, self-help initiative. In 1857 the first FMI provided a library in a two room pre-fabricated iron cottage built in Bristol serving Footscray’s population of 3000.

In the 1880s FMI was given a crown grant of land in Nicholson Street and a wooden structure was erected. In 1913 through the generosity of local citizens the present building was built. The FMI at one stage housed the Footscray School of Design, instituted at the behest of the Commission for Promoting Technological and Industrial Instruction, with a large female student intake.

The FMI continued providing community facilities and amenities for games, educational programs and entertaining activities. Dances were held in the hall downstairs and suppers enjoyed by the revellers. The billiard club operated at a competitive level for many years producing many champions. The FMI management committees have on a voluntary basis over the years provided sound management and conservative investment keeping the institute a viable community entity.

Today the FMI is still in the business of providing community service with its well-appointed library, stylish reading room restored to its former glory and a large billiard room upstairs. All three spaces can also be used for large and small meetings by interested community groups of any bent. The FMI welcomes interested parties desirous of a space to celebrate a cause, discuss social issues, pursue a hobby or just meet with people who have a common interest. A small membership fee is all that is required to enjoy up to date facilities in an old world atmosphere the FMI still provides.

Robert Mackenzie has been a member of the FMIL committee of management for 10 years.

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