The Melbourne Exhibition Building as it was known at first (The Royal Exhibition Building in 1980) was constructed for the International Exhibition of 1880. The existing structure with the magnificent dome that was modelled on that of Brunelleschi’s Florence Cathedral and the complementary gardens are all that remains of what was once a complex of temporary structures occupying almost half the Carlton Gardens that stretched almost all the way to Carlton Street.
Apart from the 1880 International Exhibition, the REB also staged the 1888 Centennial Exhibition and since then, it has continued to stage numerous trade exhibitions. The opening of the first Federal Parliament of Australia in 1901 by the Duke of York in the Exhibition Building was an unforgettable event for both the REB and Australia. To help celebrate that event, the building was festooned with over 10,000 electric light globes. After this event the Federal Parliament sat in Victoria’s Parliament House and the State Parliament was moved to REB’s Western Annexe and remained there until 1927.
The EasternAnnexe had housed a ballroom, a war museum and an aquarium. Between the annexes there were temporary buildings for exhibitions, later a velodrome and oval and then army barracks for WWII that were later re-used as a migrant camp as well. In 1956, the Stadium Annexe was constructed for the Melbourne Olympic Games to stage the weightlifting and wrestling events. Other than the trade shows, the main building was also a hospital during the 1919 Influenza Epidemic and hosted high school and university exams until it was restored in the 1990s, replicating the interior colour scheme that was there for the 1901 opening of Federal Parliament. The Carlton Gardens on the north and south of the main building with their tree-lined avenues leading to the REB were designed to complement it and include the feature Hochgurtel Fountain at the southern central entrance.
In 2004 The Royal Exhibition Building was the first building in Australia to be given Word Heritage listing by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, a fitting listing given its iconic landmark status in Melbourne.