While most of Melbourne is in lockdown, MacKillop Family Services (MacKillop) is throwing open its (virtual) doors to take part in this year's ground-breaking Open House Melbourne digital program.

The 2020 Open House program has adapted to become an online event where visitors can access many unique and significant buildings throughout the city via digital platforms. The event will present the largest collection of virtual tours in Australia, enabling people to access over 50 buildings without having to leave home.

MacKillop’s head office in South Melbourne was Victoria’s first purpose-built Catholic orphanage and is one of the oldest former orphanages still standing in Australia today. The Italianate building dates back to the 1850s and, on Open House Melbourne weekend, it will be the star of a virtual tour where visitors can go back in time, accessing videos, pictures and stories of the building to discover its architectural history and how its use has changed over the years.

The building’s rich history includes an account that is topical for today of how the orphanage, formerly St Vincent’s Boys Home, coped with the outbreak of the Spanish flu pandemic which first occurred among the boys in January 1919. 176 of the 200 boys contracted the disease and although some were gravely ill, none lost their lives thanks to nurses who arrived to care for the boys and the Red Cross who helped provide supplies. The wider community of Melbourne also rallied around the boys, raising donations to help fight the pandemic.

In another first for Open House Melbourne 2020, a series of digital live events will take place over the weekend of 25 and 26 July. MacKillop will host two live online Q&A sessions over Zoom:

  • On Sunday 26 July at 11am, John Ellis will share his childhood experiences of growing up in the orphanage in the early 1950s; and
  • On Saturday 25 July at 11am, Tayla Ayliffe will talk about her more recent experience growing up in out of home care.

Sam Patterson, MacKillop’s Director of Community Engagement will host the Q&A sessions and is looking forward to bringing this year’s Open House experience to a wider audience. “We’ve had increasing numbers of visitors since first taking part in Open House Melbourne in 2018, he said. “Some people come to the building to learn about the architecture, but there’s also a great deal of interest in our Heritage Centre, which tells the story of the people who lived in this building during their childhood. The tour also provides a fascinating insight into Victoria’s social history.”

“We are delighted that this year, the virtual tour will allow people who live outside Melbourne to learn the history of our building. It’s particularly relevant to those who have a connection with 237 Cecil Street and now live interstate or overseas. Our staff in New South Wales, Western Australia and country Victoria will also get to be part of this year’s tour and by clicking on icons within a map of the building, people can view videos, photographs and stories of more than 160 years of history.”

Open House Melbourne Live Events take place on the weekend of 25 and 26 July with virtual tours going live online from Thursday 16 July.

“Every year, the most popular part of the tour is when visitors get to meet some of the former residents who join us for Open House, so it’s great that the Q&A sessions will keep this tradition with our Zoom chat to John Ellis, who came to live at St Vincent’s Orphanage in 1948 when he was just eight years old. Tayla is an inspirational young woman and her Zoom Q&A will give an insight to the challenges she has faced and overcome during and after her time in out of home care,” Sam added.

Skip the queues this year and take part in MacKillop’s online Open House Melbourne tour.