Exhibition: 150 years of the GSV

Beneath Our Feet exhibition

The Geological Survey of Victoria celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2002. In order to celebrate the occasion, an exhibition highlighting the history of the Geological Survey was staged at the Melbourne Museum between May and October 2002.

The economic, social and political needs of our state have changed dramatically throughout the past 150 years, and like other public organisations, the Geological Survey has had to continuously adapt in order to meet public needs and expectations. The objects and maps in this exhibition are an important part of Victoria’s heritage - they trace the evolution of the Geological Survey as an organisation, and provide a unique perspective on the development of Victoria’s society.

The exhibit was organised into eight broad themes that define the chronological evolution of the Geological Survey and important periods in the history of Victoria:

  • The early years: These early geological surveys of Victoria, including Victoria’s first geological map, reflect a focus on recording details of the first goldfields and of providing building resources for emerging towns. Many of these maps are hand-drawn and coloured, and are as much works of art as they are scientific documents.
  • Gold fever: These geological surveys and mine surveyor plans highlight the importance of the search for gold during the early years of Victoria’s settlement. They not only record the sites of gold discoveries, but also the continuing development of scientific thinking about how and where to explore for gold, and the many problems and limitations associated with early mining techniques. They also record the growth of Victorian towns in response to major gold occurrences.
  • Hard times: By the 1880s interest in gold declined and the State plunged into economic depression. In response to this, government geological activity took on a broader focus in an attempt to spark a new mineral boom. Geological surveys became explorations for discovering what the state had to offer.
  • Off the beaten track: Maps of this era reflect a curiosity about the rocks of eastern Victoria, which, until government-funded track cutting, had been relatively inaccessible due to rugged topography and dense bushland. Discoveries of gold, tin and coal, it was hoped, would reinvigorate Victoria’s mineral industry.
  • Coal - Powering victoria: As the population of Victoria expanded, so too did the need for coal for energy. Early geological maps record the first coal discoveries, including that which lead to the mining of coal in the Latrobe Valley. Coal from this area continues to provide us with electricity today.
  • Oil and gas - A period of expansion: Geological maps of this period demonstrate a variety of specialized roles undertaken by the Geological Survey in response to the boom period following World War II. Deep drilling by the Geological Survey initiated exploration for the oil and gas we continue to extract from Bass Strait. Maps indicate the importance of water for increasing agricultural demand, and detailed geological maps of urban areas help to site major construction projects.
  • Changing ideas: Geology is an ever-evolving science. Maps of this era show the incorporation of new scientific ideas into the geological interpretation of regions that may have been previously mapped. They also record the way in which the Geological Survey embraced new technologies for collecting and interpreting information. This helped to produce detailed geological maps that included additional data in order to tell a more complete story.
  • New horizons: The Geological Survey now prides itself on being a leader in geological research. Current projects incorporate a wide variety of technologies and data sets in new and innovative ways to understand the rocks beneath our feet. Our future vision is to serve the needs of Victorians by continuing this work.

More information

You can learn more about the exhibition on the free CD:

Page last updated: 03 Oct 2023