Freedom, fashion and forgotten stories

By Myron My

It’s hard to put into words the thoughts and feelings I had whilst experiencing Liberty of the Press. Even the venue for this concert/exhibition/fashion-runway/performance-based evening – the State Library of Victoria – was most unusual, yet fitting for a show like this.

Liberty of the Press

In this production inspired by the stunning “Press Dress” – an outfit constructed from panels of silk printed with the front pages of Melbourne newspapers – worn by Mrs Matilda Butters at the Mayor’s fancy dress ball in 1866, we were treated to a variety of sensory events presented within the confines of the library.

Beginning in the La Trobe Dome Reading Room, we witnessed some Chinese drumming which sent reverberations throughout your body and echoes all over the room. At one point four scrolls were thrown over the top floor railings with the last one reading “Liberty of the Press”. It had begun.

It is then you heard a distant beautiful operatic voice singing. It was hypnotic and I could have listened to it for much longer but as I was drawn towards it, I caught a glimpse of the Press Dress in the Queen’s Hall. All that’s left of the ornate costume is the dress, which now belongs in the State Library of Victoria’s Realia collection. Interestingly, little is known about the dress’ creator, Mrs William Dobbs, apart from the fact she lived in South Yarra.

Following this was a catwalk showing of some eye-catching fashion inspired by the dress from designers New Model Beauty Queen and Preston Zly. This was accompanied by a traditional Chinese performance with Chinese Dragons, which led us to the State Library Forecourt where the two worlds came together in a spectacular conclusion.

Created by Barking Spider Visual Theatre, Liberty of the Press was performed as part of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, and acknowledged the lesser-known history of women from the past and the 40, 000 Chinese who arrived to Victoria during the Gold Rush.

There’s not much else to say about this except it was simply a visual and aural feast of fashion, design, performance and music that took place on September 4, 2014.