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Federation Bells

Image of Federation Bells
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Booklet produced by Museum Victoria. Reproduced with permission.

The State Government of Victoria, through the Melbourne Festival, commissioned the Federation Bell project. The Victorian based Australian Bell Company won the contract to design and manufacture all three components of the Federation Bell project. Principals of the project were physicist and instrument maker, Dr Neil McLachlan and sculptor, Anton Hassell.

The Federation Bell commission had three components, these being;

1) The Field of Bells, a large scale sculptural installation at Birrarung Marr.

2) The Federation Handbells, the design and production of 2001 handbells to be used in a millenium performance.

3) Orchestral Chimes. A set of bells especially made for a performance produced by Constantine Koukas.

The handbells were produced as a legacy to the State to mark the Centenary of Federation and were used to perform massive celebratory works as part of the Federation festival.

Museum Victoria is working in partnership with with Arts Victoria to provide a storage and loan program for the bells.

What are they made of?

The bells are cast in silicon bronze and their design and pitch is unique. They range in size from 120mm high to 180mmhigh and have an average weight of 1kg.

How many are there?

There are 80 sets of Federation Handbells totalling 1920 individual bells. Each set covers two octaves and consists of 24 bells contained in four travelling crates. There are 320 crates in total. The total weight of all the bells is 5 tonnes. The total storage area the handbells cover laid flat is 640m2, or a volume of 18m3.

What is their tuning?

One set of bells covers 2 chromatic piano octaves from E to E.

Where are they located?

The bells are stored at Museum Victoria’s Moreland Annexe in Coburg.

How are they organised?

There are 24 bells in a set. Each set has 4 timber travelling crates of different sizes. The sets are divided into natural notes and sharp/flat notes.

Crate 1 has 7 bells
Crate 2 has 5 bells with an empty hole at the 4th hole. There is no bell meant to be in this hole.
Crate 3 has 7 bells.
Crate 4 has 5 bells with an empty hole at the 4th hole. There is no bell meant to be in this hole.

How much do they weigh and how big are the travelling crates?

Each set consists of four different sized crates

1440 x 178w x 280h (28kg)
1195 x 178w x 280h (21kg)
930 x 128w x 240h (13kg)
790 x 128w x 240h (11kg)

It is very important to carefully consider the weight and dimensions of the crates when planning your event. The larger crates are long and awkward to handle. To avoid back injuries, two people are required to lift them. Also, The crates are often too small to fit safely in smaller sedans.

How do we identify the bells?

Each crate is labelled on the outside with a number indicating the set. Inside the crate, each bell is engraved with a four digit number on the end of the handle. These numbers are also marked on the holes within the crates where the individual bells should be placed. The bells are also marked withtheir note. A list of allocated bells is sent with the loan agreement.

How can they be used?

It is intended that the bells be used for ceremonial and celebratory occasions throughout the State through loans to local government and other community organisations. They can be used with large and small groups.

What sort of groups use the bells?

Museum Victoria took possession of the Federation 2001 Handbells in late November 2001. Since then, they have been loaned out to a range of organisations including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, CERES Environment Park, Queensland Conservatorium of Music, St.AlbansSecondary , numerous primary schools, to name a few.

What is the procedure for loan of the Federation Handbells

1. Contact Helen Laffin, Federation Bells Project Officer hlaffin@museum.vic.gov.au or 93854227.

2. Information will be sent out to you by mail, email or fax

3. Contact Helen Laffin to make a booking with at least 2 weeks notice

4. Negotiate pick up and delivery of the bells to your venue. The Museum can organise a courier.

5. A Loan Agreement form must be filled out prior to the bells being delivered. All parties involved with the loan must be in agreement about the loan conditions.

6. When returning the bells please ensure that they are all returned into the right crate and position. They can only be picked up and returned on Thursdays.

How they will be transported?

It is preferred that the bells be couriered to their lenders. The Federation Bells program covers the cost of transport and insurance unless the loan agreement is with a for profit organisation. Clear addresses and contact names are required to make this a smooth process.

What is involved in setting them up?

The lids of the crates are unclipped and lifted off. The clips are on each side of the crate. The small crates can be carried by one person. The larger crates need two people. The bells can be either be played in the hand or after being positioned in the crates. The bells can be used by individuals playing single bells, by an individual playing the whole set like a xylophone or as individuals sharing the playing. The bells do not have internal clappers. They are played with mallets. There are racks that can be loaned to support the crates.

Who will set them up?

It is the responsibilty of people borrowing the bells to set them up.

Can they be played outdoors or indoors only?

The bells can be played outdoors or indoors.The main issue to consider is the safety and possible damage.

How are they played?

The bells are played by hitting the bell with a stick which is supplied with each bell.

How long can they be loaned?

The bells can be loaned for up to 3 months. Arrangements need to be made with the Federation Bells Project Officer and a loan agreement document needs to be completed. It a further loan is required, this will be negotiated with the Project Officer.


Museum Victoria covers the insurance for the bells.

How they should be returned?

The borrower can bring the bells back or arrange with the Museum an appropriate time for a courier to pick up the bells. Pick up and returns are only made on Thursdays. It is preferred that general inquiries regarding the bells be restricted to Thursdays. The bells should all be returned to the correct holes and crates. If damage has occurred to any crate or bell, this should be conveyed to the Project Officer.

Where can I get more information?

To find more information about the bells visit www.ausbell.com

Who do I contact to arrange a loan?

Contact the Federation Bells Project Officer, Helen Laffin on 03 9385 4227 or email hlaffin@museum.vic.gov.au
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Prepared by: Iain Mott
Created: 13 June 2003
Modified: 28 November 2003

Published by The University of Melbourne
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: i.mott@unimelb.edu.au
Prepared by: Acknowledgements
Updated: 18 January 2007

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