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Reform, Charity & Philanthropy

Melbourne's social reform tradition distinguishes it among Australian cities. The range and influence of the city's reform network was extensive, and demonstrated complex inter-linkages between universities, bureaucracies, commerce, philanthropy, the labour movement, religion and the arts. The foundation of this reform tradition was the wealth and energy of the gold rush era especially the social and moral earnestness of Melbourne's professional and commercial middle class, a skilled and articulate workforce and the city's established educational and cultural institutions. Philanthropy has always been more prominent in Melbourne than in any other Australian city, although the way in which it has been understood has changed significantly over time. In the 19th century the term was used interchangeably with 'charity' to describe activities which were simultaneously central to the relief of poverty, the performance of class and the affirmation of respectability in the new colony. Imported from Britain, it was a product of a class-divided society, and was justified by religious injunctions to care for the less fortunate.