The National Library magazine. June 2010. National Library of Australia

August 10, 2010

The cover and first major article of this magazine are concerned with ‘the Dunera boys‘, men and boys transported from Britain to Australia during the second World War as enemy aliens.  Although many of them were Jewish or of Jewish descent, British politics from May 1940 onwards treated them as potential fifth columnists and, as such, potential threats to British security.  While the majority of internees of this category were interned in Britain, a proportion were sent to the dominions.  Four ships were sent to Canada, with one being sunk on the way, and a fifth, the Dunera, sailed for Australia with approximately 2,500 passengers.  On arrival in Australia they were interned in Tatura in Victoria and Hay in New South Wales.  Most were released by early 1942, but about one quarter remained in Australia as migrants.  The National Library has an exhibition dedicated to these men and their experiences, including diaries, art works, photographs, oral histories and objects.  The article about the ‘boys’ and the exhibition is written by Dr Susannah Helman, who co-curated the exhibition.

However, the majority of the magazine is taken up with articles about art, drawing and design.

Timothy Roberts analyses the history of Joseph Backler’s View of Brisbane, an 1866 panoramic painting in the Rex and Nan Kivell collection at the library, in ‘Picturing Progress’.  Backler had been transported in 1832 for forging orders, and on receiving his ticket of leave in 1842, commenced work as a travelling artist.  He arrived in Queensland in 1863.  The panorama is taken from Blakeney’s Hill in South Brisbane, an unusual vantage point for the period.  It includes a prescient vision of the Brisbane, later Victoria, bridge which was in the process of being planned at the time of the painting.  The Library also holds the plans of the bridge.

‘Charles Scrivener: the surveyor as town planner’, by Greg Woods, takes us from panoramas of cities to town planning.  Scrivener  (a great name!) was ‘highly influential in deciding the site for Australia’s national capital, [but] did not see eye to eye at all with Walter Burley Griffin.’  As Woods identifies, Scrivener had been the surveyor who had identified the original site for Canberra, and it was he who defined the boundaries for the new Australian Capital Territory.  It was Scrivener’s base plan that was given to the contestants in the Canberra design competition, as the template on which their plans could be developed.  The Library holds copies of these plans, and the report and exhibits from the 1916 Royal Commission into the delayed development of Canberra, which clearly reveal Scrivener’s influence and aspirations.

The National Library’s collection is nothing if not eclectic, as is amply demonstrated by the article by Ian Warden on the Library’s medal collection, ‘Medals, suffragettes and swimmers’.  In this article, he traces the history of the Library’s Albert Medal, presented to Aboriginal man Neighbour (Mallyalega) in 1911, and possibly used as a form of character witness during Neighbour’s 1915 murder trial.  Warden identifies two types of medals in the collection – awarded, of which Neighbour’s medal is an example, and commemorative medals.  Commemorative medals include the Cessation of Transportation medal struck in 1853 to mark the ending of convict transportation to Tasmania and  the Lusitania medal, struck by the Germans to demonstrate her role as a warship following the sinking in 1915.  Warden closes with a description of the suffragette medal awarded to Letitia Withall for valour by the suffragette movement, and found within the papers of Australian female activist Bessie Rischbieth.  Letitia was awarded the medal for having been force-fed while on a hunger strike.

Medals and suffragettes give way to fairies and magic in the next two articles – ‘The beautiful, the beguiling and the bizarre’ by Stephanie Owen Reeder, and ‘Be the life of the party, learn a few magic tricks’ by Philip O’Brien.  Owen Reeder looks at the history of fairytale books and their illustrations, and determines that the ‘heyday in Australian children’s books was definitely the early twentieth century…’  The style was ‘often sentimental and cloying, but the illustrations… were delightfully varied.’  O’Brien looks through catalogues for magic shops and magic apparatus, finding that the ‘earlier catalogues, with their quaint illustrations and mannered descriptions of magic tricks, appealed to the imagination in a way that a contemporary website or YouTube demonstration can never match.’

The Library not only collects, but actively creates material, through its photography section.  Its staff of five can be found at popular and populist events, but also photographing particular subjects, as happened with a 2005 bequest that enabled them to document flying and flight in Australia.  In addition, and in common with other collecting and cultural institutions, the Library digitises its collection for reference and research, for displays and exhibitions, and for the articles in this polished presentation.

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