Mark Twain said of Australian history: 'It is full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.' [His Following the equator, end of chapter 16]
National treasures is an exhibition that reveals much about Australian history, and about what it is to be Australian. It tells many stories, some well known and others less well-known, of the European discovery of the continent and two hundred years of European settlement. Two hundred years does not sound like a long time, and when compared with over 40,000 years of Indigenous civilisation here, or thousands of years of history in Europe, it is not – but it has been a time of great discovery, change and development.
Australia was the last large habitable landmass to be discovered by Europeans (I'm not including Antarctica as a place to be settled as its climate really precludes settlement as that term is usually understood). Also, the history of European settlement here is not completely obscured by the mists of time but is still part of – well, not exactly living memory, but still reasonably recent: many of us remember our grandparents talking about the early days, and the links with those days are still quite close.
From early in our history libraries have been collecting material that documents that history – books and journals of course but also manuscripts, maps, paintings, prints and even objects [though the National Library once declined – with gratitude, but firmly – an entire Spitfire aeroplane]. These library collections now offer an amazing array of formats that work together to build up layers of information about people and subjects, offering more insights into personalities and events than a formal written record could provide on its own. So: diaries, letters, portraits, photographs of houses and family groups or of racehorses or prize bulls, cadastral maps showing land ownership, aerial photographs recording land clearing and dam building, histories written by descendants or by knowledgeable people – all these contribute to a rounded picture.
The First Fleet arrived in 1788 and for some years after that the colony had its hands full establishing itself and simply surviving, but even so, culture was not overlooked amid those early days of struggle: the first performance of a play was in the year after the first arrivals. It was on 4 June 1789, as part of the birthday celebrations for King George III. The play was a comedy: George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer, and most of the members of the cast were convicts. In fact the same play was also performed in 1800 and the playbill advertising it is the earliest surviving playbill in Australia; it is in the collection of the Mitchell Library at the State Library of NSW. The actual printed copy of the play that was used for the performances was not so lucky, and unfortunately its location is not known (if it still exists).
So it's 'one that got away' from libraries - but given the difficulties of the early days of European settlement here, it is remarkable how soon some libraries were established. For instance the State Library of Victoria developed from the Melbourne Public Library which Sir Redmond Barry and Governor Charles La Trobe were instrumental in founding, in 1854. They are commemorated in the State Library of Victoria's La Trobe Collection of early Australiana, and in the thousands of books Sir Redmond personally selected for the infant library. He collected very widely as he believed that Victorians had a right to know about the wider world. Incidentally, Sir Redmond Barry - as you no doubt know! - was the judge who in 1880 condemned Ned Kelly to death.
The 'foundation' collections of many of the other state libraries also contain material of great richness, importance, and diversity, and they show the significant role played in the history of our libraries by founding collectors like Barry and La Trobe.
In the State Library of New South Wales there are the Mitchell and Dixson Collections which form an extensive research collection relating to Australia, with special emphasis on New South Wales, Antarctica and the South West Pacific.
In South Australia the nucleus of the first library was formed by the remains of the 'trunk full' of books, mostly on agricultural and other practical topics, that were brought to Adelaide in 1836 by Robert Gouger of the South Australian Company aboard the Tam o' Shanter. (They nearly did not make it as the Tam o' Shanter ran aground in the Port River on arrival, and many of the surviving books are water-damaged.)
The Allport family in Tasmania collected fine arts and rare books relating to Australia and the Pacific, particularly Tasmania, and these were donated to the State Library of Tasmania.
In the National Library of Australia, the names of Edward Augustus Petherick, Sir John Ferguson, and Sir Rex Nan Kivell are celebrated in their collections of Australiana and other rare material.
The generosity and foresight of such individuals founded collections which have been developed in the succeeding years. Many of these founding collectors are represented in the exhibition by significant items selected from the collections they established.
Like libraries, these collectors did not only gather books and magazines, but a range of formats that seemed of interest - they too wanted to represent many facets of a person or an event. When their collections passed to libraries, the libraries tended to keep them together - possibly putting material like pictures and maps into special areas where they could have specialised care, but not usually passing on to other institutions such as museums the material that might today seem surprising to find in a library - for example tapa cloth samples, a patchwork quilt, a historic firearm - all of which are in the exhibition. Quite apart from the desire to maintain the collection as a unit, in many cases there simply was no museum at that time where some of the objects could be housed.
The exhibition National Treasures from Australia's Great Libraries draws on the collections of all the state and territory libraries. They all still collect early material, but history is constantly being made and libraries also collect the current material that documents it. One important means of collecting current material is the legal deposit scheme: under the Copyright Act 1968 and various state Acts, the publisher or author of any work published in Australia must deposit a copy of it with the National Library of Australia and the appropriate State library. Legal deposit extends not only to commercial publishers but also to private individuals, clubs, churches, societies and organisations, so the range of material collected is very wide.
With all this material, old and new, in their collections, libraries see it as one of their most important responsibilities to make it accessible to potential users. They are constantly seeking new ways of meeting their users' needs for information, and material can be made available in the traditional way - on the spot 'hands-on', through copies of relevant parts, reproduced in microform, digitised and on-line - and through exhibitions.
As a user of libraries as well as a long-time employee in them, I know that it is relatively straightforward to find something that you know exists, or to find information on a particular topic you are interested in. But what about the things you don't yet know might be interesting? The answer to this question can be 'Exhibitions' - they are a brilliant way of introducing an audience to items they might not otherwise know about, and for putting them in a context - possibly a surprising or unexpected one - and related to other items. As a curator I find it fascinating to see how exhibits can link together - for instance Redmond Barry I mentioned earlier.
So how did this particular exhibition come into being? While Treasures from the World's Great Libraries was on display in the National Library from December 2001-February 2002, the public reaction was phenomenal and we ended up opening for 22 hours a day to cope with the demand, and still had queues right around the building. That exhibition really opened the public's eyes to the treasures that libraries hold, and the Council of Australian State Libraries - generally known as CASL - suggested an exhibition drawing on the collections of the National, State and Territory libraries, and asked the National Library to develop it and manage it. One important criterion was that it should tour to the capital cities. So for almost four years now I and the rest of the team in the National Library have been working on this complicated but immensely rewarding exhibition, in collaboration with our opposite numbers in the state and territory libraries.
What is the inside story of the making of this exhibition? The first part was simply basic research - what were the easily-discovered collection strengths of the nine participating libraries and their treasures, what books had been published about them, what catalogues were published for exhibitions they had held, and what treasures were listed on their websites? This gave us a preliminary feel for what might be considered for inclusion in the exhibition, and then we came to the exciting part: I and the other National Library exhibitions curator went with the Director of Exhibitions, Nat Williams, on research trips to the participating libraries.
There the special collections staff took us around their collections and showed us the most extraordinary range of wonderful things. They took us into their storage areas where they showed us treasures on the shelves, they brought treasures out and spread them out on tables, and then they went and brought others as discussion sparked further ideas. Not surprisingly we ended up with a very long draft list of highly desirable exhibits!
With the help of an Exhibitions Advisory Group made up of three National Library Exhibitions staff and three representatives from the participating libraries, we shaped this into the exhibition as it stands today: we developed the theme groups and - reluctantly, but necessarily - we shortened the list (which had contained over 250 items at first and would not have fitted into any of the display spaces).
The list seemed to have a mind of its own as we had to reduce it several times - it kept expanding again, always with wonderful material that was hard to relinquish. Some people we wanted to include had to be omitted as there was not enough original material about them - for instance the convict Mary Bryant, who in 1791 with her husband William and seven other convicts stole the governor's cutter and sailed it from Sydney to Timor. We also hoped to include the story of William Buckley, the 'wild white man', who was a convict too. He absconded from Port Phillip in Victoria in 1803 and for the next 32 years he lived with Indigenous people. But of course we had to work with the participants' own display programs, and the material on Buckley's story was needed for exhibition in the State Library of Victoria - and it is on display here right now.
The eight themes expressing the content of the exhibition were not difficult to decide on. Some are obviously essential to include, like the early history of European exploration and settlement, or the development of our own distinctive cultural voice, particularly in literature, but others grew out of the treasured items we were shown during our research. Among all of this we wanted to represent Indigenous people and their history and culture.
Working on the exhibition has given me a new perspective on Australian history and made me realise that when I was at school I was taught more history of other countries than of my own. It's a pleasure to see from comments in the exhibition Visitors' Book that many children have not only really enjoyed the exhibition, but have been learning about Australian history at school. One comment I particularly liked (perhaps from a student not inclined towards book-learning) was: 'It was great, it was exciting, it was all round brilliant. And I didn't need to open a book to learn all that'.
A very important aim of the exhibition was to give the audience a fresh view of our history, to show them original diaries, letters, maps, books, artworks, photographs and objects that are the raw materials of our story and that all tell their own stories. We give them context through captions and catalogue essays, but they speak for themselves, and they move different viewers in their own ways. A treasure can be a treasure for so many different reasons, some of them obvious but some that need background and context to explain their significance.
One exhibit that speaks for itself in a remarkable way is a collar that once belonged to Henry Lawson. On it he wrote an explanation of why he was writing on it - it was for a hotel cashier who had advanced him small sums of money. He turned it over and continued writing on the other side, making a little joke about the turning that these days would probably only be understood by those whose grannies taught them to 'turn' worn shirt collars by unpicking them, turning them over and restitching them, to extend the life of the shirt.
I thought you might like to see some highlights of the exhibition, and to hear a little bit about them. [PowerPoint presentation]
Corsali manuscript (SLNSW)
Andrea Corsali was the first European to depict the constellation that has come to symbolise Australia. His description of it in this letter, translated in 1555 as 'this cross so fayre and bewtiful', also effectively named it. The manuscript is deceptively simple to look at, but there were politics behind it: Andrea Corsali was a Florentine, travelling on one of the supposedly secret Portuguese voyages to the East, and the letter was a report to his patron, Duke Giuliano de Medici. Florence and Venice were rival states at that time, and this copy of the letter was actually made by a Venetian scribe for Andrea Gritti, a leading Venetian citizen, who would have been very interested in the voyage and the involvement of the Medici family.
This manuscript is a good example of the generosity of individual collectors continuing today: it was bought by the late Dr Bruce Reid in 1989, and he immediately placed it on long-term loan with first the National Library and now the State Library of NSW, so that it might be available to the public. Its display in this exhibition that will tour to all the capital cities fulfils his wish.
Cushee globe (NLA)
Although the western part of the Australian continent was well known in 1731 when this globe was made, the east coast was a different matter. The east coast on this globe is pure guesswork: it includes New Guinea then bulges eastwards to incorporate Vanuatu, formerly known as the New Hebrides. Tasmania is also shown as part of the continent, with a curved line joining its west coast to the centre of the Great Australian Bight. Accurate knowledge of the east coast only came when James Cook charted it during his Endeavour voyage of 1768-1771.
Mabo papers (NLA)
One of this group of four land ownership diagrams will be shown at each venue. They come from the papers prepared for the legal proceedings that Edward Koiki Mabo and four other Torres Strait Islanders began in 1982, to establish their traditional ownership of their land. The High Court's ruling in June 1992 (almost six months after Mabo's death) recognised that Indigenous land ownership existed before European settlement. The Mabo collection, and Cook's Endeavour journal, are so significant that they are on UNESCO's International Memory of the World register. The Library's Mabo papers actually consist of two groups: one that was Mabo's own personal collection, and another that originated in the court case and came from the legal firm of Bryan Keon-Cohen - demonstrating again the value of material from different sources.
Convict uniform (NLA)
This 'secondary punishment' uniform is the only known complete convict uniform in Australia - a wonderful relic of the early days of European settlement. Its two-colour construction was designed to make the wearer highly visible - partly for humiliation of a persistent offender and partly for ease of recapture if he escaped: it would have been hard to slink un-noticed through the Australian bush in an outfit like this.
It was given to the National Library in 1933 by Senator Herbert James Mockford Payne - whose father was NOT a convict, but a gardener, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. In any case, it appears that the uniform might never have been worn - although there is some age damage, it is not 'wear and tear'. There is nothing in our files to say how Payne himself acquired the uniform, but I might speculate whether it was when he had a 'clothing emporium' in Burnie in Tasmania from about 1892 to 1906. He would obviously have had connections with sources of clothing, and it would fit with the fact that the uniform was made for use in Tasmania. But this is only a guess.
Gould's Sketchbook of Fishes...Stargazer fish (SLT)
William Buelow Gould was a convict in Tasmania and was assigned to a doctor who was interested in natural history. At the doctor's request, Gould created 35 vivid watercolour paintings of fish found in Macquarie Harbour. These were the inspiration for Richard Flanagan's award-winning novelGould's Book of Fish (also in the exhibition). Apparently when Flanagan needed further inspiration he would return to the State Library of Tasmania for another look at the sketchbook - I can't help wondering if he might have felt as he gazed at it that he could be drawn into the world of its fish as he described Sid Hammet was in his novel. It's interesting to compare the freshness and vitality of these fish paintings with Gould's very conventional European-style still life of flowers that is also in the exhibition.
Emery's fish (SLSA)
This exquisite watercolour is one of a series, of fish from northern and western Australian waters, painted by James Barker Emery, first lieutenant on the Beagle, on its third major voyage, 1837-1841. (It's the same Beagle that Charles Darwin sailed on, but that was its second voyage.)
The watercolours were in the collection of the State Library of South Australia, but the only information on them was that they had been painted by 'J B Emery'. The realisation of just what they were came about when Marsden Hordern, the author of a book on the Beagle's Australian voyage calledMariners are warned, was visiting the then Rare Books curator of State Library of South Australia in 1990, the year after the book was published. While they were discussing the book the curator mentioned that the State Library of SA had some watercolours by a 'J B Emery', brought them out, and then both of them realised that they had been painted by Lieutenant Emery of the Beagle!
Emery was not only interested in fish: during the voyage he caught two black swans and brought them on board where they settled in with the wallaby, the pigs and the poultry. He was also among the Beagle's senior officers who met with John Gould and agreed to provide him with drawings and specimens of Australian birds and marsupials for his natural history colour plate books. Emery even took home to England a lizard from the Abrolhos; it became so tame that it would eat from his wife's hand. I don't know how good for it the sponge cake he mentioned feeding it would have been!
Establishment of Seat of Federal Government (ACTHL)
The site for the Federal Capital was selected after careful weighing of the merits of possible sites. This 'Invitation to view the ceremonies' at the opening of the Provisional Parliament House in 1927 marks an important milestone in the development of Canberra, which was celebrated with much ceremony. Nellie Melba sang the National Anthem at the opening, and complained that she could not be heard properly because of the sound of the aeroplanes in the RAAF's first-ever fly-past - hers was a very minor problem compared with the death of one of the pilots, whose aircraft crashed in front of Parliament House.
Life of Emigration puzzle (SLSA)
Men far outnumbered women in the early period of European settlement and this children's puzzle aimed to encourage migration of families through its optimistic picture of the rewards of hard work in the colony. It was perhaps an unusual method, but all parents know the pressure children can apply, and by the end of the nineteenth century the male-female numbers were almost equal - this puzzle could take some of the credit. It is most unusual for children's games and puzzles to survive, as usually pieces were lost and the item fell apart after much use.
Mary Watson tank diary leaf (SLQ)
This is a leaf from Mary Watson's makeshift diary when she, her baby son, and a Chinese worker were dying of thirst as they floated in a small iron ship's tank. Her calm practical reaction to their predicament is amazing - no self-pity or recriminations, but a determination to survive if possible, and in any case to leave a record of the events. The diary leaves were found in a wooden box in the tank with her body. They are waterstained as, by a sad irony, there was rain too late to save them and when their bodies were found the tank was half-full of rainwater.
When I saw these leaves for the first time on our research trip to the State Library of Queensland I was overwhelmed by the pathos of Mary Watson's story, and the dignity with which she faced death for herself and for her baby.
Darwin evacuees list (NTL)
Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin on Christmas Eve, 1974. This list of over 32,000 residents evacuated over the following week is a testament to the wonderful speed and efficiency with which they were moved to safe havens in other parts of Australia. This battered document is one of those unlikely-looking treasures that are nevertheless an important record of an event that shattered Darwin and the lives of many of those who lived there - an event recalled by last week's catastrophic Cyclone Larry in Queensland.
Ned Kelly's helmet (SLV)
Ned Kelly's helmet is the immediately recognisable symbol of this classic hero/villain character. This is probably the exhibit most often mentioned in comments in the Visitors' Book while the exhibition was in Canberra - and I find it interesting that several comments from children show disapproval of him - along the lines of 'he's not a hero - he killed people'.
Deeming death mask (SLV)
Frederick Bayley Deeming was probably even better known in the nineteenth century than Ned Kelly was, and thousands of people cheered in the streets at the execution of this man who murdered two of his wives and his four children, and cemented them under floors. His capture was the result of excellent detective work by the police, particularly as Deeming is known to have used over 20 aliases during his years as a conman, bigamist and thief. When he was arrested in Western Australia he had become engaged to another young woman, and had let it be known that he was going to install some fireplaces and cement the kitchen floor in the cottage that went with his job. He had already bought the sand and cement ...
Ellen Kettle diaries (NTL)
Ellen Kettle's concise diary entries record her dedication to the Indigenous people she nursed in the far Northern Territory. She had first gone to Yuendumu in the Northern Territory in 1952, and was appalled at the lack of medical records for the Indigenous people she was to work with - particularly for the children. She was probably also appalled by the primitive conditions in which she was expected to work: her first clinic was a hut, and 'the wind and the dust whistled through, there was no privacy and less water'. But over the next 50 years she worked tirelessly, and her constant efforts eventually led to improvements in Indigenous health care.
Ray Stewart's toilet roll diary (SLWA)
Keeping a diary in a POW camp was a risky business, and this diary was in a form that could easily be disguised. Ray Stewart's later POW diaries were in more conventional book form. He survived the war, and in 1999 donated his diaries to the State Library of WA. The creator of the other POW diary in the exhibition, Frank Boyle, was not so lucky as he died while still a prisoner. Reading the transcript of his diaries, which are in amazingly tiny writing, was very moving as he often mentioned his family, and he said how sorry he was that the camp's pet squirrels had to be caged - he knew how they felt.
The Happiness Box (SLNSW)
Created by a group of prisoners of war in Changi, this beautiful little book was among a collection of toys destined for the civilian children spending their first Christmas in Changi. It did not reach them as the Japanese thought it contained coded messages - it would not have helped that one of the characters was called Winston, calling to mind the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Although the Japanese ordered its destruction, it was spirited away and buried until the end of the war, and ironically, if it had gone to the children it would probably not have survived as it would have been read until it fell apart.
Margaret Gordon Ingham (SLV)
This leaf from Margaret Gordon's pocket diary records the names and addresses of her companions in the lifeboat after their ship, the City of Cairo, was torpedoed in the South Atlantic in 1942. Margaret and the only other survivor of that lifeboat showed immense courage and resilience throughout the 52 days until their rescue near the coast of South America. For her mother Margaret wrote a detailed account of the lifeboat voyage, but did not want to speak of the event later in life. She remarried - her first husband had died when the ship sank - and after the death of her second husband qualified as a librarian and established the magnificent Children's Literature Research Collection in the State Library of Victoria.
There is some wonderful whaling material in the exhibition, including some scrimshaw and the log of the whaling ship Pacific. Scrimshaw was made by seamen on whaling ships, usually from whale bone or teeth. This decorative plaque is unusual because of its large size and the amount of colour on it; it is quite an intricate piece of work. The whaling items on display were collected by Sir William Crowther and are now in the State Library of Tasmania. Sir William was a devoted collector of whaling material, beginning at the age of eight when his father gave him a piece of scrimshaw. His collecting methods were a little unusual: he was a doctor and often negotiated with his patients for scrimshaw or other items such as logbooks in place of a medical fee. His family's motto was 'carpe diem', or seize the day, and he did indeed take collecting opportunities where he found them.
Trans-Pacific flight cockpit notes (NLA)
Because of the engine noise during the trans-Pacific flight of the Southern Cross in 1928, Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm communicated with each other and with their navigator and radio operator [Harry Lyon and Jim Warner] through hundreds of notes like this. The space between the cockpit and the navigating cabin was blocked by a large fuel tank, and the notes were attached to a stick that they called 'Ulm's patent annunciator' and were then passed through the small gap around the tank. The small holes you can see in them were caused by being fixed to the stick. The crew later discarded many of the notes as they felt they were too ribald to be preserved. On the other hand they also contained comments such as 'One seldom sees such a beautiful sight as this moonlight on top of clouds' - part of the text of a message to be radioed.
Holden drawing (SLSA)
The EH model of 'Australia's own car', released in 1963, was a huge success, with sleek new styling, a new and more powerful engine, and features such as factory-fitted power steering, and two-speed windscreen wipers. It would be viewed as an economic miracle today, as even with these improvements the price of the base model was the same as that of the preceding model. The drawings themselves are technical works of art such as we will not see again, since computer-aided design has eliminated the need for drawings like these.
Tasmanian apple-box label (SLT)
Apple and pear box labels were a distinctive identifying and selling point for Australian fruit from around 1920 until the mid 1960s. Although once discarded with the boxes they labelled, they are now sought-after historic ephemera, representing Australian commercial art from the highly professional down to the home-grown. The State Library of Tasmania has a very large collection of these labels, most of them acquired during a concerted campaign in 1976 and no doubt retrieved from storage in cupboards and boxes by owners who were very pleased to know that there was a genuine interest in their preservation. I love the expression on the nurse in this one - she certainly looks determined to keep everyone healthy. The other label on display, the 'Wombat' label, is one of the very earliest - it was printed in about 1919.
Bradman's bat (SLSA)
The cricketing legend Donald Bradman described this as 'the best bat I ever had' and used it for his record-breaking score of 334 runs, against England in Leeds, July 1930. The Bradman collection in the State Library of South Australia also contains other bats, plus trophies, balls, stumps, cricket clothing, artworks, photographs, manuscripts - and sound recordings that show that he was a very entertaining after-dinner speaker.
Leunig Street Football (SLV)
Michael Leunig is one of Australia's favourite cartoonists, and this painting shows a couple of boys playing 'kick-to-kick' football in the suburbs - formally dressed in the colours of the Australian Rules football clubs they support [Hawthorn and Essendon]. Australian Rules football is one of Australia's favourite games, and of course was developed in Melbourne where Leunig grew up. Leunig has said that he never saw himself as an artist, but as a writer who had to draw because he never got around to writing. He has also said that since he discovered primitive painters like Grandma Moses he now loves to make pictures - and this picture certainly tells a story of youth and the pleasure of kicking a football around. The painting was donated to the State Library of Victoria by the artist's wife, Helga Leunig.
Billingee drawings (SLWA)
These brilliant drawings were made by Billingee, an Indigenous man from near Broome in Western Australia, for presentation by Daisy Bates, the self-taught anthropologist, to Sir Frederick Bedford, then Governor of Western Australia. Daisy Bates added the pencil annotations to the drawings before sending it to the Governor, who must have been pleased with it as he gave Bates a piece of gold for Billingee - but Billingee did not want money, just that the drawings should remind the Governor of him. Sadly the book did not continue to be treasured, as sometime after Bedford's death in 1913 the book came onto the second-hand market and in 1987 was bought by the State Library of WA - where it is indeed treasured.
This letter signals the start of Melba's truly brilliant career: in it she states that her husband was 'agreeable for her to adopt music as a profession'. Melba was a Victorian of course, and took her stage name to honour Melbourne. The letter is actually in the collection of the State Library of Queensland, and is one of a number of items building up a picture of Melba and lent by various exhibition participants. Melba was a prolific and candid letter-writer and her letters give a real understanding of the person she was, and of her feelings and concerns. Considering how successful - and wealthy - she later became, it seems odd to read her words here when she says 'we are as poor as it is possible for anyone to be'. They needed to make some money, and her voice was an asset to be used.
Magic Pudding (SLNSW)
Norman Lindsay's instantly recognisable artwork is still used for the cover of his Magic Pudding which was written as the result of a debate between Norman Lindsay and another writer, Bertram Stevens, on whether children preferred books about food or about fairies. In this case, food definitely won! Lindsay felt that the success of the story, which he called 'a little bundle of piffle', obscured his work as a serious writer - though given the popularity of so many of his other works, such as Saturdee, Redheap, and A Curate in Bohemia, he need not have worried.
Utzon Opera House drawings (SLNSW)
Jorn Utzon's design for the Sydney Opera house in 1957 was ahead of its time, and this is one of a number of rough sketches indicating the grace and beauty of the building that has become an icon of Sydney. The solution to constructing the sails or shells was developed by the engineering firm Ove Aarup, and was based on the shape of ships' hulls.
Finally, Lindy Chamberlain's name is probably one of the best-known in our recent history, and her contentious trial and conviction for the murder of her baby daughter Azaria sparked passionate popular support of her innocence. Azaria had disappeared from the family's tent in the camping ground at Uluru in 1980. Her family, and other campers there at the time, were convinced that she had been taken by one of the dingoes that hung around the camping area. Lindy's collection documents Azaria's birth, with the touching memorabilia that many mothers keep - her hospital ID items, cards to and from family and friends. It is also an exhaustive record of the inquests, the trial, and the public response. In the exhibition we wanted to focus on Azaria, as it sometimes seemed that in all that followed her disappearance it was easy to lose sight of the fact that it had all started with the loss of a baby. That's the sort of thing I meant earlier about exhibits speaking.
National Treasures from Australia's Great Libraries takes a brief scan of Australia's history. It would have been impossible to represent every major event or personality, but we wanted to give the audience a look at some of our history in a way that brought it alive for them, and we have been delighted to receive a great deal of feedback that indicates that we have succeeded. There are many comments in the Visitors' Books saying just this, including several stating 'It makes me proud to be Australian'. No-one would say that our history was without flaws or regrettable passages, and we have not tried to ignore these, but we hope that the exhibition is overall a positive experience for visitors, and that it gives them a fresh view of our history. As has been said before 'the past is another country' and I would add: 'even when it is your own'.
Transcript of National Treasures: A Curator's View, State Library of Victoria, Tuesday 28 March, 2006