Yesterday I popped into the Mitchell Library to see the truly wonderful One Hundred exhibition, celebrating one hundred years of the library in one hundred objects. The exhibit displays books, diaries, letters, maps, paintings, etchings, drawings, photos, and other objects d’art.
For book lovers there are, naturally, numerous highlights. There is the ‘pitch’ letter that Miles Franklin wrote to Angus and Robertson along with her manuscript for My Brilliant Career – which was rejected! The letter is fascinating; self-deprecating and unsure – she calls her story “My Brilliant(?) Career”. The letter was subsequently annotated by George Robertson, who noted the decision to reject the manuscript was taken whilst he was away!
There is the journal of George Augustus Robinson, otherwise known as The Conciliator, whom Richard Flanagan fictionalises as The Protector in his novel Wanting (which was ironically my last read & review). There is an early draft of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, written in very attractive longhand. There is Patrick White’s Nobel Prize diploma and medal. There is Donald Horne’s personal copy of The Lucky Country and Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner which was originally Six Pickles before she added a seventh and renamed it. There is Banjo Patterson’s original Man from Snowy River, which can also be heard spoken by Jack Thompson, and Hnery Lawson’s While the Billy Boils.
This being Australia, there are the journals of several explorers, such as Ludwig Leichhardt – the inspiration for Patrick White’s Voss – gold explorer Harold Lasseter’s diary, found on his person after his death, and the journals of Wentworth and Lawson detailing their expedition across the Blue Mountains.
There is John Gould’s The Birds of Australia, 1840-48, a mammoth tome of some 600 hand-coloured lithographs – no wonder it took so long to produce! – in which the larrikin kookaburra is known rather plainly as the Fawn-breasted Kingfisher.
But some of the older exhibits yield real fascination – take for instance a letter to Giuliano de Medici by Andrea Corsalii written in c.1516, in which there is the first known drawing of the Southern Cross constellation by a European. And the diary of Archibald Barwick, a WWI digger, who served Gallipoli and the Western Front, who writes on the 25th of April 1915: “Bullets hurt when they hit you”; he also talks of fear, of the thought of wanting out of it all but not wanting to leave your ‘mates’ behind.
There is Sir Joseph Banks’ Endeavour journal, 1768-1771, a journal of the First Fleet, and early letters home – by Arthur Phillip and convict Mary Reibey – to England from the settlement at Port Jackson, which became Sydney, although as records show, Phillip was going to call it Albion, before Sydney was chosen. Also present are some very interesting artefacts dealing with aboriginal issues, including a painted proclamation in Tasmania from around 1830 that tried to depict the sought after equal treatment of black and whites – and the punishment for killing – not through the usual dense words, but through pictures.
The list goes on. Indeed, the exhibition is so extensive that to take it in in one visit was too much. But that’s fine with me – it means I have the perfect excuse to go back and see it again. It’s free too, so there’s really no excuse for not seeing a magnificent exposition of unique items that display the history of Australia, in all of its forms, both triumphant and tragic.
The only drawback is the website, which gives you a taste of the exhibit, but is very slow to navigate – you need to scroll (s-l-o-w-l-y) through all objects to get to one you want more information on, and when you return to this menu after looking at one object, you have to start from scratch again – very annoying! There should be a page from which all items readily accessible. What’s worse is there’s hardly any information on the items themselves, just a very short 10-20-odd second sound-bite – some of which seemed to have been cut off mid-stream – it’s not nearly enough and poorly done. Of course, the real pleasure is seeing them with your own eyes, though for interstate and overseas visitors, the website should be better.
The Dilettante’s Rating: