State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 44 Spring 1989


Collected Lives

This issue of the La Trobe Library Journal, and the exhibition at the La Trobe Library in December 1989/January 1990, are intended to show something of the diversity and depth of the Library's Australian Manuscripts Collection. Of course, neither the exhibition nor, especially, this Journal can do more than scratch the surface of the Collection.
Almost everything displayed and published was acquired in the years 1985–1989, a period in which there have been close to one thousand acquisitions. Of these, a few have been purchases, which is inevitable as the monetary value of documents becomes more widely known; most, however, have been gifts from an astonishingly wide range of people, organisations and institutions.
The Library is deeply indebted to them, as it is to all of its donors. Some of their gifts are of the utmost importance and sometimes of overwhelming size; others are smaller or more minor, though none is at all insignificant. They all help to build the Collection.
What is it that is being built and sustained? The Melbourne Public Library, as it was then known, began in 1872 to acquire original documents of Victoria's history, with Charles Joseph La Trobe's gift of the “Letters from Victorian pioneers”. In 1874, the Royal Society of Victoria presented the complete records of the Burke and Wills expedition; after 115 years these records are still one of our best-known, most valued and most heavily (and widely) used collections.
In this Collection, which has grown to comprise countless numbers of documents occupying about 2,500 metres of shelving, Victorians have an outstanding and unique record of almost every facet of the development of Victoria and the lives of its inhabitants, from the beginning of white settlement until the present day. It is a collection which continues to grow rapidly in both its “historical” and “contemporary” holdings.
The oldest document in this Journal and in the exhibition, Nicholas Pateshall's account of the voyage of the Calcutta, was acquired only in late 1988. At the other chronological extreme, the staff of the Collection maintains contact with individuals and organisations which make regular, continuing deposits of personal papers and archives as soon as their current usefulness is at an end.
All sorts of people help to build the Collection. Their motives vary, but they boil down to one thing — a shared vision of preserving the past (and the present) for the future. Similarly, all sorts of people make use of the Collection — historians, biographers, genealogists, archaeologists, architects, students, artists, musicians, novelists, film producers and many more. In the Collection they “discover” documents which have been unused for decades, they pounce eagerly on new acquisitions and they find new and novel ways to use and interpret records which, it might be thought, have been worked dry.
This Journal and the associated exhibition are a celebration. It is a pleasure to be able to display and publish some of our treasures. They also constitute an appeal. The Library needs the help of all Victorians to build a Collection which will continue to reflect all of their diverse activities and interests, from the earliest times until the present day — that is, a repository of “Collected Lives”.
Manuscripts Librarian