State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 74 Spring 2004

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From the Editorial Chair

The Most recent number of The La Trobe Journal, which was devoted to Redmond Barry, was launched at the State Library on 5 July by Barry Jones at the initial function of the Redmond Barry Society. Most readers of this journal will know that this new society, established by the State Library of Victoria Foundation, consists of people who have pledged to remember the State Library in their wills. Public institutions such as libraries and art galleries have always needed benefactors. Here in Melbourne we have the spectacular example of the Felton Bequest, which has been so central to the growth of the National Gallery of Victoria. Bequests of that magnitude are rare, however, and private support in the form of donations and bequests is generally much smaller, as the Foundation recognizes in establishing the Redmond Barry Society.
More by accident than design, this number of The La Trobe Journal picks up the theme of benefaction, with articles on two significant benefactors of the State Library: the little known Magnus Victor Anderson, to whom we owe the Chess Library, one of the finest in the world; and Will Alma, whose name was once synonymous with magic in Melbourne. Ken Fraser's story of Anderson's donations to the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery and the Melbourne Public Library during his lifetime and the bequest at his death reveals how private wealth – and personal passions – can enrich public institutions. In this instance, as in that of Will Alma, the private collection was secured because the Library was prepared to maintain and develop it. Frances Awcock, who retired recently from the post of State Librarian, describes at first hand the association of the Library with magician Will Alma, which resulted in the eventual bequest of the Will Alma Collection.
Donations of books, papers, paintings and photographs, along with bequests of money (and occasionally collections as in the case of Will Alma), help to sustain the Library despite the vagaries of public funding. At the same time, as so many researchers will be aware, most libraries struggle to find the funds to curate the materials they have been given or have purchased.
Whatever the difficulties over the years, the State Library has, happily, pursued an eclectic collecting policy – which is regularly reflected in this journal. An aspect of that policy, little appreciated before the opening of the Cowen Gallery last year, has been the collecting of visual materials, which will be the focus of the next number of this journal. The articles and reproductions in that number should give readers some appreciation of the scope and diversity of the Library's holdings in the visual arts.
Among the leading artists in the Library's collection is Sir William Dargie, three of whose portraits are reproduced in this number. His early portrait of his musician brother, Horrie (of Horrie Dargie Quintet fame), reproduced on our cover, is of great interest
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because of its personal associations, which Roger Dargie, writing from the perspective of a family member, draws out. The Dargie portraits of Hal Porter and J.K.Moir represent two of the most idiosyncratic and best-known figures in the Victorian literary scene.
Possibly no literary man ever achieved the local celebrity status of Melbourne Cup winner, Carbine, whose portrait is discussed by Gerry Brody, along with that of another Cup winner, the oddly-named Toryboy. One does not normally associate horse-racing and libraries, but readers of The La Trobe Journal No.72 may recall that as early as 1882 a writer on the Melbourne Public Library noted – not with much sympathy – the popularity of sporting literature.
Sports and recreations of various kinds attract many researchers to the Library, and in future issues we hope to cover a wider range than in this. Chess players have the advantage that they can come and play chess in the Library as well as read about games that others have played. But chess, perhaps more than any other contemporary recreation, invites scholarship, as Ken Fraser reveals in his article, itself the product of thorough research.
Scholarship takes many forms. Michael Aitken, a collector who has had a long association with the State Library, has kept a close eye on the Library's collection of travel guides. His article, describing some of these early publications in Victoria, is a contribution to the history of tourism. It is complemented by a moving account of a tragedy on a bush picnic in the mid-nineteenth century, in which historian Kim Torney explores the implications of this early encounter of a suburban family with the land.
Gardening was a significant element in the settler experience, as can be seen in this year's Gardenesque exhibition in the Murdoch Gallery. Richard Aitken, who has curated the exhibition, writes here about an early twentieth-century gardening book that was published in Melbourne. The attempt to apply ideas and principles in the fashioning of the natural world for human enjoyment constitutes an important but, as yet, not much examined aspect of Australian intellectual history.
The natural world is a central interest of both Lionel Elmore (an autodidact, of whose life and work Christopher Elmore has a close knowledge) and Frederic Wood Jones (a scholar with an international reputation of whom Jeff Prentice contributes a profile). The papers of Lionel Elmore, which are now in the State Library, are an important source for historians of the Australian conservation movement. Wood Jones is in the Dictionary of National Biography but, surprisingly, has yet to be the subject of a full biography. He had only a short association with the Library as a Trustee, but it would be interesting to know exactly what influence this remarkable Englishmen had on this institution.
John Barnes