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Australian History & Literature collection

The Australian History & Literature collection covers Aboriginal culture and history, Australian history, literature, biography, and journeys and exploration.

Materials about the discovery and settlement of Victoria through to the present provide a unique insight into the history and development of Victoria and its people. Collecting is comprehensive for Victoria, and at a level to support sustained research for other Australian states.

Other subjects relating to Australia are included in the Redmond Barry collection.

Collection strengths

Major strengths of the Australian History and Literature collection are:

  • exploration history
  • war histories including, personal experiences of war, and battalion and regiment histories
  • microfilm, including a full set of film of the Australian Joint Copying Project
  • popular magazines, some dating back to the 19th century
  • Victorian school magazines
  • the legal deposit collection
  • the reference collection

The collection is of major research significance. It dates back to the 19th century and includes parliamentary papers, debates and gazettes of all Australian state and territory governments.

Microform and web-based versions are used where possible to preserve the now rare and often unwieldy originals. There are also extensive indexes and in-house finding guides.

For more information about government publications, read Redmond Barry collection.

Aboriginal culture and history

We aim to collect comprehensive material on Victoria’s indigenous population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories are covered in all their aspects.

Biography is a major topic, as is contact history, and the collection holds many works on social and political conditions. Anthropological studies of Aboriginal people are a collection strength, as are works on archaeology that relate to the origins of Aboriginal people.

The Library recognises that other specialised collecting bodies may have strong complementary collections and we will attempt to cooperate rather than compete in collection-building. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, for example, has built up a strong collection of print and other material in this area.

Advertising material

Advertising material is collected selectively. For practical reasons, no attempt is made to collect all advertising material in Victoria.

We regularly collect samples of advertising material that is delivered to suburban letterboxes.


All Victorian biographies and family histories, works about Australians and selected published Australian family histories are collected to form a strong research collection, with particular emphasis on political, literary and sporting figures.

Biographical indexes and dictionaries contribute to an extensive reference collection.

Ephemera about Australians, particularly Victorians, is also collected.


Ephemera is material intended to last only a short time, such as leaflets and flyers.

Ephemera constitutes an important record of Victorian social life, customs, popular culture and political viewpoints. We acquire most of our ephemera by donation, concentrating on items published in Victoria and interstate material relating to Victorian events, people and institutions.

Journeys & exploration

Early European journeys and exploration of Australia are a major strength of our collection, as are personal accounts of early European travels in Australia.

Material covering Victoria is collected comprehensively, while material covering Australia is collected at a research level.

All aspects of historical geography, physical and human geography, patterns of human settlement and landscape change in Australia are collected. There is a strong collection of gazetteers, travel guides, and books on the meaning and history of place names.


The Library acquires material relating to Australian history at a research level and material relating to Victoria comprehensively.

Ephemera about local Victorian areas is collected, primarily by donation. Published works about oral history are also collected.

The Library cooperates with other collecting institutions – such as the National Library of Australia, state libraries and public libraries, many of which have significant collections of Victorian and local history materials – in order to rationalise resources and participate in national planning.

Other local collecting agencies, such as historical societies and museums, have a closeness to their community and are better able to collect local history, ephemera and other material. The Library cooperates closely with these agencies to ensure that long-term preservation of, and access to, local studies material is maximised.

There is a strong collection of works relating to Australia during wars. Both world wars, the Boer War, the Vietnam War and more recent conflicts are well represented.

The Library was part of the long-running Australian Joint Copying Project, in which material relating to Australia and the Pacific held in repositories in the United Kingdom was copied to microfilm.

Over 7000 reels of film were made from materials held in the Public Record Office, now known as the National Archives.

These films are organised by the department or agency of the British government that created and assembled the records, such as the Colonial Office, Home Office, Treasury or Admiralty. They are a rich resource for many types of research.


We acquire literature by Victorians and material with a Victorian setting comprehensively, regardless of language, genre or literary merit.

Other Australian writing and material on Australian literature in general are acquired at a research level. Indexes, online databases, anthologies and bibliographies form a strong reference collection and provide access to an in-depth collection of poetry, drama and fiction.

Collected works of poetry are acquired to provide a representative selection.

Most works of literary criticism and all significant journals of new writing and commentary are collected. Material published overseas is also acquired.

The Library collects Australian literature of all kinds including, essays, correspondence and other minor genres.

Variant editions of Australian literary works are acquired, as are all editions of Victorian works.

Translations of Australian works into other languages are collected; for example, Patrick White’s A fringe of leaves is held in Chinese, French, Polish, German and Swedish.

Local history and biography

The Library collects ephemera relating to Victorian areas and well-known Victorian people and, to a lesser extent, interstate localities. In general, coverage of interstate material is the domain of other state libraries.

Political ephemera

The Riley and Ephemera Collection began in 1956 when labour activist Fred Riley started donating political ephemera to the Library.

These donations continued until Riley’s death in 1970 and, with subsequent additions, the collection now includes hundreds of thousands of posters, badges, leaflets and handbills.

Although attempts are made to collect from all political points of view, the collection has a strong radical bias which reflects the nature of the kinds of organisations that promote their activities this way.

We actively seek relevant material to add to this collection.

The collection emphasises Victorian state and local government elections and Victorian seats in federal elections.

Theatre programmes

Our vast collection of Victorian ephemera relates to all kinds of live performances. It includes amateur and professional theatre programmes and a wide range of promotional material such as season brochures, advertising handbills and postcards.

More than 48,000 items have been acquired, mainly through donation, since this collection began in the early 1960s.

We aim to acquire Victorian material comprehensively. Interstate material relating to major national companies and events, such as the Adelaide Festival, is collected while material on international performances involving important Australian artists, or national or Victorian companies is also collected.