If you fancy casting your eyes over the original Waltzing Matilda manuscript, Ben Chifley’s hand-annotated speech announcing the end of World War II, or Captain James Cook’s Endeavour journal, look no further than The National Library of Australia on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.
The library holds the world’s greatest collection of material relating to Australia and its people, ranging from the earliest European works about the Great Southern Land to digitised historic and contemporary newspapers, photos and music recordings.
The life of writer and bush poet Henry Lawson is given depth and colour through items including his fobwatch and two of his pens, while detailed insights into Cook’s epic voyage are gleaned through his handwritten notes. The Endeavour journal, said to be the only one entirely written by the British explorer, is the library’s most famous acquisition and details Cook’s impressions of Tahiti, New Zealand and NSW between 1769-1770. The 753-page volume, bound in oak and pigskin, was bought by the Australian Government at a Sotheby’s sale in 1923 and entered on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2001.
Another incredible piece of history on display is a playbill dated 30 July 1796, the earliest surviving document printed in Australia. The playbill, advertising a performance at the Theatre, Sydney, was printed in Sydney by convict George Hughes, operator of Australia’s first printing press, which came out on the First Fleet.
The vast collections spread across this iconic institution include some of the most sought-after items of interest from around the world, including maps, rare books, manuscripts, photographs, oil paintings and watercolours.
Cook’s journal and the Waltzing Matilda manuscript, along with items such as Keith Murdoch’s Gallipoli Letter and a journal doomed explorers Wills and Burke kept in their final hours, are housed in the Treasures Gallery on the ground floor. Entry is free, and no booking is required.
Get there in time for the daily half-hour tours of the Treasures Gallery, starting at 11.30am.
In the library’s central foyer, visitors can enjoy the Australian Voices audio-visual presentation, compiled from the library’s extensive Oral History and Folklore Collection. The collection comprises about 45,000 hours of recordings, the earliest dating back to the 1950s when the tape recorder became available. More than 1000 hours of interviews, music and accents are added to the collection each year.
The library has been amassing Australian printed ephemera since the early 1960s as a record of Australian life and social customs, popular culture, national events, and issues of national concern. It also selectively collects ephemera from the Asia/Pacific region related to particular events or socio-political groups of significance.
Some of the newer materials include a major display about the 1967 referendum and the campaign for Indigenous rights, as well as a section dedicated to Australian women novelists of the early 20th century.
And of interest to those who want to find out a bit about their own history — and that of their home or neighbourhood — are the collections of street directories, council rates books and Title Office records. There’s also the unique Maps Collection. Better make a day of it…
National Library of Australia – Parkes Place West, Parkes
At just 10-minutes’ drive, Abode Narrabundah is the perfect to visit when checking out the capitals national treasures and attractions. Book your stay with us below.