if you have even a passing interest in books or local history the state library has two semi-permanent exhibitions in its dome galleries that are worth checking out.
while both quite engaging, the most impressive aspect of our visit for me was the library’s architecural interiors, some of which i’d not seen since the library’s upgrade, and one of which i’d never seen at all. the redmond barry reading room has a most impressive ceiling. and the dome above the central reading room is an underrated melbourne landmark. the spectacular architecture is worth a visit in its own right.
the exhibition we were there to see was a display of the library’s collection of rare books, mirror of the world. it includes illuminated manuscripts, a gutenberg bible, a second edition shakespeare folio and a cunieform tax receipt in stone from ancient egypt. particularly interesting was the changing form australia had in maps as the new world became more familiar to its western european explorers.
on the floor above is a collection of local historical artifacts, which comprise
the changing face of victoria. seeing photos of families in the outback wearing suits and comparatively formal dresses, or young boys sailing off to war, or taking a rest from it, made me appreciate the comparative ease with which we live.
the centrepiece of the collection is ned kelly’s armour – surely even more of an australian icon than the man himself. i understand the library also possesses his helmet, but in this case it seems curiously to have been replaced by an unconvincing replica.
the curators make a political point in their annotation of one of the batman treaties, which established british dominion over the land that became melbourne. the accompanying note explains that the native people had no conception of land ownership or of the terms of the agreement and it was therefore not legal.
i also learned for the first time the extraordinary story of william buckley, whose ghostly likeness stares out from a painting exhibited two floors below.
in 1802 william buckley was a volunteer private for the british army when he was charged and found guilty of involvement in the burglary of some irish linen from a shop. for this crime he was sentenced to hang. his sentence was soon commuted, however, to transport to australia for life, and he was part of port philip’s first colonisation in 1803. after arriving, he escaped custody and was the only white man to remain in the area the 32 years until the second, voluntary, colonisation by batman and fawkner.
he survived only by being found by local aboriginies and being mistaken for a reincarnated warrior. he lived with the natives as one of them for over three decades and when he finally encountered white europeans again he had unsurprisingly forgotten english. eventually he regained the ability to communicate with his compatriots, was granted a pardon, and achieved celebrity in the colonies as “the wild white man”.