Board games in the Library
Deliver the mail, race to the gold diggings or fish with Rex Hunt
8 November 2016
On Saturday 19th of November, libraries around the world will celebrate International Games Day to raise awareness of the social and educational benefits of play – and of course, to have an abundance of fun.
Many people don’t realise that the National Library has its own extraordinary collection of board games. More than just an entertaining pastime, board games also provide a fascinating historical perspective of events and society.
While you can't play the games in our collection (we have to preserve them for future generations), you can explore many of them online, or request to view them in the Library.
We don't have every board game in Australia, but we still have an impressive collection. I’ve taken a look at how ten of our games provide unique snapshots of Australia history since European arrival.
Many early games were based on the travels of well known explorers, and this early French game is a great example. It is the oldest game in our collection, and if you look closely you can see it shows what was known of Australia's East Coast at the time.
Sixty years later, Matthew Flinders had just finished circumnavigating Australia and the entire coastline of Australia appeared in this French card game from 1810. Designed to help children learn their geography, the game has 48 game cards, one map, and one instructions card.
Race to the gold diggings of Australia (ca. 1855)
The 1850's saw a huge population increase in Australia as people flocked to the goldfields to find their fortune. This game is a beautiful example of how current events influence popular games and entertainment, and consists of a handcoloured, lithographed sheet mounted on linen, a printed rule card and a number of ship pieces.
Adventures of a mailman (between 1890 and 1899)
Fast forward another 40-odd years, and European settlement of Australia was firmly established. Despite a substantial rail network servicing the high postage demand, the trusty mailman still had to traverse huge distances to deliver the mail. This lively game allowed players to join his adventures as he encounters bushrangers, loses his horse in rapids, and battles bushfires.
Australian bushmen game (ca. 1901)
In 1900, the New South Wales Imperial Bushmen regiment left Sydney for South Africa to assist in the Boer War. Those left at home could follow the journey of a typical Bushman through this board game, from enlistment to training, embarking, promotions, battles, and capture.
Is there a more complicated game than that of courtship and marriage? This 'fascinating game' from 1905 put players to the test, with hazards such as rivals in love, offended parents and jealousy at every turn.
Corroboree (ca. 1940)
'Corroboree' is the earliest game based around Aboriginal culture in our collection. It was produced in approximately 1940 by Jessie Mackintosh, who also created other games including Race around Australia. You can read more about the board game 'Corroboree' on the collection explorer website of the National Museum of Australia.
Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race game (196-?)
It is one of the most well known events in Australia's sporting calendar, so of course we have a game about the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race. Created in the 1960s, you can see it list the towns along the East Coast of Australia, as well as hazards such as whales and dangerous fogs.
Rex Hunt fishing Australia (1994)
In the early 1990s, after a decade on the radio, Rex Hunt started appearing on our television screens. This game offered audiences the opportunity to join him on a fishing trip around the country, gaining trophies along the way.
Election gaffes (2013)
Most of our games are held in our Maps Collection due to their cartographic nature, or in our Pictures Collection for their visual representation of Australian culture and history. However there are a few that end up in other areas, such as this card game produced during the 2013 election. The game is held in our Ephemera collection, and helps preserve a unique perspective into the political landscape of the time.
You can find more games in our collection by searching our catalogue, and be sure to post your favourite in the comments below.