The Opening Chapter: Building the National Library

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the National Library building in Parkes Place, Canberra. The Library was opened on 15 August 1968 by Prime Minister John Gorton, and admitted its first readers three days later.

With its elegant classical lines, it is a landmark in the Parliamentary Triangle and the principal storehouse of Australia’s documentary heritage. The Opening Chapter exhibition looks at the physical attributes of the building, including the vision of architects Bunning and Madden, photographs of the interior by Max Dupain and the important contribution of renowned artists Henry Moore, Tom Bass and Leonard French.

The foundation stone was laid by Sir Robert Menzies who had wanted “something with columns” and while the architects obliged with unmistakeable references to the Parthenon in Athens, they were aware of more contemporary trends. The final plans set out a temple-like form flanked by two auxiliary wings, but only the central block was built

Total proposed development showing additional wings [National Library of Australia building] c.1965
2008 digital print from a black & white negative; 20.1 x 25.2 cm

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Douglas Annand (1903–1976)
Books are Common Wealth 1966
pen and ink and watercolour; 65.2 x 49.0 cm

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Richard Clough (b.1921)
National Library site being shaped, Canberra c.1964
2008 digital print from a 35 mm colour slide

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Unknown photographer
Distant view of the partly constructed National Library building showing Commonwealth Avenue on the left and Lake Burley Griffin behind c.1966
gelatin silver print; 16.8 x 22.8 cm

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Unknown photographer
The National Library of Australia at night, Canberra, April 1968
black & white print; 16.5 x 22.0 cm

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Kenneth Binns (1882–1969)
First box of books loaded in removal of Library to Canberra, 1926
sepia toned print; 6.2 x 8.6 cm

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Max Dupain (1911–1992)
Card catalogue at the National Library of Australia, 1968
gelatin silver print; 37.3 x 50.0 cm

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Unknown photographer
Sir Robert Menzies laying the foundation stone of the National Library of Australia, 31 March 1966
gelatin silver print; 20.0 x 15.0 cm
NLA collection

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David Reid
Noel Potter and Tom Bass at the installation of his sculpture, Knowledge, above the entrance to the National Library of Australia, 1968
gelatin silver print

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Arthur Robb
Design drawing of the oriental studies room, National Library of Australia, Canberra, c.1965
coloured photographic reproduction; 34.2 x 49.7 cm

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