December 2017 will mark the centenary of the 1917 conscription plebiscite in Australia. For the second time during World War I, Australia declared 'no' in response to the question of conscription proposed by then Prime Minister Billy Hughes. By 1917, voluntary enlistment had waned and conscription was proposed to keep up with troop requirements overseas. The question of conscription was debated across Australia and was divisive politically, socially and religiously.
Recently, a book with its title printed simply on a brown dust jacket went on display in the Treasures Gallery. Like many items in the Gallery, what makes it a treasured collection item may not be immediately obvious (I am reminded to not judge a book by its cover). It is a first edition of Henry Handel Richardson’s (1870–1946) novel The fortunes of Richard Mahony: Australia felix (1917), which was among the author’s personal papers, now preserved in the Library’s Manuscripts Collection.
As the Visitor Services Officer I am often asked about what to see at the Library. I always recommend visiting the Treasures Gallery to get a visual snapshot of Australian history as presented through the collection. There is a focus on twentieth century material relating to the development of rights for First Nations people, particularly the 1967 constitutional referendum. The best way to appreciate why these items are so significant is to look back through the colonial era displays and find Tommy McRae’s sketchbook.
On the wall behind my desk hangs a framed black-and-white photograph of a young artist. Holding her paint brush and palette, she stands in front of her easel, pondering the next stroke. Her hair is pulled back into a severe knot at the nape of her neck. Her loose smock reflects the folds in the dress of the woman she is painting.
In checking a rare book dealer's catalogue of offerings recently, I fell upon a wonderful riddle in the Library's copy of the 1783 (second) edition of William Wade Ellis’ An authentic narrative of a voyage performed by Captain Cook and Captain Clerke, in His Majesty's ships Resolution and Discovery… — lurking behind an understated catalogue note that our “SR3 copy …. has an acrostic tipped onto front inside cover”.
As Alan Bennett wrote in his play, The History Boys:
“History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.”
As we mark another International Women’s Day on 8 March 2017, and in the midst of #nastywomen hashtags and pink pussy hats, I decided to explore the Treasures Gallery to see who I might discover ‘following behind with the bucket’.
Before Masterchef, foodtrucks and celebrity chefs, the eating and cooking habits of Australians were limited to the knowledge of recipes passed down to them by their family or shared by their friends. Eating out was an infrequent activity and cooking to a certain degree was a means of providing fuel for the family rather than providing a ‘dining experience’. The influx of immigrants after the Second World War and increasing wealth meant that Australians had access to a wider range of food and more leisure time to cook new and interesting meals.
Having established a clear link between the City of Aberdeen and a London bookseller, sometime hosier and dealer in articles of natural history last year, the life of Alexander Shaw has continued to cause me to itch.
And so while in Scotland recently I was delighted to come face-to-face with records relating to Alexander Shaw's business dealings, his estate and the Alexander Shaw Hospital.
A curious, dry-humoured young French woman seems an unlikely figure to play a key role in the history of Pacific exploration. Yet 23-year-old Rose de Freycinet (1794-1832) fulfils this role in providing a unique insight into life at sea. Unwilling to be parted from her husband Louis (1779-1842) while his expedition circumnavigated the globe, she chose to accompany him on the long voyage rather than wait at home.