Exploring Antarctica with the National Library

Australia’s proximity to Antarctica means that its features and history are well recorded within the National Library, Canberra. In photographs, maps, drawings, books, manuscripts and commemorative items we can see our history entwined with the hostile southernmost landmass and nature reserve. Antarctica is the fifth largest continent, it is roughly twice the size of Australia, and its remoteness and extremity has exerted a fascination for many readers of exploration narratives and for antiquarian collectors, such as Rex Nan Kivell.

Sharing Our Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s birthday is traditionally celebrated on 23 April. With theatres closed around the world, this year the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Folger Shakespeare Library will mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday in a different way. #ShareYourShakespeare invites all of us to celebrate the playwright in any way we like, via our favourite social media.

Publishing a book in 1784

When I've seen manuscripts of famous books, I’ve thought about the process between that handwritten draft and the paperback I own. I've wondered about how the text was changed by an editor, and the typesetters who carefully set the type. Who was involved in publishing that manuscript? And how much did it cost? 

A melancholy loss

On this day, 19 March 1790 – 230 years ago – HMS Sirius was wrecked on a reef just off Norfolk Island, a ‘melancholy loss’ indeed for the crew, those on the island and for the new colony of New South Wales. Sirius had been the flag ship of the First Fleet, remaining, with the smaller Supply, when the other ships departed. Under Captain John Hunter, it had already saved the colony from starvation once by sailing to the Cape of Good Hope for additional provisions, and was on a second mission, this time to China.

The Catch

I couldn’t have been further away from the water: sitting at a desk in the National Library of Australia Reading Room, my lap-top was humming and I was madly taking photos and writing notes. It was hardly a Saturday evening casting squid jigs off the rocks. And yet this desk job had a decidedly fishy feel.

An NLA love story - chapter and verses

The National Library of Australia’s greatest treasure is its staff – although a slightly waterlogged journal written in the hand of one J. Cook, would have to come a very close second.  

So when you ask National Library staff about what particular gem they have uncovered in the 10 million-item strong collection, you know they’ll come up with something special - and unexpected.

Sarah Stone's birds


One morning late last year, five extraordinary watercolour paintings of Australian birds were hung in the Library's Treasures Gallery. They were completed in London in around 1790, by 30-year-old Englishwoman Sarah Stone (c.1760-1844). 

A Life in Ten Acquisitions


Rex Nan Kivell's need for a grand narrative to describe his life and obessive collecting was unquenchable. His collecting stories and engaging, though, when examined, often untrue - either exaggerated or invented entirely. Without question, however, is the signifiance of the items he collected and sometimes 'boosted' with imaginative tall tales.

The 'Gentlemen' Convicts

One of the pleasures of working as a guide in the Treasures Gallery at the National Library is becoming familiar with items which recall Australia’s ‘gentlemen convicts'. This was a small but distinct group from the 162,000 convicts transported to Australia in the early days of colonial settlement.

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