Australians have always taken distance in their stride – be it a wild journey by biplane or a trip down the wallaby track – and this spirit of adventure will be on show at the National Library of Australia from 6 March.

Bridging the Distance tells the story of how Australians have learned to cope with the tyranny of distance, establishing vital routes across the country, for both work and play.

Through more than 150 pictures, photographs, manuscripts, objects and books, all from the National Library’s collection, Bridging the Distance highlights the growth of transport by rail, boat and car and the development of the aviation industry, and explores what distance means for us and our lives.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Charles Kingsford-Smith’s application for a pilot’s licence in 1921
  • Charles Sturt’s water bottle and William Wills’ diary
  • Classic Australian images ranging from the end of the assembly line at General Motors Holden at Fishermen’s Bend in the early 1950s, to pioneer aviator W.E. Hart in his biplane in 1911
  • Part of the last rail laid in 1917 for the Trans-Australian railway.

“This exhibition offers something for everyone. For those who have braved the holiday traffic to the Coast or for the grey nomads heading across the Nullarbor,” Library exhibitions curator Margaret Dent said. “Often it’s the actual journey that is the adventure. You never really know what it will be like, it’s the anticipation of it all.

“What brought it home for me was travelling in Europe,’’ she said. “Of how you can get on a train in a place like Holland and it might just take an hour to get to another country. In Australia, after an hour or so, you could still be in the same city.

“Our view of distance hasn’t changed, but developments in technology have made it easier to  deal with,’’ she said.

Exhibition details

High-resolution images are available for download at

  • see: Curator Margaret Dent is available for interview.
  • for: everyone
  • hours: 6 March 2008 – 15 June 2008
  • bookings: not applicable
  • cost: free