Rarely seen photographs and architectural plans will go on display this week at the National Library to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the opening of the iconic building beside Lake Burley Griffin.

With its elegant classical lines, it is a landmark building 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.

In the mid-1950s, almost 30 years after moving from its first home in Melbourne, the Library’s collection was spread across 15 buildings in Canberra including the morgue, laundry and caretaker’s office at the old Canberra Hospital at Acton, a grocery store at the railway station and (in the case of nitrate films) an explosives shed at the Mugga quarry.

In 1961, the Sydney firm Bunning & Madden, with associates Tom O’Mahoney and Noel Potter, was appointed the Library’s architect. Curator Martin Terry said the final plans set out a temple-like form flanked by two auxiliary wings – to be constructed over a 40-year period – but only the central block was actually built.

“The foundation stone was laid by Sir Robert Menzies on 31 March 1966. He wanted ‘something with columns’ and while the architects obliged with unmistakeable references to the Parthenon in Athens, they were aware of more contemporary trends,” he said. The Library was opened on 15 August 1968 by Prime Minister John Gorton, and admitted its first readers three days later.

National Library Director-General Jan Fullerton said special events to mark the opening would be held in August. “This anniversary is not just about the past. It is a time to reflect on the Library’s vision for the future, including a focus on preserving our digital memory and the creation of a new Treasures Gallery.”

The Opening Chapter: Building the National Library, 18 April 2008 – 16 November 2008, Visitor Centre. Open daily, Monday to Thursday 9 am – 9 pm; Friday to Sunday and public holidays 9 am – 5 pm. Free.

Martin Terry is available for interview. High-resolution images are available for download at http://www.nla.gov.au/media/

Media contacts: Sally Hopman, 02 6262 1704; shopman@nla.gov.au
Ellen Peterson, 02 6262 1571; epeterson@nla.gov.au