Victorian Treasures

By Christina Morin

Last month, I decided to take a little holiday to Australia to celebrate the submission of my manuscript and to coincide with a significant event in a friend’s life (to be celebrated, naturally, in Australia). My all-too-brief trip took me from sunny Sydney to the vineyards and breathtaking views along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria to Melbourne city – the so-called ‘Paris of Australia’. Although the purpose of my trip was as far from academic as possible, I couldn’t resist paying a little visit to the State Library of Victoria in central Melbourne. An impressive colonial building with reading rooms to rival the best I’ve ever seen, the State Library of Victoria is open to the public, allowing interested tourists like me free access to the library building, its Dome viewing platform, free exhibitions, and even some of its holdings.

I didn’t have anything specific I was interested in reading or consulting, so, after stashing my bag in a locker, I meandered around, soaking up the atmosphere, availing myself of various amenities, including free internet access, and checking in on the chess games quietly being played in a dedicated area of the library. That done, I had a trawl through the extensive online catalogue, searching for a few things related to a new project I have brewing in my head (before even my last or current one is finished!). My scrawled notes in hand, I headed to the La Trobe Reading Room – a fantastic, light-filled, heptagonal room with amazing soaring ceilings. (Pictured above.) The desks are wooden and battered. Not in a bad way exactly. Rather, they have the same kind of love-worn look that a much-read, dog-eared book does, a testimony to their use by countless scholars since the library opened in 1856. Around the reading room’s seven sides are bookshelves holding a representative sample of the library’s understandably extensive Australiana collection. Picking out a few that looked and sounded interesting, I sat myself down at one of the oaken desks and immersed myself in Victorian culture and society (in both senses of the word… I was reading about Victorian-era Victoria, a notion that made me giggle irrationally to myself).

Although the Information Centre on the ground floor was bustling with activity, the La Trobe Reading Room was a haven of peace and quiet, reminding me quite a lot of the experience of working in the National Library of Ireland (which, of course, also resembles it in some ways). Without interruption, I read, pored over images, and beefed up on my Australian history until, eventually, in consideration of my long-suffering husband, I set the books aside and headed down to the Library’s café, Mr Tulk, for coffee and cake. Like Melbourne city as a whole, the café has an artsy, laidback feel to it, somewhat at odds with the ordered Victorian splendour of the library itself, but no less inviting.

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the two free exhibitions then open in the library – ‘The Changing Face of Victoria’ and ‘Mirror of the World: Books and Ideas’ – but I’m already plotting my return! Until then, I’ll have to content myself with browsing the library’s excellent website, an impressive undertaking in its own right, even if it pales in comparison to the real thing.

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