That was the year that was

That was the year that was
End-of-year reflections from Reader Services
19 December 2017

It's December, and the end of the year is upon us. The weather is warming up, the school year is over (for many), and the Library's Reading Rooms will be closed over the Christmas and New Year period.

As a time for reflection, I asked some of the Reading Services staff to share some of their more memorable experiences of working with the library's collections and spaces this year.


A reference enquiry through our Ask a Librarian service gave me the pleasure of discovering and exploring the library’s collection of over 500 Australian artist books.

Rat's Game

Kyoko Imazu, Rats' Game  2013,

Two gorgeous digitised artist books I came across were Rats’ Game, an accordion fold out book of intricate paper cuts by Melbourne Artist Kyoko Imazu and Night, an artist book by Bronwyn Rees containing etchings and extracts from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Widowers Tango”.


When I worked in the Pictures and Manuscripts branch, I was surprised to discover that card catalogues are still very useful. They are a relic of some of our older manuscript collections, acquired long before online catalogue; in a time when card catalogues were all the jam.  Still today, they provide a unique index to the location of specific handwritten letters within our older manuscript collections, necessary for the numerous archival boxes which can span vast areas of shelving in the stacks.

One such manuscript collection are the Papers of Robert Menzies 1905-1978, which spans over 132 meters of shelving space. To put that into perspective, the distance is over twice the length of an Olympic swimming pool, and then some! The sheer volume of paperwork contained within these boxes can appear unreal when compared to today’s means of communication & data storage. Beyond finding aids & indexes, card catalogues remain key to uncovering older collections.


Recently a couple of friends of mine were involved in a film about Ben Hall, the gentleman bushranger who was active in the 1860s in NSW. This got me curious about what we had in the collection relating to him. Not surprisingly, we have quite a lot of written material - books, newspaper reports and so on, but lo and behold we also have one of his actual revolvers.

Ben Hall's Revolver

Ben Hall’s initials are carved on the butt of the gun. It was cool to learn that in the NLA there is a relic of a semi-mythical figure from our past.


While researching for my blog on Christmas pudding in Australia, one source I looked at, The mysterious cooks : a tale of Australia ; to which is added, Christmas in Queensland / by Tadberry Gilcobs  described the family as eating ‘plain turkey’ (p. 90). I wondered what this was. Probably not the usual domesticated roast turkey we are used to but it seems to be the Australian native turkey or ‘turkey bustard’. 

The cooks in Tadberry Gilcob’s book could have found instructions for cooking this native bird in the first recognised Australian cookery book The English and Australian Cookery Book published in London in 1864 where it was described as:

...a very fine bird, nearly the size of the common turkey.  Must be kept sufficiently and dressed in a similar way to its namesake.  ……  The flesh is rather dark but well cooked it is superior food.  Gould describes the Australian bustard as of the order Otis Australasianus. (p. 89)

A search online quickly found an image by John Gould to confirm this:

John Gould, The Birds of Australia : in seven volumes  1848, Vol. VI, Plate 4.


At the beginning of the year, I received a request to find an article relating to a mysterious light sighting at St Helens, Tasmania in 1974. The incident that occurred when a family was driving home one evening on a country road.

Unfortunately, the National Library of Australia did not hold the article the client was after. Intrigued and curious, I went on to search other resources held at the Library, and discovered the UFO press clipping files. The file was part of the Press Clipping File collection, which contained original articles from Australian newspapers about UFO experiences, abductions, sightings and hoaxes ranging from the 1960s to 1990s. I also discovered the Library had several reports and books published from the Tasmanian UFO Investigation Centre.

UFO Press Clippings

Press clippings,

Although I was not able to find the exact case I still enjoyed going through reports and finding out what we held in our collection. I’m sure 'the truth is out there'!


When I received an enquiry, searching for an image of a 'camelopard', my first impression was to think this was some weird mythological creature, or a prank to fool naive zoologists. But it turned out camelopard was an old English name for a giraffe.

If you came across a giraffe for the first time, how else would you describe it other than a like a camel with leopard spots? In his 1834 treatise A History of the Earth and Animated Nature Oliver Goldsmith marvels of the camelopard:

Description and Illustration of a Camelepard

Oliver Goldsmith, A history of the earth and animated nature  1834,

To someone in Europe who had never ventured beyond the next town, let alone to the next continent, these exotic animals from far away lands must have been a fascination. The Library collection is full of these first reveals, the way people learned about the world around them before the easy methods of today.


In a far and peaceful corner of the Reader Services office space is a room, overlooking a courtyard. This is the Fellows Room, the ‘home away from home’ for scholars and researchers who have been granted Library Fellowships. Towards the end of each Fellow’s time at the Library, a public talk is given; what we in Reader Services are often privileged to see, hear and experience is the research journey leading to the presentations, the ongoing work that will arise from time spent at the Library, and, too, the impromptu chats about travels, research and the life of the mind.

These enriching discussions with Library Fellows are highlights of the year. I look forward to more in 2018.

Our summer reading pile:

Saga Land - Richard Fidler and Kári Gíslason Homo Deus - Yuval Noah Harari And they all sang - Studs Terkel Collected Short Stories - H. G. Wells
Brilliant - Jane Brox The Stolen Bicycle - Wu Ming-Yi Quicksilver - Nicolas Rothwell Landscape and Memory - Simon Schama
Alias Grace -Margaret Atwood Words in Deep Blue - Cath Crowley The Message - Tony Francis  In the Dark Spaces - Cally Black

What will you be reading? Feel free to share your summer reading recommendations in the comments section below.

Whether you're visiting our website for the first time, or have been a faithful follower, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read our blog this year, and we look forward to sharing more with you in 2018.