One of the loveliest and best-loved buildings in Sydney, the Mitchell Building of the State Library of NSW is enjoying a renaissance. The State Librarian, Dr John Vallance says: ‘We are turning the Library inside out’. Such vision has paid off handsomely. Six new galleries, all beautiful spaces, stretch across the first floor. They are now housing six free exhibitions of paintings, drawings, photographs, and other objects, most of which have never been shown in public.
Highlights include the Library’s six UNESCO Memory of the World collections, ranging from First Fleet journals to Dorothea Mackellar’s original hand-written poem My Country. There are wonderful 100 year-old images of Sydney; a knockout display of portraits and landscapes by important artists including Conrad Martens, Eugene von Guerard, Joseph Backler, Edward Felton, Tom Roberts and Roland Wakelin, most of them never previously displayed. Miles Franklin’s final diary, the original Lindsay Magic Pudding illustrations, alternative designs for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, are all on show. Over two thousand objects are now on permanent display: sculpture busts, miniature portraits, ceramics, coins & medals, cutlery, typewriters (including Patrick White’s) and so much more.
It all looks marvellous; much of it is strangely moving. The focus of the Library’s collecting was always Australiana; it now packs a real punch. Not in a vainglorious, jingoistic sense but as a vivid part of our national memory bank.